Story Previews

A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

In 2007, this 1964 song was chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress (the U.S. national library) because of its cultural, historical, and aesthetic importance. A personal experience prompted singer and songwriter Sam Cooke to compose the song. What was that personal experience?

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature

In 2016 Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature–the first time the prize had ever been awarded to a songwriter. The prize surprised many people. Was Dylan surprised, too? Or had he always dreamed of winning the prize?

Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

In 2023, the U.S. government awarded Joni Mitchell the Gershwin prize for Popular Song. It is one of popular music’s most prestigious awards because it is not for just one song, but for a lifetime of songwriting. Mitchell wrote her best-known song, “Both Sides Now,” when she was 21 years old. Many people wonder how someone so young could have written a song so profoundly wise. This story offers an explanation.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Arnel Pineda’s Story

When the band Journey’s lead singer had to leave because of health problems, the band began looking for a new singer. Years later, they were still looking. As a last resort, they began looking at YouTube videos, hoping to find a singer for their band. How did their YouTube search lead them to the Philippines?

Dreams by Fleetwood Mac

This song was a hit twice–first when it was published in the 1970s and then again in 2020 when a man posted a TikTok video of him singing along with the song while riding a skateboard.

Easy On Me by Adele

This song is about Adele’s divorce and her son’s reaction to it. Of all her hit songs, this one is probably her most personal.

Fight Song by Rachel Platten

Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” has become the anthem of people struggling though a difficult time–it is played in hospital wards, for example, and in rehab centers. Although Platten is pleased that the song encourages others, she wrote it to encourage herself. What personal struggle prompted her to write the song?

Hello by Adele

The song is about a woman who is trying to reconnect with an ex-boyfriend. But Adele said in interviews that for her, the song is about trying to reconnect with herself. What did she mean by that?

Just Like That by Bonnie Raitt

This song was inspired by a news segment that Bonnie Raitt saw on TV about the meeting between the mother of a heart donor and the recipient of his heart. In the comments section following the song’s YouTube video, a retired doctor wrote that he expected the song would save more lives than he had in his entire career.

Let It Be by Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney wrote “Let It Be” in response to a real-life event–the same event that prompted George Harrison to write “Here Comes the Sun.” What was that event? And who was the Mother Mary who advised McCartney to “let it be”?

Lost Boy by Ruth B.

Ruth B. was a college student who became enthralled with the story of Peter Pan and Neverland after watching a TV program. A song began to take form in her head. Every day after classes, she came home and retreated to the basement of her home to write a few lines. Just months later, Ruth had a hit song and a contract with a major record label, thanks to social media. How did that happen?

Renegades by X Ambassadors

After their song “Renegades” became hit, the band X Ambassadors made a music video for the song. In the video, physically disabled people do amazing things: A one-armed man boxes; a blind woman lifts heavy weights; a man missing most of his arms and legs climbs a mountain. Sam Harris, the band’s singer, said the video was “personal.” What did he mean by that?

See You Again by Charlie Puth and Wiz Kahlifa

Charlie Puth’s song “See You Again” was chosen over dozens of other songwriters’ songs for the final scene of the movie Fast and Furious 7. When the song became a Number 1 hit, it was a dream come true for the 23-year-old songwriter. But Puth’s success was bittersweet. Why?

Sunny by Bobby Hebb

This 1963 song became popular again when Billie Eilish introduced it to a new generation during a TV special in 2020. Two personal tragedies, both occurring on the same day, prompted Bobby Hebb to write the song.

The Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti

The song “The Sound of Sunshine” is filled with the sounds, sights, and smells of a summer day–waves crashing on a beach, the hot sun, and the smell of suntan lotion. It’s easy to imagine that Michael Franti wrote the song while sitting on a beach, but he didn’t–he wrote it from a hospital bed. How did this summertime song result from a near-death experience and a long hospital stay?

We Shall Overcome

The song “We Shall Overcome” is sung around the world during times of political turmoil, sometimes in English and sometimes in translation. In the United States, the song is closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. How did Rosa Parks inspire that movement?

Wichita Lineman by Jimmy Webb

The U.S.Library of Congress chose Glen Campbell’s recording of this song for preservation for future generations. The song was inspired by a real lineman working up on a pole.