Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post # 2: Song Titles

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post # 2: Song Titles  


My lover thinks I have been sitting around wasting time listening to music from the last 7 decades. Wow! You read that right – 7 decades from the 1950s to 2017. She might call it “wasting time” but I call it “research”. I remember a time when I called research “work” although I think that my employer was sceptical. Maybe it is all a matter of perspective.

It all started with an innocent thought about the geo–cultural origins of song titles. It seems that if you want to be credible you have to use words like “geo-cultural” whether they exist or not. For me “geo-cultural” means the interplay of geography and culture that informs a songwriter in her/his final attribution of a title. In particular, I wondered why are there so many songs with towns, cities and places in the title? Why is there a distinct affinity for, or fascination with, small town culture in many of those songs? Are there international similarities in geo-cultural naming conventions – intentional or not?

Fortunately for me, others have already wasted some time constructing lists of songs with towns and cities in the titles. However, I have not yet come across an in depth study of geo-cultural determinants. I confess that I have not conducted an exhaustive search of the academic literature. Who knows, maybe some hippies turned eggheads have, cannabis aided, uncovered secrets in smokey coffee houses or perhaps in a big muddy field at a rock concert somewhere.

The towns in song titles range in size from New York, New York (most famously performed by Frank Sinatra) to John Mellancamp’s Small Town and span the alphabet from Albuquerque by Canada’s Weird Al Yankovic to Zoo Station by Dublin’s U2 .

Let’s move on from Weird Al to another Canadian, country music sensation Hank Snow of Brooklyn, Nova Scotia who released his No. 1 hit, I’m Movin’ On in 1950 I know, I know … it doesn’t have a town in the title but it does imply he is going from one “place” to another on his way to … well … “everywhere” in his mega-hit, I’ve Been Everywhere “Everywhere” referenced large and small towns across North America including Spirit Lake, which ceased to exist after Mount St. Helen’s erupted

Like teenagers everywhere in the 1960s we yearned to escape our small hometown of Altamont and move on to some slightly bigger small town or Winnipeg, the biggest small town in Manitoba. We adopted the 1965 hit, “We gotta get out of this place” by The Animals as our anthem – a stirring plea to escape the literal confines of our hometown, a rallying cry for freedom. The question was, “which direction should we go?”

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 5.04.44 PM

Location of the Geo-Cultural Time and Space Warp at Altamont, Manitoba

Before I can begin to interpret the available data, I am obligated by dint of historical accident and familial relocation to filter that information through a geo-cultural time and space warp located in the not quite mythical hamlet of Altamont, Manitoba. Its coordinates of 49.3992° N and 98.4952° W place it well within the boundaries of “everywhere”. Many people believe that the geo-cultural time and space warp is located in the iconic Altamont Hotel as time and occasionally the truth have been warped within those walls but the actual warp exists at the corner of Scoles Rd., Empress Ave., Heritage St., and Hwy 27 N. It belongs to no one individual as the first settlers placed it at this intersection as a public service recognizing its clear view to the four corners of the compass. Go there, take a good look each way, and the direction of your life will unfold as it should, as former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau knew it would.

Here is what I saw:

Altamont looking west

Looking west to Somerset

Altamont looking south

Looking south to Manitou

Altamont looking north

Looking north toward St. Lupicin and at Babcock turn left to Notre Dame de Lourdes or turn right to Roseisle .

Altamont looking east

Looking east past this kid toward Deerwood and Miami           Photo: R. B. Marshall

Not surprisingly there are more questions than answers. Questions such as:

  • Are there any songs about bleak towns?
  • My future’s so bleak I have to wear [fill In blank].
  • Did I choose the path with Parkinson’s or did it choose me?
  • What happened anyway?
  • Maybe it’s a Town Without Pity (Gene Pitney 1961)

(747 words but if a picture is worth a thousand words, I am well over my 750 word limit!)

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

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