Sunday, September 7, 2008

The 15 Minnesota-est Songs, on a Minnesota Music Mix I Made

OKAY I spent a bunch of time on this the other day when I didn't really feel like doing work.  In general, I'm a really big fan of music from and about Minnesota, being from there myself and having the personal belief that it's just the right size for a "music scene": there are coherent movements and ideas that you can follow, but not so many of them that it's almost impossible to have a finger on the scene's current pulse (as it is in New York, say).

(Apologies to the following musicians, whom I like but CUT: Run Westy Run, P.O.S., Soul Asylum, Kid Dakota, Trip Shakespeare, Haley Bonar, Tapes n' Tapes, and Mark Mallman...also had I room I might have had a third Replacements song which would've been "Run It" and probably a second Jayhawks song too.)

1. The Hold Steady - "Stevie Nix"

The Hold Steady probably name-drop Minnesota locations more frequently than any other musician in history.  This opens the mix because of the line, "When we hit the Twin Cities, I didn't know that much about it / I knew Mary Tyler Moore and I knew Profane Existence."  Well, unless you are a hipster in the 80s, you don't even know Profane Existence, but this song starts out the mix because right now you DON'T KNOW MUCH about the Twin Cities, but you will by the end!

(I am being up on pop culture right now and it feels good.)

2. Prince - "Uptown"

Maybe the musician most associated in the typical public mind with Minnesota, Prince pioneered the Minnneapolis sound of funk/R&B, and he's catchy as hell and great.  This song is about the Uptown area of Minneapolis, which in the world of the song is some sort of happy-land where prejudices and hatred disappear.  This is a fact.  They do.  Uptown is made of magic.

3. Atmosphere - "Say Shhhh"

Atmosphere is the biggest name in the new-ish Minneapolis hip-hop scene, and this song is his sort of love-letter to Minnesota and the midwest.  It's maybe a little bad that he seems to think that a natural reaction to telling people that you're from Minnesota is laughter, but fuck 'em man, he tells 'em "Shhh!" so it's all good.

4. The Jayhawks - "Blue"

As I mentioned above, I really wanted to fit two Jayhawks songs on this, but I didn't.  Though they never got huge, The Jayhawks kind of typify a lot of what I love about Minnesota music.  This is incredibly catchy, with straight-ahead lyrics, rootsy, emotional and evocative but without pretension to be more than just a great, great pop song.  Unfortunately, they basically never sing about Minnesota, which kept them to one track.

5. Lucinda Williams - "Minneapolis"

Here's the first song on here that's by a non-Minnesotan artist (she's from Louisiana), but she's one of my all-time favorite songwriters and she captures Minneapolis really well here.  Seriously:

I've been waiting for you to come back
Since you left Minneapolis
Snow covers the streetlamps and the windowsills
The buildings and the brittle crooked trees
Dead leaves of December
Thin skinned and splintered
Never gotten used to this bitter winter

If you told me she was a native, I'd believe it.

6. Bob Dylan - "Girl from the North Country"

DUH-UH!  Everyone who knows good old BobDy well enough knows that he's from Minnesota, but it really doesn't figure into his music much.  This is about the closest he gets, and it's more of a folky, mythical depiction of Minnesota than a really resonant one, at least for me.  Still, he's fucking Bob Dylan, he's awesome, and this is a great song.

7. The Replacements - "Here Comes A Regular"

Not only probably my favorite Minnesota band, but also in contention for my all-time favorite band, The 'Mats get everything right about growing up in Minnesota.  This song is apparently about a certain bar called the CC Club, to which I've never been, but I plan to solely becuase I love this song.  Peter does as well, naming it the seventh best closing track.

8. Tom Waits - "9th and Hennepin"

A strange choice, maybe, because it's in the kinda out-there category of Tom Waits' spoken word ("Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" is a li'l more accessible as far as Waits on Minneapolis), but I like this one a lot because I know the specific location, and nowadays it's nothing like how it's described here. (I've heard a live version where he mentions this fact as well.) Waits, however, is so good with words that you can go there and imagine how it used to be that way perfectly.

Waits, incidentally, is also not from Minnesota, but spent some time there, I believe.

9. Low - "Dragonfly"

These guys are fantastic, and some of the most underappreciated people making music right now.  Somebody declared their genre to be "slowcore," which makes it sound horrible (because it's a horrible name for a genre), but it's not.  They don't really make music about Minnesota, but they're from Duluth and I fucking love them.  Saw them live once in Minneapolis, and for extremely downbeat music, they put on a hell of a show.  Anyway, check these guys out if you like this song, you won't be sorry.

10. Semisonic - "Sculpture Garden"

One of the bigger bands to come out of Minnesota in the last ten or twenty years, you know these guys for "Closing Time."  They're a solid, smart pop-rock band (formed from the ashes of the aforementioned Trip Shakespeare), and this is a great song about this place.

11. The Hold Steady - "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

One of only two bands I deemed SO Minnesota as to put on here twice, this song is a character study of a type of person whom I think is a pretty uniquely midwestern phenomenon.  The key is, I think, amid all the weird punk aesthetic, etc., of the girl described, the intense and unironic Christianity.  I don't get it either.  I'm kind of convinced that Craig Finn made up the slang term "hoodrat," 'cause I've never heard it, and I've never heard Loring Park called "Penetration Park" either, but I'll give him that it was probably some local/friend slang of his.  Also in this song: Osseo, Stillwater, and Claddagh rings (which I think I've only ever seen in Minnesota).  Also: I just spent a bunch of time trying to figure out which railroad bridge I thought he meant, but I'm not sure.  One of the candidates is right by where I live now, but one of the others actually seems more likely.

13. Brother Ali - "Truth Is"

Probably the best rapper to emerge out of the current Minneapolis hip-hop scene, this song isn't connected to Minnesota, but similar to Low, this dude deserves more exposure than he's gotten.

13. Husker Du - "Never Talking to You Again"

One of the most important bands to come out of Minneapolis in terms of rock history, but I don't know shit about rock history, I just love this song.

14. The Replacements - "Skyway"

If I were to pick the all-time Minnesota-est song, it would be this, about this, the largest skyway system in the world.  It's specific in scope but manages to say so much about Minneapolis and Minnesota:

You take the skyway, high above the busy little one-way
In my stupid hat and gloves, at night I lie awake
Wonderin' if I'll sleep
Wonderin' if we'll meet out in the street

But you take the skyway
It don't move at all like a subway
It's got bums when it's cold like any other place
It's warm up inside
Sittin' down and waitin' for a ride
Beneath the skyway

Oh, then one day, I saw you walkin' down that little one-way
Where, the place I'd catch my ride most everyday
There wasn't a damn thing I could do or say
Up in the skyway

That's it.  That's all the lyrics.  The invention that keeps us warm but separates us from each other.  If you don't get it, you've never been to Minnesota.  But maybe now you get Minnesota a little.

15. The Time - "Jungle Love"

Aw shit, I bet you thought this mix was gonna end all mellow and acoustic after that last track, didn't you?  No, mothafucka, get up and dance!


Shira B. said...

A+!! A+!

Colin said...

yeah, i'm definitely keeping this playlist