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Underground Like a Wild Potato: The 52 State Pick-Up Mix, Part 6

October 23, 2010

This week we cross the halfway mark on our nationwide journey.  One commenter last week requested I next do songs from the pacific northwest, but I am taking a small road trip through Washington and Oregon next month, so I’m saving those states until I can do live research.  But today I got Idaho for you, along with the remaining Great Plains states:  the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana.  I thought it would be much harder to find songs for some of these places, but it turns out a delightfully strange combination came together that celebrates some of the weirder musical talent of our country overall.  I present 5 songs that are odd, unexpected, and awesome.

It’s Saturday morning, so let’s start quietly with someone who nowadays only barely registers as quirky.

North Dakota

In 1993, people were shocked – shocked I say! – to learn that America’s newest movie sweetheart Julia Roberts married a weirdo country singer named Lyle Lovett after only a few weeks of dating. What could the charming Hollywood beauty see in some unknown dude with wacky hair ten years older than her? He wasn’t a regular country singer or a rock star, but this was pre-alt-country (i.e. pre-people realizing it’s a pretty big genre with all sorts of independent artists doing their thing), and it turned out, Julia was a pretty good judge of character and talent in picking boyfriends. Lyle has gone the distance with his career, not only as a singer-songwriter, but also as one of Robert Altman’s favorite bit part players. For the Peace Garden State, I chose his quiet song which displays Lyle’s voice’s ability to hover on that edge of breaking.

South Dakota

I never heard this song before researching South Dakota (which started with finally renting season one of Deadwood, too), and I will admit, the title made me laugh enough to track it down, and then I realized, wait, Andre Williams? The Andre Williams? Who wrote Shake Your Tailfeather?  I gave it a real listen and was transfixed immediately.  This song is from Silky, supposedly the “world’s sleaziest album,” and I would like to test that claim by finding the entire record.    The Mount Rushmore State has a sad nickname (what about the rest of the terrain??) but luckily has a badass song to make up for it.


Which brings us to one of the biggest weirdos in rock music ever, Frank Zappa. I will be honest, I’m not super educated in the catalog of Captain Beefheart, but I’ve always admired the man’s prolific career, his work ethic, and his facial hair. I’m also pretty sure that dental floss is not the chief product of the Treasure State, but maybe they should look into it. This is one of Zappa’s more well-known songs (which still means most people have never heard it), and features the vocals of Tina Turner and the Ikettes — who also recorded Shake Your Tailfeather, as just mentioned. According to wikipedia legend, Tina volunteered to sing because she was quite taken by the song after listening to it while he was working on it in the studio, while Ike responded to the tune with “what the hell is this shit?” and walked out.


Are there any songs about Idaho? commenter Noriko asked last week. Yes, there are a few it turns out. One called Idaho, by Josh Ritter, a singer-songwriter from Idaho, who has started to emerge in recent years, which was on my short list. But!  Then I stumbled upon this awesome old video from The B-52s and I knew I found the perfect track to follow Mr. Zappa.  Especially with Fred Schneider rocking the ‘stache!  This song inspired Gus van Sant to name his movie My Own Private Idaho, so while Fred, Kate and the gang might not be singing about the geography of the Gem State so much, they did inspire an idiosyncratic saying that will help Idaho live forever in our pop culture landscape.


John Denver is not very weird, I know. He was originally my choice for Montana, but got bumped by Frank, in part because I also found this song about Wyoming, entitled appropriately enough, Song of Wyoming.  This cowboy track captures the essence of the state, and that’s nice and all, but this video! Someone made a fan video of this song to a flight simulator!  Um, ok, people remember how he died, right?   That is so creepy and weird to me.  But if you read the comments, the people are totally into it — both  song and the video.   They know that John Denver loved flying and don’t let the tragic accident get in the way of how he chose to live.  Well, I can get behind that.  Also, the harmonica playing is choice.


If you’re just joining our cross-country trip, you can catch up with:

Part One (Introduction, plus Vermont and Rhode Island),

Part Two (Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia)

Part Three (Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, North and South Carolina),

Part Four (the Hip Hop edition: New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Arizona, California),

and Part Five (Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa).

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2010 9:05 am

    I think I was the only person who was excited that Julia hooked up with Lyle Lovett. I figured then his CDs would finally go on sale at Tower Records. This was a great mix. I feel all puffy because I actually knew most of its songs.

  2. October 23, 2010 10:08 am

    Thanks, this mix felt good coming together — I like songs that occupy spaces of just “relative obscurity”. And the more genres I find to pull from, the more I geek out about the project!

  3. cara permalink
    October 23, 2010 12:41 pm

    i love tina turner and never knew about her singing on that song, that you for sharing that.

  4. thepants permalink
    October 23, 2010 7:56 pm

    I have seen Lyle Lovett in concert four times and he is remarkable. When he married Julia Roberts I felt hurt and betrayed that she had stolen my man!
    Love this series and can’t wait to see what you come up with for my state- New Mexico (I know what I would pick but can’t wait to see what you come up with)

  5. evmaroon permalink
    October 23, 2010 8:18 pm

    You know we need to meet up if you’re coming this way, right? Give me a shout when you’re near Seattle!

  6. October 23, 2010 8:31 pm

    @thepants: oh no, now there’s pressure!! thanks for following along, and at the end, i want to swap mixes with people who make their own version.

    @cara: yeah, i don’t think there was a Frank Zappa in What’s Love Got To Do With It, which is where 80% of Tina Turner info in my memory comes from!

    @evmaroon: yes! i’m hoping to see Spoon too — it will be a Fry Butter Tour!

  7. thepants permalink
    October 24, 2010 4:24 pm

    @raymondj- no pressure. There’s a New Mexico song by Johnny Cash but it’s not very complimentary to my fair state. There is also a great one by Jill Sobule if you get stuck.

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