This song is based on an 18th-century English murder ballad of the same title that made its way into the Appalachian Mountains and became a folk standard in the United States as well.
The original song is about a young woman who is lured into a forest, where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. The husband-and-wife pair of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst reset the story among the bleak parking lots and backroads of contemporary America. Hearst explained to Uncut:
"Murder ballads are a touchy thing. Obviously we don't condone murder, yet we have felt comfortable throughout our career revisiting the motif. Even though murder is wrong, the story of murder is almost as common as love. We aren't trying to glamorize or normalize this behavior by reinterpreting this old ballad in a new way. We aren't trying to make a moral statement one way or the other. Love, loss and violence seem to be intrinsic to the human experience whether we like it or not. On the one hand we're keeping a folk tradition alive. On the other, should we be considering such a tradition? I could see the argument for the latter."
Bob Dylan played "Pretty Polly" in his early years and he re-interpreted the folk song for his "Ballad of Hollis Brown." Woody Guthrie also borrowed the tune of "Pretty Polly" for his 1942 song "Pastures of Plenty."
Trent told The Boot that he and Cary Ann Hearst set out to reinterpret a traditional song in the way Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covered "Stagger Lee" - that is to have "your verses, but definitely stay within the story."
The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" came top of a 2013 Spotify poll to find out which songs music fans most commonly hear people singing incorrectly. Many believe Annie Lennox is singing: "Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to disagree?"
"Crank That (Soulja Boy)" was the most successful digital track of 2007 in the US with 2,909,000 downloads. On January 6, 2008 it became the first song ever to sell 3 million digital copies in the States.
The lyrics for "Mary, Did You Know?" were written by Christian singer and comedian Mark Lowry, after his pastor asked him to write a Christmas musical for their church. Southern gospel musician Buddy Greene later added music to his words.