Tuesday, 13 January 2009

State Songs #1: Alabama

A Southern start to an epic musical journey

Last October Joanne and I were driving back from a weekend away with friends listening to the brilliant Port O'Brien album All We Could Do Is Sing on the stereo. Track 3, Fisherman's Son, opens with the line, "I'm doing fine in Alaska" which got us talking about the potential of a great '50 States, 50 Songs' playlist we could lovingly compile for a future road trip.

The more we discussed songs about places in America the more I thought this subject had blog potential. So here we are - 50 states, 50 blog posts* - starting in the "Heart of Dixie" and finishing, who knows when, in Dick Cheney's home state of Wyoming.

The selections will be a mixture of what we already own and songs I'll be seeking out (the Musical Map episode of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour has already sown some inspirational seeds). Feel free to suggest tracks I've omitted or should include in future posts.

There are no shortage of songs about Alabama (Wikipedia even has an entry on them) and I've missed out obvious ones by Neil Young and the Grateful Dead but I hope you enjoy what I have posted.

Okay, seat belts on, let's go.

MP3: Lynryd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama

A predictable start to our epic journey I know but it's easily the most famous song about Alabama and I'd get complaints for not including it. You may recall it being put to amusing use in the film Con Air.
More Lynryd Skynyrd: fan site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Shelby Lynne - Where I'm From

Shelby Lynne grew up in Alabama and this song is a wonderful evocation of the laid-back Southern way of life although, as she sings, "This ain't no Margaret Mitchell". In fact some of Lynne's biography is sadly Faulknerian.
More Shelby Lynne: MySpace | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Cat Power - Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)

This is Cat Power's contribution to the I'm Not There soundtrack. You can hear the Dylan original on Blonde on Blonde. Some trivia - Mobile is twined with Havana, Cuba and Malaga, Spain.
More Cat Power: MySpace |Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Billie Holiday - Stars Fell on Alabama

This jazz standard was written in 1934 and has been recorded by hundreds of people. I've gone with a populist choice. The title refers a meteor shower observed in Alabama in 1833.
More Billie Holiday: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Jim White - Alabama Chrome

I've previously recommended the film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It features a great sequence with Jim White talking about "Alabama chrome", i.e. duct tape used for car repairs.
More Jim White: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Joan Baez - Birmingham Sunday

My dad wouldn't forgive me for not including this in a post about Alabama songs so I'm afraid we're ending on a downbeat note. The song was written by Baez's brother-in-law Richard Farina in response to the KKK bombing that killed four school girls in Birmngham in 1963. If you've not seen it, Spike Lee's documentary 4 Little Girls is a brilliant account of the atrocity and its aftermath.
More Joan Baez: official site | Amazon | 7digital

I hope you've enjoyed the start to our journey. All comments welcome. Next time we'll be wrapping up warm and heading north to Alaska.

*Actually, it'll be at least 51 blog posts because there are some excellent Washington, DC songs I'd be remiss to leave out and Texas and Tennessee probably warrant at least two entries each.


Sam Jordison said...

Lovely... thanks Nigel

david v said...

I've always been partial to Kate Campbell's take on the civil rights-era turmoil 'Crazy in Alabama':

"And when the National Guard came in
I thought the world was gonna end"

and also, more tangentially, Emmylou Harris' 'From Boulder to Birmingham'. Perhaps that is coming in the Colorado posting.

tristan said...

And the same incident inspired John Coltrane's Alabama (http://www.allaboutjazz.com/library/livejazz7.htm)

Nigel Smith said...

Thanks for these.

Dave - I'm not familiar with Kate Campbell. Will investigate.

Tristan - other members of the jazz lobby have already complained about me overlooking JC!

Nigel Smith said...

I take back my comment about Kate Campbell. Just found the track on Last.fm. I have it on an Uncut mag compliation from Sept 1998 which I suspect is where Dave first heard it too! Good song.

edward said...

The Kate Campbell song is from her cd "Visions of Plenty," which is very good. She is actually from Mississippi, I believe, which is why the song is about Alabama.

My favorite Alabama song is the Brecht/Weill "Oh Moon of...." of which there are a lot of recordings of.

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