Top 5 Songs About Places (by Claire)

Do you keep running lists of songs? It’s a theme here…well, always, but especially with me this week since a recovered running list was the inspiration for my So Hot Right Now post. I’ve been keeping a running list of songs about places—first it was cities, then states, then it was Talking Heads and dirty old towns and a hodgepodge of all of the above. This was my long winded way of not starting this with a cheesy line about music taking you places, and being about places (because we know it does, and we know sometimes it is).

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” by the Talking Heads

It’s hard not to fall in love with this song. Granted David Byrne could make me fall in love with most things, but “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is on an even higher level of infectious charm. The consistency of the guitar and bass, juxtaposed with the jaunty stylings of the keyboard, is playful and comforting. It’s the musical equivalent of being small and running through a sprinkler, knowing you could run too fast in the slippery mud because some watchful adult was on the sidelines, ready to make everything better if you fell on your face. At times in my life when I very much required an elusive figure to pat my head and tell me everything would be just fine, David Byrne became my makeshift parent through sheer overplaying of this song. If you’re feeling all at sea, or if you want to reimagine a life where David Byrne is your musical guardian angel, I recommend drinking black coffee late at night and listening to this on repeat. Say hi to David Byrne from me.

“Minneapolis,” by That Dog

I love straight forward story songs. You can’t listen to them all day—it’s a little hard to daydream to “Punk Rock Girl” or “Tom’s Diner,” and once you hear about Anna and Ollie roasting a Tofu Pup, you want to stick around for the end of “Oh Anna” by The Microphones (and if you do, you’ll find it’s not really one of these songs at all, only for a minute at the beginning.)

“Minneapolis” is a brief story about a girl who has a crush on a guy she sees at the Jabberjaw. She finds out he lives in Minneapolis. They strike up a friendship/maybe romance, which is cut short when she has to go on tour. The chorus is “Minneapolis,” repeated a few times over. Every time I listen to it, I want to go to this mythical place where cool boys at shows and the rockstar girls who love them live. They should use this song as tourist bait in ads aimed at the easily influenced. I’ve been to Minneapolis probably 20 times and none of my memories of the city matter. That Dog has performed a musical magic trick, and now I’m convinced that the city is full of little clubs and power pop and flannel. Is it?

“Dirty Old Town,” by David Byrne

“Dirty Old Town” sounds so splashy and upbeat that if you don’t listen to the lyrics and get your ear caught on the line “Remember the days of rent control/Grandpa remembers rock and roll” (and you can, easily, it’s a great line), you could confuse this for a starry-eyed daydream about urban living. Really, the song is much darker—it’s a lyrics vs. music game that Byrne plays throughout Rei Momo, and one that a lifetime love of funny woeful folk types (oh hello Loudon Wainwright) has primed me to enjoy. You come to the dirty old town because it’s a “…World of Opportunities, a Land of Possibilities” and soon enough you’re building it up, it’s tearing you down. You could turn this up loud and roll the windows down, you could drive fast with this in the background, you could dance and be in love. You would walk away from those experiences thinking the Dirty Old Town is where you want to be. Sit down and listen to this in a quiet room. Remember that it’s not.

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“Malibu,” by Hole

Courtney Love jokes write themselves (actually, she writes them herself, go read her tweets), but remember Hole? How awesome was Hole? And if your first reaction is Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory nonsense, or a turned up nose and a jab at her antics, go listen to the first couple Hole albums and get back to me. People can be deeply messed up and enormously talented (See: Amy Winehouse). I wonder what the emotional algorithm is that makes us accept that in certain musicians and not others. If you made a list for each and compared, I bet gender would pop up as the main difference.

Malibu is another story song, this time about Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehab center in Malibu, shortly before he committed suicide. It’s a dreamy, crashing song—angry and pretty, brimming with a complicated tangle of hurt that makes sense, given the context and Love’s relationship with Cobain. Simple, lovely images pop here: “Oceans of angels/oceans of stars,” “And the sun goes down/ I watch you slip away/And the sun goes down/I walk into the waves.”

“Phoenix,” by Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann hits the road, abandoning Phoenix and a lover who loves her like a dollar bill, rolls her up and trades her in. A few months ago¬†we did a post on songs for the different stages of a breakup, based on the stages of grief. I think the creating physical distance part of a breakup might be the mysterious sixth stage, so crucial but usually impossible, especially as we get older and there aren’t colleges to go to or new post graduation cities to run to. I dated someone in college for two years and had the good fortune to already live 45 minutes away. I haven’t seen him since, and in those early days of soft sad hearts and too much wine, the distance was a great balm, one that made the moving on process faster, cleaner. I did have to drive back to my town after we broke up in his, and the image of Mann driving with Kleenex was spot on. “Driving with Kleenex” might be the right name for that stage. For another take on this, listen to “Jackson” by Lucinda Williams.

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