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Rhode Island is Famous for This Song: The 52 State Pick-up Mix, Part 1.

September 18, 2010

This past summer on a road trip, I memorized the nicknames of all fifty states (The Garden State, The Sunshine State, The Peace Garden State, etc.). I didn’t set out to do it, my brain automatically picked them up when passing the time with road atlas games with my girlfriend. While making a mix recently, I was thinking of songs with states in the title – a different smaller group than city name songs (also a great genre) — and while I’m not trying to pull a Sufjan Stevens, I decided to challenge myself to make a 52 song playlist (the Capitol and Puerto Rico need songs, too!) that would best capture the essence of all the states of America, but also be a slamming mix.  For some regions, the answer will be easy; other states will require more work, either because the selection of good songs will be vast and varied (New York, California), or I’m gonna have to do some real research on local music and/or some fcking hipstery hipster band song titles (South Dakota, New Hampshire). Liberties will be taken, so I won’t even promise they won’t, but I will always strive to hit that sweet spot of regional accuracy crossed with head-bobbing, heart-warming, toe-tapping, hips-shaking goodness. In other words, I don’t want a novelty playlist, I want a good one. I’ll explain why the track was chosen (and fully expect to hear other cases for other songs made by you, too.)

This week’s intro has two tracks, but the rest of the installments will have five songs, posted every Saturday for the next ten weeks.  Happy listening!

Rhode Island Is Famous For You


This song mentioning “the ocean state” is what inspired the idea: a bright ditty of an adoration song that lists various states and what they are known for, devolving into much sweet punning by the end.   I’m already bending my own rules because this song isn’t really about Rhode Island, it’s about all these other states, but….it’s Blossom Dearie.  Ms. Dearie passed almost two years ago, and I still get a little sad about it when her songs pop up in my life.   And while this song doesn’t speak to the landscape, people, or history of the state, it gives natives the best pep talk ever.  Hell, I almost wish I was one.  Don’t let them ride Rhode Island!

Moonlight in Vermont


For the Green Mountain state, it was not a question of which song about Vermont do I use, but which version of this standard jazz song would I choose.   Initially it was Bobby Womack’s version, then it was Billie Holiday’s version (the first one I knew), but in the end, I went with Betty Carter singing, because her voice resonates in my ear canals, down through my bones, and rattles my heart.  I sigh, and then I think about how some people don’t even know who she is, and that should change.

Next week:  the duality of the South.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2010 4:23 am

    I do think the Blossom Dearie version is a little too boppy for my taste. My favorite rendition is by Michael Feinstein, but Nancy LaMott comes closer to the timing and phrasing that I think is best for the song’s sentiments and humor… so here that one is. See what you think!

    But this is a great idea Raymond! I look forward to the rest of the songs… in the meanwhile, let’s see if this link will let me play Allan Sherman’s “Holiday for States”

    http://s0.ilike.com/play#Allan+Sherman:Holiday+For+States:998851:s30892917.8808406.3546.0.1.82%2Cstd_c82e0ea908b22102e5c60e64472c1393

  2. September 18, 2010 8:53 am

    Nancy LaMott’s version is so earnest. Which I don’t mind, but this slowed version doesn’t grab me in the same way — the song is so silly and fun, that’s why I like Blossom’s boppy version! But when you play along in the Fry Butter Home Version, you can put whichever version you prefer on your mix.

  3. September 18, 2010 11:08 am

    This was kinda hard! I kept thinking of great songs about cities, and not states!
    Ok, here goes… fair warning… a few might be hipstery!

    Grandaddy – “Nebraska” (sorry, no youtube)

    A beautifully haunting tribute to Colorado from Grizzly Bear

    Self-taught and totally rad guitarist Elizabeth Cotten – “Washington Blues”

    I know you all saw this coming from me, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include The Boss.
    Bruce Sprinsteen – “Nebraska”

    Old Crow Medicine Show – “Tennessee Pusher”

    Howsabout Nina Simone doing Randy Newman. “Baltimore”

    More blues… Victoria Spivey – “Arkansas Road Blues”

    California is pretty tough, but here’s my vote: Wilco doin’ a little Guthrie

    and a Canadian, singing about America: Neil Young – “Ohio”

  4. evmaroon permalink
    September 18, 2010 11:22 am

    I’m just wondering if Dar William’s “Iowa” is going to make the list! Great concept, Raymond!

  5. September 18, 2010 11:22 am

    you know I have Bruce on my list, just for you, Spoon!

  6. September 18, 2010 11:47 am

    @evmaroon, I hope you will tune in to find out if Dar Williams will indeed make it!

  7. evmaroon permalink
    September 18, 2010 11:50 am

    Well of course! I just can’t come up with another feel-good Iowa song, but musicland is not my purview, after all.

  8. September 18, 2010 11:57 am

    That Old Crow Medicine Show track is slammin’! And this post is delish.

    You know in all the time I’ve lived in VT I’ve never heard anyone mention that gorgeous song, which I sang for months after I first moved here!

    Well played, sir!

  9. September 18, 2010 11:58 am

    I will wait until you provide your song for Connecticut before I provide my favorite. Also, please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use “Georgia on My Mind.” I mean, I love that song, but there’s got to be something else out there for my home state, right?

    This is gonna be an awesome series, Ray! I’m looking forward to the other installments! I’ll be here every weekend waiting; same Butt time, same Butt channel.

  10. September 18, 2010 12:12 pm

    @snarky: you know I was curious to know if Moonlight in Vermont was overplayed or never played — I had a feeling it was one or the other in the state!

    @eieioj: I’m so curious to know if we’ll pick the same Connecticut song! I lived in Georgia for 11 years myself, so I have some thoughts about it already, but I’m already prepared for people from various states to fight me on my choices. All in good spirits, of course – I hope it will be fun!

  11. September 18, 2010 3:13 pm

    I think I might like Betty’s version a smidge better than Bobby Womack’s version. Does that make me a bad person?

    @Penpusher. I agree re: Blossom Dearie. I generally like her interpretation of songs, but the Nancy LaMott version you posted is a better arrangement. I think I just like her vocals more, though I certainly adore Dearie’s.

  12. September 18, 2010 4:53 pm

    hey, you live in Vermont, your vote counts twice for this category!

    and someday when snarky and dean see my dance routine to Blossom’s version, perhaps then I’ll have a chance of convincing y’all.

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