Monday, July 7, 2008

Songs of the Fifty States: Massachusetts to New Jersey

Massachusetts - The Bee Gees

This post of my Songs of the Fifty States series qualifies as the least 'countrified', starting right from the top with The Bee Gees and a song that showcases their knack for songwriting pre- squeaking, squawking disco era (1967 to be precise, and their first UK Number 1). Perhaps here I have succumbed and posted the most patent Massachusetts-related track, but it's a goodie and, to be honest, I didn't really bother searching much further here! The only other track I considered was The Dropkick Murphys' The State of Massachusetts. I was impressed with the posting of Juliana Hatfield's Feeling Massachusetts for this state over at SMM, as I had completely forgotten about it...I owned it on tape at the time, and have never had it digitally, so it definitely made me smile to hear it again.

Massachusetts itself (which definitely qualifies, for me, as the most difficult to spell state...I am always tempted to put a second 'S' in the middle) is a state worth reading about, if you are not American and therefore did not learn it all in school...the history from the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe right up to it becoming the first state, in 2004, to recognise same-sex marriage, is certainly worth a read.

Devendra Banhart can be a bit like either love him or you hate him. Well, I love both Marmite and Banhart, so I was pleased to be able to include him in this list. Whilst Saginaw, Michigan would have provided a great country track (just pick your singer...Lefty Frizell, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Horton...), this is such a sweet song that I (again) decided to break my own rules. Ambulance Ltd.'s Michigan is also pretty good.

I absolutely LOVE this song! Whilst 'Weird Al' Yankovic is most associated with the parody song, and whilst this is indeed somewhere short of entirely serious this, I think, is perhaps Yankovic at his most successful. In fact, here he almost comes off as Frank Zappa in his bizarre story-telling. Where do I get my ticket?

As the lead track here is something of a novelty one, I thought it best to also include a supplementary 'bonus'. And it is (although only slightly less novelty!). Also considered: Minnesota Girl - Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day), Minnesota - The Dandy Warhols.

Mississippi is one of those states where there is no lack of great songs to post. In fact, I posted four of them myself over at Star Maker Machine (Ted Hawkins, Nina Simone, Sammy Walker and Jimmie Rodgers). I had not heard this particular Janis Ian track before this week, but I absolutely love might well be my favourite new discovery whilst preparing for this theme.

Whilst the Janis Ian track above won out, no questions asked, to head up this Mississippi entry, I also felt that I had to include this Rufus Thomas cut. Great stuff, with a super horn section!

Dylan's Miss the Mississippi was just too Dylan - the nasal, atonal voice at its most prominent (don't get me wrong, I am a big Dylan fan). Also losing out were the likes of The Grateful Dead, the Dixie Chicks, Jim Croce, Mavis Staples, Son House and Waylon Jennings...a popular state!

Missouri - Merle Travis

Missouri, or the 'Show Me State' (...what?), previously known as the 'Puke State' (...even bigger WHAT??) provides, perhaps surprisingly, quite a selection of decent songs to choose from. Johnny Cash again could have featured, with Missouri Waltz. Or Mac Wiseman with It Rains Just the Same In Missouri (which I cut out pretty late in the day). Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin's We Can Win Missouri! is also worth a mention as a recent one. And then of course there are the Missouri River songs - try Cold Missouri Waters by Richard Shindell. Purposely avoided: Missouri by David Nail.

Montana Cowgirl - Emmylou Harris

This one I posted in the comments at SMM (so felt it only fair to also offer a supplementary track here) - a fairly recent (1994) Emmylou Harris number. Her voice is as gorgeous as ever (and I'm going to see her live in September...yippee!).

Bonus track: Montana - Venus Hum

I guess that Venus Hum don't really fit in with the 'feel' of this list as a whole, and that is why they're here only as a bonus track. But there's something that I really like about this one, despite it perhaps being more dance-y than the usual kind of thing I listen to. Kristin Hersh's Arnica Montana is also a great tune, but would seem to have absolutely zip to do with Montana!

The Nebraska Song - Sawyer Brown

Far and away the most obvious choice for this state would have been Bruce Springsteen, which is why I barely even considered it for inclusion. Anyway, I prefer Sawyer Brown's voice, so there. Also considered: Josh Rouse with Dressed Up Like Nebraska.

Nevada - Scout Niblett

This was the only Nevada track I even considered including! Just click on that little 'play' button to the left...nuff said, I think. Loves it.

New Hampshire - Sonic Youth

This is the one full exception to my rule re: not posting any tracks from the main posts over at SMM. I love Sonic Youth, this is a fab song, and I was simply not able to find another decent enough alternative (Matt Pond PA doesn't do a lot for me). The additional track below (the state motto) was the nearest I could get:

Another one that was a clear 'definite' from the get-go. You are likely to know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, that I am a big fan of the 4AD label. I first heard this particular track when I received a free CD with Uncut magazine back in 1998 - a full CD of 4AD artists (and 19 tracks!), which is perhaps my favourite compilation CD...and did I mention it was free? The track listing also included the Pixies, Lush, Mojave 3, Tanya Donelly, His Name Is Alive, Lisa Germano, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, Kristin Hersh, Dead Can Dance, the Cocteau Twins and several more. Heaven!


boyhowdy said...

Another great set!

FYI: I'm pretty sure that "the show me state" is interpreted to mean "seeing is believing", i.e. that folks there insist on proof before belief. Not a bad trait to be proud of, actually.

ZenDenizen said...

Wow, Devendra Banhart is actually known for something other than being Natalie Portman's boyfriend?

Pablothehat said...

Nice ..I really like how your site has developed

Divinyl said...

Thanks BH :o) And it definitely makes more sense with that interpretation!

Zen - I didn't even know that he was going out with Natalie Portman! Methinks our worlds are very different! Lol. His music is great...check him out beyond the gossip magazines and you won't be wasting your time :o)

Pablo - Hello stranger! Long time! Thank you for the feedback...I'm glad you like it; I feel like I am settling into my pace, and really getting to grips with the kind of things I want to be writing about!

Anonymous said...

The best, definitive Massachusetts song (to my ears as a native obsessed with such things) is "Massachusetts" by the Scud Mountain Boys, from their album of the same name.

Divinyl said...

The only song that I have off that album is Holy Ghost (and I think that's courtesy of a fellow Star Maker Machine collaborator. Holy Ghost is lovely, so it sounds like I should definitely check out Massachusetts too! Thanks for the tip :o)