Song Stories


Don McLean | 1971

McLean, who had a job singing in a school system, was playing guitar in a classroom one day when he started to write this tribute to painter Vincent van Gogh. The song begins with the lyric "Starry Starry Night" -- in reference to "The Starry Night," a swirling painting van Gogh created after committing himself to an asylum in 1889. "I was sitting on the veranda one morning, reading a biography of van Gogh, and suddenly I knew I had to write a song arguing that he wasn't crazy," McLean said. After Tupac Shakur was shot in 1996, his girlfriend played this as he lay in the hospital so it would be the last thing he heard before dying.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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