Saturday, 17 January 2009

State Songs #2: Alaska

Our musical tour around the United States takes us to the country's most northern point. Until Sarah Palin made her unwelcome entrance into my consciousness pretty much all of my impressions about Alaska came from Northern Exposure, a whimsical 90s TV show that was actually filmed in Washington state.

This was my favourite programme as a teenager. What was not to love about the eccentric small town of Cicely and its residents that included Martin Scorsese's pen pal, a sexy female pilot and a well-read DJ who still played 78s?

I digress. There are more than 500 miles between Alaska and Seattle and the state averages just one person per square mile. With that in mind it's unsurprising that in most of these tracks Alaska seems to be a metaphor for remoteness. Wrap up warm...

MP3: Port O'Brien - Fisherman's Son

The song that inspired our musical trip across America. If I'd got round to making a list of my favourite albums of 2008 Port O'Brien's All We Could Do Is Sing would have have been on it.
More Port O'Brien: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Michelle Shocked - Anchorage (live)

One of my favourite songs of all time - I'm not quite sure why. This version was recorded for Dutch radio and appears on disc two of the Short Sharp Shocked re-release.
More Michelle Shocked: official site | Amazon

MP3: The Velvet Underground - Stephanie Says

It's debatable whether this song is actually about Alaska but it's a beauty nonetheless and one of only two tracks on VU that feature John Cale. Lou Reed re-wrote it as the much darker Caroline Says II for his Berlin album.
More Velvets: Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Dan Bern - Alaska Highway

Regular visitors through these doors will be familiar with Dan Bern. The Alaska Highway runs 1,522 miles through Canada, connecting Alaska with the rest of the US. The song also mentions Kodiak, home the famous bear.
More Dan Bern: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Johnny Cash - When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)

At last a song that wallows in Alaskan clichés. Johnny Horton's lyrics mention blizzards, freezing temperatures, grizzly bears and caribou. I have found no evidence to suggest that the "Eskimo Hop" is a genuine dance.
More Johnny Cash: official site | Amazon | 7digital

I hope you've enjoyed our trip up North. Things will be warmer next time as we head southwest to Arizona.

Related Posts
State Somgs #1: Alabama - Cat Power, Billie Holiday, Jim White, Joan Baez, Shelby Lynne and, of course, Lynryd Skynyrd.


Sam Jordison said...

Great, thanks Nigel. Will Roxy Music feature on your Arizona trawl?

Nigel Smith said...

My Roxy Music knowledge is extremely limited so I hadn't planned on including Amazona. If you vouch for the song I'll certainly consider it.

Sam Jordison said...

I vouch for it... But I'm too late! I'm also wrong. The song I was thinking of is called Amazona... D'oh. Double d'oh in fact, because all the time when I was driving to Arizona in 2007, I kept singing it to myself "Ar-zon-aaaa, getting clos-errrr"... Lyrics fail.

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