Phil Harrell

Nadia Tehran's debut album, Dozakh: All Lovers Hell, opens with a haunting excerpt from an interview with her father. Tehran's father recounts his last day fighting in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when he drove an ammunition-filled car that exploded after it was attacked. "Death comes when it comes," Tehran's father recalls saying to rally his troops for that ill-fated expedition. "One should not be afraid of death."

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This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action.

James Brown once said, "I've only got seventh grade education, but I have a doctorate in funk, and I like to put that to good use."

In 1946, Nat King Cole became the first recording artist to wrap his lush vocals around what would become a standard of the holiday season, "The Christmas Song." But that song was written by a different crooner: Mel Tormé.

NPR's Noel King spoke with Mel Tormé's youngest son, James — an accomplished jazz singer himself — to get the story behind the creation of this Christmas classic.

"Here is musical sterility at its pinnacle. A band that has absolutely no soul, no feeling in the music," critic Lester Bangs declared in 1975. The target of his derision? The British progressive-rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Bangs disdained the band's objective, as he saw it, "to play pre-set solos as fast as you possibly can, [at] breakneck speed, and do it for about five hours."