“Memphis Shakedown,” by the Memphis Jug Band
“Play that thing boy!” One of the shouting voices belongs to bandleader Will Shade, whose nickname was Sun Brimmer, a reference to the large brimmed hat he wore to protect his eyes from the sun. Shade formed the Memphis Jug Band in the 1920s to gig at parties and dances at spots like the Chickasaw Country Club. The band sometimes played events for Memphis politician E.H. Crump, who was once the subject of a W.C. Handy song. In addition to performing, they were also the most recorded pre-war jug band, boasting a catalogue of over 60 sides. When Sun died, in the 1960s, he was buried in an unmarked grave.
“Philly Is Bad,” by Sugar-N-Spice M.C.’s
These kids are from 52nd Street, in West Philadelphia, but they shout out the entire city. They also shout out Mayor Wilson Goode. This “Peter Piper” sampling tune was recorded at Third Story Recordings in 1986, the year after the MOVE house was bombed in West Philly (not too far from the studio, actually). Dead Milkmen recorded their second album, Eat Your Paisley, at Third Story in 1986, too. The last verse belongs to then-7-year-old Monnie-C. “I’m three-foot-two and you know it’s true,” she raps. I wonder how tall Monnie-C is now?
“The Rose Of Los Angeles,” by the Angels of Light
The slamming keys remind me of the piano riff in the Doors’ “LA Woman.” That song helped define L.A.’s myth, and Angels Of Light boss Michael Gira (also of Swans) is a big supporter of Jim Morrison and his Doors. Maybe this one picks up where that one left off. But now that the mysterious L.A. woman has been revealed, she’s wrapped up in wires, and time has done its thing: she’s grayer, less optimistic, eviler. Her children are a treason. “And may she murder you,” hopes Gira. If the Doors song is about “rising,” then this one’s about falling.
“The Boston Rag,” by Steely Dan
Bayside? Is this song even about Boston? No, it seems to be about New York. Was Lonnie the kingpin? Maybe, but he was also Donald Fagen’s neighbor and pal from the Bard days. Is there a 7th Avenue in Boston to point a car down?
“New York Is Full Of Lonely People,” by the Art Ensemble Of Chicago
New York has a monopoly on almost everything such that even songs supposedly about Boston are about it. And this is the only band on the list with a city in its name, and it plays a song about another city, and that city is New York. But since there are so many lonely people there, commuting themselves to death and living in little rooms, perhaps they need more songs than the rest of us. However, this song was recorded in Munich.
“Stratford-On-Guy,” by Liz Phair
Liz Phair’s flying into Chicago at night; it is not clear if she ever lands. About Exile in Guyville, the album that this tune calls home, Phair once said: “Guyville was a specific scene in Chicago―predominately male, indie-rock―and they had their little establishment of, like, who was cool, who was in it, who played in what band. Each one wore their record collection, so to speak, like a badge of honor. Like, ‘This is my identity, this is what I’m into, and I know a lot about it.’” In the song, Phair sings, “And I was pretending that I was in a Galaxie 500 video.” Galaxie 500 is from the Boston area.
Elliott Sharp is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. His work has been published by Village Voice, Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, and The A.V. Club, among others. Follow him on Twitter @elliottsharp.