Tuesday, October 20, 2009

These United States of America (Part One)

So a while back we came up with the idea of making a compilation with one track for each of the 50 US states. It proved harder than it was meant to be. While a million and one songs have been written about places like California and Tennessee, try finding anything on South Dakota. Heck, even New York was hard given that everything is written about the city, and not the state.

But we got there in the end. The rules, only broken a couple of times, were fairly simple. The song had to be about the state, and not a specific city in it, and we could only use a given artist once (sorry, Sufjan Stevens).

The compilation was then split into three sections, the east, the west, and the southlands. The south was everything below the Mason-Dixon line, plus a few out west to boost numbers. East and west is everything left, split by the Great Mississippi. After that, I tried to put them in some sort of order that made sense musically, if not geographically.

Here then, is part one.

(Ohio) - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Ohio (Ohio, 1970)

This is my all-time favourite record. This is what rock 'n roll should do. It's angry, its political, and it comes straight from the heart. Recorded only 11 days after the event - the shooting of four student protesters at Kent State University - that inspired it, Young wasted no time in committing his feelings to music. Bands can spend all the time they want rehearsing, re-recording, mixing and polishing records, but this is how it should be done. An absolute killer riff doesn't hurt either. Did he just have that waiting around for the right lyrics?

(Maryland) - Fox Force Five - Maryland (Previously unreleased, 2009)

Written and recorded especially for this project by Manchester's own Fox Force Five. Dom Farrell admits he's never been to Maryland, but that didn't put him off accepting the challenge of writing a song about it.

(Delaware) - Airport Girl - Between Delta and Delaware (Honey, I'm An Artist, 2001)

Once my suggestion of Dean Martin's 'What Did Delaware' had been shot down as being just plain ridiculous, we settled on this. They hail from Nottingham, but boast an American sound - countrified Pavement is the description I'm going for. The only puzzle then is why they have so consistently failed to crack America.

(Maine) - Jonathan Richman - New England (Home of the Hits: The Beserkley Story, 2000)

Okay, so we really couldn't find anything about Maine. Nothing at all. The best we could do was this, a lesser-known work from Massachusetts' own Mr Richman, which includes the lyrics "I have seen old Israel's arid plain/It's magnificent but so's Maine". The only other thing Maine makes me think of musically is the Kings of Leon's The Runner ("She's got a birthmark the shape of Maine"). Together it's not a massive musical legacy, but one that probably sums this state up. It's just not worth writing songs about.

(Indiana) - Scott Miller - Sin In Indiana (Appalachian Refugee Demo Sessions, 2008)

Mr Miller has rarely left the south for his songwriting inspiration in the past, so it's not clear exactly why he's chosen to pick on Indiana on his new album, but here it is in a song written while touring the Midwest. This is a demo version, but the final master has since been released on his fifth album, For Crying Out Loud.

(New Jersey) - Tom Waits - Jersey Girl (Heartattack and Vine, 1980)

Once we'd made the controversial decision that Bruce Springsteen would not get his home state, Tom Waits stepped in with this powerful ballad, written for his then-future wife. Hey, it's at least a song Bruce has covered a lot. It features all the hallmarks of a true Jersey song - borrowing from The Drifters' Under The Boardwalk and speaking of the shoreline carnivals that once littered that corner of the country.

(Michigan) - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Especially in Michigan (Stadium Arcadium, 2006)

It seems wrong to use the Peppers for anywhere besides California, but ultimately they had too much competition for the rights to their home state. Instead, they cash in the sun and sand of SoCal for the grit of Michigan. It's not clear which part of the state they were singing about in lyrics like "Double chins and bowling pins/Unholy presbyterians/Land is full of medicine/I find it when I'm slippin in/Into Michigan" but either way, this is one of the better songs on the hit-and-miss Stadium Arcadium

(New Hampshire) Sonic Youth - New Hampshire (Sonic Nurse, 2004)

I'm going to admit that Sonic Youth remain a major black spot in my collection. I'm working on it, thanks to the help a buying guide prepared by my mate, but I'd not got as far as Sonic Nurse until I heard this. I'm sold.

Look out for Part Two later this week.

No comments:

Post a Comment