Pertinent Playlists

Pertinent Playlist #12: Memphis

This is the first in a new series of playlists featuring prominent cities. While visiting Memphis recently, a plethora of songs about or relating to the city were running through my head. Thus, this group of tunes…

The Mississippi river town of Memphis, Tennessee is known for many things. Barbecue, the Blues, Elvis Presley, and the very location MLK spent his last day on earth. Several of these tunes actually mention Memphis in their titles, others have a less obvious connection. The first track clearly has an obvious connection. “Walking in Memphis” from Marc Cohn’s 1991 self-titled debut still generates goosebumps. Such a terrific song, especially when that choir comes in.

The Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis” is a true bluesy rocker with a killer chorus including, “Subpoenaed in Texas / Sequestered in Memphis.” “All the Way from Memphis” by Mott the Hoople is an iconic tune and perfectly covered by The Handcuffs (the cover is not on Spotify yet, so listen here).

The Stones’ contribution to this playlist is clarified with the opening line of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It goes, “I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis.” Close enough! The Replacements ode to Big Star’s Alex Chilton found a spot in the lineup solely because Chilton hailed from Memphis. Westerberg sings, “Standing right on campus, would he stamp us in a file? / Hangin’ down in Memphis all the while.” Chilton died 400 miles down the Mississippi in New Orleans in 2010.

Merle Haggard’s 1977 album My Farewell to Elvis was a collection of Presley tunes kicked off with a Haggard original, “From Graceland to the Promised Land.” The track opens with Haggard saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, my farewell to Elvis.” It’s a touching tribute from The Hag to The King.

The Rainmakers’ “Downstream” may seem out of place in a Memphis playlist, but it’s justified. The Kansas City band’s debut album was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis and the Memphis Horns famously played on the album (check out “Let My People Go-Go”). Producer Terry Manning lived in Memphis and, like Alex Chilton, also attended Memphis State University. Lead singer Bob Walkenhorst sings of the Mississippi River, “Well, me and Mark Twain were having us a ball telling each other lies, floating down from Hannibal / With a bottle and a worm and a cane pole we were fishing for secrets where the catfish crawl.”

U2 has paid homage to Memphis, as well. The final two tracks on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire made the list. “Elvis Presley in America” – because Elvis lived there in Graceland, and “MLK” – because he was assassinated there. An obvious choice not in this playlist is “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The song honors the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and speaks of his assassination in Memphis in 1968. The tune was not included here since it is so well known and also to avoid over U2-ing the playlist.

Thrown in for good measure is Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” about another resident and traveler of Old Man River. Appropriately, the closing song is Elvis Presley’s very first recording. On July 18, 1953, the 18-year-old walked into Sun Studios in Memphis to record “My Happiness.” You know the rest. Whether you’re a midwesterner, a lover of rivers, the Blues, or Elvis, Memphis has something for everyone. Give it a visit on your next road trip!

Categories: Pertinent Playlists

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