When I was in third grade I learned all 50 states in alphabetical order thanks to a catchy tune. Now I'm hoping to stick that bit of trivia in your head just in time for the new school year by celebrating each state with an appropriate song.
Magic Man, "South Dakota" Magic Man is part of this new wave of synth-poppy goodness that's been showing up here in Houston and a few other places you'd least expect. Ellie Goulding just asked them to do a remix, so they've clearly got the chops. The band tends towards place-name songs, and does a fair job of it. "South Dakota" is about a yearning for freedom, which comes across in every boop and beep.
Secret Sisters, "Tennessee Me": A strong second on the crappy-pun department after Missouri, Tennessee at least has the excellence of the Secret Sisters keeping traditional country alive and kicking. It's music that makes you feel right at home, and Laura and Lydia just kill every single note. Prettier songs cannot be found.
Nina Persson & Nathan Larson, "The Bluest Eyes In Texas": I agonized over what I should pick for my own home, but in the end this song will never be beaten for me. I'll never forget hearing it after watching Brandon Teena get murdered in Boys Don't Cry, and for maybe the first time realizing just how powerful a piece of music can be in the realm of film.
Since then, it's more or less always playing in the back of my head during these hard and intolerant times, a broken-hearted pulse that never quite lets go.
Camper Van Beethoven, "History of Utah"
I've never been entirely clear on whether this song was a metaphor of the founding of the Mormon church or just some strange bit of surreal storytelling by David Lowery. The answer is probably somewhere in between. It's the perfect split-personality tune to celebrate a state that mixes staunch conservatism with a flashy and vibrant underground.
More fun with states on the next page.
The Magnetic Fields, "Long Vermont Roads": Stephen Merritt is probably best knows for his work in Future Bible Heroes, but his fun little lo-fi synth-pop stuff as The Magnetic Fields deserves a closer look. Songs like "Long Vermont Roads" that show off his tremendous acumen as a lyricist. It's full of clever little turns of phrase that may be double entendres or may be literal, all droning sadly over his almost chip-tune style of backing. It's a sad tune about the callousness of the world around us to our suffering, but enjoyable for the misery nonetheless.
Manic Street Preachers. "Virginia State Epileptic Colony" So I'm going to tell you the saddest story ever. In 1923, a Virginia woman named Carrie Buck was raped by the nephew of her foster parents and got pregnant. Embarrassed, her foster parents had her committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded for promiscuity, and when she gave birth her child was returned to her foster parents to be raised.
Under state eugenics laws, Buck was subsequently sterilized via surgery to ensure she would not pass along any more undesirable genes to the population. She later became the plaintiff in a case trying to overturn such laws, but the Supreme Court upheld the decision and said of eugenics, "the principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes."
That decision has never been overturned. The Manic Street Preachers did a great song about it, though.
Atom and His Package, "If You Own The Washington Redskins, You're a Cock" This is, simply put, the most eloquent statement ever done on the subject of stupid sports-team names ever put forth in any medium.
More fun with states on the next page.
Bobby Bare, "West Virginia Woman" Bobby Bare has been putting out quality country and novelty songs for 50 years, and just recently made it into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He put out this sweet ballad to a woman from West Virginia back in 1971 on the album I Need Some Good News Bad. It wasn't a hit record, but it's still a hell of an endorsement of the appeal of the fairer sex out West Virginia ways.
The Crucifucks, "Wisconsin" Last I heard of Crucifucks founder Doc Corbin Dart, he had changed his name to 26 and renounced swear words, because why should Prince be the only insane singer in the Midwest?
Wisconsin is a punk album that should be in everyone's library, as the 1987 release took a much more mellow approach that was incredibly daring, and has shades of greater acts like Public Image Ltd. and Porno for Pyros. It was ahead of its time, and a for such an anarchistic act is actually a fairly sweet remembrance of hometown life away from the hassle of the big city.
The Black Crowes, "Wyoming & Me" Let's go out on a soft note. The Black Crowes were always masters of sad sentiments, but you may have missed this gem. Since it only appears on the Lost Crowes compilation. It's a song of emptiness, but also about strength despite flaws. It's, dare I say it, the sort of thing that we can sing about the country as a whole. This state is full of hipsters, this one hates women, that one makes the best chili, and that one has a kick-ass water park.
So God and whoever else is up there listening bless all 50 United States, even when some of them act like total prats. Like the song here says, we're flawed but beautiful, so let's all join hands and sing. Thanks for listening to all 50 songs!
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