Hub Rock: The 10 Best Songs About Boston
This week was not the way you want your city to become the center of global news.
But it's given all Bostonians a chance to reflect on what a truly f*cking cool part of the world we live in, kind of like I think all Americans did after 9-11.
I make fun of Boston and its peculiarities all the time. It's cold, it's expensive and Bostonians are parochial to a fault yet for some reason think they're worldly and sophisticated. Railroad bums from Boston think they're smarter than brain surgeons from Alabama.
But the reality is I'll never leave, because living here is pretty cool.
The Onion last month brilliantly skewered Boston with a story headlined, "Pretty Cute Watching Boston Residents Play Daily Game of 'Big City.'"
Boston is a tiny little parochial Northeastern outpost of 600,000 people on the physical and cultural fringe of the United States. Yet we actually call Boston the Hub – short for Hub of the Universe. No, serious.
Only outsiders call Boston Beantown. We call it the Hub. Google “hub of the universe” and you’ll get a map of Boston.
Boston is peculiar in other ways, too, well beyond the accent, the Kennedys and the fact that half our roads have no street signs. People in other cities, for example, prefer things that are young or pretty: ballparks, natural resources, actresses. Bostonians prefer things that are old and dirty.
Think Fenway Park, Boston Harbor or Steven Tyler.
All those quirks make for great music. So, without further cultural navel gazing, here is one Bostonian’s list of the 10 best songs about the Hub of the Universe.
10. “For Boston” by The Hold Steady – Not to be confused with “For Boston,” the Boston College fight song. The school song is a tribute to the work ethic and character of Boston College’s fine, upstanding Irish-Catholic men and woman educated amid the towering Gothic spires of the gorgeous Chestnut Hill campus. The Hold Steady song is about filthy co-eds from the urban sewer of the Boston University campus strung out on Oxy.
And that pretty much sums up the difference between BC and BU.
9. “Boston” by Augustana – What’s the deal with California bands and their fascination with Boston? Oh, that’s right. California sucks. And Boston rocks. Last we checked, the score was still Celtics 17, Lakers 16. And let’s face it, what lovelorn girl looking for a fresh start wouldn’t leave scenic Malibu Beach in sun-soaked Southern California for scenic Malibu Beach in Vietnamese flag-draped Dorchester?
8. “She’s from Boston” by Kenny Chesney – Boston isn’t exactly Nashville when it comes to musical tastes. Yet Chesney bangs out Gillette Stadium acouple times each summer, I’m guessing largely because he penned this tale of a Boston girl who escaped to some Caribbean island and sports a Red Sox cap to hide her baby dreads.
Clearly, a fantastical tale: what decent, Tyler Seguin-banging Boston girl would leave for the sandy tropics when all the roast beef, fried clams and hockey-player sex she'll ever need is right there at Revere Beach?
7. “The Rascal King” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Boston ska band performed what may have been the genre’s biggest national radio hit with an odd tune about famed Irish-American politician James Michael Curley, a.k.a, the Rascal King.
He was mayor of Boston, governor of Massachusetts and a U.S congressman at various points in his career. Oh, and he was more corrupt than a drug mule in a Mexican border town. And in classic Boston fashion, nobody cared because he was OUR crooked mayor. Curley was actually re-elected to City Hall while in prison.
6. “Escape (the Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes – The ultimate in 1970s cheese, about two bored lovers who search the newspaper classifieds (Craigslist, for you young 'uns) looking for a little excitement.
But mostly, it’s a song about drinking and screwing on the beaches of Cape Cod. And it has one of the best lines of the 70s: “I am not much into health food. I am in to champagne”
5. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys – The Dropkicks took an old sailors ditty and turned it into a rocking sports arena anthem.
The first couple heavy bass notes set the tone and by the end ofthe song you wish they’d bring back the old bucket-of-blood Blarney Stone in Fields Corner just so you had a good, decent place to get in a drunken fist fight on a Friday night.
It’s a tribute to power of the tune that they play it at sporting events all over the country. There isn’t a Steelers fan in the world who wouldn’t crawl over hot coals all the way to Foxboro for a chance to punch Tom Brady in the face and knock out a few of those pretty-boy teeth. Yet they still play “Shipping Up To Boston” at Heinz Field.
4. “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman & Modern Lovers – Bostonians pride themselves being the home of America’s firsts – whether it’s the first subway, school, library, or even football game. We even invented punk rock – at least according to some music historians, who credit the genre to Bay State rocker Jonathan Richman and “Roadrunner.”
I always thought of it as a quaint little song about Route 128, the ring road around Boston. But then I read a story in the The Guardian of London, who sent a reporter to retrace the journey of Richman’s song and its influence on rock history. I never knew the Braintree Split could be so romantic in the rush hour twilight.
3. “Going out in Style” by the Dropkick Murphys – A bawdy, quick-fisted, Irish-Catholic funeral romp through good times, regretful incidents, lovers and old friends with the classic Boston characters we all know in some way: Sluggo, Garvy and Johnny Fitz.
It features a tour of Boston landmarks (Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Fenway Park, Wollaston Beach) and a veritable who’s who of local icons, including marble-mouthed Mayor Menino and beloved Bobby Orr, the greatest man who ever lived.
And if you don’t agree that Bobby Orr is the greatest man who ever lived, Terry O’Reilly will climb into the stands and punch your f*cking teeth out.
2. “Rock ‘n Roll Band” by, you guessed it, Boston, motherf*cker – The original Boston album sold 17 million copies and was the greatest selling debut album of all time before Guns ‘n Roses knocked it off the perch. It’s full of heavily produced but big, fun bright guitar tunes, including the anthemic “More Than a Feeling.”
But “Rock ‘n Roll Band” is the shitkicker: an autobiographical tale of local boys from Boston struggling to make ends meet but rocking away the summer on the streets of Cape Cod and in the bars of Rhode Island, where they were discovered by a cigar-chomping record exec.
It’s actually illegal to cross the Sagamore Bridge in summertime without Boston’s debut album in your iPod or 8-track. Or at least it should be.
1. “Dirty Water” by the Standells – The Standells were a 1960s California band that somehow penned the iconic song about Boston, the one they play at Fenway Park after Red Sox victories and that otherwise gets any group of Bostonians to lock arms and sing drunkenly at the top of their lungs ... even if they're not drunk.
The song captures the Boston zeitgeist perfectly: the girls are uptight, the bars close early, and the water is dirty, yet we’re full of bluster about it just the same. Hey, those are OUR uptight broads, this is OUR 1 a.m. last call and that’s OUR dirty God-damned water.
I grew up on a Boston Harbor beach and the water was so filthy we’d drive 30 minutes south to Hull just to go swimming without fear of growing a third penis.
For a little insight into Boston’s dirty water culture, look up “beach whistle” in your spare time. I played lead tenor in our six-piece Quincy beach-whistle band back in third grade.
With that said, there isn’t a Bostonian worth his Larry Bird game jersey who doesn’t crank up the radio and dive into "Dirty Water" the second they hear the distinct opening notes of that classic Fender Stratocaster.
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