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Song Stories

“Vincent”

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

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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