Cities and their Songs in my Mind

As I flew into New York today after spending a week with my family in Colorado, I realized that the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys duet Empire State of Mind had supplanted Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York as the song that involuntarily plays in my head as I fly into New York.

When driving or flying into Chicago, it’s almost always Robert Johnson singing Sweet Home Chicago, although several times it’s been the part of Zepplin’s When the Levee Breaks where he sings “Going to Chi-cago” over and over.

I fly into Denver so often, I don’t really have a mental song-slot for it; I grew up so near it that there’s not an iota of exoticism in that city for me.  But my favorite song mentioning Denver is definitely Warren Zevon’s Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.

I’ve driven into Houston twice in my life.  The first time, it was the very end of Beck’s Lord Only Knows (off of his indisputable masterpiece, Odelay), which goes, “Goin’ back to Houston / gonna get me some pants / goin’ back to Houston / do the hot dog dance …”  The second time, it was this line from Leadbelly’s recording of The Midnight Special: “If you ever got to Houston / Boys, you better act right / Well you better not squabble / And you better not fight / Sherriff Benson will arrest you…”

I wish I could say that the song that plays in my head when I go to San Francisco is something old-fashioned-mobster classy like Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco, but instead it’s always the jingle from the Rice-a-Roni commercials: “It’s the San Fran-cis-co treat!”

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