Friday, July 4, 2008

Songs of the Fifty States: South Dakota to Wyoming



Over at Star Maker Machine this week we've been tackling state songs; songs, that is, about each of the 50 states of the good ole US of A, as opposed to official state songs. In addition to the posts I made over there, I decided that it would be a good idea to run my own list of all the states...this was perhaps a mistake, because I have just spent about four days scouring my music library, finding songs, making very difficult decisions about what to include and what to cull, and generally obsessing over it!

But I think that the result has been worth it...this is a great collection of songs! I'm going to spread them out over a number of posts, rather than post a huge long one, so we shall start at the bottom of the list (alphabetically) and work upwards...that way, when all the posts are up, the states will be in order!


My self-imposed rules:
  • No songs that have been posted on the main page over at SMM (there are one and a half exceptions, but I shall explain those when we get to them). A couple have subsequently been posted as 'bonus tracks' in the comments over there, but I have been strict with myself re: what I was already planning to post for those particular states and what I had in my digital music library...I have not obtained any of these songs from SMM (that would be cheating!).

  • Precedence has been given to country and bluegrass, then folk, songs, except where there is a great song that overrides this and which I would feel it sacrilege not to post (see, for example, New Jersey and Nevada, when we get there), or the (very few) states where there was something of a dearth of songs worth posting and the end result therefore does not fit under the country 'umbrella'.

  • NO repeat artists - many have songs about several states (e.g. Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, The Mountain Goats, Woody Guthrie, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett and Sufjan Stevens...to name just a few), but each singer/band can appear only once.

  • One song per state, the name of which must be mentioned in the title. I have bent the one song rule a little, and there are a few cases in which you will get a 'bonus track', i.e. two songs for one state...this is primarily when there is a good country song that fits the bill, but also a further non-country song that is also worthy of inclusion, or an 'added extra' novelty song.

  • Songs which only mention a town or city in a certain state in the title, and not the state itself, are not cool. Nor are songs specifically about a city itself (e.g. One Day You'll Dance For Me New York City - Thomas Dybdahl), or that use the name of a state in the title, but have nothing to do with the state in question, e.g. Kansas City - Wanda Jackson (and many others), as Kansas City is in Missouri and not Kansas State, or There's A Wall In Washington - Iris Dement, which is about Washington D.C. and not the state. The same is true of rivers (Mississippi, Colorado etc.).

  • I have generally tried to eschew the most 'obvious' songs (e.g. Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen) in favour of a list that is a little more original and that, hopefully, may introduce you to a few songs you may not have heard before. No tracks have been chosen simply because they fit the bill - I have purposefully searched out the best I could find.

It really has been quite the task, but it is especially fitting that we commence this series of posts on 4th July. To all my American readers - have a great Independence Day!

4th of July - Shooter Jennings (from the superbly-titled Put the O Back in Country)

4th of July - Aimee Mann (from Whatever)


And all of y'all make sure to celebrate Independents Day...support the independent music industry, check out what indie labels have to offer, and buy your music, when you are able, from small record stores and online retailers that give the greatest returns for the artist (e.g. direct from the artist website, CD Baby, Amie Street). Why not head over to XFM to have a look-see at their documentaries on some of the UK's biggest independent successes, including Rough Trade and Domino?


N.B. Comments and general interactivity are very much encouraged, so please get involved...let me know if these posts have helped you discover a song you didn't yet know you loved, personal favourites or alternatives you would have posted if it was your list etc. Feel free to post mp3s/song suggestions in the comments...hopefully then I can learn some 'new favourites' from you too!

Here's the first batch:


Rapid City, South Dakota - Dwight Yoakam

This one was written by Kinky Friedman (who I went to see live a little over a month ago...I just haven't got around to a review of it!), the great "Texas Jewboy", singer, songwriter, author, politician and general comedian. He described it as "the only pro-choice country song". Dwight Yoakam's version, however, is, in my opinion, even better.

Bonus track: South Dakota - Liz Phair

Whilst there was a great country song for this state, it would have been amiss of me not to also include this Liz Phair track, from her album Juvenilia, if only for the line "I'm gonna get drunk and fuck some cows"! But whatever the lyrics, it is a stonking track...one of lazy, disenchanted phlegmaticness (a clunky word, I know...I vote to replace it with "phlegmatism"!).



Tennessee Homesick Blues - Dolly Parton

There are tonnes of 'Tennessee' songs to choose from, but this list would be missing something if it did not include any Dolly...with some great yodelling. A pretty, upbeat (despite the subject matter) track. Others worthy of mention are: Tennessee Flat-Top Box (Johnny Cash - and also his/Doc Watson's song Tennessee Stud), Memphis, Tennessee (Chuck Berry) and Tennessee Waltz (Sam Cooke). Only just pipped to the post was Maria Muldaur with My Tennessee Mountain Home.



"T" For Texas - Johnny Cash

Texas, as with Tennessee, is also one of the US' epicentres of music, and country music in particular, therefore again there is a great deal of choice on this one. With only one chance to use a Johnny Cash song in this 'compilation', this was a tough decision, but it is not the obvious choice, and not one of his most well-known tracks, therefore it won the game over a host of other excellent tunes. East Texas Pines from Sunny Sweeney's album Heartbreakers Hall of Fame was a difficult one to discount!

Bonus track: You Wanna Talk About Texas - Thurl Ravenscroft and Roberta Lee

This song certainly isn't the greatest 'Texas' song out there, and I just couldn't let it stand as the only Texas track, but it is a fun one, and therefore is included as something of a (listen-worthy) novelty.



Utah Tribute - Chris Ledoux

The first track that came to mind for The Beehive State was Arlo Guthrie's Utah Carroll (possibly the Marty Robbins version); however this is about a person and not the state, therefore had to be sacrificed. This didn't leave all that many (good) songs to choose from, and I know very little about Chris Ledoux. However, of the few tracks I have of his, this is possibly my favourite, and is a fitting inclusion as a 'love song' to the state.



Long Vermont Roads - The Magnetic Fields

Ok, so this blatantly is not a country track, but it's super-catchy nonetheless, with a strange contrast between the sprightly, bouncy backing and low key vocals. I purposefully wanted to avoid Moonlight In Vermont, as surely this is the first track that everyone thinks of for this state? (Also, whilst there are countless versions, a couple of them were posted over at SMM). I also considered Moonlight On Vermont by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, from the album Trout Mask Replica.



Old Virginia Block - Devon Sproule

Despite there being a fair few Virginia songs to choose from, here there was no contest for me. This is my favourite track from Sproule's (another artist that I have seen live this year but, sadly, did not get around to writing about) most recent album, 2007's Keep Your Silver Shined, and it's a corker, so she shoved Crooked Still, John Phillips & The Rolling Stones, Marissa Nadler, Johnny Cash and Justin Townes Earle right off the playing field! For more Devon Sproule, along with her husband Paul Curreri (who is also a great musician), head across to download their Valentine's Duets for absolutely nada, zilch and diddley squat! There are a total of 55 tracks from five years worth of their live Valentine's concerts, including songs by the likes of Hank Williams Snr., Loudon Wainwright III, Willie Nelson, John Prine and Hoagy Carmichael. Bargain!



Washington Talkin' Blues - Woody Guthrie

Washington was a bit of a toughie, what with so many songs being about the capital, as opposed to the state. This meant disregarding, amongst others, the Clash's Washington Bullets and There's A Wall In Washington by Iris Dement. This is by no means my favourite Woody Guthrie song, but the story it tells is a good'un and it is the best of a very small bunch. It comes from the album Columbia River Collection, where all the songs are related to Washington State (go here for another one). Using this track sadly meant that I could not also use his (much better) song Oregon Trail.



Stone Coal West Virginia - Dave Evans

I haven't a great deal to say about this one (but, fret not, there will be plenty of rambling from me over the course of these posts). This is one that I found in the course of my research, and I can tell you absolutely nothing about Evans, save for the fact that he is a fine banjo picker!



Wisconsin - Bon Iver

Wisconsin was another difficult one; in fact, the only tracks that I could find, and that I actually liked, were this and The Mountain Goats' Going To Wisconsin...but I have used them and their 'Going To...' series elsewhere in this collection! Bon Iver are certainly not country, but it's a decent, wistful song...although not one of my favourites of all the songs that I will be posting for this states theme.



Song of Wyoming - John Denver

Old Wyoming - The Avett Brothers

I was unable to decide between two tracks when it came to Wyoming. Both are country tracks, both very different. So, on this occasion, to hell with it...have them both!

9 comments:

Matt said...

Mad props to England!
This an ambitious (first of a series, to boot!), and impressive posting. I was scraping and scratching for my contributions over at SMM: There's no way I'd be able to cover something like this all on my own... again, I say "Mad props!"

A couple of my favorites made this posting, including Liz Phair with a song of hers I do not have, and The Magnetic Fields. There's also a bunch that I've either only heard of or never at all. I look forward to wading through these treats, and also the coming more.

Now, I hear some fireworks starting up outside, so I'm going to go check that out...

Cheers! and happy "Independents" Day!

Divinyl said...

Hey Matt,

Yup, it was certainly hard work, but a lot of fun too! I have more crap (mp3s-wise) on my external drive than ever before now! Lol.

I love Liz Phair too...I think you'll like the track :o)

Thanks for the "props"...I hope that the rest of the series lives up to your expectations! I also hope that you very much enjoyed your Independence Day...did you save me a veggie burger? ;o)

Eddie W said...

I spent a year working in Rapid City about 10 years ago, but I never had heard of a song named after it before. Thanks for the nice surprise, and good luck with the rest of the series!

Divinyl said...

Thanks Eddie :o) Hope you liked the track? And that you find some other 'nice surprises'!

Here's the Kinky Friedman original for you too:

Rapid City, South Dakota - Kinky Friedman

satch-paige said...

Love the genre focus of what you have tackled here...new to the blog via SMM.
Two bits on your Wisconsin selection, as a resident--Bon Iver is a gentleman (or so I assume, not having met him). And there is a great lil' rock track from a band called The Pulsars called "Wisconsin". Would get it to you if I could figure out how.

Divinyl said...

Hi Satch-Paige...welcome and thanks for commenting. I hope that you like it here :o)

I have to disagree with you on Bon Iver however, I'm afraid. Whilst Justin Vernon is indeed the driving force behind it all, Bon Iver is his band, and therefore is a 'they'.

I haven't heard of The Pulsars. As for including a copy...you could e-mail it to me and I'll post it in these comments on your behalf (and I'll e-mail a reply explaining exactly how to do it...easier than here, where the html will automatically be transformed into a link and you won't see how you need to write it!).

Having become so immersed in 'state songs', I would definitely welcome another one! :o)

shapur said...
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tulsi said...
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simon said...
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