I heard an interesting combination of songs on the radio yesterday. Songs, in and of themselves, can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Either they’re played in sequence on an album, and if you’ve listened to the album enough, you know what to expect when that song is over. On the first Van Halen album, for instance, Eruption and You Really Got Me are two different songs, technically, but if Eruption ended and anything else came on, I’d be all out of sorts.
The second way is as part of a playlist, as in a mixtape. The person who puts it together tries to pick songs that are part of an overall theme, blending the work of many artists into one continuous strand of music. Or hitting “shuffle” on an iPod can have the same effect, only is possible to have very random songs juxtaposed next to each other. I think a Wiggles song followed up by Led Zeppelin is about the weirdest one I’ve experienced. May it never get any stranger than that.
Or a song can be played on the radio, where the disk jockey or the program director decides what songs will be played, and people can listen along to hear what they decide (with a few commercials thrown in, of course). And this can be interesting, when you’re out driving around and don’t have the inclination to select a CD of your own, or the CD player doesn’t work (as in my case).
The first song in the combination I heard yesterday was ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The song has lots of nasty blues guitar, which I can always appreciate, and the fact that they sing about my hometown makes it all the more special. “Jesus Just left Tampa” or “Jesus just left Omaha” wouldn’t sound nearly as good, would it? This song is up there with the Doors’ “Peace Frog” (“Blood in the streets in town of Chicago, blood on the rise it’s following me”) and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” (“Going to Chicago”) as my favorite Chicago song references. There are others, but maybe that’s a post for another day.
At the end of the ZZ Top jam, the song “Blue Collar Man” came on. “Long nights, impossible odds, keeping my eye on the keyhole…” Of all Styx’ songs, this might be the one I like the best. The guitar solo is just explosive, and just as when I was 17, a guitar solo grabs my attention like nothing else can.
So where’s the Chicago connection to this song? It’s actually the home of Styx, which goes all the way back to 1961 on the South side of Chicago. They’re all from Chicago, except for Tommy Shaw, the guitarist who plays the solo on that song. But the Chicago link to Tommy Shaw is also there, because Styx saw him play at a club gig in Chicago in the 1970s, and remembered him when they needed a replacement for their original guitarist. So he’s still Chicago, in my book, even if he doesn’t originally come from here. Neither did I, come to think of it.
As I was driving through the city I call home, on a beautiful fall day, my Chicago radio station gave me a song by some Texas dudes about my city, followed up by a great rock song by guys who hail from my city. Can’t do much better than that.