Oct 242008

Some of us have lived in towns that have been namechecked in songs. Often, the namechecking means little to you or is even annoying. There may be, however, that one song with a geographical namecheck that makes you proud to have had a direct association with it. What song and geographical namecheck has this effect on you? It doesn’t have to be your hometown, but it has to be a geographical location that you’ve spent significant time in. What you might associate in your imagination of some song namechecking a place you’ve only passed through at best does not count.

I’ve got to think about a song with a geographical namecheck that might mean something to me. I’ve spent most of my life in Philadelphia, which has been referenced frequently, but of songs namechecking my hometown only the insignificant and/or annnoying ones come to mind, like “Philadelphia Freedom”. I’d like to say “Expressway to Your Heart”, which Philadelphians know is a reference to a heavily trafficked expressway that we all dread being stuck on, but the song doesn’t directly namecheck Philadelphia or the specific expressway, the Schuylkill.


  23 Responses to “Geographical Namechecks in Songs That Are Meaningful to You”

  1. diskojoe

    The song with a geographical namecheck that means the most to me is a bootleg version of “Fly Into The Mystery” by the original Modern Lovers lineup which namechecks the city of Beverly, MA which is right next to Salem & which most of my friends live. The mention was removed in the subsequent version by the acoustic version. There’s also a live acoustic version of “Roadrunner”, that was a B-Side that also mentions Beverly & the North Shore area.

    By the way, Mr. Mod, Mad Props on “Expressway to Your Heart”, which has been a fave rave of mine ever since it was a hit when I was 5.

  2. BigSteve

    I was never a big fan of Expressway to Your Heart. I had no idea it was about the Schuylkill.

  3. 2000 Man

    I think it has to be Precious by The Pretenders. I’ve never actually lived in the city limits of Cleveland, but I’ve gone to play there for years. East 55th and Euclid Avenue, going around and around the Shoreway – we used to throw a couple cases of beer in the back seat and make that cruise all the time (things were different, kids were expected to drink and drive around here). I wasn’t a big Howard the Duck fan, but I saw Mr. Sress at the Euclid Tavern several times. I’ve always wondered if Chrissie really meant East 22nd and Euclid, because that would have got you into the parking lot of the old Agora. Chrissie is a little older than me so there could have been stuff there that wasn’t when I was that age.

    That song really puts me back in some fun times, and I really don’t like getting trapped in the nostalgia part of music. I kind of like keeping up.

  4. mockcarr

    Growing up where I did in New Jersey means there are no references like this whatsoever.

  5. Who’s familiar with the Soul Survivor’s follow-up, Explosion In My Soul, a virtual remake of Expressway? Or the even less familiar Impossible Mission (Mission Impossible)? Gamble-Huff could do very little wrong back then. And you could say that Expressway started it all for them as it was Gamble-Huff’s first million seller.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    I used to have the Soul Survivor’s album, which may have had those songs. I wonder if I still have that album? It wasn’t bad.

  7. Where in Jersey, mockcarr? Fountains of Wayne songs are chock full of North Jersey/Ct/New York metro references.

  8. mockcarr

    Yes, but Fountains of Wayne got the Hackensack namecheck wrong. At least in so far as when I was there from 1968-1982, it doesn’t seem to resonate. Nobody I remember went to LA. I vaguely remember one crappy record store that went out of business pretty quickly, and justfiably so. You had to go someplace else to buy records when I was there, not that I had the money to do so. There might have been one at Riverside Mall, but that place was so awful, people only went there to shop on Sundays because of the blue laws in Paramus.

    Like everyone else, they seem to have used it because it rhymes with a lot of words and sounds funny. Tha actual cool thing about it musically was before my time, when Rudy Van Gelder had a recording studio in the living room of his parents’ house during the 1950s about a half mile from where I grew up. LoI think he recorded a bunch of Blue Note’s albums there before he moved operations to Englewood Cliffs.

  9. mockcarr

    I didn’t mean to have a Lol in there. If FOW wanted to be specific, they could have had the guy get inky printing the The Bergen Record, learn colloquial Spanish from his coworkers at the big Sears, or get greasy at his night shift at the White Mana (White Castle-type nastyburgers), for instance. Anyone who was there longer than ten minutes could pick out a lot of details. I thought it was fitting some vague details to an area where it doesn’t really fit. Not that it’s a bad son like Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out crapping on our lousy housing values. I guess it’s better than being groud zero for the a-bomb in that Superman movie.

    Johnny Cash says he’s been there. MAYBE.

  10. Some of my favorite Georgia area Geographical Namechecks

    Honeysuckle Blue – Drivin & Cryin (Have you ever seen the Blue Ridge Mountains boy, or the Chattahoochee (river)or the Honeysckly blue above?

    Ramblin’ Man – I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus Rollin down Highway 41 (lived off 41 since I was 7)

    Johnny Rivers/ Ga. Satellites – I was born down in Macon Georgia, Met my daddy down in Macon Jail

  11. BigSteve

    Pince nez alert:

    In the song Washed My Hands in Muddy Water, the line is “they kept my daddy in the Macon jail.”

    Great song. I recommend the Stonewall Jackson or Charlie Rich versions. Elvis did it too.

  12. I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, but I think “Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night” was a great opening line for “Atlantic City.”

  13. Mr. Moderator

    Just thought of two that get close:

    1) The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl”. I know and like the guys. The Zipperhead namecheck, while not a store that was part of my shopping circuit, was part of the fabric of the Philly scene in the ’80s. We all knew some fellow musicians who worked there. The video was fun too – it’s always nice to see your hometown on tv.

    2) Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”. I can barely tell what he’s singing about, but the video and where my wife and I were living when the video and movie came out are essential. The park where The Boss is shuffling about is where my wife and I used to park our car. The apartment that the Hanks character lived in overlooked our parking space. There were film crews all around that block. Then we moved to Hungary for a year. When the film came out in Budapest, we spent an inordinate amount of time looking to see if we could spot our little Ford Fiesta in the background. We could not, but the song and its video took on added resonance whenever we got a little homesick.

    Still not exactly what I was looking for, but I’m getting there.

  14. hrrundivbakshi

    DOUBLE-pince nez on BigSteve: there are like 5,000 versions of that song, and all have different permutations of the Macon jail line. I for one enjoy performing the song with the slightly amended line:

    “I shot a mailman, up in Tennessee…”

    This is the way I mis-remembered it after hearing the Johnny Rivers version, and, once I got used to singing it this way, I found I liked the specificity of the mis-remembered line better.

  15. BigSteve

    It’s not a folk song. I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water was written by a guy named ‘Country’ Joe Babcock. The fact that somebody covering the song has misheard the second line and then sung it wrong doesn’t change the line. Now excuse me while I kiss the sky.

  16. saturnismine

    The song “Albequerque” from Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night” took on special meaning for me after I communed with the great spirit while wading in the portion of the Rio Grande near the city of that name.

    It’s my favorite geographical namecheck.

    Mod, check out this recent performance of “expressway” by Philly’s own….Soul Survivors.

    Go to about 1.20 in…


  17. BigSteve

    The first thing that comes to mind is an obscure Hank Williams song On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain:


    It’s not so much that the song has emotional resonance – it’s just a generic ‘on the run from the law’ song – but before I moved to Kansas City I lived the previous 30 years within walking distance to, and occasionally within a stone’s throw of, Lake Pontchartrain. Then a few years ago my house was essentially *in* Lake Pontchartrain, but that’s another story.

    For real emotional resonance there’s Louisiana 1927 (“they’re trying to wash us away”), which was never one of my favorite Randy Newman songs before, but now I find it hard to get through sometimes. And then there’s Professor Longhair’s Go to the Mardi Gras. Not that I’ve ever spent much time “down on St. Claude and Dumaine.” It’s more that I remember every year the first time you’d hear the song over the radio or TV or on the PA in a store, that rhythm just seemed to capture a mood that was stirring in the air. I was never much for celebrating carnival, and I could play the song at home anytime I want, but hearing it by accident was always a special feeling, and now it’s one I’ll never have again.


    Ok not to bum everybody out, here’s my personal tribute to my new city, with a song the Beatles also rocked out to:


    Just don’t look for me to be standing on the corner of 12th St. and Vine. Too scary.

  18. “It’s Bud the Spud from the bright red mud, going down the highway smilin, the spuds are big on the back of bud’s rig, they’re from PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND”. Not to many PEI songs out there. Stompin’ Tom Connors is like Santa Claus in PEI and this is the provinces “National Anthem” By the way, to the guy who says there is nothing about New Jersey, are you kidding? How many Springsteen songs are there with specific Jersey references? Also I don’t want to get into Bon Jovi because he might well be the most consistently bad (terrible puns and plays on words) lyricists in rock history, but didn’t he have a whole record about New Jersey?

  19. underthefloat

    “Buckhill” from the Mat’s is referring to a fairly small ski slope in Burnsville, MN off of 35W. That kind of cracked me up at the time…

    Steve D

  20. mockcarr

    northvancoveman, I refer you to Mr Mod’s actual question and hence my difficulty – to name “the one song with a geographical namecheck that makes you proud to have had a direct association with it” regarding NE New Jersey. NOT the beach, not beating Atlantic City’s crap tables, not about that night you got drunk at the diner with Tony Soparano after burying that asshole you killed in the pinebarrens. You know, something that would make a person feel like all those mintues that became days and years spent there weren’t all wasted or something. Really, the stuff I remember makes me laugh, not feel proud.

  21. Saw Fountains of Wayne at a Festival in Cranford, NJ where the singer said that while they mentioned many places in the area, it would be hard to name check Cranford unless they were writing a song about the Marsalis family.

    I like the mention of very specific places, rather than entire towns.

    One of my favorites is “Just let me love you tonight” by Bunny Sigler, where he says, “yeah, we used to sing down at 3rd and Fairmount, Northern Liberties recreational center – it wasn’t a place for no beginners”.

  22. hrrundivbakshi

    I’ve never been to Trenchtown in the slums of Kingston, and I’m sure I’d find it an absolute shit-hole, but Bob Marley manages to make the place sound wonderful in “No Woman, No Cry.”

  23. northvancoveman, I refer you to Mr Mod’s actual question and hence my difficulty – to name “the one song with a geographical namecheck that makes you proud to have had a direct association with it” regarding NE New Jersey.

    That’s easy. Operation Ivy’s “Hoboken” is the first song that came to mind. It doesn’t really mention specific streets or locations in Hoboken, however, but I still can’t help but think of it given that I lived there for 4 years or so.

    In any case, my answer is kind of an obscure one. This great new Philly band called The Thirteen has a song called “City Gardens”. It specifically references the Trenton, NJ club of the same name, where I spent many a night in the early to mid ’90s before they stopped doing shows there. There’s also a line in it about Rt. 1 South, which is about a 10 minute drive from where I lived as a teenager and yes, the road I took to get to City Gardens. The guy who wrote the song is a little older than me and its chorus of “Dag Nasty, Rollins, All and Ween”. I missed Dag Nasty by a few years since they broke up in ’88 and never saw Rollins or Ween there (though I had plenty of chances), but did see All there on numerous occasions.

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