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Rolling Stone Fact-Checks Famous Rock Songs

From Bob Dylan To Nas, 11 songs with a shaky grasp on history

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Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

From Bob Dylan To Nas, 11 songs with a shaky grasp on history

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Neil Young – ‘Cortez The Killer’

Neil Young claims to have written the lyrics to "Cortez The Killer" while still in high school. "One night I stayed up too late," he said at a 1996 concert. "I ate like six hamburgers…Felt terrible. I was studying history, and I in the morning I woke up and I'd written this song." If true, it would explain how he got some facts about the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés dead wrong. "Hate was just a legend," Young wrote about the Aztecs. "War was never known." In reality, the Aztecs of Mexico were in a near-constant state of war. "They offered life in sacrifice," Young also wrote. "So that others could go on." That's a crazy spin on what they actually did, which was make human sacrifices to the gods. Innocent people were tied to posts and brutally tortured and killed; "Cortez The Killer" makes the act sound selfless.

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Journey – ‘Don’t Stop Believin'”

"Just a city boy," Steve Perry sings at the beginning of 'Don't Stop Believin'. "Born and raised in South Detroit." Detroit has all sorts of neighborhoods, but South Detroit exists only in Journey's mind. Anybody living there is living in the Detroit River.

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Nas – ‘I Can’

In Nas' 2002 song "I Can" he raps about African history: "Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went/He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces/Shot up they nose to impose what basically still goes on today." He's off by about 2,000 years, and he means Napoleon. "You can't read about Napoleon without hearing about Alexander The Great, and vice versa," Nas later said.  "You might read one book about it, but that's that author's account of what happened. Someone else might say a whole different story, but if I speak on what happened in one man's book, then that's what it is."

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