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November 2 2019
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Two things happen lyrically in the chorus of the Band’s song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” First, we learn that “the bells were ringin’.” Then we learn that “the people were singin’,” and that what they were singing specifically was “Naaa, la-la-la na-na, la-la na-na la-na n’na-na.” The people in question are the Civil War–era denizens of a Tennessee town, and their wordless refrain is sung in gorgeous, raggedy harmony by the Band’s Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel.

Dumb question, perhaps, but precisely why are they na-na-la-la-ing?

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