I don’t want to change the world, but here are 30 great songs from or about New England

I learnt about New England as part of my A-level Geography course. New England, Georgia, and somewhere else, somewhere on the West Coast, maybe. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago. As an adult I have been to Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. I liked both very much. As I went from one to the other by train, technically I have been ‘in’ New Hampshire too, but apart from the birds I saw from the window (a cardinal, a pair of turkeys, a bald eagle and some ospreys being the ones that stuck with me) I don’t remember much about the journey so it doesn’t really count.

Well that was an interesting tangent, wasn’t it? Shall we get on with things?

OK. Non-scorers first.

  • Richard Jones recommended Hackensack by Fountains of Wayne. For some reason I had got it into my head that Fountains of Wayne sound like Smash Mouth, but they don’t at all. I really liked this song. However, while listening to it, something was nagging at the back of my mind – Hackensack is in New Jersey. I don’t know why I know that but I do. I wanted to give this song points but even going through the band members one by one (New York, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, New York) I couldn’t find a link to New England. And so, I have put ten points safe in a safe in a safe place. If a link between this song and New England exists, and is explained to me, I will award them. Otherwise, I will release them back into the wild, never to be won by anyone.
  • Plashing Vole recommended Vermont Counterpoint by Steve Reich. The time when the Vole was trying to do anything other than troll me with his recommendations is, I fear, long behind us. He is just making me listen to experimental stuff out of spite now. I don’t care because I adore him in real IRL. He is one of my favourite humans. And I know he loves me too. I have come to think of the ten minutes I waste every week listening to his choice as our Steve Reich’s Sunday Love Songs. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

    And I do understand the thinking behind, and the appeal of, the music of Steve Reich. I get that looping and delay and similar manipulations of sound can create something beautiful from basic building blocks; that rules can create music that sounds free of them. But at the same time, after about three minutes of any of his counterpoints my brain will start to sing…“yeah, mate / yeah I, it mate / yeah I fucking, get it mate / yeah I fucking get, fucking get it mate / yeah I fucking get it, I fucking get it mate / yeah I fucking get it mate, yeah I fucking get it mate / I fucking get it mate, yeah I fucking get it / fucking get it mate, yeah I fucking get / get it mate, yeah I fucking / it mate, yeah I / mate, yeah”

  • Picky Bastards and Donna Morris both picked songs by Ray LaMontagne (How Come and You Are The Best Thing). There were very few picks with a New Hampshire link so I was hoping to like these songs. Let’s say, I didn’t not like them. I didn’t like them enough to give them points though. Sorry, New Hampshire. [But in fairness, it isn’t my fault nobody recommended Cheerleader by Sir Babygirl, is it?]
  • Another song with a New Hampshire link was My Alcoholic Friends by The Dresden Dolls which was recommended by Sam Whyte. I am ashamed to say I had never heard the band before this week. They’re very distinctive, aren’t they? Hearing them for the first time was, well, perhaps, like being introduced to olives or coriander or something else like that. My initial reaction is almost certainly a useless one. They may be something that in time I will love but it is impossible to say just now (and no, I don’t want to try anymore today, but thank you).
  • Adam Farrer managed to find a Tom Waits song with a New England link but it was With a Suitcase (Street Band Version) which was never going to threaten the chart. At least you still have those hundred bonus points for finding a Tom Waits song for every category. *puts on a sarcastic voice* And there’s no way that run is coming to an end. Oh no. No sir. Next week should present no problems for you at all.

OK. It’s a bank holiday weekend so I am going to just whizz through the next lot because I have easter eggs to eat etc. If it is any consolation (and I know it isn’t) all these songs are great, and everyone on this list is eligible for next week’s bonus points. Whichever one of you scores highest next week will also pick up those (checks notes) eighteen bonus points.

  • Weeman recommended Shipping up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys
  • David Bruce recommended Penthouse in the Woods by Scud Mountain Boys
  • Ben Thomas recommended Walcott by Vampire Weekend
  • Benjo recommended We’ve Only Just Begun by Geraint Watkins
  • Justin Chisnall recommended Smoke and Mirrors by Magnetic Fields (and should have stuck with his first instinct instead)
  • Daniel Edmonds recommended Yesterday Once More by Red Kross
  • Sherri Turner recommended Sweet Baby James by James Taylor
  • Mike recommended Don’t I Hold You by Wheat
  • Slugger recommended Mr Mingo by Miracle Legion
  • David Coates recommended J is for Jules by ‘Til Tuesday
  • Ben Andrew recommended The Impression That I Get by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  • Sex Police recommended Boston Tea Party by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band
  • Sal Page recommended Massachusetts by The Bee Gees
  • Paul Graham recommended Sharks by Morphine
  • Jummo70 recommended Cinnamon by Palehound
  • Penny recommended Boston by Augustana
  • Lil’ Vanni Byniaeth recommended Pet Cemetary by The Ramones
  • Henriette Pleiger recommended Rock Lobster by the B52s
  • Skerret recommended Any Major Dude Will Tell You by Wilco

And speaking of bonus points. There are thirty nine up for grabs this week, and of the twenty-nine people who are competing for them, fourteen are in this week’s top thirty. But who is the highest? Read on to find out.

Kate Feld recommended Fee by Phish (from her home state of Vermont) because while they aren’t (in her opinion) the best band from the area, they are the “Vermontiest”. I am giving her two points purely because I don’t feel qualified to argue with the second part of that statement. Obviously, I agree that they aren’t the best band from Vermont. Unless the Spin Doctors moved house without me knowing about it, I would suggest that they might be the worst. Honestly, I don’t even like the ice cream.

And so, to make things ‘fair’, I am making three other songs equal thirtieth, and they will all get two points too. And they are Birdhouse in Your Soul by They Might Be Giants (recommended by Steven Moss) – because of my own emotional connection to it, and the band’s part in the evolution of my musical taste (something off an earlier album would have rocketed it up the charts) – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by Talking Heads (recommended by James Beck) which feels more of a New York pick really, but it is more than eligible and also great, and Dinah Washington singing Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair – live at the Newport Jazz Festival (recommended by Michael Conley) which is just great.

David Hartley recommended Give Me Every Little Thing by The Juan MacLean who, it turns out, I found out after looking the guy up on the internet, used to be in Six Finger Satellite. Do you remember Six Finger Satellite? They had a song called Funny Like A Clown that was nasty little scritchy scratchy masterpiece, like a Pavement with bad intentions. Anyway, this song was good too, if very different. Two points.

Subfuscous recommended Aplhabent by Twink the Toy Piano Band which is as much ‘a bit’ as a song, arguably, with a narrative brought together with a clever series of samples, but it’s a good bit and one with a strong punchline. It also SPOILER ALERT brought back fond memories of that Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit video that did the rounds a few years back. Three well earned points.

There is a guy shouting at the end of Captain Beefheart’s Moonlight on Vermont who is either off his face or a bit of a dick or both. “I want to boogalise you” he shouts, over and over, waiting for a reaction that isn’t going to arrive. It takes the edge off what is a brilliant song and thus, only four points for Nick Rayney this week. Hugely unfair, sure, but I have to find some way to put these into a list, don’t I?

Dan Williams recommended The American Nightmare by Ice Nine Kills. I don’t generally speaking, listen to many metalcore songs inspired by classic horror movies but, that’s kind of what this whole thing is about, isn’t it? The expanding of musical horizons? Of course it is. Five points.

Graeme recommended Time to Pretend by MGMT. I sometimes forget how much I like those first two MGMT albums and I’m always surprised at how well they have aged so a reminder is always welcome. I’m happy to give you six points as a thank you.

Two people recommended songs by The Cars. Graham Watt chose My Best Friend’s Girl and Chris *Wear Your Dang Mask* went with Just What I Needed. I’ve never really explored The Cars’ stuff. I probably should. Seven points.

Another band with two recommendations was Dinosaur Jr, but this time James Battisson and General Zod went with the same song, Freak Scene. I have found no evidence to dissuade me from my theory that everybody’s favourite Dinosaur Jr album is the first one they listened to, so Bug isn’t mine (which I mention purely to nip any ‘only eight points how dare you’ comments in the bud) but still, eight points because good is good is good.

Tom Mason recommended Walk This Way by Run DMC featuring (or possibly with) Aerosmith.

Initially, I was like no but then I was all like actually yes, actually yes Tom, actually yes. Because actually yes. Actually yes. Actually, yes. Yes. Actually yes. Nine points.

In one of the more tenuous links to New England, GLP recommended There Will Never Be Another You by Nat King Cole because it is featured on the soundtrack to The World According to Garp. There is nothing wrong with a flimsy argument though, not on this website, and especially not when it ends with me listening to Nat King Cole. Ten points.

Tom Glennie recommended Dirty Water by The Standells, a song that has been adopted by several sporting teams in Boston. Funny story, I nearly saw the Red Sox play once but I had a piece of fish that really disagreed with my insides and, in the end, I didn’t see the Red Sox play. Too much information? Probably. Eleven points anyway.

Four people recommended A New England by Kirsty MacColl. Those four people were, Sarah Jasmon, Graham Cox, Bruno Di Gradi, and John Power Jr (who expressed a preference for the 12″ version – but I’ve stuck him with the rest anyway – there really is no justice in this world etc). They all get twelve points. [and on the off chance anyone is wondering, yes, you would get less points for the Billy Bragg original. I don’t even think he would argue with that.]

Donna Summer seems to have been eligible for every other category this year, though whether that says more about her or me I will leave up to the reader. Born in Massachusetts, she is definitely eligible this week. [Is it just me, or have I used the word eligible five hundred times in this post already? Eligible eligible eligible eligible. Remind me to buy a thesaurus, yeah?] I can’t split Rebecca H‘s choice of State of Independence and Desmond‘s of I Feel Love, so they both get thirteen points.

Two people picked songs by The Pixies, and they were both absolute doozies. [I immediately regret using the word doozy, which I feel is an Americanism that I haven’t earned the right to use. I’m not going to delete it though, so others may learn from my mistake. Neal chose fast Pixies (Crackity Jones) and Geisterhaus chose slow Pixies (Hey). Neither answer is the wrong answer. Fourteen points each.

As an aside, I have always though that Hey should probably be Hey! I’ve often wondered if they took the exclamation mark off to look cool in front of their friends. I’m probably overthinking things.

And four people chose songs by Jonathan Richman in one guise or another. Andy C suggested Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers, Mat Pringle chose Here Come The Martian Martians by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, Lenni Sanders recommended Twilight in Boston by Jonathan Richman and Stephen May picked Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild (also) by Jonathan Richman. And Justin Chisnall nearly picked Ice Cream Man, but then changed his mind, so he doesn’t get fifteen points. But everyone else I just mentioned does.

Tom. recommended You Can’t Live There Forever by The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die which is so nice that it helped me past my first instinct, which was to waste time being annoyed by their really long band name. Just let it go, me. Just copy and paste it and move on. Sixteen points.

I didn’t know until this week quite how passionate Rob Cutforth is about the music of Tina Turner. Which isn’t to say it surprised me. I’m just pointing out another great thing about a great human being. Anyway, this week he recommended Sweet Rhode Island Red by Ike and Tina Turner, and I listened to it, and it was dead good that was. Seventeen points.

Sam Bail recommended It’s A Shame About Ray by The Lemonheads. There isn’t a lot I can tell any of you that you don’t already know about this album, is there? We are all in agreement on its brilliance, yes? Yes? Cool. Eighteen points.

On the off chance you haven’t heard this album. You know, if you are really young or something, give it a whirl. It’s really really really good.

Interestingly [maybe, depending on what you find interesting, I suppose] Juliana Hatfield played bass and sang backing vocals on It’s A Shame About Ray. Three years later she recorded Universal Heart-Beat. Twenty six years after that, Tom A recommended it for this very competition and a couple of days after that I gave him nineteen points for doing so. And now we are up to date with all that.

Sleepy recommended Bernie Sanders by Nothing, making me doubt whether there might not be more Vermonty things than Phish after all. Though having said that, Nothing are from from Philadelphia, and while naming your song Bernie Sanders is more than enough to make this list it probably wouldn’t get you in the top 100 “Vermontiest” bands. I’m getting distracted here. Great song – twenty points.

We don’t get a huge amount of jazz being recommended. I can see why. It is a genre of fine margins, taste-wise. Jazz will always be a risk. But when it pays off, it pays off. David N Atkinson recommended Señor Blues by Horace Silver and it got him twenty-two points. Could that have been you? Maybe. There are a lot of good Horace Silver songs.

While arguably more of a Dayton, Ohio / Letchworth, Hertfordshire band than a New England band, The Breeders are obviously not without their links to New England, especially in their early days. And as they are one of the best bands of all time, it goes without saying that Dan (who suggested Divine Hammer) and Mark G (who chose Safari) will both be getting twenty-four points.

Which, if my maths/book keeping is correct, means that of all the people up for this week’s bonus points only one hasn’t seen their name yet. And that person is…

Chris Bissette, who recommended A Single Tear by Converge. He was worried I wouldn’t like it but he needn’t have because it is great. The drums alone are worth the entrance fee imo.

You know what, I don’t think I’ve ever typed needn’t before. Makes you think eh?

So… twenty-six points for the song, plus thirty-nine bonus points, makes a total of sixty-five points. Nice.

Somebody else who is climbing up the leader board is Em, who this week recommended Hope is Big by Deer Tick. Finding new things to listen to is still (selfish as it may be) the highlight for me of doing this whole thing every week (and actually, given how long it takes to plan and write each one of these countdowns, I deserve a little something, no?) and Em consistently recommends things that a) I haven’t heard of and b) are very good. In conclusion, twenty-eight points.

Something else that was new to me was the music of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (and yes, I know, it’s not like she’s done about ten albums or something, but I got really, really out of the loop when it came to finding new music until about eighteen months ago. I’m still making up for lost time) Marsha Adams recommended Mary Jude and I loved it. I will be listening to more Lady Lamb the Beekeeper over the next few weeks. Until then: thirty points.

Daniel Carpenter has had a slowish, one might even say sluggish, start to this season but he seems to have turned a corner. His recommendation of Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez was an excellent one that got him thirty-two points. It’s great news for him, sure, but even better news for me because it makes the beef that I am trying to manafacture between him and David Hartley one step closer to becoming a reality.

How old did I feel, searching for Bustin’ by Neil Cicigiera (as recommended by William Mallin) on YouTube? No older than I am really, but no younger either. The song though, a really clever (and really silly) reworking of Ray Parker Jr’s theme from Ghostbusters, took years off me. I could dance to that for an age. A lot of the time I just assume everybody except me is familiar with all these recommendations that you all make, but I probably assume wrong in some cases. If you don’t know this one, check it out. Thirty-four points.

We couldn’t very well have a top thirty without at least one song by Boston, could we? Of course we couldn’t. And as it happens, we have two. Georgia Boon recommended More Than A Feeling and Jeanette Greaves recommended Rock and Roll Band. I used to have that first album on vinyl, bought in a charity shop in Stoke, I think, or possibly a car boot sale on the outskirts of suburban Wolverhampton. Either way, I have no idea what happened to it. Maybe it just rocked too damn hard to exist? I don’t know. It is a heady heavenly slice of cheese wherever it is. Long may it continue to be unnecessarily (and also necessarily) huge, eh? Thirty-six points.

The fact that Wikipedia claims that Amerie was “born and raised in Washington metropolitan area” and also says she was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, makes me wonder whether Nick Portnell hasn’t been editing her page to make 1 Thing eligible for inclusion this week. As it is one of the best singles of the twenty-first century, and I got to listen to it a bunch of times this week, I don’t care too much either way. There’s cheating and then there’s cheating. This wouldn’t be cheating cheating, would it? And besides, he almost certainly didn’t do that because he was far to busy this week falling off his daughter’s skateboard to get up to those sort of shenanigans. Thirty-eight points.

Which makes this week’s winner Al Kennedy, who recommended Now They’ll Sleep by Belly. I try to be objective when judging these songs but I love Belly, and I especially love their second album, King. I make no apologies for awarding any song off it (and Al, of course) forty points. Because, you know, that album yeah? That album. Just blimey.

OK. That’s your lot. Next week we turn our attention to Sweden. One song from, about, or recorded in the country. Lycka till!*

*I think that is ‘good luck’ in Swedish. I apologise in advance if Google translate has made me say something terrible.