You Read What’s On My Mind: The 52 State Pick-up Mix, Part 2
Welcome to the second installment of the series I began last week.
Ah, the South. Old times there are not forgotten….and we never stop reminding them about it either, let’s be real. Sometimes Southerners can be their own worst enemy, but in music, the talents are put to better use. There will be controversy in my picks, I’m sure, but I will take my lumps. It is inherently Southern to question the meaning of where you’re from, the good, the bad, and the damned.
Louisiana is the Pelican State – I can probably guess the state bird, too. There are a LOT of songs about New Orleans, but the state itself doesn’t get nearly as much love in songs. Be that as it may, I didn’t really feel the need to research too hard, when sitting right there in my own jukebox is Bobbie Gentry’s song Louisiana Man. While it’s not my favorite of hers (tie: Fancy and Ode to Billy Joe), nor is it as sultry as Slow Cookin (a song like the sweat on Ashley Judd in A Time to Kil), but it’s a quality tale that captures the region. Bonus points for: a) a favorite genre of youtube video, the spinning record, and b) the song having a key change.
Is Arkansas the South? I was not sure for awhile. Like Texas, it certainly feels Southern but the nudist-motto-sounding Natural State seemed like a foreign land to me growing up, having primarily spent my childhood in Virginia, Georgia, and Mississippi. Then awhile back I got a subscription to Oxford American and that is based in the University of Arkansas, so I stand corrected. This song was another easy choice, as my own jukebox had this lovely number from the team of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Like Bobby Gentry, I’ll take any excuse to put them on a mix.
I really, really, really wanted to put Drive-By Truckers into this slot for Heart of Dixie (yep, that’s the official state motto); their song The Three Great Icons of Alabama is a great piece of storytelling as well as a minor history lesson about the notorious figures that have come to represent the state: George Wallace, Bear Bryant and Ronnie Van Zandt. However, for a mixtape, you want songs that hold up under multiple listens, and a seven-minute talking song does not fit that criteria. So, I commit sacrilege and risk getting chased out of the state: I’m choosing Neil Young’s song from his classic album Harvest. (If you want to know why this is a controversial pick, listen to the runner-up song I just described.)
Speaking of controversy, this song was banned in parts of the South when it came out in 1964, most likely including the Magnolia State. I can’t give the region a free pass on its troublesome parts of history (or any other region, really). Some folks from The Sip might be upset that I chose their slot to cover some of the more…distasteful elements of their history, let’s say, please think of this: it’s Nina Simone! Just like no press is bad press, no song by Nina Simone is a bad thing. Well, ok, I can’t really handle that album of Beatles songs, but we’re talking about a song that is one of her masterpieces here. Sometimes complicated words do not properly capture the rage and frustration and exhaustion of tragedies, so we reach for the simple ones that we can all understand: cussing. “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.”
The Peach State, and my home from 1984 to 1995, is lucky to have lots of songs featuring the name in the title, the most frequently played being Georgia on my Mind (Ray Charles’s version gets top bidding as a native, Willie Nelson’s is great too though) and the second runner-up is Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia. All of these songs are in my personal jukebox, I adore them all, probably because I went to the Stone Mountain laser show1 every summer and they were standard programming. They are, however, played a lot. I was only a breath away from selecting one of my favorite songs, Vicki Lawrence’s The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia, or even The Mountain Goats’ Going to Georgia (I see you, Unscrambled) but in the end, I decided to instead highlight a song that most people probably haven’t heard. This band, The 1900s, is actually from Chicago (my current home) and it is technically more a song about a girl named Georgia, but then again, so is Georgia on my Mind – they decided in the songwriting process to make the language vague because songs about the South were popular at the time. But when I returned to my hometown last year after nine years away, I had this song on repeat in the car as I drove through the north Georgia mountains to find my way back to Atlanta. Plus, I’m a sucker for songs and bands with male/female combined vocals.
Thanks for tuning into this edition of the 52 State Pick-up Mix. Next week: border states!
1: If you are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, please click here and watch this presentation which explains why I know every single word to “Proud to Be An American” without trying, as the show always concluded with this song + fireworks.