50 States of Song Part 2: Hawaii to Maryland

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 just in time for the new school year by celebrating each state with an appropriate song all this week.

Hawaii: A Classic Education, "We Can Always Run to Hawaii" I really wanted to avoid the typical surf stuff that people always associate with Hawaii. Not that there's anything wrong with surfing or surf music, but to me it's always selling the idea of Hawaii as some sort of very specific cloud in Heaven. That's why I like this Classic Education song so much. It's not about Hawaii, but the assumption of the place as a kind of endless paradise in the minds of those who have never seen it.

Idaho: Rednex, "Nowhere in Idaho" I love Rednex. There, I said it. I will sit around and listen to their electronic hee-haw all the dingalong day because it's cheesy, infectious, and all around fun stuff. This is actually one of their almost completely traditional country outings with no dancey-dance to be found, but it's a good bit all the same.

Illinois: The Handsome Family, "The Giant of Illinois" You've got to love a band that can spin a wonderful murder ballad like The Handsome Family can. Here they tell the tale of Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man who hailed from Illinois, just as Handsome Family does. He died suddenly at the age of 22 when an infected blister turned septic. He was just shy of nine feet tall at his death, and no one could have asked for a better tribute song than this one.

The geographical fun continues on the next page.

Indiana: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Mary Jane's Last Dance" There are few truly perfect music videos in the world, and Tom Petty is responsible for at least two of them. The song is an ode to a lost love, an Indiana girl gone wild. The video remains one of the most iconic of the '90s, watching as Tom wines and dines a dead Kim Bassinger.

I don't know how the people of Indiana will take being honored with a vaguely necrophiliac vid, but I promise I mean it as a compliment.

Iowa: Balance Problems, "Iowa" I can find almost nothing written about Balance Problems, aside from the fact that they have a few songs that have been featured on 16 & Pregnant. Don't hold that against them, though. This song, about a girl from the Midwest that our boy never got over, is killer.

Kansas: Neko Case, "The Train From Kansas City" I don't know what it is about the Midwest that gives rise to so many sad-bastard love songs, but boy, there sure are a lot of them. Neko Case brings the pain on this Shangril-Las cover, from her live album, The Tigers Have Spoken.

Case does perfect justice to the track, and she really shows off the emptiness of her voice, singing about a boy she used to love, who came to claim her not knowing that she's now married. Seriously, Midwest, you guys need couple's counseling.

Kentucky: A Radio With Guts, "Kentucky Straight Razor" Formed from the ashes of The Connie Dungs comes A Radio With Guts -- oh, and a throat-punch of a great drinking and killing song -- and what else would you expect from a band named after a Charles Bukowski poem? This is some of the best modern punk around, and it throws some much needed testosterone into today's playlist. Snotty and super-duper sharp, you've just got to love it.

The geographical fun continues on the next page.

Louisiana: Underworld, "Louisiana" For our friends down in the bayous and the swamps, I knew I had to do something sad and creepy as hell. Well, Underworld fits that bill perfectly. The whole thing sounds like the dream sequence of a mad man, and for me that sums up Louisiana perfectly. A place of beautiful madness.

Maine: El Ten Eleven, "Jumping Frenchmen of Maine" Speaking of creepy place, and yes, I think Maine is creepy after reading so many Stephen King novels, here's an instrumental groove that would make a great horror movie fight scene soundtrack. It's named after a bizarre incident in 19th century Maine where a group of lumberjacks exhibited greatly exaggerated startle reflexes, resulting in uncontrollable jumping. The origin and subsequent cessation of the condition remains unknown.

Maryland: Teen Suicide, "Dan Collins vs. the Maryland Judicial System" Here and gone in just a year, Teen Suicide left some stellar work behind them, including one of the best titled albums ever named, i will be my own hell because there is a devil inside my body. I don't know who Dan Collins is, but Teen Suicide sets an ominous mood in a four line song that would take another acts hours to accomplish. It certainly makes me leery of Maryland.

Catch up on the other 50 States of Songs so far:

Part 1: Alabama to Georgia

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.


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