Songs From Philly – Part One
Heidy ho, BRP readers. I hope each and every one of you is good. And if you aren’t good, I hope it’s because you are bad to the bone. But that reference is from a Delaware song, an almost-Philly sound, but not quite the real deal. This post is dedicated to my adopted hometown, and the city that I have come to embrace. To celebrate Philly, this post is all about bands/artists that hail from Philly (which I’m defining to include not only the city itself but also its ample suburbs), or that currently call the place home. Just so you know, the Philly scene is so lengthy and dynamic that I’m going to need to do a few posts on this for the sake of justice. Are you with me? Good. Without further ado, let’s get going on Part One.
Todd Rundgren “I Saw The Light”
Todd Rundgren is from Upper Darby, which is now a bit of a down-on-its-heels suburb of Philly. He has long since moved on to other geographies (I think he lives in Hawaii). But he has deep roots in Philly, so he is highlighted here. Todd is an underrated artist and producer. Did you know that he produced The Band's Stage Fright (1970), Badfinger's Straight Up (1971), Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band (1973), the New York Dolls' New York Dolls (1973), Hall & Oates's War Babies (1974), Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (1977), and XTC's Skylarking (1986)? Holy Toledo, Batman, that’s a career in and of itself! But he is also a great original artist in his own right. “I Saw the Light” is my personal favorite song by Todd. It came out in 1972 and I have loved it since the day I first heard it. In fact, it’s in that short list of songs that I can play over and over and never grow tired of hearing. Why? It’s a sentimental song about the belated recognition of a deep love that is triggered by looking into the eyes of the other person, and hoping that that recognition of love is transmitted by the light cast from your own eye. “But I love you best/it’s not something that I say in jest/’cause you’re different girl from all the rest/in my eyes.” Can’t you see the light in my eyes, please? Did I blow it with the love of my life? Damn, that’s good stuff, particularly when wrapped around an amazing number of hooks and Todd’s emotional and passionate vocal rendition of the tender lyrics. It’s appropriate to start off with this fantastic song. I hope you enjoy it:
The Dead Milkmen “Punk Rock Girl”
Long before I moved to Philly, this song blasted onto the national scene. OK, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I remember watching the video at the 9:30 Club in DC while waiting for the Fleshtones to come on stage. I also remember hearing about it right after it came out from a non-Philly buddy I met in 1984 when I was spending the summer in Miami (which was a super-interesting time to hang in that city, let me tell you – watch the movie Cocaine Cowboys to get a small taste). I would call this song a new wave hit, but listening to it now, it sounds like something we would call pop-punk. Blink 182 or Fall Out Boy could have done it. But they didn’t – instead, it was Philly’s own Dead Milkmen who put this out (on the album Beelzebubba, which is perhaps the funniest name for an album ever). Its references to places like Zipperhead, a now defunct eccentric clothing store on South Street, make it even more Philly than usual. The lyrics are silly and funny. “We got into a car/away we started rollin’/I said how much didja pay for this/she said nothin’ man it’s stolen.” Hahaha, the girl punk of my dreams! I can’t say that I think the Milkmen did much beyond this song (although they did routinely bash frat boys and Harvard pricks, yeah!), but this track is just great, atonal vocal delivery and crappy lead guitar riff notwithstanding. Here she blows:
The O’Jays “Love Train”
OK, I know, the O’Jays are from Ohio. But this song has to be included in Philly’s best because it came out on the Philadelphia International label run by the great producer/songwriting team of Gamble and Huff. And Gamble and Huff, who are from Philly, wrote the damn thing. As they say in DC, that’s good enough for government work. Isn’t this song just the best? You can dance to it, but its lyrics are anti-war and about getting everyone all over the world to hop on the love train. And I’m totally into that these days, aren’t you? It’s catchy as hell, too. And it’s a song that won’t die – cover versions abound, and I’ve been to many live shows where bands play it. It’s joyous and infectious and makes me want to join a conga line. All aboard:
Low Cut Connie “Boozophilia”
If you read BRP often, and you better damn sure do it, you know that I love this band based out of Philly. Great live performers, they have fun bar-band rave-ups that make you want to get up and dance. I’ve embarrassed myself dancing a time or two listening to these guys rip it, and Boozophilia is both a great jamming song and one with lyrics that reference Philly. If you never see LCC, you will have done yourself a great disservice. Former President Obama famously has this track on his iPod, but hang on, that doesn’t mean it sucks – it does mean that someone on his staff was probably from Philly, however. Give it a listen:
Sheer Mag “Nobody’s Baby”
Elevator going up! I’m going to let you in on this hot new band: a punky sound, hailing from Philly, and with a clear affinity for classic rock. They have just released a full length LP that got a good review on Pitchfork. In the meantime, they are developing quite a reputation as a live act (I’ll check and see at the end of August and dutifully report back). This is a chance to get in on the ground floor and tell your friends “yeah, I saw Sheer Mag when they were still playing clubs.” Dig this video:
Hall and Oates “Las Vegas Turnaround”
Hall of famers. Still selling out crowds 40 years after they broke on the scene. Purveyors of the Philly rock ‘n soul movement. What can you say that hasn’t been said about Hall and Oates? A great duet who met at Temple, they are huge stars with many a top-40 hit. Rather than retread all the songs you know by heart, I dug a little deeper into a track from their woefully-underrated Abandoned Luncheonette album. This is a cool little song that is catchy as hell … and refers to Sara, a name used many times in their songs. I hope you like-y like-y:
That’s enough for Part One, but check back soon for yet another segment in this ongoing Philly tribute. In the meantime, if I missed a band or song that you want highlighted, well, you know how to do: shoot me an email or send a comment. Keep bustin’ it all night long, my friends.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.