Track of the Day: ‘Shoulder Suite’ by Big Shoulders

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week, I premiered “Chicago,” a new track from David Nagler’s new album of poems using Carl Sandburg’s poetry as lyrics. A reader, James Parsons, wrote me about another band, which took not just a name but also some song titles from the famous opening lines of the same poem Nagler used, which deem the city

Hog Butcher for the World
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders.

Here’s James:

Your entry immediately brought to mind one of my favorite-ever bargain-bin cassette finds, the album Big Shoulders by Chicago blues-rock-polka outfit Big Shoulders. Instrumental tracks end each side of the album (this is how old I am, albums … and sides!), side one with “Big Shoulders” (they really, really milked that moniker for all it was worth) and side two with “Shoulder Suite” [embedded below], which I think I like a little better, but that’s today.

Obviously their whole thematic existence is heavily informed by Sandburg’s poem, and I’ve always run the opening stanza through my head whenever listening to either track. They’re also equally excellent to play on the car stereo as you take any expressway into the city or tool down Lake Shore Drive.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)