A couple weeks ago, Carole’s Ten on Tuesday topic asked for 10 Songs about the Place Where I Live. I ran out of time to deal with the subject adequately at the time, but it’s a fun topic, and I thought you might enjoy checking out some of the music local to or focusing on Washington, D.C., the hometown of John Phillips Sousa, Duke Ellington (he and his piano appear on the D.C. quarter), and Marvin Gaye, among others:
“Washington, D.C.” by The Magnetic Fields
This has nothing to do with D.C.
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by The Postal Service
After the Magnetic Fields song, this is one of the D.C. songs locals can probably give you. If you think the vocalists sound familiar, you may know them from Death Cab for Cutie and Rilo Kiley (Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are the band itself; Jenny Lewis provides backing vocals). Bonus points for it actually being about the District, which is our local municipality, as opposed to the moniker Washington, which we concede to the feds. (It’s really one of those tell-tale signs of poor fact-checking in tv shows, like the mispronunciation of Oregon and the addition of an article before interstate numbers anywhere away from the West Coast.)
“Bustin’ Loose” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers
Let me say right at the outset that this song does not have anything to do with D.C., other than that Chuck Brown, known as the Godfather of Go-Go, lived, wrote, and performed here for many years and that go-go as a genre was developed here. I thought about instead including “D.C. Don’t Stand for Dodge City,” by the The Go-Go Posse (of which Brown was a member), but ultimately needed to go with this song, which nearly every resident of the District knows and which could be said to be our unofficial anthem.
“Work” by Wale
Wale, who was nominated for a Grammy for his last album, is D.C.’s hippest rapper right now. While “D.C. or Nothing” would be a more obvious choice, this video, which features colorful language you may not want small children or your coworkers listening to, may not have anything to say about D.C. specifically, but is filmed across the District and features plenty of scenery locals will recognize.
“Welcome to D.C.” by Mambo Sauce
Mambo (or mumbo) sauce is an orange-hued, barbecue-sauce-like topping ubiquitously applied to wings, fries, and Chinese food to the D.C. area (although apparently it originated in Chicago).
“Chocolate City” by Parliament
Chocolate City is one of D.C.’s nicknames.
“Cashout” by Fugazi
The MacKayes are one of D.C.’s modern musical families (Amanda runs the free Fort Reno summer music series), and Ian is the frontman for one of the best-known punk bands of the 1990s.
“The Washington Post March” by John Philip Sousa, as performed by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band
We all know this one, even if we didn’t know its name or that it was commissioned by the local newspaper for its 1889 essay contest awards ceremony.
“Concerto in E Flat (Dumbarton Oaks 8-v-38)” by Igor Stravinsky, as performed by Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana, Igor Stravinsky, conductor, at Lugano, April 29, 1954
Mildred Barnes Bliss commissioned the famous Russian composer to write a concerto for her 30th anniversary with Roberts Woods Bliss and to subtitle the song after their Washington, D.C., mansion and the date (August 1938). As you might imagine, the song is better known as the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, and the score to the full piece is in the library of the estate, now a museum (with beautiful grounds and gardens). Stravinsky wrote a version of the concerto for two pianos, and Jerome Robbins choreographed a ballet to it in the 1970s.
“D.C. Cab” by Peabo Bryson
I would be surprised if a whole lot of people know this song, but locals all know the 1983 movie about cabbies working for a taxi company in the District. It stars Mr. T, Adam Baldwin (in one of his earliest roles), Max Gail (Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller), Marsha Warfield (Roz from Night Court, Gary Busey, Paul Rodriguez, Irene Cara, and Bill Maher (did you know he was an actor before he was a commentator?).
I want to acknowledge that my list is male-heavy. Many women artists are associated with D.C. (Sweet Honey in the Rock has called D.C. home since its inception in 1973; Marion Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when racists at the DAR concert hall canceled her appearance; Roberta Flack and Jessye Norman are both Howard University alumnae, and the was discovered at a club/restaurant on Capitol Hill; Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley (located in D.C.) album is one of her short career’s seminal works; Meshell Ndegeocello grew up here performing on the go-go circuit.), and I wanted to acknowledge their contributions, even if they didn’t quite fit the assignment as I saw it.
There were a few songs that didn’t fit within the parameters I set that I still thought ought to be included:
The NOT Actually D.C. Award:
“(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” by REM: Rockville is a Maryland suburb of D.C. and is a stop along the metro line I live along. It was a plea from Mike Mills to his then girlfriend, who was returning home. Although Michael Stipe recorded the vocals, Mills took over singing the song after a while.
The Washington Awards:
“I’m Just a Bill” by Schoolhouse Rock: You’d be hard-pressed not to sing part of this song while hanging out near the Capitol.
“The Theme from The West Wing,” composed by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden: I mean, really. (I wanted to include the theme from St. Elmo’s Fire, which is about Georgetown grads and a real-life bar called The Tombs, but the song was actually composed for something else, so I thought it was too much of a stretch, even for me.)
“Christmas Eve in Washington” by Maura Sullivan: Sappy. White-washed. Conservative. Overplayed on local radio stations at the holidays. But still.
Too D.C. Not To Include Award: Trombone Shout Bands: There are a couple groups that perform locally, most of them affiliated in some way with the United House of Prayer, a church noted for the style: