Reporter's Notebook

Your Favorite Songs About a Place
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Readers select their top track about a particular place and share their reflections on it.

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Track of the Day: ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie

From a long-time reader in Bend, Oregon:

For your Track of the Day series about specific places, I respectfully submit a song about West Berlin: “Heroes” by David Bowie and Brian Eno. It is, as everyone knows, beautiful and inspiring. The West Berlin lyrics:

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day

A reader in Massachusetts writes, “As a displaced Angeleno in New England, this song takes me back to L.A. in every way.”

The video below presents a version of the song remixed by Diplo and illustrated with various scenes from Wattstax. What’s Wattstax?

It was a benefit concert organized by Stax Records to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the 1965 riots in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles. The concert took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972. The concert’s performers included all of Stax’s prominent artists at the time. The genres of the songs performed included soul, gospel, blues, funk, and jazz. The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper’s film crew and was made into the 1973 film titled, Wattstax. The film was directed by Mel Stuart and nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.

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

A reader has trouble picking one song for the series:

I like Beirut’s “Santa Fe” and Weird Al’s “Albuquerque.” (I grew up in New Mexico.) There are so many good answers to this, but I think most of Sufjan Stevens’ album Illinois is amazing, even if I have no personal ties to that region.

Sufjan’s other state-based album, Michigan, is nearly as good as Illinois, and I do have personal ties to Michigan—I was born in Alma and my dad now lives in East Tawas—but I haven’t live there much at all, let alone Flint. So if any Flint natives want to reflect on your city, especially in light of the horrible water crisis, drop me a note and I’ll update.

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

Goodman with his Cubs hat in April 1983 Wikimedia

A reader in Oakland, Dave, emailed this entry prior to last night’s World Series finale:

I was tickled to see among your recent “Track of the Day” choices two songs by the late lamented singer/songwriter Steve Goodman. Before his tragically premature death from leukemia, my wife and I attended many Goodman sets at Somebody Else’s Troubles and other Chicago folk venues of the ’60s and ’70s. Thanks for introducing Steve’s work to a whole new generation of music fans.

An interesting footnote: As a lifelong, dogged Chicago Cubs fan, Goodman was locally famous for “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” but he also wrote a rollicking anthem called “Go, Cubs, Go,” which the club now plays as a fan sing-along after every Cubs home victory. It’s a shame he’s not around see his favorite team’s success this year.

The song has predictably seen a huge resurgence:

Goodman’s 1984 song never appeared on a Billboard songs chart, but it has been a staple at Cubs home games since 2007, playing after every home win at Wrigley Field -- and since the Cubs rarely advanced to the playoffs, where they play to a larger audience, “Go, Cubs, Go” didn’t gain much traction outside Chicago. [But the song] logged 1.19 million on-demand streams (audio and video combined) in the tracking week ending Oct. 27, according to Nielsen Music, a 412 percent increase from the week prior. It’s on track for a big gain in the week ending Nov. 3 (the day after the Cubs won the World Series), according to preliminary data. ...

Goodman, who died from leukemia in 1984 at age 36, is somewhat of a cult figure among die-hard Cubs fans. An article in Sports Illustrated says he would schedule his concert tours “around chemotherapy and the baseball season,” and some of his ashes were spread on Wrigley Field.

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

A reader writes:

I discovered your Tracks of the Day about a month ago and am really enjoying it. I have a pair of “songs about a place.” Kind of. I guess the pair of songs “Manhattan, Kansas” (the idyllic college town I grew up in) aren’t so much about the place, but they start there to sing about abandoned mothers. The two songs present an interesting contrast.

Glenn Campbell sang in 1972 about a young girl, abandoned by her baby’s father, leaving Manhattan in shame and washing dishes in Denver to support the baby. His “Manhattan, Kansas” made it to near the top of the country charts. (His version has been covered by Loretta Lynn and Jeannie C. Riley and others [including Donna Fargo, whose version is the most popular among them on YouTube].)

Susan Werner’s “Manhattan, Kansas” (not a cover!) is less well known, but it’s by a wonderful, talented, funny, and whip-smart folk artist based in Chicago. The song is about a girl similarly abandoned and who handles the pregnancy differently and sings about a long sidewalk and  “… deputies on either side of me, people crying, praying rosaries.”

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