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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The 100 Greatest St. Louis Songs

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

Page 3 of 10

80. Mathias & the Pirates - "#southcityliving" (2013)

Mathias James repped STL hip-hop as a member of the Earthworms, but his work as leader of Mathias & the Pirates has given him a platform to tell the stories of his hometown. On 2013's Life of the Buzzard, Mathias and his crew mixed sea-shanty melodies with classic boom-bap rhythms, but "#southcityliving" is appropriately square-shouldered in its appreciation of the south side. The song works as an insider's map to the city's various pockets -- hipsters on Morgan Ford, food stamps on Jefferson, gun shots on the state streets, iced-out grills near the Compton Heights water tower. Mathias and fellow vocalist Ms. Vizion don't shy away from the realities of city living, and in so doing they produce a loving, warts-and-all portrait of their town. -CS

79. Theodore - "Across the River" (2010)

For all the bachelor-party bro-downs that talk up plans of "going East Side" for revelry, there are as many tales of the wages of sin that come from over-indulgence across the Mississippi River. On Theodore's final, masterful full-length Hold You Like a Lover, the boundary-pushing folk quartet sings of a life lived on the margins on "Across the River." With his typical bone-deep observations of the human condition, singer and guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster catalogs a litany of misdeeds; it's a place where everyone lusts, where everyone drinks and cuts lines, where "everyone is gambling shitty paychecks on a dream." It all takes place across some nameless river, but St. Louisans don't need a map to know the places where vice can briefly seem like a virtue. The song builds to a peak of peeling slide guitar, plaintive banjo plucks and rancorous Salvation Army horns, sounding as much like an exorcism as an exhortation. -CS

78. Out of Order - "St. Louis (Anthem)" (2001)

If St. Louis was ever going to have an answer to the bizarro, spitfire verses of Outkast, it was the short-lived quartet called Out of Order. Over a clacky drumbeat and chopped-and-screwed samples of baby talk, the group unleashes verse after profane verse in praise of STL, each bookended by a drawling hook about our "loony town." In the wake of the St. Louis Rams' 2000 Super Bowl victory, the Lou was poised for all kinds of national dominance on and off the field, and "St. Louis (Anthem)" is a remnant of that millennial pride. Crew member Shamar "Sham" Daugherty would go on to national acclaim as one half of the production duo the Trak Starz, but his work on this cut is a worthy picture of his time in front of the mic. -CS

77. Mama's Pride - "Ole St. Lou" (1975)

In the '70s, no local band was more hotly tipped to make it big than Mama's Pride. The band played Southern rock with stacked guitar leads and a boogie-woogie nonchalance that was both danceable and musically sophisticated. But even as success loomed, the band didn't forget its roots. "Ole St. Lou" begins as a homesick song from a bunch of bleary-eyed road warriors; it quickly becomes a rhythm and blues workout in tribute to the band's hometown and its musical heritage. Pat Liston sings of "listening to Oliver Sain and the things that he do" as his bandmates rip through Allman Brothers-inspired riffs. The song's subject matter and Southern-rock pedigree has long made the track a verified KSHE Klassic. -CS

76. Russell Gunn - "East St. Louis" (2003)

Grammy-nominated trumpeter Russell Gunn's high-energy "East St. Louis," included on his 2003 release, Ethnomusicology Vol. 3, blends Latin electronic grooves with knotty jazz harmonies, winding melodies and a sprinkling of turntable scratching to link East St. Louis' long-standing jazz tradition to Gunn's contemporary hip-hop sensibilities. The track's pulsing beat and fiery improvisations even landed it a spot on the soundtrack of the 2007 video game Project Gotham Racing 4, just one in a slew of accomplishments for the multi-instrumentalist and composer who has shared the stage with jazz luminaries including Jimmy Heath, James Moody and Wynton Marsalis, as well as pop stars Maxwell and Alicia Keys. -Nick Horn

75. Wendell B. - "STL Thang" (2003)

Smoothed-out grooves are matched with island cadences and hip-hop verses on Wendell Brown's tribute to his hometown, the grown-and-sexy jam "STL Thang." With his deep delivery reminiscent of soul men like Luther and Teddy, Wendell takes it slow in doling out the Midwest flavor. Nelly, Chingy and J-Kwon are all given a shout-out -- in 2003, you could be convinced that St. Louis' hip-hop scene would remain ascendant. Wendell B. prefers to keep his jams slow and smooth, and with his 1,000-thread-count voice, "STL Thang" sounds like both a city ode and a lover's call. -CS

74. Hi Henry Brown and Charley Jordan - "Nut Factory Blues" (1932)

The blues are many things -- the original protest music, for starters. The people of St. Louis have always had just reasons to protest. In the 1930s, it was Hi Henry Brown's turn to explain: "Way down on Deep Morgan, just about 16th Street / Well, they tendin' their business where the women do meet / Down in the basement when they work so hard / Well, it's out on the corner, they husbands ain't got no job." In "Nut Factory Blues," Brown crafts a story that should not be forgotten, and which still speaks to this moment. Women were at the center of the struggle, and those who worked at the Funsten Nut Factory -- and other industries in the city -- were fighting to keep themselves and their families alive. As Brown tells it, the thanks they often received was to get busted in the jaw by the husbands they supported. Sometimes, they had no choice but to turn tricks. A year after Brown and Charley Jordan recorded this song, the women of the factory went on strike, shut the joint down and doubled their pay. That's the blues in action for you. -RK

73. Ernie Hays - "Here Comes the King" (1971)

How can a 40-year-old beer jingle become part of the St. Louis canon? It helps when the beer in question is the mighty Budweiser and when the song transcends television advertisements to become a central part of every St. Louis Cardinals home game. Jingle maestro Steve Karmen, who wrote a handful of spots for Anheuser-Busch, adapted his song "When You Say Budweiser, You've Said It All," and "Here Comes the King" takes its cue from the oom-pah-pah style of the brewery's Germanic heritage. But in the capable hands of long-time Cardinals organist Ernie Hays, the song signaled the seventh-inning stretch with panache -- Hays would drop a little razzle-dazzle riff at the opening and, time permitting, slow down the song's tempo to a lurch. You can keep "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" -- St. Louisans want something a little more beechwood aged than peanuts and Cracker Jack to insure a Cards victory. -CS

72. Ann Peebles - "St. Louis Woman (With a Memphis Melody)" (1992)

Though it's been far, far, so very far too long since Ann Peebles has been seen in St. Louis, she hasn't forgotten where she comes from. One of the great voices of soul music made her career in Memphis, Tennessee, with Willie Mitchell and the Hi Records label. You know the hits -- "I Can't Stand the Rain" and "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," for starters -- but you should also know her catalog in toto, especially the rugged and bluesy Full Time Love, recorded in 1992. The album's standout track calls out to her roots: "I was born in Missouri, that's where my journey began / Singing in Kinloch County with my family and friends." Those late-night jam sessions, and the music and culture of that historic African American community, is the key to Peebles' soul. -RK

71. Benny Sharp and His Orchestra - "St. Louis Sunset Twist" (1961)

East St. Louis' Benny Sharp is well remembered for "Do the 45," a scorching answer song to Junior Walker & the All Stars' "Shotgun," and one of the great R&B dance numbers to come out of the Metro region in the '60s. Sharp performed under a variety of monikers (the Sharpees, Sharpies, the Zorros of Rhythm), and worked with a host of musicians including Vernon Guy, Horse O'Toole, Herbert Reeves and singer Stacey Johnson. For the instrumental workout "St. Louis Sunset Twist," he enlisted his Orchestra and positively let it rip. -RK

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