Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The 100 Greatest St. Louis Songs

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 4:06 AM

Page 2 of 10

90. Murder City Players - "Big City Life" (1986)

In case you somehow missed it in their name, veteran reggae outfit Murder City Players don't shy away from the unsavory side of St. Louis. Take "Big City Life." Despite riding a gentle major-key groove that would fit perfectly in a cruise-ship ad, no tourism board would want to touch this track. "It isn't very pretty what a town with no pity can do" is just the start. Later, the group warns that you'd better be careful, lest you end up on the cover of the St. Louis Evening Whirl like so many other murder victims. In this context, the occasional happy sax riff that bursts through sounds like it's laughing at you. -Bob McMahon

89. Thurlbredz - "So St. Louis" (2011)

When Murphy Lee dropped in on the remix for Jermaine Dupri's 2002 single "Welcome to Atlanta," he had coined a phrase before his verse was even over: "I'm so St. Louis, ask my tattooist." Almost ten years later, the four members of Thurlbredz -- Vet, A1, Lil Bay and Kebo -- would take that idea and run with it. What does it take to be so St. Louis? "Fresh, fly, cleaner than a bitch," according to the track, and Thurlbredz syrup-slow drawl and streetwise boasts underline the point. It's how we walk and how we talk. -CS

88. Meat Sisters - "St. Louis County" (1993)

Suburban angst and ennui have long been the fodder for great punk rock, but the mid-'90s troupe the Meat Sisters takes that boredom to a whole new level in "St. Louis County." The track opens with an archly sarcastic spoken-word monologue about how, unlike the drug- and gang-fueled action of movies like New Jack City, life in the 'burbs is painfully slow. With Sex Pistols-like attitude and efficiency, the band rips though a litany of suburban pastimes -- cruising the mall, high-school football games -- while returning to its key refrain: "St. Louis County -- where boredom is king!" For a band that repped Lemay on its hand-scrawled handbills, the Meat Sisters knew of what they sang. -CS

87. Drunks With Guns - "Wonderful Subdivision" (1990)

Despite performing fewer than half a dozen local shows and only a handful of recordings, Drunks With Guns became one of St. Louis' best-known exports in the late 1980s. It shared a basic approach -- punk rock slowed down to a snail's pace, with sludgy guitar and a sardonic outlook -- with certain contemporaries including Green River, the Melvins and Killdozer. However, DWG added an extra layer or two of grime, and it was definitely the most sarcastic. "Wonderful Subdivision" (as found on the 1990 album Second Versions) is perhaps the band's ultimate statement: over a Flipper/Sabbath rhythm, lead singer Mike Doskocil rants about a boring suburban life where "Dad's got a job at DuPont; Mom's working at Monsanto." By song's end, he's so disgusted that he can barely spit out the words. -MA

86. Keith Doder and the Blue City Band - "Scufflin' in St. Louis" (1999)

Beginning in the '80s, Keith Doder was a mainstay on our blues scene. A harmonica powerhouse who backed up Tommy Bankhead and Jimmy Rogers, he led his own group, the Blue City Band, with wit and a fulsome but haunting tone on the harp. Doder tells like it was (and still can be) on "Scufflin' in St. Louis," smiling at the lean times, groaning over the gigs even a veteran should know better than to take, all the "hustlin', scufflin', rippin' and runnin' in St. Louis." Doder, who passed away in July 2010, is much beloved in our blues community and beyond. -RK

85. Martha Bass - "Rescue Me" (1968)

It has been noted that to turn a religious song into a secular one, you need only to change the word "Jesus" into the word "baby." Turns out the reverse is true as well: Local gospel legend Martha Bass took her daughter Fontella's 1965 smash "Rescue Me" and turned it into a song of heavenly salvation. Maybe the matriarch was stealing a little of her daughter's fire, but if this rendition lacks the Aretha-esque power of the original, Martha takes a page from the Staple Singers and takes her listeners to church. -CS

84. David Olney - "Flood of '93" (1995)

Like the great flood of 1927 that inspired scores of blues chronicles, the disaster of 1993, which killed as many as 50 people and totaled upward of $15 billion in damages, lasted for months and led to some unforgettable songs (notably Son Volt's "Tear Stained Eye" and "Drown" and the Bottle Rockets' "Get Down River"). Dean of Nashville's folk 'n' blues scene, David Olney weighed in with the darkly comic, pre-war jazz and blues-inspired classic "Flood of '93" from his pointedly titled album High, Wide and Lonesome. "St. Louie's blue and getting bluer," he drawls, as his ramshackle band proves the point. "Don't anybody here know how to dance," though perhaps we just weren't feeling up to cutting a rug when the Mississippi was wiping out acre after acre. "I'll have my usual, here's to Stan Musial," Olney sings. "Here's to the Flood of '93." Make it a double. -RK

83. Illphonics (feat. Thelonius Kryptonite) - "Mound City March" (2013)

If you have only three minutes to sell someone on the merits of St. Louis, Illphonics' "Mound City March" is just what you need. The group's instrumentalists lay down a buoyant gospel-funk backing for MC Larry "Fallout" Morris and guest rapper Thelonius Kryptonite to celebrate their city over. They do this by giving a shout-out to its famous musicians, athletes, authors and architecture, all while deftly dropping details of St. Louis' history in their verses. The instrumental Dixieland horn chorus keeps the party going until Morris neatly sums up the tune's message in its closing lines: "Give us the praise. Drop on by, be amazed / The river city ablaze, proud and never ashamed." -BM

82. Mardra & Reggie Thomas - "All Blues" (1999)

Even the barest of jazz collections is required, by law, to contain a copy of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. It's an essential document of Davis and his sidemen in their improvisational prime, an album that has inspired immense praise and provided boundless inspiration. Jazz singer Oscar Brown Jr. took the vampy twelve-bar blues of Miles' original and wrote fitting lyrics to go with the timeless tune, and the St. Louis-born husband-and-wife duo Mardra and Reggie Thomas included a version of the updated track on their Fade to Blue album. Reggie's piano is both forceful and melodically nimble, while Mardra's nuanced vocals draw out the many shades of blue she sings about. -CS

81. Vess L. Ossman - "St Louis Tickle" (1906)

Take a trip back, way back, to the earliest days of popular music recording with Sylvester Louis Ossman, the musician known as "Plucks" or the "Banjo King," or simply "Vess." The New York native galvanized the sound of ragtime with successful recordings like "St. Louis Tickle." Whoever wrote it knew it was a sure thing by connecting it to the 1904 World's Fair and also knew just how playful and catchy music could be. If you've got a dancing bone, or just a funny bone, Ossman's gold-molded cylinder recording can still tickle it. The Banjo King wasn't a native St. Louisan, but he is buried in Valhalla Cemetery in the Bel-Nor neighborhood. -RK

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