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NYC – Any Major Mix Vol. 1

September 16th, 2009 17 comments

Last time on our musical road trip through the USA we visited Philadelphia. It’s time now to hitch a helicopter ride to Gotham City. I am among the many who are profoundly fascinated by New York. Without ever having been there, I feel an affinity with the place (at this point I might invite the multi-millionaires among my loyal readers to come forward with offers for an all-expenses trip to NYC for me and my family). Obviously I’m not alone.

I thought I’d even make it two mixes. Then I began shortlisting. The list grew longer and longer. Then I culled, ruthlessly. Sorry, Lou, just two songs for you. Ditto Paul Simon (though his songs have been widely covered, thereby qualifying for inclusion in the interpretation of others). Upshot: I have about a hundred songs about New York which I want to share. I promise you two mixes; if you want more after those, let me know.

 

1. Billie Holiday – Autumn In New York (1954)
NYC hook: When Harry repeatedly met Sally, his creepiness was relieved by the beauty of NYC’s fallen, brown leaves. I’m not sure that match-making via Harry Connick is what Billie had in mind. It’s beautiful nonetheless. No wonder the creep eventually managed to hook the rather attractive Sally, playing lovely music like this for, to and at her.

2. Ray Charles – New York’s My Home (1961)
NYC hook: Well, it’s his favourite city, not just a visiting place. It’s, as the title shrewdly implies, his home.

3. Bobby Darin – Sunday In New York (1964)
NYC hook: Ah, those innocent days when shops would be closed on Sundays, and there’d be nothing better to do than window shopping — and sing infectiously upbeat songs about it.

4. Ad Libs – Boy From NY City (1964)
NYC hook: Well, there’s a boy, and he’s from New York City, and a girl named Kitty, for reason of rhyme, is urged to tell us about him. We learn that he is no clown, which is a relief.

5. Harpers Bizarre – 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) (1967)
NYC hook: Slowly following the S&G city map, Harpers Bizarre are finding cause to feel pretty good — or groovy, in the era’s vernacular. As the title might have told you. What else can make you feel groovy?

6. Gerard Kenny – New York, New York (1978)
NYC hook: It’s safe to say that Gerard Kenny likes New York. In his enthusiasm, he claims inaccurately that on account of how good the city is, it was named twice, like the father of English footballing brothers Gary and Phil Neville. Of course we know that his Sesame Street level assertion does not correspond with reality, yet we would feel guilty disabusing him of his error. It would crush him, no doubt.

7. Russ Ballard – New York Groove (1975)
NYC hook: A little under a decade after people were feeling gently groovy, Russ thumped us with the NY GROOOVE, symbolising the transition from weed to coke. Ex-Argent member Ballard wrote the song, but didn’t release it. Instead, Hello in 1975 and Ace Fehley of Kiss in 1978 had hits with it.

8. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire (2007)
NYC hook: It’s Independence Day and, Nicole counsels us, Brooklyn is on fire. Not literally, even though the chorus does sound deceptively alarming. It’s the fireworks, and romance is in the air. Fantastic song.

9. Ramones – Rockaway Beach (1977)
NYC hook: Joey and his “brothers” go to the Beach. The Surfin’ USA for New Yorkers.

10. Bruce Springsteen – Sherry Darling (1980)
NYC hook: New York traffic is a bastard, and more so when you have to ferry around your nagging future mother-in-law. Our Bruce likes his Sherry, but one more word out of Mom, and she walks.

11. Ryan Adams – New York New York (2001)
NYC hook: Ryan loves New York a lot, and this is his declaration of love. The video for this song was filmed four days before 9/11, and apparently the song played on loop for days after the attack. Apologies to New Yorkers in whom this track evokes horrible memories.

12. Elliot Smith – Amity (1998)
NYC hook: This mix is like a soap opera. Remember Kitty who told us about the boy from New York City? Well, it seems the Boy from New York City has returned to New York City, with Kitty. “Hello, hello Kitty, happy in New York City.”

13. Bright Eyes – Old Soul Song (For The New World Order) (2005)
NYC hook: The only song in this mix not to mention New York, its geography or landmarks. But it is set in New York, describing the big February 2003 demonstration against George W Bush’s illicit, indefensible declaration of war against a state that posed no threat to his country’s security. As we knew then, if we were ready to refuse to believe the brazen lies peddled by Dick, Don and Dubya, and their gurning poodle in Britain.

14. Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go (2007)
NYC hook: A broken heart in New York City, with the Statue of Liberty as a prop. Without wishing to engage in undue hyperbole, this is a most beautiful song.

15. Rufus Wainwright – Chelsea Hotel No 2 (2006)
NYC hook: Casual celebrity oral sex; it’s the New York way. The cover may be even better than Laughing Len’s original.

16. Everything But The Girl – The Only Living Boy In New York (1997)
NYC hook: One person leaves New York, the other stays behind. The second Simon & Garfunkel cover in the mix, and I have two more of their songs lined up…

17. Mondo Kané feat. Georgie Fame – New York Afternoon (1986)
NYC hook: We’ve had Billie Holiday in autumn and Rosie Thomas in winter; here Mondo Kané and Georgie Fame (produced by soon-to-be-evil-but-still-excellent Stock Aitken Waterman) enjoy a nice summer afternoon in various New York landmarks.

18. Prefab Sprout – Hey Manhattan! (1988)
NYC hook: And coming in on the flight after Mondo Kané’s are wide-eyed tourists Prefab Sprout, admitting to being entirely star-struck. Brooklyn Bridge, 5th Avenue (where Sinatra walked), JFK hang-out The Carlyle… But look out for the denouement as our tourist friends become aware of New York’s class division.

19. Neil Diamond – Brooklyn Roads (1968)
NYC hook: Neil grew up in Brooklyn. No dazzled observations about famous landmarks and celebrities here. Reminiscing on his childhood, Neil is smelling cooking in the hallways of his block; I get the scent of Mrs Diamond’s boiled cabbage. Wistfully, he imagines a new generation of children living in his old room, perhaps dreaming, as he did, of busting loose.

20. Gil Scott-Heron – New York City (1976)
NYC hook: You’d think angry Gil would hate New York. But he doesn’t. He loves it. Not quite sure why. Nothing much wrong with it, he says. And that’s Just as well, seeing as the city reminds Gil of himself.

21. Steely Dan – Brooklyn (1972)
NYC hook: The charmer under me is…the guy who lived below Fagen and Becker in Brooklyn. All there is to it.

22. Lou Reed – Dirty Blvd. (1989)
NYC hook: Face it, Lou Reed could sing ice cream commercials on a gondola or pack a surf board on a beach surrounded by gaggle of busty blondes, and whatever he was singing would still be about the grime of New York City’s underbelly. The Venetian gondolier would be a pimp, the surfer a pusher and the busty blondes junkie hookers. It’s what our man Lou does.

23. Bob Dylan – Hard Times In New York Town (1961)
NYC hook: Young Bobby Zimmerman escaped from cold Minnesota to Greenwich Village and joined the folk circuit. Recorded before he released his (not terribly good) debut album, we can sympathise here with the complications he is facing in his adopted home.

24. Bob James – Angela (Theme from Taxi) (1978)
NYC hook: What would a series of songs about New York be without reference to the yellow cabs. Taxi was, of course, the show about, well, taxis which brought together Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Jeff Conaway, Carol Kane, Randall Carver, Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman.

GET IT
(PW in Comments)

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More New York songs

American Road Trip Vol. 9

July 27th, 2009 4 comments

Last time on our US road trip, we left Pittsburgh. From there, one might travel in any direction to reach places of interest to our purposes. I do think it is time we come to the capital.

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Washington, D.C.

chocolate_cityI note Marion Berry, the four-term mayor of Washington DC was arrested again this month, this time for stalking a girlfriend. No matter what Berry’s accomplishments as a mayor and councillor, how on earth does that man still enjoy the credibility to be re-elected? How does the electorate of Washington arrive at the conclusion that a crackhead with the powers of judgment of a lemming is best qualified to govern their affairs? This is a man who delivers pearls of wisdom like, “The laws in this city are clearly racist. All laws are racist. The law of gravity is racist” or “The brave men who died in Vietnam, more than 100% of which were black, were the ultimate sacrifice”? It’s like the great American public electing a former drug abuser with no brains to the presidency. Which, of course, could never happen (and, yes, I can hear you whisper the name Zuma). Chris Rock perhaps nailed it when he said about Barry’s re-election as mayor after i his crack conviction: “How did that happen? Smoked crack, got his job back! What was the other guy on heroin?”
Parliament – Chocolate City.mp3
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Baltimore, Maryland.mp3

Well, I sold my pick-up truckGP to take my woman where she used to be. We left our friends and Marion Barry back there in Washington. And I bought those one way tickets she had often begged me for, and they took us to the streets of Baltimore. Well, her heart was filled with gladness when she saw those city lights. She said: “The prettiest place on earth is Baltimore at night.” But I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me. Now I’m a going back on that same train that brought me here before while my baby walks the streets of Baltimore. On second thought, fuck it, let’s go to Philadelphia.
Gram Parsons – Streets Of Baltimore.mp3
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

tsopTo people who grew up in the ’90s, Philadelphia may be a movie about AIDS discrimination starring two insufferably smug, overrated actors. Or the hometown of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. To me, it evokes the sunny sounds of ’70s soul. The Philly sound. The O’Jays. The Three Degrees. The Delfonics. Billy Paul. Jean Carn. Blue Magic. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. The Intruders. The Trammps. Lou Rawls singing Lady Love. SalSoul and Gamble & Huff’s PIR.
M.F.S.B. – T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia).mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – T.S.O.P.mp3

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 8

June 15th, 2009 4 comments

On the last leg of our American Road Trip, we had entered Ohio by way of Cincinnati. We have one more destinations in that state before we turn east, but we shall return to the northern parts of Ohio when we go west.

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Columbus, Ohio

champion ave

And here is where I take up Dane’s invitation for a cup of coffee (and while she is in the kitchen brewing it, I quickly borrow from her the song that will feature here). Dane is the exquisitely talented photographer whose blog All Eyes And Ears has inspired me to become ever more aware of the beauty in mundane things. Dane’s photos are all taken in Ohio, not a place you’d most immediately associate with photogenic qualities (see the great photo above, taken in Columbus). But Dane’s work persuasively argues that a rusty letterbox or disused signage can be as captivating as a Hawaiian sunset.

Anyway, Columbus. It’s Ohio’s biggest city and the state’s capital, with a population of 770,000. It is also smack-bang in the middle of the USA; according to Wikipedia, half of all US residents live within 550 miles (890 km) of Columbus. So why isn’t Columbus more famous than Cincinnati or any number of smaller US cities (such as, say, San Francisco)? Well, frankly, its history is a bit ordinary, and the city’s contribution to modern culture…well, there is Dane’s blog! OK, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk was born in Columbus, Dwight Yoakam grew up there, Rascal Flatts were founded there, and the sitcom Family Ties was set there. On the downside, Prescott Bush – the patriarch of the evil clan that gave us the two Georges – was also born in Columbus. Dane, the coffee was excellent, but we must be on our way…Goodbye Columbus, it’s a lucky day for walkin’ a new road.
The Association – Goodbye Columbus.mp3

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Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling is on the Ohio river in Ohio County. So it makes perfect sense that this city of 31,000 should be in West Virginia. And Wheeling doesn’t just happen to be in West Virginia; it virtually founded the state. It was in Wheeling that those Virginians who did not want to secede with the slave-owning states from the Union instead seceded from Virginia. The good people of Wheeling were a bit upset with The West Wing a few years ago when the would-be assassins of President Bartlett (well, of Charlie and Zoey) were identified as having bought their weapons in Wheeling. Well, they had to buy them from somewhere.

songs_in_the_atticIn his song Billy The Kid (the version featured here is the excellent live recording from Songs In The Attic), Billy Joel has the eponymous character born in Wheeling, West Virginia. You don’t want Billy Joel teach your children history, because Henry McCarty (or William Bonney, if you must) was born in New York City, and was shot dead by the horrible Pat Garrett, not hanged and buried on a hill that bears his name. Still, cracking song.
Billy Joel – Billy The Kid (live).mp3

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Here’s why I love US geography: Wheeling, West Virginia is in Ohio County (and, if Family Ties is to be believed, kids from Columbus take trips there because of a lower legal drinking age), and is considered part of the Pittsburgh Tri-State region, which seems to be headquartered in the Pennsylvanian city. Pittsburgh has become almost synonymous with industrial decay, especially its steelworks. Yet, Bruce Springsteen managed to write only one song about the city. Apparently, the city has been able to revive itself since the dark days of the 1970s, and offers all kinds white collar services now. And it has been ranked the United States’ tenth cleanest city, so screw you, steel.. There’ll be some fun to be had when the G20 summit is held there in September.

lemonheadsApart from the occasional shout-out in lists of US cities, Pittsburgh has inspired little by way of songwriting (certainly as far as my collection goes) – so little that a few years ago a radio station invited local musicians to submit their songs about the city. In the spirit of that dearth, I offer a 2006 song by the Lemonheads (whose newly released album of covers is said to be less than fantastic) which bears the title of the city and proceeds to make no mention of it. And a song from 1970s folk singer Sammy Walker’s Misfit Scarecrow album from last year.
The Lemonheads – Pittsburgh.mp3
Sammy Walker – A Cold Pittsburgh Morning.mp3

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 7

May 26th, 2009 5 comments

Last time on our American Toad Trip, we were pausing for a beer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, before planning to cross into Kentucky en route to Ohio. Soon after, we were detained in another Tennessee town to testify at a murder trial. Oh dear…

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Knoxville, Tennessee

louvin-brothersWe were about a mile outside Knoxville when we chanced upon a grisly scene: a young man repeatedly beating a young, blonde woman with a rock, then dragging her away. Being responsible tourists, we immediately reported the act of violence to the local sheriff. Turns out the man’s name was Willy, and the young woman was his girlfriend, whose lifeless body he threw in the river. Turns out that Willy was a popular guy around town; apparently his many friends tried their best to raise bail for him. We were pleased they didn’t succeed, because we had seen what Willy dun’ to the poor girl. The trial heard that the girl had hopes of marrying Willy, probably the reason why he killed her. We are on our way to cross the Appalachian mountains now, leaving Willy behind to waste his life away down in his dirty old jail.
The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl (1956).mp3

Kentucky

emryarthurHaving been waylaid in Knoxville, we quickly cross Kentucky, a state that has lent its name to many song titles, yet I cannot think of any song about a city from the state. Not even about Lexington. So we won’t even stop for Colonel Sanders’ artery-hardening fried battery chickens, and quickly we bid farewell to ol’ Kentucky. The song here was originally recorded in 1913 as Farewell Song by Dick Burnett, who had adapted it from a folk song. The version featured here, from 1928, seems to be the first recording under the present title.
Emry Arthur – I’m The Man Of Constant Sorrow (1928).mp3
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Cincinnati, Ohio

porter_wagonerYes, as soon as we arrive on the outskirts of Ohio’s third-biggest (with a population if 330,000) and its most famous metropole (it was the USA’s first major inland city), we tune the radio to hear the dulcet tones of Dr Johnny Fever — and we can do so because, since our road trip is entirely notional, we can traverse time and reality. If we had a time machine, we might even travel back to 1977 to observe a council meeting chaired by the city’s mayor at the time — Jerry Springer.

Just before arriving in Cincinatti, we crossed the Ohio river, as once did many a slave seeking freedom. Being located on the border of slavery-state Kentucky, Cincinnati was the first stop for many escaping slaves. With the changing demographics and proximity to the South before the American Civil War, the city experienced much racial tension, and conflict between those for and against slavery.

The most famous song about the river which gives the state its name must be The Banks Of The Ohio, which is a variation on the theme explored in Knoxville Girl (itself adapted from an Irish murder ballad called Wexford Girl). Its oddest version is probably that which became a hit for Olivia Newton-John, a singer so wholesome that she is not an automatic murder suspect. Instead we shall go with the heavily rhinestoned Porter Wagoner (I think Johnny Cash has far too many murder raps on his sheet already).
Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati (full version, 1978).mp3
Porter Wagoner – The Banks Of The Ohio (1969).mp3

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In case anyone really wants to know why I am dispensing with pics of the cities I am visiting, it is because I am getting too many hits via Google image searches. It does boost my stats, but artificially so. I doubt many people who arrive here for a graphic of Tuscaloosa stick around to read the rest of the blog.

American Road Trip Vol. 6

April 28th, 2009 2 comments

We are on our way out of Alabama, having visited Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, but there is one more stop before we see the lights of Georgia.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

While trawling through Alabama, we met our new friend Chris (himself on a road trip, with his lovely girlfriend, from Mobile to Birmingham) who has invited us to meet him in Tuscaloosa to catch some American Football shenanigans (I’ve always bristled at the idea of that sport being called “football” at the expense of the one that actually calls for the predominant use of feet). And so we go to Tuscaloosa to see the University of Alabama’s gridiron team, the Crimson Tide, beating seven shades of blue of tonight’s oppostion, Wake Forest University’s Demon Deacons. The appalling punster in me is amused to note that the habitual winners should be based in TuscaLOOSA.
Steely Dan – Deacon Blue.mp3
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Atlanta, Georgia

After our excursion into American sporting culture, we dump our 36-tonner truck which we picked up in Baton Rouge and avail ourselves of the great US Railway system, arriving at the station just in time at 23:55. It rains as we cross the state border. Eventually we arrive in Atlanta, city of the unaccountably popular and repulsive Gone With The Wind, carbonated syrup soda, AT&T and other mega-corporations which at present probably are engaged in doing their sums to see if they can qualify for a bailout. Strange to think that just 190 years ago the city was a Cherokee village called Standing Peachtree (hence the civil war Battle of Peachtree Creek and the name of Atlanta’s main street). The Cherokees apparently sold the village to The Man, who in turn forcibly removed them less than 20 years later. Nice.

Atlanta was, of course, an epicentre of the civil rights struggle which was led by a son of the city, Martin Luther King Jr. Atlanta tried to rise above the racism in the region, dubbing itself “the city too busy too hate” (which did not immunise it from hate crimes, racist and anti-semitic).
The B-52s – Love Shack.mp3
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Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Our foray into Georgia is brief, as we make our way north towards the Appalachians (travelling in, for the fun of it, a stagecoach). En route, we stop for a brew in a run-down saloon in Gatlinburg, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The frost on our glasses has barely thawed when a fellow spontaneously starts a fight with an older man. The problem apparently arose over the older man giving the younger man, his son, a girl’s name. Turns out that the old boy had given his son such an awful name to toughen up the kid in his fatherless childhood – a ploy that seems to have had its desired effect, yet seems to have been a bad idea on every other count.

After the younger man has left to have his cut ear stitched, the old man snorts derisively: “I lef’ home when the kid was three and it sure felt good to be fancy free, tho’ I knew it wasn’t quite the fatherly thing to do. But that kid kept screamin’ and throwin’ up and pissin’ in his pants till I had enough, so just for revenge I went and named him Sue.” And it gets much worse, and funnier, thereafter. (Get Shel Silverstein’s original of A Boy Named Sue here)
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue.mp3
Shel Silverstein – Father Of A Boy Named Sue.mp3

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One more stop before we cross the Appalachians into Kentucky on our way to Ohio.

Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 5

April 13th, 2009 No comments

Before we proceed with our roadtrip, I wonder why all of a sudden there so many searches for Jenny Lewis (the wonderful singer of Rilo Kiley) coming to this blog.

And so, on our tour of the USA, we have left Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Jessica Alba’s one-time hometown of Biloxi and still travelling along the gulf coast, and not accompanied by the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we enter Alabama.

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Mobile, Alabama

As recorded last time, we’re covering French Louisiana’s successive capitals in a reverse chronological order. Before Biloxi, before New Orleans, before Baton Rouge, the capital of the French colony was Mobile. With its long history and cosmopolitan location, this Alabama town does not conform to the outsider’s perception of Alabama as populated by truck-driving, straw-chewing hicks who’d sooner don white hoods and lynch people for failing to skip off the pavement at their approach than do an honest day’s work (hey, I didn’t create the prejudices). Mobile, population 200,000, has a symphony orchestra, opera company, ballet troupe, and several art museums. And it is the subject of a Dylan song.

Actually, it’s not. As I understand it, Mobile serves as a metaphor for Dylan’s folk sound with Memphis representing rock & roll (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins) and the electric blues of  Beale Street (B.B. King et al). The song, if it makes any sense at all, seems to reflect Dylan’s confusion about the reaction he received at the Newport Folk Frsrival after going electric.

Which brings us to Jerry Reed, whose Guitar Man could have slotted into various destinations on our journey. It is right that it should settle in Mobile, since that is where the Guitar Man gets his big gig at Big Jack’s. “So if you ever take a trip down to the ocean find yourself down round Mobile, well, make it on out to the club called Jack’s,” he advises. And where do we find the club? “Just follow that crowd of people, you’ll wind up out on his dance floor diggin’ the finest little five piece group up and down the Gulf of Mexico.” Oh yeah, we dig.
Bob Dylan – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.mp3
Jerry Reed – Guitar Man.mp3

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Montgomery, Alabama

The Rosa Parks bus

The Rosa Parks bus

We leave the coast and move inland, to Montgomery. And here we enter historical Jim Crow and civil rights movement territory. Montgomery, a city of about 200,000, became famous for its pivotal position in the emerging civil rights movement. These included the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and, ten years later, the three Selma to Montgomery marches. The bus boycott was sparked, as we know, by Rosa Parks’ courageous defiance of bus segregation. The conventional wisdom that a tired Rosa plonked herself down on a seat reserved for whites is a myth; her action was conceived and intended to animate protest. To that effect, she had only two week’s earlier attended a Memphis workshop on civil disobedience. Parks was not a random tired worker, but a political activist who knew exactly what she was doing. I rather prefer the truth to the myth: the  story of African-Americans taking charge of the anti-racist movement to lay claim to their rights. The mythology of the tired woman — though doubtless a potent mobilising tool at the time — now might invite ideas that these self-evident rights were granted out of some sense of pity, and not fought for and earned the hard way. (Discuss in 700 words)

The second featured song here is not about Rosa Parks or civil rights, but about a woman who happens to live in Montgomery. Her life didn’t quite turn out the way she had envisaged; she is clearly depressed and is now looking for an escape (the reference to her as an angel flying from Montgomery might hint at suicide). This is John Prine at his empathising best.
John Prine – Angel From Montgomery.mp3

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Birmingham, Alabama

And from Rosa Parks’ home we travel to the city where Martin Luther King Jr once ministered. Like Montgomery, Alabama’s industrial centre and capital was a primary site of the civil rights struggle. It was from a Birmingham jail that MLK, incarcerated for taking part in a non-violent protest, wrote his famous letter. And Birmingham was the city of the notorious bombing of the birmingham_civil_rights16th Street Baptist church that killed for young girls (earning the city the moniker Bombingham), an act that still outrages.

The concerted non-violent protest campaign named Project C, in which 3,000 people were arrested and many more assaulted by police is credited with forcing the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By 1979, Birmingham elected an African-American mayor, Dr Richard Arrington Jr, which is not as dramatic as one might think since more than a three-quarter of the city’s population is black.

The featured song mentions Birmingham only by way of alliteration. It is Emmylou Harris’ lament for Gram Parsons, whose face to see again she would walk from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham.
Emmylou Harris – Boulder To Birmingham.mp3

From Alabama we shall board the midnight train to Georgia.

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 4

April 8th, 2009 No comments

On the last leg of our US tour we visited Elvis’ cities: Memphis and Tupelo. We now enter the territory where Elvis tasted much success before he broke nationwide: Louisiana. In a strange turn of events, Elvis appeared first at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, to little acclaim, supporting Hank Snow. Shortly after Elvis became a weekly regular on the Louisiana Hayride, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, whence many country legends (Hank Williams among them) moved to Nashville. Alas, we will have no time or song to make a turn to Shreveport, but we’ll visit two cities in the state.

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I was entirely oblivious to a place called Baton Rouge until, as a young man, I read John Kennedy Toole’s wonderful novel, Confederacy of Dunces, which mentions the city. I loved the name. But we have no time to hang aorund in the state capital of Louisiana, so we move on to the city in which Confederacy of Dunces is set. As we set off in our eight-wheel truck (the beauty of this journey is that we can travel by any mode of transport of our fancy) we spot a pretty hitchhiker. We stop and let her (Bobby by name, as it turns out) and the suddenly appearing boyfriend in — and just in time, too, because it looks like rain, and the poor fellow looks as faded as his jeans. The whole way down to New Orleans we exhaust our song repertoire, with Bobby’s handclaps and the windscreen wiper keeping the rhythm.
Kris Kristofferson – Bobby McGee.mp3

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of legends has popularised the idea of Mardi Gras, which idiots around the world have a way of scheduling all year round (it is, of course, the carnival before the season of Lent). More lately, New Orleans has become a symbol of George W Bush’s callous incompetence. There are hundreds of songs about New Orleans — perhaps only New York among jock-a-moUS cities has been the subject of lyrics more frequently — so the challenge here was to identify three top tunes that mention in the title neither the city nor its state, nor Mardi Gras, nor Bourbon Street nor the Latin Quarter (though one does so partly), nor houses of rising suns. So here we entertain ourselves with a trio of songs about a parade confrontation between “tribes” of African-American Mardi gras reveller; a love song for a prostitute (Steely Dan rocking the pedal steel!); and the tale of a hoofer (the version here was not featured in my recent Bojangles line up). The first of these songs became famous in the version by the Dixie Cups, renamed Iko Iko; this is the 1953 original by Sugar Boy Crawford, who co-wrote it with Lloyd Price.
Sugar Boy Crawford & his Cane Cutters – Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko).mp3
Steely Dan -Pearl Of The Quarter.mp3
Nina Simone – Mr Bojangles.mp3

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Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi, pop. 50,000, is another one of those obscure American towns which gained some fame due to American cultural hegemony, thanks to a rather endearing movie featuring Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken, and earlier to Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin. Biloxi is well-known also as a casino resort and as the one-time abode of the beautiful Jessica Alba. And now Biloxi attains great fame thanks to Any Major Dude, who’s not even American. More recently, of course, Biloxi was frequently mentioned in association with Hurricane Katrina. So, here we are in Biloxi on the Gulf of Mexico and meet a middle-aged fellow with his young girlfriend. He came from Houston, just left is family behind. Sometimes he goes back to see his family. It doesn’t sound like they are very impressed with him. But our new friend seems to have no regrets. Or does he?
Jack Ingram – Biloxi (live).mp3

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We will leave the former capital of French Louisiana, known then as Bilocci, for the town that had that honour before. Before Biloxi we had visited the city especially built as a capital to succeed it, La Nouvelle-Orléans. The French decided that New Orleans would be safer from hurricanes and flooding… And our next stop will be the city which was the French colony’s first capital.

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 3

March 25th, 2009 3 comments

stlouis_memphis_tupelo

When we last checked in from our US tour, we were on our way from Kansas City. You will have received our postcards from Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita.

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St Louis, Missouri

Well, isn’t that typical. We turn up at the fair, but where was Louis? All the best laid plans… Without Louis in tow and nothing better to do, we revisit that other great song about St Louis. The Blues named after the city is said to be one of the first and longest-lasting blues cross-over song. Written by W.C. Handy (whose 1923 instrumental recording features here) in 1914, it inspired the foxtrot. Covered by a cast of zillions — from Louis Armstrong to Chet Atkins to the Flaming Groovies — wikipedia says the song is often called “the jazzman’s Hamlet”. Travelling the US can be educational.
W.C. Handy – St Louis Blues (1923).mp3
Bessie Smith – St Louis Blues (1929).mp3

Memphis, Tennessee

Having made a huge detour in our bid to meet up with that schmuck Louis, we heads back south along the Missouri, passing Union City (where Goodyear tires are made) but not stopping because we think Blondie’s song is about the California or Connecticut city of the same name, and arriving in Memphis. Of course, our first stop is Beale Street where we meet a chap wearing — oh dear, what a cliché — blue suede shoes blabbering on about how he is a Christian for tonight because of Al Green, or something (to his credit, he also mentions W.C. Handy). We see the same fellow again at Memphis’ obligatory destination number 2, Graceland, and quickly take flight when he pretends to see the ghost of Elvis.

Repasting to a bar, we meet a terribly heartbroken fellow from Denver. He tells us his sad tale of how he made the decision to leave for Memphis instead of staying put to be with the girl he loves (and who might have dumped him). “I waited my whole life just to see Memphis,” he says, “now all I can see is her.” As he wells up, we cry cry cry with him.
Marc Cohn – Walking In Memphis.mp3
Cry Cry Cry – Memphis.mp3

Tupelo, Mississippi

Elvis' birthplace

Elvis' birthplace

We might have cut our visit to Graceland short, but we aren’t going to miss out the place where Elvis was born one cold winter’s morning in 1935, and where his father, Vernon, went to prison for what is said to be the only crime he ever committed. And the town where the Presleys lived in a tiny white enclave in an African-American area, giving the young boy a feel for the rhythms of black music. Two men, a balding Englishman with a languid drawl and a rather peculiar Australian compete to instruct us on Elvis life.

The Australian goes off on a discourse riffing on John Lee Hooker’s song Tupelo and cryptically characterising Elvis as some sort of apocalyptic Messiah. “Yes, that’s nice, dear,” we say, tipping him generously as we turn to the other fellow. Drawlin’ Baldy constructs a treatise which holds that after making the movie calamity that is Clambake Elvis lost his way (Baldy evidently has not seen many of Elvis ‘60s movies) and ought to have returned to the innocence of Tupelo. Or something. Which leads us to Krusty the Clown, and whether he has reached his Clambake yet.

I ought to point out that I didn’t choose Van Morrison’s very lovely Tupelo Honey because it’s not about the town but about the tupelo gum tree which gave the town its name via a civil war battle — but is known in Tupelo as the blackgum tree, horticulture fans.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Tupelo.mp3
Mark Knopfler – Back To Tupelo.mp3

See you in Louisiana next time.

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 2

March 18th, 2009 5 comments

In the first part of this series, we started our US tour in Albuquerque, moved east to Amarillo, and further east to Oklahoma City. Continuing our musical journey we now leave Oklahoma City and move north-west across the Arkansas river to Tulsa.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma

On our way to an appointment in Wichita we pick up a hitchhiker on his way to Tulsa. He tells us that he left his home in Tulsa a while ago to pursue a career in the movies (he even thought Arizona was glamourous, which tells you something about our destination). Well, our boy didn’t cut it in Hollywood (or Phoenix), so he is coming home, to go “livin’ on Tulsa time”. We too live on Tulsa time — for five minutes, and move on.
Eric Clapton – Tulsa Time (live, 1980).mp3

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Wichita, Kansas

Moving north along the Arkansas we go on to Wichita to ask one of the locals about the offside rule in football (or “soccer”, as the locals call it) which his colleagues can never get right. Well, our new friend don’t know nuthin’ about that. Turns out, it was all a misunderstanding hinging on a missing letter. Instead our friend tells us about his adventures as a telephone technician who conducts his romantic liaison from the top of a telephone pole, and how the weather determines when he may take time off.  To be honest, half the time we cannot make out what our pal is on about. Best be on our way.
Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968).mp3

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Kansas City, Missouri

American geography is a bastard. Apart from idiosyncrasies in the pronunciation of certain names (Arkinsaw?), you have Kansas City located not in the state of Kansas (not Kinsaw?), but just across the state border in Missouri. Stop confusing us, Americans! Kansas City  has a mayor with a great name: Mark Funkhauser. Anyway, on the corner of 12th Street and Vine we see a strange dude and his girl drinking a bottle of Kansas Wine, the taste and effect of which we prefer to imagine than to experience. But the girl is not his wife, oh no. She’s one of the “crazy little women” the man came to the city for. Hmmm, maybe time to move on before Any Major Dudette gets suspicious.
Wilbert Harrison – Kansas City (1959).mp3

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We’ll go down south on the Missouri to reach our next destination. If you are going ahead, I’ll meet you there.

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Previously on American Road Trip

American Road Trip Vol. 1

March 11th, 2009 7 comments

Any Major Dude With Half A Heart is going on a tour of the USA. Not physically, alas, for Any Major Dude is poor and cannot afford to travel. So what we have here is a new series in which I start a musical journey, starting from a random place in the United States, post a song that mentions that location, and travel to the nearest town which brings to my mind a lyric, and then to another. Next instalment I move on from the last featured town. Sounds complicated? Well, come and join me on my tour and make sense of it as we travel together.

The scientific blind-stab-at-the-map of the United States brings us to…an empty spot in the middle of nowhere near Albuquerque. So in that amusingly-named town, we begin our journey

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Albuquerque, New Mexico

In Albuquerque we meet a fellow you seems to be too well-known in nearby Santa Fé, so he comes down to the bigger city of Albuquerque for a bit of anonymity, grabbing a cholesterol swelling breakfast on theway. Shall we accompany him on his return north to Santa Fé (where we might encounter Bob Dylan, Brooks & Dunn or Bon Jovi)? Head east, you say? Ok, do you know the way to Amarillo?
Neil Young – Albuquerque (1975).mp3

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Amarillo, Texas

It never occurred to me that Amarillo was a real place. Well, the good people of Amarillo will have you, and me, know that their’s is the 14th biggest city in the Lone Star state, with a population of about 200,000. According to Wikipedia, Amarillo also boasts one of the largest meat packing areas in the US, and has the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the country. Wow! And here, in the one-time Helium Capital of the World, we meet sweet Marie, who is waiting for the sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-ing Tony Christie. As the church bells are ringing, we retire to a bar where we encounter a dude playing on a pinball machine, feeding coins into a juke box to play the country stylings of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. The fool left the lovely Emmylou Harris behind in Atlanta, we learn. Which way is Atlanta? Due east? Let’s be on our way.
Emmylou Harris – Amarillo (1975).mp3
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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

So we turned right from Amarillo and landed up in Oklahoma where the exciting new Wilco-esque band Deep Vibration (presumably named after the cellular adventures of one Ashley Cole) entertains us with a sound so rich, we have no idea what the man is singing. Something, it seems, is on his mind. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #1: It is twinned with Rio de Janeiro, which seems somehow less than obvious. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #2: It is the 31st biggest city in the United States. Fun fact about Oklahoma City #3: It has water taxis, which is pretty cool.
Deep Vibration – Oklahoma City Woman Blues (2008).mp3

Next stop north, south, east?