Saturday, May 3, 2008

City Songs: Los Angeles

X: Los Angeles


If I wasn't so busy this week, I could have posted a ton of other great city songs. We'll have to do this theme again. (State and Country themes would work too.) Anyway, here's one more. Nice high energy riff on this one.

City Songs: Louisville

Jann Brown: Louisville


This catchy little country number comes from the excellent compilation of Los Angeles alt-country bands called A Town South Of Bakersfield, Vols. 1 & 2.

Seemed appropriate for today.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cities: Morning Morgantown

Joni Mitchell: Morning Morgantown


It's probably too obvious to feature Free Man In Paris for Cities week.  I have avoided the tune myself for just that reason and I'm going to dodge it again today by featuring a different tune by Our Lady of Laurel Canyon.

Wikipedia lists several Morgantowns in the United States, and unfortunately I have no clue which one Joni is singing about here. The song makes me want to visit though, wherever it is.

This was my first favorite Joni Mitchell album, and listening to it today still brings back memories of the year that I discovered her profoundly poetic lyrics, complex melodies, and alternate tunings that frustrate the crap out of amateur guitar players like myself. I remember trying to learn how to play Circle Game when I was in college and an excellent guitar player from down the hall advised me, "No no! First John Denver, THEN Joni Mitchell". Well, it's 15 years later and I still can't play Joni very well.

The featured track is from Ladies Of The Canyon, her 1970 release.

City Songs: Every Fucking City

Paul Kelly: Every Fucking City


Australia’s favorite son Paul Kelly has been delivering the goods to the masses for 27 years and on over 22 albums. In that time, he’s traveled the world over and again, playing to a very loyal fan base in many a city. Paul pays homage to this and to the globalization of the world‘s cities on this track I offer you. This live version was taken free from Paul’s website. Inspired by his concerts over the past years entitled, A to Z , every letter of the alphabet is released in succession and selected live tracks from his catalog are offered to download for free at his website. This all started back in January and now that it’s May we are up to the letter E. Head over to his website, for more info on how to get the E songs free and future letters of the alphabet from this gifted Australian icon.

Reader submission from Kevin

City Songs: Minneapolis

Tom Waits: Post Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis


I'm sure all you informed-musically folk are familiar with that lead-off song. I'd feel comfortable betting that you know the follow up, too... (so, many less downloads for these tunes, right? ha! I bet not... I'm plaqued with massive bandwidth usage over songs posted on this site. Are you? And how can it be stymied?) But, I digress...

I moved to Minneapolis four years after Tom Waits was talking about things... and the doughnuts still had names that sounded like prostitues. For about four more months.

Things started getting shut down, in seedy downtown Minneapolis, about when I got here.

But, it was still true what the Replacements sung... "Better TV and a whole lot to see," when you are hanging downtown. (I'm time-traveling to the past, mind you. Downtown Minneapolis sucks donkeys, nowadays. At least when it's not busy sucking off professional sports team owners).

But at least they (The Replacements) would tell you how to get out of it...

...and into Prince-Uptown. (Which, as far as I've been ever able to acertain, was never as cool as Prince made it to be. Still ain't, fer my money. But it's where I live, so... pride!!!) There may be whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans, but... no body is freaking. Promise.

And after you've had enough of Uptown, and want to grab a bus out? Catch a #4 which will deposit you at 66th and 35W... Southtown! There is a bowling alley, fabric store, and whatever-else I forgot to mention that The Hold Steady remembered.

Oh, and if it's Wintertime? Make sure you get to Buck Hill!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

City Songs: Birmingham

Randy Newman: Birmingham


Off of his album about the South, Birmingham has a lot less bite and bile than Rednecks or Guilty. If he's criticizing the city, the song itself is so subtle than many thing this is an ode to his home town (he's from L.A.). If you learned enough history in junior high though, you'll remember Birmingham was often a key player in the civil rights movement, and rarely in a good way. So, if it really is the "greatest city in Alabam,'" I don't think that says a lot in Randy's view. Though this was written in '74, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they've probably improved since.

City Songs: Streets Of Baltimore

Gram Parsons: Streets Of Baltimore


Star Maker Machine is really going country this week. Probably because country singers naturally love to sing about cities. One of the greatest country songwriters of all time, Harlan Howard, penned this Gram Parsons' classic.

Nothing against Baltimore, but it always struck me as odd that the woman in this song had such a longing for that city. Might make a little more sense if they had taken the train out to L.A. or New York, but those towns don't have the same ring to their names.

City Songs: Milwaukee Here We Come

John Prine w/ Melba Montgomery , Milwaukee Here I Come


Girl convinces boy to run away with her to Nashville. Upon arrival, boy loses girl to the Grand Ole Opry scene. Boy says he's heading back to Milwaukee until she decides which one she really wants: those opry stars, or him. Now give the poor, doomed fool the first verse, so we don't realize until the last minute or so that she was only using him to get to Ernest Tubb (though she'll settle for Lester Flatt, in a pinch); add a hopeful title and an upbeat countrified performance, set John Prine's broken twang against Melba Montgomery's aging but still perky country harmony, and you've got all the ingredients for the perfect honky-tonk tragedy.

From Prine's wonderfully consistent album of lighthearted classic country songs about infidelity, each one a duet with one of his favorite female folk and alt-country artists (Iris DeMent, Lucinda Williams, Connie Smith, Emmylou Harris, and more).

City Songs: Nashville

Two instrumental odes to Music City USA. Nashville Skyline Rag from Nashville Skyline by Bobby Dylan, and the Nashville West theme from Clarence White, Gene Parsons, and Gib Guilbeau's Nashville West. Both stellar albums.

Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline Rag
Nashville West: Nashville West (Reprise)

City Songs: (Why Did I Tell You I Was Going to) Shanghai

Doris Day: (Why Did I Tell You I Was Going to) Shanghai


Before she became the biggest star in Hollywood, Doris Day was one of the biggest big band singers in the country (that's a lot of bigness). In fact her singing career continued from the 40s through the 60s. She retired from it all in the late 60s, today living quietly in Carmel. Vanity Fair just published an excerpt from her forthcoming biography, Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, to be published next month.

This tune comes from a double-disc anthology spanning her entire career and it's a great way to get to know Day's ouerve. Just about all of her songs are terrific fun.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

City Songs: Detroit 442

Blondie: Detroit 442


Evidently, "Detroit 442" is Blondie's tribute to Iggy Pop/ The Stooges. That's what lead singer, Debbie Harry, was quoted as saying in a Mojo Magazine special on New Wave, anyhow... I was just reading the mag this afternoon, but don't remember the exact quote, so... um. Yeah.


Blondie's second album, Plastic Letters reached #72 on the U.S. charts, #10 in the U.K., and all the way up to #9 in Germany.

Cities: Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues


This song mentions "San Antone", Reno, and, of course, Folsom. Clocking in at exactly 2 minutes and 42 seconds this is the first track of Cash's concert for the Folsom Prison inmates in January of 1968.

This record really can't be appreciated song by song, it is a "whole record" experience. The interruptions by prison staff; Cash's comical and sometimes profane commentary, the all pervasive lyrical themes of crime, prison, and murder; and the all-male laughs and cheers from the crowd all serve to immerse the listener in the experience. The last song on the record, Greystone Chapel, was composed by one of the inmates and heard by Cash for the first time only the night before.

I'm aware that some editing took place between the show and the vinyl, but all things considered, this record still sounds like the real deal to me.

City Songs: Amarillo

Emmylou Harris: Amarillo


The leadoff track from Emmylou Harris' second album--one of three tracks from this record that could've fit this week's theme. The others being "Sin City" and "Ooh Las Vegas"--but I figured Vegas gets enough love out in the world of mass culture, so let's give Amarillo a little love.

City Songs: Twin Falls

"... My mom's good she got me out of Twin Falls, Idaho
Before I got too old, you know how that goes
That's where she still was the summer she turned 17
In 1983, three weeks after me
Last I heard was she had twins or maybe it was three
Although I've never seen, but that don't bother me..."

Lovely. One day I´m gonna visit Twin Falls, Idaho.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

City Songs: Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans


This citysong comes in at exactly 2 minutes and 42 seconds long, which, according to Joshua Allen's recent rant currently in heavy roation across the music blogworld, is the perfect length for a pop song. The fact that this is not a pop song, but a languid and sparse banjo-and-bass paean to a city which is currently gearing up for the best damn music festival in the universe despite being totally pushed aside by its host nation like the subject of an especially caustic Randy Newman song probably means something. Luckily, this is a place for shortform poetics, not longwindedness on the subject.

From Our New Orleans, one of the best post-Katrina New Orleans compilations I know, which includes all new recordings from Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Randy Newman, and a host of other amazing NOLA-based acts worth knowing.

City Songs: Hey Chicago

Low: Hey Chicago


A great song from an album that is not only my favorite Low release, but one of my favorite albums of all time.

Cities: Night Boat To Cairo

Madness: Night Boat To Cairo


Although they lost their way later in their career, Madness was actually a really cool band in the beginning. Absolutely and One Step Beyond, along with The Specials and Special Beat Service, are a couple of the coolest examples of the early 80's 2 Tone Ska revival.

I was a total wannabe when it came to the whole ska thing, but I have a few really cool memories of backyard concerts with local ska bands, skanking on warm summer nights in Fresno, the town where I grew up.   To this day the genre still puts me in a good mood.

City Songs: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

They Might Be Giants: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)


Why they changed it, I can't say. People just liked it better that way.

From Wikipedia (my favorite source for facts):

"Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine/East Roman Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). As part of Atatürk's reforms, the Turkish government in 1930 declared its name to be Istanbul, a name in common use for many centuries among the Turkish citizens. By the end of the Second World War, English usage had generally followed this change."

Monday, April 28, 2008

City Songs: Wichita Lineman

Glen Campbell: Wichita Lineman


You can't have one without the other!

If he never did anything else with his life, Glen Campbell would be a superstar for giving the world both Galveston and Wichita Lineman. Of course, a major tip of the hat must go to Jimmy Webb, who wrote both of these timeless classics.

When I was in college back in the day I remember a kid standing up on a bench in the center of campus banging a cowbell and belting out Wichta Lineman. It was a pretty impressive performance. Wonder where that kid is now?

City Songs: Galveston

Glen Campbell: Galveston


I've never been to Galveston, but I've loved this song ever since I was a little kid and had no idea what it was really about. A great song about a scared soldier longing for home...

Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin'
I still see her dark eyes glowin'
She was 21 when I left Galveston

Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston

I still see her standing by the water
Standing there lookin' out to sea
And is she waiting there for me?
On the beach where we used to run

Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she's crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston

City Songs: Boston

Patty Griffin, Boston

[purchase Flaming Red]
[purchase other Patty Griffin CDs]

I went back to Boston, back to the city you were lost in...

Silver Bell was supposed to be singer-songwriter Patty Griffin's third album, but it got lost in the shuffle when A&M got bought out by Interscope. Shame, that. Many of the songs on Silver Bell were subsequently rerecorded for other albums, and a few became hits for such luminaries as the Dixie Chicks, but this never-released song is one of her hardest rockers; it is both a tour of my childhood haunts and a tour of my adolescent rock-and-roll angst.

Purchase link goes to Flaming Red, Griffin's underrated (if overproduced) second album, which shares the same diverse grungefolk sensibility as much of Silver Bell. You can find a half-dozen folk and country covers of Patty Griffin songs here.

City Songs: New York's Not My Home

Jim Croce: New York's Not My Home


It’s easy to pick songs about New York when the theme is “city songs,” so after this I’ll head west. Actually, this is a fitting song for just such a move. Toward the end of our time living in New York, my wife and I had begun to really hate the place—too crowded, too noisy, nothing is easy. We knew we were planning to move to California and in anticipation of the move I made a “California Mix” – this being the leadoff track. Months later, when the day finally came to make the move, I put the mix on as we drove out of the city. We listened to this song as we passed through the Holland Tunnel.

City Songs: Alberta

Leadbelly: Alberta


Huddie William Ledbetter, Lead Belly, or Leadbelly was a key inspiration for many modern artists, from Dylan, to Elvis Costello, to Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. He was imprisoned at least three times, once for murder.  According to Wikipedia:

Bob Dylan once remarked, on his XM radio show, that Lead Belly was "One of the few ex-cons who recorded a popular children’s album."

Alabama Bound is the only album of his that I own. Apparently there are literally hundreds of recordings out there, but I've never had the inclination to pursue any others. He's pretty cool in smaller doses, though.

City Songs: Going To Queens and Downtown Seoul

Mountain Goats mastermind John Darnielle has the gift of painting complete, if often mysterious pictures with just a few carefully chosen words. With some deceptively simple brushstrokes he can actually make you feel the immense heat of Queens in summer, sweat slowly running down your back: "You were all I´d ever wanted, you were all I´d ever need, in New York City in the middle of July." And listening to Downtown Seoul it´s easy to see a movie scene in black and white unfolding before your eyes: "I saw you coming across the square and a white bird broke the dark Korean sky, as the rest of my life went by..."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

City Songs: Huntsville, 1969 and Wintering In Brooklyn

The Last Town Chorus: Huntsville, 1969
The Last Town Chorus: Wintering In Brooklyn

[purchase] Amazon
[purchase] Band Site

The first song I heard by Last Town Chorus was a cover of the David Bowie hit "Modern Love", and I was blown away. The arrangement, the performance... everything about it really, totally floored me. This past Christmas-time, from my favorite barista, I recieved Wire Waltz, The Last Town Chorus' second release. The album fully met, from front to back, my high expectations, and I've been gung-ho about them ever since.

Well, "them" is a bit misleading, actually. The "band" is singer/ pedal-steel player Megan Hickey with a variety of backing musicians.

I'd highly recommend this to anyone who likes Neko Case, Wilco, or any such other wide-ranging Americana-type sounds. Both of these songs, incidently, are on Wire Waltz.

There are a bunch more tunes for preview on the official band site, and I'd strongly suggest going over and giving your ears a treat.

The Last Town Chorus is on tour supporting Kathleen Edwards right now: The full schedule is on their site. If you like these songs, or any others you might take a chance on, you should really go see them live. I know where I'll be on the 2nd of April!

City Songs: Hard Times In New York Town

Bob Dylan: Hard Times In New York Town


This is one of the earliest Dylan recordings, from the famous Minnesota Hotel Tape, recorded in 1961 on a hotel bed in Minnesota (although some apparently dispute this - I can't find an authoritative account of the event, can anyone else?). This is not a Dylan original, rather it's a Dylan derivative of another folk tune like so much of Dylan's (very) early work. He put the tune together after visiting Woody Guthrie in a hospital in New York CIty as I understand it (again, I'm lacking authoritative sources here).

The featured track comes from the marvelous Bootleg Series 1961-1991, Volume 1-3. Like all "b-side" and bootleg compilations, there are several forgettable, and even a few bad, songs on the three disc collection, but it's a must for any Dylan fan. You get to hear Dylan in the studio, alternate cuts, and rarities (some of which are just as good as any album cuts).

City Songs: Only Living Boy In New York

Simon & Garfunkel: The Only Living Boy In New York


OK folks, time for a new theme. City songs. Pretty self-explanatory. Just post a song about a city or with a city in the title.

If my No. 1 favorite Simon and Garfunkel song is America, then this one is No. 1-A. Favorite line: "I can gather all the news I need on the weather report."