Your hometown is an important part of who you are. It’s where you grew up, of course, and it’s probably where you made your first friends and learned about the world. Maybe it’s where you saw your first concert or bought your first record.
Your hometown may have a slew of famous names attached to it, or none. Maybe there’s a song about your state, or even just the feeling of familiarity, that takes you back to your days as a kid.
Whatever your point of origin, every place has a musical backstory. For our curators, these are the songs that bring it all back home.
I was born in Illinois, lived briefly in Massachusetts in my late teens, but spent most of my life (and did most of my growing up) in California, so that’s really the place I consider home. California has inspired so much music, but this song is the one that speaks most to me. Earnest, heartfelt and a little bit odd.
Growing up skate-punk in 1980s San Jose, we used to call our hometown “Man Jose.” I think we called it this because the guy-to-girl ratio was so skewed that it seemed like all the guys were constantly fighting over the same four girls. Back in 1985, my friend Natalie lived in Fremont. She took me to see Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the Henry J. in Oakland and they played this Burt Bacharach gem. It was then and there that I realized something – this is a song for tourists. Anyone who ever had to live in San Jose would never write a song this good about it.
Though I was born in San Francisco, I spent all of my childhood and angsty teenage years in the suburban bedroom community 20 miles north of the city called Hercules, named after California Powder Works’ blasting powder, known as Hercules Powder, which in turn was named for the powerful Greek demigod. So instead of throwing out the obvious Eddie Murphy/Nutty Professor jab, here’s a funky track – by a rather Herculean-like singer – that’s inherently cooler than the city itself.
This one is a bit of a stretch since I am technically from the Southwest corner of the state. However, I’ve taken many a trips to Eastern Montana for hockey tournaments so I know the sweet desolation that lurks in that part of the state. Also, this song is just begging to be sampled for a Nujabes-type track. Fun fact: Actress Michelle Williams grew up in the same town as George Winston.
Things get weird in rural Ohio… I am from Athens, not Akron… but it’s pretty similar strip mall type of environment. More proof that cultural constraint is one of creativity’s most useful tools. My best friend growing up is still one of the most interesting and creative people I’ve ever known. All we did was make up new worlds sitting trapped 20 miles away from the nearest K-Mart. We both had outhouses, which was endlessly amusing. We filmed a horror movie using a green spiky vegetable as the villain, we outlined new types of architectures that included aquariums as walls, we made incredible things out of jello, we learned how to drive stick shift so we could get her mom cigarettes, we loved Victoria’s Secret magazines, MTV, dolphin shorts and dolphin animals, and our favorite band was The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I chose Devo, though because of the DIY spirit that really was how we grew up. I get them.
If I were from Minneapolis proper, I’d probably choose a Prince song, but since I am from the country, few songs make me think of where I grew up like this tune.
Gillian Welch – “Wichita“
This was a bluegrass #1 for Tim & Molly O’Brien, Gillian Welch cut it on her Revelator Bootleg & Live albums. Wichita seems to lend itself to song and has been name-checked in tracks sung by Glenn Campbell, Emmylou Harris, Lady Antebellum and The White Stripes, but this one is my favorite.
As a kid, I moved around a lot. I spent time growing up in Louisiana, Texas and Northern California, but I was born in East Brunswick New Jersey. Even though I moved out of NJ when I was young, I can’t deny that I’m from there, and that NJ has been weirdly present throughout my formative years through music. Saves the Day is a band from Princeton NJ and is part of a great tradition of NJ emo/melodic hardcore/pop punk bands that I loved when I was a kid. “You Vandal” is probably my favorite Saves The Day song, and calls out New Jersey within the first 30 seconds.