Fuck this town: 18 kiss-off songs to cities
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1. Robbie Fulks, "Fuck This Town"
Country smart-aleck Robbie Fulks moved to Nashville during the post-Garth Brooks gold rush of the early '90s, where he worked for a publishing company that shopped songs to country artists. The experience was understandably soul-crushing, so Fulks penned this bile-filled "fuck you" to Music Row—peddlers of "soft-rock feminist crap" to a "moron market"—on his 1997 debut, South Mouth. He's since grown more forgiving of Nashville, but "Fuck This Town" is another example of a great musical tradition: Writing off entire cities in song.
Key line: "So, fuck this town, fuck this town / fuck it end-to-end, fuck it up and down / can't get noticed—can't get found—can't get a cut / so fuck this town."
"Fuck This Town" by Robbie Fulks
2. Ike & Tina Turner, "Nutbush City Limits"
Any berg that birthed and raised Tina Turner should supposedly be a pretty amazing place. But The Queen Of Rock 'N' Roll was more than happy to escape her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee, as evidenced by this 1973 hit, Ike & Tina's last as a duo. Over heavy wah-guitar action and unsettling synthesizer, Tina belts out a list of Nutbush's main attractions—"A church house, gin house, schoolhouse, outhouse"—before railing against the constricting effect the village had on a wild soul like herself: "25 was the speed limit / motorcycle not allowed in it," then later, "no whiskey for sale / you can't cop no bail / salt pork and molasses is all you get in jail."
Key line: "A one-horse town / you have to watch what you're puttin' down / in old Nutbush."
3. Dixie Chicks, "Lubbock Or Leave It"
Shaking off the dust of a one-horse town isn't an uncommon theme in modern country music, though that sentiment is rarely laced with as much vitriol as Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines spits in this kiss-off to her hometown. Obviously still smarting from the thrashing she received from conservative America following her anti-Bush statements in 2003, Maines scorns the religious pretense and general hypocrisy of the small Texas city, pointing to the painting of fellow Lubbockite Buddy Holly outside the city's airport and wondering if "Maybe when I'm dead and gone I'm gonna get a statue too."
Key line: "Throw stones from the top of your rock thinking no one can see / the secrets you hide behind your Southern hospitality."
4. The Bottle Rockets, "Indianapolis"
A million songs have bemoaned the hard-knock life of a small-time touring musician, but The Bottle Rockets capture it on the most tedious level here: a van breakdown that strands them in Indianapolis. Ten days into a tour, the novelty has worn off, and frontman Brian Henneman openly fantasizes about ditching his bandmates for a ride home. The waiting, and Indiana's favorite son, may drive him over the edge: "Who knows what this repair will cost, scared to spend a dime / I'll puke if that jukebox plays John Cougar one more time."
Key line: "Is this hell or Indianapolis?"
5. John Denver, "Toledo"
Whatever little notoriety Randy Sparks' satirical song "Toledo" ever managed can largely be attributed to John Denver, who sang it in concert with a big, corny smile, the tee-hee-I'm-being-naughty expression of the teacher's pet reading somebody else's mildly dirty words off the bathroom wall. As fuck-this-town sentiments go, "Toledo" is relatively mild, but its barbed mockery was a notable departure from Denver's normal squeaky-clean, country-loving persona, especially in the way it rips on a Midwestern town for being so numbingly boring that it's "like being nowhere at all." "They roll back the sidewalks precisely at 10 / and people who live there are not seen again," Denver cheerfully sings. Funny, he always seemed like the kind of guy who'd be in bed at 9:30 sharp himself. Key line: "You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio? Well, I spent a week there one day / they've got entertainment to dazzle your eyes: Go visit the bakery and watch the buns rise."
6. The Pretenders, "My City Was Gone"
It's one thing to feel alienated in a strange town you've never visited before; it's another to come home and find everything you once knew and loved has disappeared. In "My City Was Gone," head Pretender Chrissie Hynde visits her hometown of Akron, Ohio, and finds that the countryside has been "paved down the middle by a government that had no pride," with shopping malls and parking lots standing in its place. The most poignant moment comes when Hynde visits the house where she grew up: "I stood on the back porch, there was nobody home." Turns out Thomas Wolfe was right all along.
Key line: "The farms of Ohio had been replaced by shopping malls / and Muzak filled the air from Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls."
"My City Was Gone" by The Pretenders
7. Lou Reed and John Cale, "Smalltown"
It took the death of their mentor Andy Warhol to bring Lou Reed and John Cale back into the studio together, 22 years after Cale left The Velvet Underground. The result, 1990's Songs For Drella, probed Warhol's life with tenderness and brutal honesty—especially on the album's opener, "Smalltown," an account of the young artist's struggle to ditch Pittsburgh in favor of New York. Reed, speaking as Warhol, complains about the bigotry and lack of opportunity in Pittsburgh, singing, "If they stare, let them stare in New York City" and ultimately, "There's only one good use for a small town / you hate it, and you know you'll have to leave."
Key line: "Where did Picasso come from? / There's no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh."
8. Jim Croce, "New York's Not My Home"
A native Pennsylvanian, Jim Croce spent a short time in New York City at his record label's behest; there, he and his wife recorded and promoted an album together. The album was a flop, and the disillusioned Croce moved back to his home state, where he took odd jobs working construction and driving trucks. During that time, he wrote his breakthrough album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim, which included "New York's Not My Home," a ballad mourning the hectic yet empty interactions of his former big-city life. Croce's short career was typified by this low-key workingman vibe, an aesthetic that clearly couldn't bloom in the concrete confines of Manhattan.
Key line: "Been in so many places / you know I've run so many races / and looked into the empty faces of the people of the night / and something is just not right."
9. Fear, "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones"
Lee Ving has long been notorious as one of punk's prime assholes, and he certainly proves it with the line "New York's alright if you're a homosexual" on "New York Is Alright If You Like Saxophones." One of the more hate-filled tracks on Fear's debut, The Record, "Saxophone" was infamously taped during the band's 1981 Saturday Night Live appearance, to which a gang of rowdy young punks—including a teenage Ian MacKaye—were bussed in to cause trouble on the set. In a poor attempt at humor, the song blasts The Big Apple for being cold, dangerous, and full of drunks—but Ving, an L.A. native, sounds particularly enraged about the "art and jazz" that apparently ruined the New York scene. John Lurie was surely shaking in his shoes.
Key line: "New York's alright if you wanna get pushed in front of a subway / New York's alright if you like tuberculosis."
10. Soul Coughing, "The Incumbent"
Frank Sinatra famously boasted about New York that "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." That sounds great, but sometimes when a starry-eyed naïf hits the big city, the big city hits back—and it's got a hell of a right hook. For every Sinatra, there's a Ratzo Rizzo; for every A Star Is Born, a Mulholland Dr. On "The Incumbent," Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty chants the embittered mantra of the failed dreamer who now sees New York as nothing but a horrifying "red sucker mouth." Broken ambitions fester like poison, and all he wants now is for the city that never sleeps to stop giving him insomnia. Prophetically, "The Incumbent" was the last song on Soul Coughing's last album; after the band's 2000 breakup, Doughty himself left New York for an extended sabbatical in Asia.
Key line: "New York, New York, I won't go back / indelible reminder of the steel I lack / I gave you seven years, what did you give me back? / a jaw-grind, disposition to a panic attack."
"The Incumbent" by Soul Coughing
11. The Clash, "London's Burning"
Before London called to Joe Strummer and crew, it burned—at least metaphorically—on "London's Burning," one of the strongest tracks from the band's 1977 debut. Still steeped in the punk look and sound, The Clash crafted a raw yet tuneful assault on street-level boredom, that great enemy of angry, disenfranchised youth. Funnily enough, automobile traffic was apparently also a major concern with English punks in 1977—The Jam attacked it with vitriol on that year's "London Traffic," and "London's Burning" bears the line, "What a great traffic system / It's so bright." At its core, though, there's a sadness and hopeful desperation that points to the maturity and complexity the group would soon grow into—even while remaining wary of the stultifying urban landscape.
Key line: "The wind howls through the empty blocks looking for a home / I run through the empty stone 'cause I'm all alone."
12. The Weakerthans, "One Great City!"
"I hate Winnipeg." It doesn't get simpler than the refrain Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson ascribes to a variety of the Canadian city's weary inhabitants—a dollar-store clerk, a bus driver, even a wrecking ball. Samson sarcastically re-appropriates Winnipeg's civic-pride slogan in the song title, then goes on to bash not only the city's favorite sons (The Guess Who) but also its former pro hockey team, the Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes).
Key line: "Our Golden Business Boy will watch the North End die, and sing "I love this town" / then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim, "I hate Winnipeg."
13. Horace Pinker, "Burn Tempe To The Ground"
Teen rebellion expresses itself in many ways; what young punk rocker hasn't wanted to torch his boring hometown? But this isn't a disaffected teenager anthem—it's a disaffected early twentysomething anthem. Horace Pinker's bassist Bill Ramsey and drummer Bryan Jones lament friends treading water, caught in the easy-living rut that ensnares many inhabitants of college towns like Tempe, Arizona.
Key line: "This town, I'd let it burn to the ground / and I hope my friends are the ones who set it."
"Burn Tempe To The Ground" by Horace Pinker
14. J Church, "The Satanists Convene"
San Francisco was a frequent muse to frontman Lance Hahn, in whose songs the city practically became another character, like New York in a Woody Allen film or, um, Sex In The City. In "The Satanists Convene," he quietly catalogues the disappeared/disappearing quirks of San Francisco that helped give the city its personality, from goofy museums to the Church Of Satan. People love to lament about how something "used to be cool, man," but "The Satanists Convene" gives a real sense of the blandness encroaching San Francisco.
Key line: "Banality now keeps the city wound."
"The Satanists Convene" by J Church
15. Circle Jerks, "Beverly Hills"
When Keith Morris left Black Flag to form Circle Jerks, he brought along a healthy misanthropy, if not Greg Ginn's warped, experimental bent. In minute-long, bile-filled capsules, the Jerks' 1980 debut, Group Sex, was a chance for Morris to rant about red tape (in "Red Tape"), wanting some skank (in "I Just Want Some Skank"), and how much he hates the star-studded Platinum Triangle in the brief, raging "Beverly Hills." Rather than crack his head against the windshield, though, future Bad Religion guitarist Greg Hetson slows "Beverly Hills" to a snarling crawl as Morris condemns the town and all its snooty inhabitants who dress in "three-piece suits / Spandex pants / cowboy boots." He loses a few punk points, though, by being savvy enough to dis Fiorucci by name.
Key line: "Beverly Hills, Century City / everything's so nice and pretty / all the people look the same / don't they know they're so damn lame?"
16. Public Enemy, "Burn Hollywood Burn"
In Public Enemy's "Burn Hollywood Burn," Chuck D and guest rappers Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane rail against Hollywood movies that feed America's racism. D wants to take out his frustration on the town where the movies get made: "Burn Hollywood burn, I smell a riot," he says in the song's opening line. From there, "Burn Hollywood Burn" makes a convincing case for setting the so-called Dream Factory aflame. "Let's check out a flick that exploits the color," Ice Cube sarcastically suggests, while Big Daddy Kane says they should "make our own movies like Spike Lee, 'cause the roles being offered don't move me."
Key line: "For all the years we looked like clowns, the joke is over / smell the smoke from all around."
"Burn Hollywood Burn" by Public Enemy
17. Randy Newman, "I Love L.A."
Randy Newman is beloved by millions for his soft-pedaling soundtrack songs, but he got famous as a sarcastic bastard. "I Love L.A." is just one of many Newman compositions that drip with double meaning. It's actually tough to tell whether the song is entirely against L.A., though, and Newman has never been entirely clear in interviews. (It's easy to interpret the song as completely pro-Los Angeles, which is part of its charm.)
Key line: "Look at that mountain / look at those trees / look at that bum over there, man / he's down on his knees."
18. Death Cab For Cutie, "Why You'd Want To Live Here"
Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard has mentioned that this song is less about actually hating Los Angeles and more about trying to convince someone not to move there for other reasons. But "Why You'd Want To Live Here" makes a convincing case against L.A, touching on everything from inaccurate star maps to traffic to Hollywood egos.
Key line: "It's a lovely summer's day / And I can almost see the skyline through a thickening shroud of egos."