1.10.2008

Songs about places



There are tons of artists that wrote, recorded and performed songs about specific locations. "New York, New York", by Frank Sinatra, is probably the most famous one in the world.
I was thinking about this: what makes a song about a town, city, region or whatever a good one? To me, a good song expresses the spirit of a place. Below, five of my favorites are mentioned.

1. Elvis Presley - Viva Las Vegas
Ask yourself which Elvis was cooler? The early, thin, hip-shakin' Elvis? Or the older, fat Elvis in tacky white jumpsuits? I'm clearly in favor of the latter. Over the top, glittering, kitch-pastiche with a hint of self-irony, I love it. And Las Vegas is exactly the same. I've never seen a more perfect fit than singer, song and city.

5. Herbert Grönemeyer - Bochum
Bochum is a industrial town in the west of Germany, that is suffering under its de-industrialisation. It's a messy city, and constantly drastically being rebuilt. Grönemeyer, who grew up in this town, sings about just this, as being the great charm of the town. The downsides are sung upon as being it's specific character.

3. Jacques Brel - Mijn Vlakke Land
Brel sings about the Flemish landscape. His words echo the rhythm of the land, his voice mimics the battle against the elements. Oddly enough, Brel wasn't even Flemish. You wouldn't believe that after this song

2. The Clash - London's Burning
This song is not just about London. Moreover, it's a documentation of London at a specific time: the end of the seventies. Even more than "London Calling". Youth in a situation that seems to only be changing for the worse and is bored to death. Expression of the 'Zeitgeist'.

1. David Bowie - Warszawa
This song was actually written to evoke the desolateness of the Polish capital at the time of Bowie's visit to Warsaw (in 1976). Even though I have never been in Warsaw alltogether, and wasn't even born in 1976, I still believe it's safe to say that I've visited the place and time through this song. This mainly instrumental song creates the suspense that fits the city involved.

What are your favorite song about a place? Or did I miss out on a crucial one?

4 comments:

evelien said...

Okay, place & music combined, this gets my thoughts going! ;-)
And then I immediately think of Sufjan Stevens and his enormous project to make albums on all the states in the USA. He did 2 by now I think, Michigan and Illinois, so if he wants to complete them all he might has to start hurrying.
I've got no clue if he really succeeds in capturing the spirit of those places, but frankly I don't care. Because, either way, I am absolutely in love with the album Illinois! And the song 'Chicago' is definitely one of the greatest songs named after a city, I know!

evelien said...

Yes thoughts definitely going over here..there is more..:-)

PJ Harvey's 'Stories from the city, stories from the sea'. An album inspired bij the city New York. But okay..then I am really not on your track anymore..
Let's go back on there and say:
Rowwen Hèze - De peel in brand. A song beautifully capturing the nostalgia of childhood, while sketching the landscape of 'de Peel'.

archipelagoes said...

Sufjan Stevens is indeed great - and I would've picked "Chicago" as favorite song, too!

I'm not too sure about Rowwen Hèze, though. It could also be that that song was ruined for me because I believed for quite a long time that it was about sexually transmitted diseases (because of the singers' accent it sounds like he sings "de piel in brand" (my dick burns)).

And I completely forgot to mention Randy Newman in the post... I believe he made tons of songs about places: (christmas in) Cape Town, (I love) L.A., Louisiana, Miami, New Orleans, etcetera. And of course my favorite: Baltimore.

Oh, and "Alphabet Town" by Elliott Smith (it's a part of New York), famous for having a lot of drug dealers etc...

evelien said...

hahahahaha..grapjas!

Just read the text once..it's really nice (and nothing about burning bodyparts ;-))