US State Songs Part II
Most songwriters will at some point pen an ode to the place that gave them the early inspiration to pursue a career in music — i.e. the taunts of jocks or the realization that guys who can play guitar stand a better chance of getting laid than even the most advanced Dungeons and Dragons master.
As Spinal Tap made clear, few things can rouse a crowd out of a beer stupor more effectively than shouting out “Hello ___ [insert name of podunk town here]” and if you can actually work a place name into your song, then you have a sentimental favorite that will last as long as there are DJs picking songs who have not gone beyond a 50-kilometre radius of their birth homes in their entire lives.
Something appeals about state songs — Shark Guy Noel is still looking for the right chanteuse to get behind his St. Catharines, Ontario-inspired toe-tapper, “Pardon My Garden City”. There is mileage to be had out of the state song whether it is coopted as part of a state tourism campaign or used in an ironic, mocking way by some smart-ased filmmaker exorcising the demons of his teenage years. In Part One of Our US State Song list, we brought you from Alaska to Mississippi, hope you weren’t stung by anything too horrific on that trip, and today it’s the more boring sounding trip of Missouri to Wyoming.Here is Part Two of Our Rundown of Songs for Every State!
Missouri: Missouri Moon, Rhonda Vincent. Across the Wide Missouri, Weavers. Rejected license plate slogan: Missouri Loves Company. One of the best movies ever set in Missouri, (though admittedly, this is a list about as long as your arm if you fell asleep during workplace safety classes at the saw mill) is Roadhouse. This movie we feel, gives us a fairly accurate representation of what it must be like to live in the state when you cannot pay your bar tab.
Montana: Montana Skies, John Denver. Montana, Frank Zappa. Stephen Colbert would not like Montana, home to the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states (In Alaska, they drive cars and can vote in municipal elections). Montana did not fare too well in the state song sweepstakes with these two. We guess all that wide open space can drive a man to think some crazy things, as evidenced in Zappa’s “Montana”, which he calls the perfect place to… uh… grow a crop of dental floss. The song does however have the distinction of offering the strangest ever reference to wrangling in a song: “With a pair of zircon-encrusted tweezers in my hand/every other wrangler would say I was mighty grand.”
Nebraska: Nebraska, Bruce Sprinsteen. Nick Nolte, Marlon Brando, Fred Astaire and Montgomery Clift were born in Omaha, which is also the subject of an awful Counting Crows song. These random births in a little-heard-of state have whatever significance you may attach to them — in our case that is no significance whatsoever. But they were born there, unless someone edits Wikipedia within the hour you’re reading this and proves us wrong.
New Jersey: Jersey Girl, Tom Waits. New Jersey is my Home, Bruce Springsteen. New Jersey is consistently referred to as the Armpit of America, and who are we to judge having only been to Jersey City, Newark…er…as far as ‘judgability’ goes, we could probably be given a gavel and robe. On the plus side (the New York side), we hear Hoboken is nice and nowhere near the place Frank Sinatra refused to acknowledge as his home town. Here’s a list of 5 Reasons Not to Move to New Jersey.
Nevada: Sands of Nevada, Mark Knopfler. Stop in Nevada, Billy Joel. The name Nevada means ‘snow covered’ in Spanish and ‘brothel’ in Esperanto. Both of these are right on the money in their own way. Knopfler’s gambler’s lament tells of a pain felt by many visitors of Nevada, the unofficial state motto of which is, “Supporting children — the government can always help you out.”
New Hampshire: New Hampshire, Sonic Youth. Ten points to the first person who can explain to us what the hell Sonic Youth is going on about in this song. New Hampshire is a lovely place — one of us visited stately Mt. Washington and has the “This car climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker (mint condition) to prove it — but few things rhyme with Hampshire and this state hasn’t exactly inspired a musical treasure trove.
New Mexico: New Mexico, Johnny Cash. Taos, New Mexico, Waylon Jennings. Cash’s song is unlikely to feature at state sporting events or beauty pageants. Here’s the ending: To all you happy people/This much I have to say/Go back to your friends and loved ones/Tell others not to go/To the god forsaken country/They call New Mexico
New York: New York New York, Frank Sinatra. New York State Police, UK Subs. Old Jersey Frankie might have been singing about NYC, but an exception will suffice — after all, it’s the city so nice they named it twice. As Ontario residents, we have yet to hear a good song about cross-border pillaging when currency fluctuations allow… we may just pen such a ditty ourselves.
North Carolina: Charlotte’s in NC, Colonel Keith Whitley. Just a little bit South of North Carolina, Dean Martin. The pride of Sandy Hook, Kentucky (no mean feat as the second set of traffic lights erected swells many a chest), Colonel Keith Whitley, and from one rat-packer to another, Dean Martin subtly mocks the arbitrary creation of two states when one really big one would suffice with this subversive tune
North Dakota: North Dakota, Lyle Lovett. Another state that wants to think it’s Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. When Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett, it was a weirder romantic match than Celine Dion and that creepy svengali she hooked up with at an age that would have even Woody Allen say, ‘Meh, she should have a few miles on her first’. Still, Lyle is a great talent, and while the same cannot be said for his ex-wife, we wish her all the best and hope she makes a movie one day that doesn’t remind us in graphic and immediate fashion of what we had for breakfast.
Ohio: Ohio, CSNY. Look at Miss Ohio, Gillian Welch. As young fellas, we joined a couple of buddies and made a lemon out of a rental car by putting 3,800 kilometres on it on a road trip from Toronto to New Orleans. We stopped in Ohio, where the snow made it look like Canada, and caught the wonder of Mansfield’s Denny’s in a blizzard. We also saw John Lennon’s broken death glasses at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and one of Bono’s creepy, small-sized stage costumes, and later we remarked that Cincy looked nice from the bridge. Such is our knowledge of Ohio. And for those who want to follow Gillian’s advice and look at Miss Ohio, well she’s on the left.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma. Oklahoma Borderline, Vince Gill. Okie from Muskogee inspired Asshole from El Paso. And anybody who has ever watched a Broadway musical and thought “That could have used more chaps,” will enjoy this one. The Shark Guys wrote a song for a revival of this musical called “Idle Thoughts of a Singing Shit-Kicker”, but, sadly, it was rejected.
Oregon: Portland, Oregon, Jack White Loretta Lynn. Jack White’s band, The White Stripes always wear, black, red and white, “the most powerful color combination of all time, from a Coca-Cola can to a Nazi banner” and for some reason this makes sense coming from Mr White, a former upholsterer. This song doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Oregon as you can get shamelessly drunk and sleep with a stranger in any state of the union — though watch what laws you’re violating in Utah — such is the beauty of cheap booze. “Next day we knew last night got drunk/But we loved enough for the both of us/In the morning when the night had sobered up/It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon.” That might be the best defence of drunk sex we’ve ever read “loved enough for the both of us”. Must be all those great microbrews they have in Oregon.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania 6-5000, Brian Setzer, Pennsylvania, Bloodhound Gang. Pennsylvania is home to three much-maligned cities, Scranton (because of the good, but not as good as the UK version of The Office), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but Steeltown is Shitsburgh no more and Philly is the kind of place where it’s fun to get silly. We’re in a rhyming mood today, what of it? Here we offer you two songs from different hemispheres of the musical globe. First person to inform us what a wawa is gets 10 points.
Rhode Island: Road to Rhode Island, as heard on Family Guy. Family Guy undoubtedly is a comedic fart in the wind compared to the Simpsons’… chronic gastro-intestinal condition of animated situation comedy? Not as well written or heartfelt as the Simpsons in its heyday, but pretty good nonetheless at least in the “throw as many jokes at the viewer even if the majority don’t stick”, school of comedy, here is a musical number on the Griffin family’s home state.
South Carolina: Cocaine Carolina, Johnny Cash and David Allan Coe. South Carolina, Archers of Loaf. We won’t get into the whole why North/South state divisions will be banned in the new order, but South Carolina did get recognized in these two songs. Cocaine Carolina features the amazing lyric: “Feeling like my belly was a warehouse for the blues.” For those of you interested in reading our list of our fave Cocaine Songs, click here
South Dakota: South Dakota, Liz Phair. South Dakota Morning, Bee Gees: One of these songs is filled with the angst of telling off big city folk without mincing words, and the other one is something that a poncey git wrote down when he saw an eagle fly above him while out on the patio in some godforsaken South Dakota backwater. Lyrics from the first: “Born in South Dakota /Hey, we’re going to a rodeo town/I’m gonna get drunk and fuck some cows/Hey all you city fucks, it’s a praireman’s world.” Lyrics from the second song: “The eagle flies on a South Dakota morning/And I don’t see my eagle anymore/Now stranger, I must kill you/You must survive, but will you.” The Bee Gees are only slight less threatening than bakery icing, so we’ll go with Liz Phair for giving the better tribute to the state that is still home to Deadwood, wellspring of the best damn television series in the history of the medium. Deadwood that is.
Tennessee: Tennessee Stud, Jimmie Driftwood as performed by Doc Watson. Lebanon, Tennessee, Ron Sexsmith. The Mercy Lounge in Cannery Row, Nashville, is one of the greatest live music venues you’ll ever come across, and this is in a city that boasts the Grand Old Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. Lucky bastards. Tennessee Stud is a travelling tale, telling of horses won on bets and a lonesome cowboy travelling back to Tennessee to find his true love (and he also matches up his horse with his woman’s, which is damned convenient. He describes his hurdles getting back: We loped on back across Arkansas/
I whipped her brother and I whipped her pa/I found that girl with the golden hair/And she was ridin’ on a Tennessee mare.
Texas: T for Texas, Jimmie Rodgers. Texas Flood, SRV. Luckenbach Texas, Waylon Jennings. On that southern road trip many moons ago, we pulled into Meridian, Mississippi to find a greasy spoon and fortuitously happened upon the birthplace of the brilliant Jimmie Rodgers, who noted in this tune, that T is for Texas. We defaced something in the park there and moved on.
Utah: Red Hills of Utah, Marty Robbins. History of Utah, Camper Van Beethoven. Marty Robbins might be a prophet of the Mormon faith, for he doth spake:”If it’s just like my dreams/Then I must go and see/For the red hills of Utah are callin’ me”. Good gawd, just what that state needs.
Vermont: Moonlight in Vermont, Billie Holiday. Vermont, Cursive. Vermont is often stereotyped as a bastion of sandal-wearing, roller blading, wool sweater-clad, Vegan, detoxing, ‘Eat more kale’ bumpersticker sporting, scented candle & patchouli paintywaists. Well that’s no so bad. British Columbia is like that, but there’s more chance of tumbling down a bigger mountain there.
Virginia: Sweet Virginia, Rolling Stones. Straight Outta Virginia, Timbaland / Magoo. Virginia is about a girl, as is the unbelievably bad, Meet Virginia, by Train. Soon to be home of the Golden Girls-inspired musical, “Yes Virginia, there is a mentopause.”
Washington DC: Washington Bullets, The Clash, To Washington John Mellencamp, Christmas in Washington, Steve Earle: From personal experience, one of us remembers that the only part of this city you’d want to risk whistling one of these songs in is far away from Obama’s digs. A city where the mayor smoked crack because he had to.
Washington State: Fun in Washington, Afroman. Quite possibly the worst song here, no, correct that. THE worst song here…uh…correction again…Could be the worst song anywhere.
West Virginia: Take me Home Country Road, John Denver, Leaving West Virginia, Kathy Mattea. One’s comin’ and the other’s goin’. Also by John Denver: “Hi, I’m John Denver, and I just wrote a song about your state.”
Song of Wyoming, John Denver. Emperor of Wyoming, Neil Young: John Denver back again and even Neil Young chips in and the last time he sang about Americans he got a vicious retort (see Part One of our list) in return.