16 Little-Known Facts About the Greatest Songs of All Time
The time Queen and David Bowie had a pizza party, Robert Plant protested “Stairway to Heaven,” and more.
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1. “Born in the U.S.A.”
The first commercial CD pressed in the United States was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”
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2. “No Woman, No Cry”
Bob Marley gave songwriting credits on “No Woman, No Cry” to his childhood friend Vincent Ford, who ran a soup kitchen in Jamaica. Royalties from the hit song helped keep the kitchen running.
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3. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Simon and Garfunkel bickered nonstop while recording “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Garfunkel wanted Simon to sing it (“I’m sorry I didn’t,” Simon has said), and Simon never liked Garfunkel’s closing “Sail on, silver girl” verse.
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4. “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”
The iconic whistle in “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” was improvised when Otis Redding forgot what he was supposed to sing during the outro.
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5. “Billie Jean”
Michael Jackson was so absorbed in writing “Billie Jean” on a ride home from the studio one day that he didn’t even notice his car was on fire. A passing motorcyclist alerted him—saving the King of Pop and one of the world’s catchiest tunes.
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Paul McCartney woke up one morning with the tune to “Yesterday” in his head but not the lyrics. The placeholder words he worked with: “Scrambled eggs…oh, my baby, how I love your legs…”
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7. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
The BBC banned Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” during World War II, worried its “sickly sentimentality” would lower the morale of homesick troops.
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9. “Stairway to Heaven”
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was the most-requested radio song of the ’70s. Yet singer/lyricist Robert Plant once pledged $1,000 to a public radio station that promised to never play it again. (“I’ve heard it before,” he later said.)
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10. “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”
The dude in Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” is Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil, whose long blonde locks Aerosmith mistook for a woman’s at a bar one night.
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11. “Sweet Caroline”
The Caroline in Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is none other than Caroline Kennedy, whom Neil saw in a magazine photo in the ’60s. “It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony,” he recalled.
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12. “Purple Haze”
The chord that starts Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” is a tritone—known as the devil’s interval and banned from some Renaissance church music for sounding too evil.
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13. Elvis Presley’s discography
Number of songs Elvis Presley recorded: more than 800. Number of songs Elvis Presley wrote solo: zero. (He earned a few cowriting credits.)
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15. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (listed by American Film Institute as the greatest film song ever) is about a girl lifting herself up from rural Kansas but also about America rising up from the Great Depression under FDR’s New Deal, of which song co-writer Yip Harburg was a supporter.
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16. “Under Pressure”
Queen and David Bowie wrote “Under Pressure” in one night (then got pizza).