Top Ten Thursday: Chi-Town Anthems
In keeping with our Chicago theme (due to my move there coming this weekend), we will be transitioning from yesterday’s list of songs BY Chicago to songs ABOUT Chicago. The Windy City has boasted its fair share of great artists, from Chicago blues legends Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy to more modern alternative/indie artists like The Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco, and Andrew Bird to an unbelievably strong hip hop scene including Kanye, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest, Twista, and the one and only R. Kelly. While their quarterback’s a sad emo excuse for an athlete and their football team as an equally worthless franchise, there is greatness in this city and that’s why we bring you this list.
10. Common-“The Corner”
We love Kanye as much as any blog, but yes, this is a Chicago song’s list with two rap songs by someone not named by Kanye. He does, however, get production credit and a guest spot on the “The Corner”, a staple song about the Chicago Streets off of Common’s best effort, Be.
9. Bessie Smith-“Chicago Bound Blues
With Chicago being such a bluesy city, we thought it not a bad idea to include the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. “Chicago Bound Smith” is classic, big-voiced Bessie and one can’t deny its place here.
8. Tom Waits-“Chicago”
The opening track in Waits’ latest Bas As Me became an obvious choice for this list the minute we heard it. The awesomely old-timey horns and frenzied sound of “Chicago” makes me want to climb aboard and believe Tom when he tells me “Everything will be better in Chicago”.
7. Lupe Fiasco-“Go Go Gadget Flow”
And the best rap song about Chicago goes to…Lupe Fiasco? While one might expect Common and Kanye to be bigger figures in the Chicago rap scene, when examining rap songs about Chicago (in which there are many), it became clear that “Go Go Gadget Flow” was the best in the Midwest, best Chicago rap song in the “whole wide wide world.”
6. Jim Croce-“Bad Bad Leroy Brown”
Jim Croce delivered a number of underrated singer/songwriter singles amidst a good era (the 70’s) for that sort of thing. The south side of Chicago is no doubt the worst part of the city, so I can’t imagine how nasty this Leroy character must have been. Although Jim does say that he is “badder than King Kong”, and I thought King Kong turned out to be a big softy after all.
5. Wilco-“Via Chicago”
I am no doubt on my own in this statement (and this serves as a conscious protest against LxL’s lesser members and a response to a war started by Todd in last week’s list), but “Via Chicago” no doubt belongs on this list as the best Chicago song by the best Chicago band. “Via Chicago” barely moseys along with the Chicago breeze before completely decomposing on the bridge and being brought back to order only by Tweedy’s soft, but resilient voice just in time for the refrain.
4. Led Zeppelin-“When The Levee Breaks”
Steeped in electric Chicago blues and led by one of the most thunderous rhythm sections in all the land, “When The Levee Breaks” may not be the first song you think about when you think of Chicago, but it surely is a great Chicago song. The song epically wigs out at the end as Plant heads his way “down to Chicago”.
3. Sufjan Stevens-“Chicago”
The new standard for Chicago greats, Sufjan’s “Chicago” not only is about the city, but its sound boasts the energy, excitement, and the hustle-and-bustle of a big city of possibilities. There really could have been three Sufjan songs (“Chicago”, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, “Seer’s Tower”) off his epic Illinois concept album Come On Feel The Illinoise to make the list, but we stuck with the most obvious and strongest selection.
2. Elvis Presley-“In The Ghetto”
One of Elvis’ most uncharacteristic songs is also one of his best. Who thought that late in his career (1969), when he was just starting his legendary glitzy, glamorous Vegas show, that Elvis would release his most socially conscious song in his career. On a “cold gray Chicago morning”, Elvis illustrates the heartbreaking circle of life that can be life in the city slums with his deep, baritone bellow.
1. “Sweet Home Chicago”
While this may seem like a bit of a copout, we refused to choose between the original classic Robert Johnson version and the better known iconic Blues Brothers version of “Sweet Home Chicago”. It’s hard to go to a Chicago sporting event where they don’t where the Blues Brothers version on their sleeve. The laid-back strut of Johnson’s version is hard to beat, but the Blues Brothers no doubt bring the energy and fun in their take on the song. Either way, this is no doubt the quintessential Chicago song.
Todd: Chicago Bears-“Superbowl Shuffle ‘85”
Hard to deny the genius of the Superbowl Shuffle, but I simply won’t allow a Bears item to make our list. Every imitation or attempt to recreate something close to this hasn’t even compared.
Wes: Kanye West-“Homecoming”
“Homecoming” stood as our clearcut #11 on this list, so I found it worthwhile to include it in our just missed. The anthemic piano hook and Chris Martin somehow work extremely well alongside each other. The video is about as good as it gets if you love downtown Chicago.
Sufjan Stevens-“Casimir Pulaski Day”
The most beautiful song on Illinoise, “Casimir Pulaski Day” interweaves several seemingly unconnected narratives into one larger statement about life in its beautiful complexity, all brought together by its tireless banjo strum and tranquil chorus.
So there is the list. Let us know what we unforgivably missed, or got right, but still feel free to just rip on us in general …