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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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Bruce Springsteen performing in BrazilPhoto: Antonio Scorza/Shutterstock

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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Bob Marley portrait in MoroccoPhoto: KajzrPhotography/Shutterstock

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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Paul Simon performing in concert in 1999Photo: Dana Nalbandian/Shutterstock

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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Stamp of Otis ReddingPhoto: catwalker/Shutterstock

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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Michael Jackson exiting car in 1990Photo: Vicki L. Miller/Shutterstock

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 McCartneyPhoto: Mary A Lupo/Shutterstock

6. “Yesterday”

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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U.S. troops during World War 2Photo: Shutterstock

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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Barry ManilowPhoto: Vicki L

8. “I Write the Songs”

Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs” was written by…someone else (on-again/off-again Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, to be exact).

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Led ZeppelinPhoto: Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

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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Steven Tyler of AerosmithRobert Liwanag

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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Neil Diamond in 1976Photo: m. superstein/Shutterstock

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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Jimi Hendrix memorialPhoto: Nolleks86/Shutterstock

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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Elvis Presley stampPhoto: HodagMedia/Shutterstock

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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Cyndi LauperPhoto: lev radin/Shutterstock

14. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was written by…a boy. Philadelphia singer Robert Hazard wrote and recorded the original version four years before Cyndi Lauper made it a hit.

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Rainbow over mountainsPhoto: Shutterstock

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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Freddie Mercury statue in SwitzerlandPhoto: b-hide the scene/Shutterstock

16. “Under Pressure”

Queen and David Bowie wrote “Under Pressure” in one night (then got pizza).

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest