I’m baaaack! And this week’s theme was influenced by my recent road trip down the coast: STREETS AND ROADS. Street songs also include their close relations avenues, lanes and boulevards. They all tend to be about a particular destination. Songs about roads and highways, on the other hand, are inclined to reflect on a journey of some kind, metaphorical or not. Some of these songs immortalise where they came from, others where they’re going, but all seem to have something significant to say.
We opened the show with the Drifters’ ON BROADWAY – a road that reflects the best and worst of New York. The famous entertainment strip is the epitome of success for some but it’s also a desperate place to be if you are one of the less fortunate. Check out the Drifters doing a great job, but what’s with the outfits? Pyjamas with fringing. What the??????
TOBACCO ROAD was written by country singer John D. Loudermilk and inspired by Erskine Caldwell’s Depression-era novel of the same name. The song reeks of the American south. A group calling themselves the Nashville Teens recorded the original version, although they actually hailed from England. And I don’t think it was even Southern England, cheeky sods!
There are so many versions of the that definitive road song, ROUTE 66, but I rather like the Nat King cole rendition. Eddy Grant took us back to the 80’s with ELECTRIC AVENUE about a market street in Brixton, London. You may remember a cover version by Aussie band Men at Work, but there’s nothing like the original. Check it out:
The wonderful Emmylou Harris dueted with Dave Matthews on GULF COAST HIGHWAY. Now I don’t believe that there is an actual Gulf Coast Highway, but who cares when the song is so beautiful?
It was a toss up when it came to Bruce Springsteen’s contribution to the show – Both Thunder Road and Racing the Streets were worthy contenders but I had to give it to the Oscar winning anthem, STREETS OF PHILADELPHIA.
Louis Armstrong paid homage to his favourite street in New Orleans in BASIN STREET BLUES and although I gave it a spin on the AUTOMOBILE show, Grace Jones deserved another outing with PULL UP TO THE BUMPER, from her critically acclaimed album NIGHTCLUBBING.
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland was going FARTHER UP THE ROAD while Bob Dylan delivered the classic HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. And here’s some trivia about that particular highway, which travels from New Orleans through to the Canadian border. Bessie Smith met her death in an automobile accident on that road, Robert Johnson was said to have lost his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49, Elvis Presley grew up in the housing projects built along it and Martin Luther King Jnr would later be murdered in a motel just off Highway 61.
The Beatles sang about PENNY LANE while David Byrne and the Talking Heads took the ROAD TO NOWHERE:
A show about roads needed a bit of hard rock and the obvious, of course, is Acca Dacca and HIGHWAY TO HELL. But I thought I’d give them a rest this week and instead, in celebration of the Deep Purple tour reaching Brisbane next month (yay!) it was HIGHWAY STAR instead. Once listed in the Guiness Book of Records as the Word’s loudest rock band, here they are performing live in 1972. Ian Gillian, you are hot! Can’t wait for them to reach Bris-vegas.
Kirsty MacColl calmed things down just a little with WALKING DOWN MADISON, a song that deals with the disparity between rich and poor on the most expensive street in New York, Madison Avenue. As the song goes: “From the sharks in the penthouse to the rats in the basement, it’s not that far”. Gerry Rafferty sang all about London’s BAKER STREET, probably most famous for the literary address of Sherlock Holmes’ residence.
Lots of our songs this week dealt with being down and out, so it was great to include a number by the wonderful Dinah Washington. She’s definitely got the right attitude as she goes walking ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET. Recorded in 1956 with orchestra under the direction of Hal Mooney, the song was originally composed in 1930 by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields for the Broadway musical “International Revue” starring Gertrude Lawrence. The song has since become a jazz standard recorded by many.
In complete and utter contrast came the Australian Aria award winning hip-hop group, The Hilltop Hoods, with a song about life’s choices: THE HARD ROAD.
Chris Rea’s song, ROAD TO HELL, was apparently inspired by rush hour on a motorway. After being in Sydney I know how he feels! It’s been way too long since I played some Roy Orbison, so I DROVE ALL NIGHT was in, as it fitted so perfectly.
Green Day’s BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS is, I assume, about Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Similar to New York’s BROADWAY, Sunset Boulevard is the primary location for live entertainment, as well as being the red-light district and a hang for the homeless.
A fitting follow-up was Ray Charles with LONELY AVENUE and it was up to Junior Walker and the Allstars to brighten the mood somewhat with ROAD RUNNER.
Another fantastic and, I think, optimistic song about leaving home and heading off for freedom, is VENTURA HIGHWAY, a 1972 hit for America.
The Mamas and Papas sang a song reportedly about the place where they all met, a bar in CREEQUE ALLEY while Ray Charles and the Stray Cats combined on a great version of HIT THE ROAD, JACK.
For anyone living on a rural property, like I do, Lucinda Williams’ CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD will resonate, for sure.
I returned from my trip to Sydney to hear the very sad news that our friend Susie McNair had passed away quietly on Tuesday March 16th. The final song of the program was dedicated to her memory. The Beatles, THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD, was the final single that they recorded as a group. R.I.P. Susie.
Thanks to the following listeners for contributing to this week’s list: Judi, Rebecca and Katie. Next week’s theme is HAIR, so get your thinking caps on!
Meanwhile, here’s this week’s complete playlist: