One of my favorite days every year is when the new Oxford American music issue comes in the mail. This is the magazine’s 17th annual music issue. At first, every music issue gathered music from around the South. For the past six years, each issue has focused on one Southern state. This year it’s Georgia. My home state.
As always, the CD that comes with the issue is fantastic — full of deep tracks by well-known artists, and revelations by musicians most of us have never heard of. The Georgia version ranges from James Brown and the Allman Brothers to ’70s folkie Alice Swoboda* and my new obsession, indie-pop singer Ruby the RabbitFoot (from my hometown of St. Simons Island!)
*Alice’s real last name was Harper but she switched her stage name after seeing a mention of the old Mets’ outfielder Ron Swoboda. This is my favorite factoid in quite some time.
But as I went through the tracks, my mind kept creating another CD — one with some of the other great Georgia musicians I’ve loved over the years.
So here’s a mythical Disc 2 that doesn’t repeat any of the artists from the Oxford American disc (with one necessary exception). That means I can’t use, among others, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, the Drive-By Truckers, Johnny Mercer, OutKast or R.E.M. (they show up on an Indigo Girls track). In the spirit of the OA collections, I’ve avoided the obvious choices from better-known artists, and tried to throw in a few folks you might not know about.
- Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye)”
“Midnight Train To Georgia” bubbles underneath all Georgia music the same way “Georgia On My Mind” does, so let’s try Gladys’ greatest ballad instead. If you’ve ever loved and lost, you’ll be a mess by the time she hits the bridge. This song, “Midnight Train” and “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” — the group’s three indisputable classics — were all written by Jim Weatherly, who was a quarterback on all-white Ole Miss football teams in the early ’60s. Life is weird and messy and wonderful.
2. Sea Level, “That’s Your Secret”
Sea Level is named for Chuck Leavell (C. Leavell — see what they did there?), who played piano with the Allman Brothers Band and now tours with the Rolling Stones. (He’s also an honorary ranger in the Forest Service.) This group is an offshoot of the Allmans with a little more jazz in the mix. My hometown FM station played this track a lot in the ’70s — the monster bass line by Lamar Williams came through even on my crappy Sears Roebuck stereo. Plus I always loved that this song namechecks Dusty Rhodes.
3. Mother’s Finest, “Somebody To Love” (live)
I plan to write a lot more about Mother’s Finest for a project I have in mind for down the road sometime. For now, just know that Mother’s Finest taught me — and a lot of other Southern boys and girls — that you could throw rock and soul and funk into a blender and make it sound great, and that there was something powerful in that blend beyond just the music. Grace Slick wishes she were as cool doing this song as Joyce Kennedy.
4. The Jody Grind, “Blue and Far”
They put out only two albums, but both are just about perfect — standards and pop nuggets and weird in-jokes, all built around the devastating voice of Kelly Hogan. There’s no better music for a Sunday night.
5. Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)”
Officially it’s Marty Stuart featuring Travis Tritt, but they split the singing 50-50 so I’m counting this one for Travis. He had some big hits but never made it quite as far as his voice deserved — he’s not George Jones but you can hear him get close now and then. All I know is I spent many a quarter playing this in jukeboxes all across the South when it came out.
6. Drivin’ N Cryin’, “Honeysuckle Blue”
Kevn Kinney, the lead singer, is an acquired taste — sort of a Southern-fried Geddy Lee. (I’ve never quite acquired that Geddy Lee taste.) Either way, the band has got every move in the book — folk to country to arena rock to their own blend of power pop, heavy on the guitars. Great, great live band.
7. Donkey, “Slick Night Out” (live)
The “Swingers” sound two years before “Swingers” came out. Donkey always had more of a melancholy undertow, though. These guys never picked up Heather Graham at the bar.
8. Arrested Development, “Mr. Wendal”
People bopped with the beat when it came out back in ’92, and for a lot of them it wasn’t until the 10th or 15th or 100th listen that the lyrics started to sink in.
9. The Heartfixers, “Greenwood Chainsaw Boogie”
Tinsley Ellis, the guitarist and singer, has gone on to a long solo career in the blues world, but I’ll remember him as the guy who used my bottle of Bud as a slide as he played while walking across our table at the Red Lion in Augusta one night. He kept the beer, too.
10. Cee-Lo Green, “Fuck You”
There should probably be some Goodie Mob in here, to show off that side of Cee-Lo, but the truth is that this video has 14 million views, and I was responsible for about a million of them the week it came out. (My friend Joe Posnanski was responsible for another million.)
11. Jack Logan, “New Used Car and a Plate of Bar B Q”
Jack Logan moved to Athens in the early ’90s and worked as a mechanic. In his off hours he wrote song after song. At some point a few prominent musicians (including R.E.M’s Peter Buck) heard some of the songs, and Logan eventually made a connection with a record-company exec. Logan sent him 500 songs. They narrowed it down to 42 that Logan released as a two-CD set called “Bulk.” I’ve played “Bulk” a lot over the years and always come back to this track. It’s still out there for a country singer who wants a #1 hit.
12. The Producers, “What She Does To Me”
These guys were the go-to band for festivals and frat parties when I was at UGA. The outfits are dated now, and nobody really runs around with a keyboard anymore, but this is still as beautiful a slice of power-pop as you’ll find. I can’t play it once without playing it twice.
13. Alan Jackson, “Country Boy”
Alan Jackson has had a zillion #1 country hits, he sells out arenas whenever he goes out on tour, he’s my mama’s favorite singer … and he’s still underrated. He’ll slide out of his lane and try something different more often than most country singers. Just two years after doing a straight-up gospel record, he put out this sly, sexy track. You sure look good, sittin’ in my right seat / Buckle up, and I’ll take you through the five speeds. Yeah buddy.
14. The B-52’s, “Rock Lobster”
I’ll take arguments for this as one of the top 10 singles of all time. It’s hilarious, it’s compulsively danceable, it rocks (that single-note solo at 2:22 in the video is a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll moment), and by God nobody had EVER heard anything like it. Or seen anything like it, either.
15. The Black Crowes, “Remedy”
The first two Black Crowes albums are guaranteed to make me feel better, especially turned up loud. They work better than Advil.
16. Brick, “Dazz”
Destined to be played at every grown ‘n’ sexy party from now to forever. And rightly so.
17. Atlanta Rhythm Section, “Georgia Rhythm”
There’s so much more great Georgia music out there — I left out a ton of hip-hop, a bunch of metal (MASTODON, people!), gospel, country, pretty much everything. I’m sure I’ll think of more songs the second I post this. Maybe there’s a Volume 3 down the road. Send suggestions. Either way, it makes sense to end here with the band I most identified with Georgia growing up. When I hear my home state in my head, I hear Ray Charles and Otis Redding first. But Ronnie Hammond comes in right behind them. Crank up that trusty Gibson, son.
Bonus track: James Brown, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs”
Of course the Godfather is on the main Oxford American CD … but I’ll be damned if I’m putting together a compilation of Georgia music without this tribute to Vince Dooley’s great UGA football teams. The bass line alone is better than any other fight song in history.
Now then. When’s that North Carolina issue coming out?