It's a time-honored tradition in human history: melodic tributes to where you're from, why it's so great, and why everywhere else sucks. Back in the old days it manifested as thunderous war cries of feuding nations; it slowly evolved into more regal, dignified calls signifying royalty and then ponderous, sleep-inducing national anthems. From there the musical evolutionary tree broke in two: football chants for Europe and songs about individual states over here in America.
But which song best conveys the life, the days and nights, the very EXPERIENCE of the state it celebrates? To decide that would take hours of deliberation among musical and cultural historians. Or I could pick based on a cursory Google search. Yeah, let's do it that way.
Welcome to a new Weekly Woot Series: "The United States of Songs." The rules are simple: the state must be mentioned in the title and be the main focus of the song. None of this "I met a girl from Texas" crap. It had better be a song about Texas. Second, the song has to make you feel like you're there, or if you haven't been there, it has to feel exactly like you would picture being there would feel. When you hear the music you can close your eyes and think, "It's like I'm back in New Mexico, minus all the warrants." Oh and PS: I didn't write the songs, so I accept no responsibility if the lyrics are NSFW. I will try to warn you if a song is particularly brutal, but if you hear an occasional curse word and your ears burst into flames don't send me angry messages.
Without further adieu, here's our (alphabetically) first state:
The State: Alabama
The Song: "My Home's in Alabama" by Alabama
I just had that weird moment where you type a word so many times that it starts to look weird, like it must be misspelled or something. "Alabama" just looks bizarre to me now. Anyway, I know what you're thinking: "Oh come ON, this is a cop out. You picked it just because the band's named Alabama." Not true. Fort Payne's golden boys' loving tribute to the Yellowhammer State not only idolizes their homeland, it captures the Alabama experience perfectly.
It starts pretty lonely, which is a weird trend in songs about Alabama. If you were expecting some raucous Southern rock or Lynyrd Skynyrd's ubiquitous bar anthem, you'd probably be surprised. People who sing about Alabama tend to be stoic in the face of some depression, usually about missing Alabama. But the quiet, baleful guitar epitomizes lonely nights flying down I-65 to try and get to Mobile so you can hook a left and get to your vacation rental in Gulf Shores or (traitor) Pensacola.
Lyrically, it's exactly what you'd expect to hear upon talking to someone from Alabama. He misses home ("My / home's in Alabama, no matter where I lay my head / My home's in Alabama, Southern born and Southern bred"), home is awesome, and hell yes he's Southern and proud of it ("Oh I'll speak my Southern English just as natural as I please / I'm in the heart of Dixie, Dixie's in the heart of me").
Be honest. This is what you thought the whole state looks like.
This isn't a song for the tourism board. Randy Owen would have to sing this tune even if no one was around to listen; it's not about convincing anybody Alabama's great, it's about reveling in the knowledge he already has that Alabama is awesome. And when you realize that in 2000 the Alabama State Senate passed a bill (which unfortunately died later in the State House) to make the song the "official State Ballad," you realize Alabamans agree.
I'm by no means a fan of Alabama (the band, I mean. My family vacationed in Gulf Shores as a kid so I have a bit of a soft spot for it, racial tensions of Birmingham aside.), and I had fully intended on kicking this series off with something a little more rock 'n roll, but damn if this isn't a good song. Congratulations Alabama (the state), so far you're my favorite entry. Okay sure, you're the first, but don't get pedantic and spoil this.
Runner Up: "Everything is Legal in Alabama" by Bob Wayne
Most Laughable Suggestion: "Birmingham Blues" by Charlie Daniels
Got a better song for Alabama? Want to start suggestions for your state before I get there? Let me know in the comments!
Flickr Photo Alabama Landing Houseboat by finchlake2000 used under a Creative Commons License.