Archives

The 100 North Carolina songs

by YES! Weekly staff

The 100 North Carolina songs Everyoneloves lists. The Billboard charts, Forbes magazine and direct marketingfirms exist because of that fact. Well, maybe not all lists are great,but here’s one that won’t end up filling your mailbox with ads for thePublisher’s Clearing House or male enhancement: the 100 Greatest NorthCarolina Songs. There’s a little bit of methodology due. Many are greatsongs by artists from North Carolina, while others are great songsabout North Carolina. Others are a little bit of both, though these aretreated with a slightly different importance, depending on who rankedthem. There were two of us doing the rankings. Jordan Green gave moreweight to just how “kick-ass” he found the songs to be, while I leantmore gravity to the songs’ relevance to the subject. We each createdour own top 100, the average values of which then factored into thefinal result.

There are sure tobe omissions and I can think of at least one notable NC artist that wasunfortunately overlooked until the list had already been compiled.There’s an even greater possibility that many will be left scratchingtheir heads at some of the songs that made the final cut. There aresome rather obscure inclusions, but let me assure you, the reader, thatwe listened to a lot of music in the process. — RS

100. “Copperline” by James Taylor (New Moon Shine, Columbia, 1991) Duke University professor and author Reynolds Price assisted James Taylor in penning this reflective piece about Morgan Creek, just a short walk from his 11-room childhood home in the south part of Chapel Hill. Years later, the bridge spanning the waterway was renamed in his honor. — RS

99. “I Do” by Health (Where You From?, Ernest Jenning Record Co., 1996) Jonathan Moore channels Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground on the album that yielded this song, but “I Do” erupts in a joyous cacophony that makes an oddly pleasurable pastime out of alienation. — JG

98. “Welcome” by John Coltrane (Kulu S’ Mama, Impulse!, 1965) We don’t know if Coltrane was thinking of a Piedmont town called Welcome that may have been known to him in his High Point youth when he chose the title of this pastoral meditation, but we can celebrate the generosity of its spirit regardless. — JG

97. “The Ghost of Stephen Foster” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers (Perennial Favorites, Mammoth, 1998) Frontman Jimbo Mathus’ large voice is way out in front on this gem by the nearly unclassifiable gothic-swing band from Chapel Hill. The jittery klezmer jazz piece makes several references to the famous works of Stephen Foster, a man primarily known as the father of American music. — RS

96. “Lonely Avenue” by the Two Dollar Pistols (Step Right Up, Yep Roc, 1998) Written by the Backsliders’ Steve Howell, “Lonely Avenue” sounds like a classic honky-tonk. If you saw the Two Dollar Pistols and the Backsliders at the Cat’s Cradle in 1997, as I did, you would believe it was a golden age, too. — JG

95. “Where’s the Freedom?” by Adam Thorn & the Top Buttons (Where’s the Freedom?, Ernest Jenning Record Co., 2007) Out of the ashes of Kudzu Wish came Adam Thorn, the band’s most ambitious and perhaps most troubled member. As an example of smartly executed mod-rock and wry commentary, “Where’s the Freedom?” pays tribute to Thorn’s heroes the Kinks. A more succinct truth was never uttered: “Growing up is getting old.” — JG

94. “Can’t Win For Losing” by Little Brother (Getback, ABB, 2007) Durham rappers Big Pooh and Phonte Coleman are perpetually known as “the next big thing” in rap music, though it has yet to happen after three studio releases and several mixtapes. This semi-biopic work is the outlet for their frustrations in that regard. — RS

93. “Fight Song” by Filthybird (Southern Skies, Red Strings Records, 2007) Anthemic. Iconoclastic. Surging with feeling. New Yorker Brian Haran merged his production abilities and textural guitar with Renee Mendoza’s affecting voice and quirky lyrical vision. They put together a band, and burst out of Greensboro with a new sound. — JG

92. “Cape Fear” by the Rosebuds (Life Like, Merge Records, 2008) The ambient surge of guitar and keyboards and rumbling undertow of the bass perfectly captures the menace of a hurricane idling on the Atlantic coast. — JG

91. “Dancing With the Women at the Bar” by Whiskeytown (Stranger’s Almanac, Geffen, 1997) The touch of steel guitar marks this song as an exemplar of the alt-country movement sweeping North Carolina in the mid-to-late 1990s, but Ryan Adams pensive vocals point to more introspective influences. Then, the steel guitar builds to a swell and Caitlin Cary’s harmony vocal enters the mix, and the song transcends the bounds of any genre. Which is why everyone thought Whiskeytown’s possibilities were endless. — JG

90. “Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon” by the Backsliders (Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon, Mammoth, 1997) The Backsliders made one great record under the sure production hand of Pete Anderson that impossibly balanced their competing impulses of killer rock and roll and keening honky tonk. The best song is the title track, which finds the median between the two worlds in Chip Robinson’s acoustic guitar and a kind of hard-bitten poetry that alludes to illicit activities and cheaply-won romance: “Upstairs, her heart’s beating too fast upstairs, she swears this one’s her last upstairs, there’s a deal going down in the dark.” — JG

89. “I Wanna Be A Tree” by Bruce Piephoff (Bright Leaf Blues, Flyin’ Cloud Records, 2005) No social commentary here. The lyrics are deceptively simple in this litany of wishes for escape and union with the cosmos, and they bear deep appreciation for life. An example: “I wanna be a beer, golden light, cold and delicious on a hot summer’s night. You could sip on me; you could drink me down. You could kick my can when it’s empty all over town. A cold beer is a friend. I wanna be a beer; I’m tired of being me.” — JG

88. “AllThis Time” by Brandon D (featuring Ricco Barrino) (Rolling With thePunches, Naps Krew Entertainment, 2005) Brandon D emerged on theGreensboro scene promising to “bring back individualism,” and some ofhis work suffers from the same kind of self-centeredness that has madethe hip-hop genre so predictable, but for “All This Time,” in which Denlisted vocal aid from Ricco Barrino (brother of “American Idol” starFantasia), the rapper drew straight from the source of his hard-knockchildhood in Ole Asheboro and came out with a winner. — JG

87. “Phillistine”by the Raymond Brake (Pile of Dirty Winters, Simple Machines, 1995)Andy Cabic has since moved on to bigger and better things as the frontman of San Fran’s Vetiver, but anyone plugged into the Triad indiescene in the mid-’90s will surely remember the angsty sound of one ofhis early projects the Raymond Brake. — RS

86. “PapersIn Order” by the Old Ceremony (Our One Mistake, sonaBLAST!, 2007) Theirresistibly catchy chorus of “Papers In Order” comes from one ofChapel Hill’s great up-and-coming bands and has been known to inspirean impromptu dance party or two. — RS

85. “Carolinain My Mind” by James Taylor (James Taylor, Apple, 1968) The popularityof this song certainly belies its chart position, but that haseverything to do also with its acute oversaturation in relation to therest of Taylor’s catalog. Anyone who has ever had to suffer theincessant “When’s JT going to play ‘Carolina?’” at his live shows cancertainly understand. — RS

84. “OhCarolina” by Vince Gill (Turn Me Loose, RCA, 1984) Country crooner andformer Pure Prairie Leaguer Vince Gill penned this piece from his debutalbum in homage to the beauty of the Piedmont hills. It went on tobecome his first hit single and one of his most beloved live songs. — RS

83. “NewMoon” by Jimmy Herring (Lifeboat, Abstract Logix, 2008)Fayetteville-born jazz-fusion master Jimmy Herring has never mindedsharing the stage, even on his long-awaited debut solo album. Here, hecan be found trading entrancing licks with another virtuoso, DerekTrucks. — RS

82. “Life Ain’t Easy for Y’all” by Brother Reade (Rap Music, Record Collection, 2007)The Los Angeles-cum-Winston-Salem duo of Jimmy Jamz and DJ Bobby Evanswrote this one to honor the downtrodden and beleaguered likes ofstrippers and LA Clippers fans. The track’s torpid pace provides theperfect compliment to the sunny fatalism of its lyrics. — RS

81. “IMet Jesus in a Bar” by Jim Lauderdale (Country Super Hits Vol. 1, YepRoc, 2006) Not only is Jim Lauderdale a snappy dresser, but the Grammywinner has been known to write a great song or two. When he’s notsinging about finding forgiveness in the bottom of his whiskey glass,he’s touring as the lead guitarist in Elvis Costello’s Sugarcanes. — RS

80. “NCRoyalty” by Antiseen (Noise for the Sake of Noise, 1989) WhileSuperchunk was busy innovating smart indie-rock from the noisy and loudelements of punk rock, Charlotte’s Antiseen was taking the form tobrutal extremes with a sound that was raw and simple. They were alsomore blunt than their more collegiate peers, attacking “power-hungryslime” posing as “caring Christians” in this angry screed. — JG

79. “ConcordiaMilitary Club” by the Rosebuds (Life Like, Merge, 2008) The music ofthe Raleigh duo consisting of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp has drawnfavorable comparisons to the Cure with its moody indolence, thoughtheir willingness to test lyrical boundaries is never more apparentthan on this track. — RS

78. “I’mJust Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” by the Blue Sky Boys (In Concert,1964, Rounder, 1989) In 1964, the Blue Sky Boys — brothers Earl andBill Bolick from Hickory — were enjoying a second career playing thefolk circuit of festivals and college campuses. With harmonized vocalsand exquisite accompaniment on guitar and mandolin, their music is morepolished than bluegrass and more traditional than classic country.Those voices and chops lend themselves wonderfully to a poignant taleabout an elderly woman pleading with a warden to release her son. — JG

77. “Neverland”by the dBs (Repercussion, Air Studios, 1982) Like most of their albums,Repercussion was a commercial flop. However, that didn’t stop historyfrom viewing the dBs as one of the most influential pop-rock bands ofall time. Chris Stamey’s influences are now even more evident thanks tohis prolific producer credits. — RS

76. “Summertime’sCalling Me” by the Catalinas (7-inch, Sugarbush, 1975) As an outsider,I’ve never gotten beach music, just like I’ve never understood whyGreensboro natives are so wild about Yum Yum hotdogs. Maybe I could digit if shagging at Topsail Beach was in my repertoire of teenagememories. This piece of ’70s pop confection that pays homageto surf, sand “and those golden tans… walking by” evokes carefree timesat the beach. On second thought, the appeal is obvious. — JG

75. “FreightTrain” by Elizabeth Cotten (Classic Railroad Songs, Smithsonian FolkwayRecordings, 2006) Inspired by Cotten’s childhood observation of thetrain outside her window ferrying the university students back toChapel Hill, the song is practically inscribed in the state’s DNA. Thedelicate finger-picking and inventive melody is why a mural of Cottonadorns the wall at the Cat’s Cradle in

Carrboro and why practitioners like the Carter Brothers from Jamestown still revere her today. — JG

74. “MyHome Town” by Keevy Hazelton (“The Andy Griffith Show,” 1966) Theamateurish qualities of the song written by Aunt Bee and Clara of “TheAndy Griffith Show” went on to be co-opted by fictional pop singerKeevy Hazelton in one of the series’ most memorable episodes. Ifanything, the look on the writer’s faces while the crooner lays it outis priceless. — RS

73. “Welcometo Durham” by Little Brother (Chittlin Circuit 1.5, Fast Life Music,2005) A rather obscure cut from one of Little Brother’s severalmixtapes, “Welcome to Durham” gives a guest spot to Big Daddy Kane andmore or less captures the hellhole-ish nature of some of Durham’sroughest areas. — RS

72. “ExcuseMe While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” by Whiskeytown (Stranger’sAlmanac, Geffen, 1997) This comes from Whiskeytown’s major-label debut.Another version was later released on the reissue of Faithless Street,with Adams’ opinion that the latter was the definitive version. — RS

71. “I’veGot Blood In My Eyes For You” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops &Alvin “Youngblood” Hart (The Great Debaters soundtrack, Atlantic, 2007)The Carolina Chocolate Drops, three young, African-American string-bandrevivalists from the Piedmont, joined with blues traditionalist Alvin“Youngblood” Hart to evoke the black milieu of 1930s east Texas for TheGreat Debaters. It’s about the kind of young, headstrong lust fromwhich a girl with her eye on achievement would best steer clear. — JG

70. “ThisWorld Runs Like Clockwork” by Bruce Piephoff (Clockwork, Flyin’ CloudRecords, 2009) Few working songwriters, especially ones who’ve clearedtheir 60 th birthday, get their material from the street, butPiephoff’s references to “the Grove Street block” and a shooting at“the Pantry” clearly evoke the Greensboro neighborhood of Glenwood.It’s a pensive number to which Scott Adair provides broodingaccompaniment on the soprano sax. The protagonist in this jungle isneither good nor bad, just an ordinary hustler trying to keep his headlow and get by. — JG

69. “LazyComet” by Polvo (Today’s Active Lifestyles, Merge, 1993) Chapel Hillnoise-rockers Polvo put out some of the quintessential fuzz-enhancedmusic of the ’90s, but it was their sense of the absurd that made themsuch a hip band. The ugly yellow album cover contrasts the album’stitle nicely thanks to a lawsuit by the originator of the artwork that was to be used instead. — RS

68. “InputOutput” by Tiger Bear Wolf (Tiger Bear Wolf, Hello Sir Records, 2005)The dueling guitars, bass and drums create a sludgy, shrieking andheavy sound that effectively fused Fugazi with the Stooges and earlyLed Zeppelin in a way that didn’t seem possible before 2005. The lyricsare music are essentially united in a simple exhortation: “Turn it on…and all the way up if you’ve got to.” — JG

67. “FeelingGood” by Nina Simone (I Put A Spell On You, Philips Records, 1965)Simone’s version of this Broadway musical number has been sampled byboth Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent, and no wonder, with those crushinghorns, overwrought strings and the vocal, of course. Simone makes eventhe most trite lyric sound regal and profound. — JG

66. “CamelWalk” by Southern Culture on the Skids (Dirt Track Date, Geffen, 1995)Bizarre can only be used to describe Rick Miller’s absurd sense ofhumor and this track is highly indicative of that. References to LittleDebbie, Captain’s Wafers and “special outfits” litter this sardoniclook at white-trash living. — RS

65. “Carolina”by Ben Gibbard (Home, Vol. V, Post-Parlo, 2003) Death Cab for Cutie’sBen Gibbard included this track on the now nearly-impossible-to-findsplit EP with singer Andrew Kenny. Here he sings of escaping an abusiverelationship in favor of rolling hills and willows. — RS

64. “TheBallad of Love and Hate” by the Avett Brothers (Emotionalism, RamseurRecords, 2007) Gentle and folkish, the song’s instrumentation is hardlymore than an acoustic guitar. The lyric has the tinge ofdisillusionment but no hint of weariness. It’s perhaps the closest thebrothers have come to poetry: “Hate sits alone on the hood of his car,without much regard to the moon or the stars, lazily killing the lastof a jar of the strongest stuff you can drink.” — JG

63. “Lordof the Ring & His Fascist Time Keepers” by Des Ark (Live on WXDU,self-released, 2006) Aimee Argote often plays with her ear cocked toher guitar, so that her voice and the instrument are practicallymerged. Recorded live on Duke University’s WXDU FM by Ross Grady on NewYear’s Day 2006 “following a long night of filthy debauchery,” as theliner notes put it, Argote unplugged and dispensed with the band, goingstraight for the essence of romantic need and vulnerability. — JG

62. “Samthe Can Man” by Bruce Piephoff (Clockwork, Flyin’ Clouds Records, 2009)Sam the Can Man was a beloved resident of the College Hill neighborhoodin Greensboro. To say the song is typical of Bruce Piephoff’srepertoire is no knock. Sam’s character is vividly and lovinglysketched and his mark on life reveals something about the community heinhabits: “Keep it slow, Sam/ On the down-low, man/ Don’t askquestions/ Speak, but don’t judge.” — JG

61. “Unamerican”by Tre’ Stylez Around the time of George W. Bush’s reelection and afterthe invasion of Iraq, the late Tre’ Stylez exploded out of Greensboro’ship-hop underground. In addition to celebrating smoking up on the beachand indulging in straight-up raunch, Tre’ issued this smolderingindictment, which reconfigured the president’s words, mocked BillO’Reilly and issued a call: “The only way this shit is gonna change iswith a movement.” We lost Tre’ in 2005, and no Triad MC since has comeclose to matching him. — JG

60. “WhyModern Radio Is A-OK” by Roman Candle (Oh Tall Tree in the Ear,Carnival, 2009) The plastic was barely off of this song before it wasdeemed worthy of inclusion in a great songs list. Skip Matheny makeshis mark here with his approval of Top 40 and how its blandness couldnever inspire unwanted emotions. — RS

59. “CarolinaBlues” by Blues Traveler (Straight On till the Morning, A&M, 1997)One of John Popper’s biggest hits, “Carolina Blues” continued theband’s run of mainstream success in the ’90s before the band retreatedback into their jam band heritage. — RS

58. “DeaconBlues” by Steely Dan (Aja, ABC, 1978) The Wake Forest Demon Deaconssure did used to suck at football. So bad, in fact, that it inspiredWalter Beck and Donald Fagen to write a song about it. The team iscontrasted next to the champs of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, though thingshave changed, but not by much. — RS

57. “FixIt” by Ryan Adams (Cardinology, Lost Highway, 2008) Can’t get enough ofRyan Adams? Neither can we. The golden-voiced Jacksonville native hasconsistently been one of the best North Carolina-bred artists since hisdebut and this song serves to confirm it. — RS

56. “MyLife My Love” by the Flat Duo Jets (Two Headed Cow, Chicken Ranch,1986) Neither Dexter Romweber’s manic guitar style nor hispained howl and snarl can overpower the lovelorn romance of the vocal,a warble as fine as Elvis or Gene Vincent. There was nothing like thisin the mid-1980s, and there still isn’t. Romweber didn’t come fromanother time, but all times, and he meant every word in the song. — JG

55. “AllI Can Do Is Write About It” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (Gimme Back My Bullets,MCA, 1976) Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked and gave voice to a generation ofSouthern youth looking to make a break from the South’s Jim Crow past,but they also mourned the loss of the region’s agrarian identity. Thegentle arrangement plays up fiddle, dobro and piano, and singer RonnieVan Zandt poses this immortal question: “Did you ever see the beauty ofthe hills of Carolina, or the sweetness of the grass in Tennessee?” — JG

54. “DevilWoman” by Toubab Krewe (Toubab Krewe, Upstream, 2005) One of the mostinnovative acts anywhere, Asheville’s Toubab Krewe blends thetraditional string music of the mountains with that of West Africa tocreate an unparalleled sound. “Devil Woman” is a collage ofunimaginable sounds and tight grooves that has helped propel the bandinto cult status. — RS

53. “Pooler”by Thunderlip (demo) Wilmington’s Thunderlip revived 1970s proto-metalin the mold of Deep Purple and Judas Priest, replete with transgressivesexuality, gnarly guitar solos, impeccable execution and relentlessenergy. Prepare to be destroyed. — JG

52. “ShakeEverything You Got” by Maceo Parker (Life On Planet Groove, Polygram,1992) When Maceo gives orders, you follow. Not that you have a choicein this matter, as the funky horn he blows doesn’t leave any otheroptions. Covered by countless other artists, this track sets theunrelenting pace for one of Parker’s best albums. — RS

51. “Army”by Ben Folds (The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 550Music, 1999) There aren’t many songs by Ben Folds more beloved byhis fans than “Army,” thanks to the quirky and ever-evolving livetreatment it gets. It’s also one of his more personal works, as almostthe entire song is derived from his own experiences. — RS

50. “TheFishin’ Hole” by Earle Hagen (“The Andy Griffith Show”) One of the mostpopular television shows in history, “The Andy Griffith Show” providedthe nation with a window into small town-life through the fictionalidyll of Mayberry, NC., though it doesn’t take a rabid fan to be ableto whistle the memorable tune at the beginning. — RS

49. “GoodGirls” by the Sams (unreleased) Sam Moss left behind a huge musicallegacy and a lot of friends in Winston-Salem when he took his own lifein 2007. This delectable piece of screaming rock-and-roll catharsiscourtesy of Moss, KD Rouse, Doug Williams and Dave Seward proves thatthe fates don’t always cooperate to make chart-topping records of greatsongs. — JG

48. “VoicesInside (Everything Is Everything)” by Donnie Hathaway (Live, Atlantic,1972) There’s only a tenuous connection on the surface with this track,but further inspection reveals one of the all-time great bass solos onrecord by none other than Salemburg’s Willie Weeks. Weeks is given fullreign by Hathaway and proceeds to close out the show in blisteringfashion. — RS

47. “Bitethe Bullet” by Neil Young (American Stars ’n’ Bars, Reprise, 1977)Let’s see, an awesome opening guitar riff, followed by the line“Carolina queen/she’s a walking love machine/I’d like to make herscream/when I bite the bullet.” I think we can find a spot for thisone. — RS

46. “Countingthe Hours” by the Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt (Two DollarPistols with Tift Merritt EP, Yep Roc, 1999) Paying tribute to thegreat country partnerships of George Jones and Melba Montgomery, PorterWagoner and Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, the TwoDollar Pistols’ John Howie Jr. and rising artist Tift Merritt came upwith a formula that sounded fresh again at the turn of the century. Fewduets have sounded so tender and affecting in the last 20 years (exceptpossibly fellow North Carolina partners in song Thad Cockrell andCaitlin Cary) as Howie and Merritt do on this song they pennedtogether. — JG

45. “Nirvana”by Tom Waits (Orphans: Bastards, ANTI-, 2006) Originally a poem byCharles Bukowski, the spoken word piece details a young man’s journeyto spiritual enlightenment during a Greyhound bus trip that stops at adiner in North Carolina. The apex of the piece is reached when hedecides, “I’ll just stay here.” — RS

44. “BreakMy Mind” by George Hamilton IV (Folksy, RCA Victor, 1967) The FlyingBurrito Brothers and Linda Ronstadt have made “Break My Mind” acountry-rock classic, but Winston- Salem’s George Hamilton IV had a hitfirst with this song, which was penned by fellow North Carolinian JohnD. Lowdermilk. The bass drum thumps lightly and the steel guitarrallies and a rueful lover observes, “If you leave, you’re gonna leavea babbling fool behind.” — JG

43. “Living Room Scene” by Dillon Fence (Living Room Scene, Mammoth, 1994)Greg Humphrey’s soulful voice was never more vital than it was on thisheavily played mid-’90s release. This one is especially important to mebecause it was the first time that I really became cognizant ofregional artists. — RS

42. “Jesusland”by Ben Folds (Songs For Silverman, Sony, 2005) Ben Folds’ piano-basedballadry of suburbia regards modern life in the Old North State from asardonic distance. The light march and dark dispositioncloaked under a sunny melody is the perfect example of Folds’ artistry,and the song spookily suggests disgraced televangelist Jim Baaker’sCharlotte. — JG

41. “BlackDeath” by Arrogance (Crescent City 7-inch, 1970) North Carolina rockensembles that perform original music consider Arrogance to be Year 1.They arguably cleared the way for the pop experimentalism of MitchEaster almost a decade later, the fertile Triangle rock scene of the1980s and the indie-rock explosion in Chapel Hill that crested in theearly 1990s. This song is almost heavier than Black Sabbath, but it’sdoubtful many people in North Carolina had heard Black Sabbath in 1970.— JG

40. “JacksonvilleSkyline” by Whiskeytown (Pneumonia, Lost Highway, 2001) Only Ryan Adamscould find beauty in the city of Jacksonville, and I’m not talkingabout the one with the Jaguars. The NC military installation is aptlydescribed in this song as a “city with a hopeless streetlight” and fullof “neon signs, car dealerships and diners.” — RS

39. “88Seconds in Greensboro” by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (Crush,Virgin, 1985) Greensboro’s most shameful moment, the 1979 Klan-Nazikillings in Morningside Homes, is mediated through a televisiondocumentary and transformed into a four-minute requiem by a Britishsynth-pop band. “We know you,” is a nice touch. “Oh yes, we have knownyou.” — JG

38. “DeathDon’t Have No Mercy” by the Rev. Gary Davis (Blind Gary Davis,1962-1964, Recorded Live, Wolf Records, 1988) The guitar line snakesdown to the depths of hell, but Gary Davis was a godly bluesman. Thesong sounds exactly like what the title suggests — a grievous protestof the reality that life can be snatched away by illness, accident orviolence without warning. — JG

37. “NorthCarolina Line” by Gene Vincent (The Day The World Turned Blue, KamaSutra, 1971) One of the last few songs recorded by Vincent before hisunfortunate death, “North Carolina Line” remembers his youth inNorfolk, Va. and interstate racing with his buddies. Vincent would goon to leave an indelible impression on many great North Carolinarockabilly artists. — RS

36. “3Faces In the Window” by Phil Lee with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings(You Should Have Known Me Then, Shanachie, 2001) Phil Lee, who hailsfrom Durham, excels at all kinds of music — Dylanesque rockers, MuscleShoals soul and reprobate folk — but on this song the instrumentationis just a simple hammer-on acoustic guitar in the style of the CarterFamily. The story is spare and moving: a well-to-do couple trying toenjoy a nice meal in a restaurant is interrupted by the visage ofhungry man and his children. Lee’s character makes thissearing declaration: “Now I have one more reason to hate you, mydarling, yes love of my life… your words cut me worse than a knife.”And the next line belongs to Welch: “Those beggars out there, nomanners I swear, we’re trying to eat, can they not see?” — JG

35. “Wreckof the Old 97” by Vernon Dalhart (Victor, 1924) Here’s a good bit ofbar trivia: Where was Engine No. 1102 headed after it departed fromMonroe, Va. before its eventual crash in Danville, Va. killed nine? Theanswer is Spencer, NC and the ballad has become one of the mostrecorded in country music history. — RS

34. “ColdRoses” by Ryan Adams & the Cardinals (Cold Roses, Lonesome Highway,2005) Ryan Adams pays an explicit tribute to Jerry Garcia on 1970’sAmerican Beauty on this album, and specifically this track. Maybe it’sthe audacity of his thievery or his impeccable taste that makes thesong so much fun. In any case, the weathered, sweet voice and gnarledguitar solo sounded damn good the first time I heard it on GuilfordCollege’s campus station cruising down West Market Street, and it hassounded that way ever since. — JG

33. “Don’tLet Your Deal Go Down Blues” by Charlie Poole & His North CarolinaRamblers (Columbia, 1925) The fiddle drives the melody while Poole’sbanjo tears forward with the guitar. The playing’s clean and the vocalshave a hard edge. Wikipedia describes Poole as “textile mill worker,semi-pro ballplayer and hell-raiser supreme.” He grew up in Spray andplayed music around there. He was a bona fide star, with biographerKinney Rorrer reporting that he sold 102,000 copies of “Don’t Let YourDeal Go Down Blues” at a time when there were only estimated to be600,000 phonographs in the Southern United States. He leftmore than 60 recordings behind when he died of a heart attack at theage of 39, and is said to have influenced both Bill Monroe and HankWilliams. Who will challenge his supremacy? — JG

32. “Carolinain the Morning” by Al Jolson (Let Me Sing And I’m Happy, Warner Bros.,1926) Al Jolson may have been the king of Tin Pan Alley stereotypes,but his recording of this standard is easily the most famous. For whatit’s worth, I’d rather pay to hear Phish’s a capella rendition. — RS

31. “TomDooley” by Doc Watson (The Essential Doc Watson, Vanguard, 1986) “Hangyour head, Tom Dooley, hang your head and cry/ You killed poor LaurieFoster, and you know you’re bound to die.” Confederate veteran Tom Dulais said to have killed Laura Foster and hanged for the crime inStatesville in 1868. History in song. — JG

30. “Carolina(I Remember You)” by the Charlie Daniels Band (The Roots Remain, Sony,1996) There’s a bit of confusion between this Daniels’ wintertimeclassic and the rocking “Carolina (I Hear You Calling)” andunderstandably so. Still, this spoken word piece has been a Christmasmainstay in North Carolina homes since its release. — RS

29. “Foreverand Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis (Always & Forever, Warner Bros.,1987) Marshville is proud of native son Randy Travis, and I know thisbecause there’s a sign there to remind me every time

Idrive to the beach. They have good reason to be, because Travis was athis golden-baritoned best on this No. 1 country single. — RS

28. “WhiteLightning” by George Jones (White Lightning And Other Favorites,Mercury, 1959) A little too much of the party liquor that he sang aboutearned him the nickname “No-Show Jones,” but he took this BigBopper-written classic to the top of the charts and it only took him 80in-studio takes to do it. — RS

27. “GreensboroWoman” by Townes Van Zandt (High, Low and in Between, Rhino, 1972) Thedrunken spiritualist Van Zandt has a moment of clarity just long enoughto say “thanks, but no thanks” to the women of Greensboro that he hadmet. There’s an aesthetic appreciation, he admits, but that alone won’tcut it. — RS

26. “Theme:Road to No Return/Carolina” by Robert Earl Kean (Walking Distance,Arista, 1998) This sprawling, eight-minute epic tells of a man fallingin love to the scenery of some of North Carolina’s greatest landmarks and then losing her before all hell breaks loose. The outcome is delivered in a single, ominous line: “The lawmen of Asheville have no mercy in them.” — RS

25. “BabyLet Me Bang Your Box Part 1” by Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts (Jubilee,1966) A generation of white frat boys was raised on this music in the1960s. Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts were raunchy, unruly, drivenequally by guitars and horns, and their popularity demonstrated boththe elasticity and limitations of the race line. Their R&B is theantithesis of beach music, and some say it was a forerunner of punk.The joyous (and lewd) sentiment of the song is as great as the spokenintro, the boozy hiccups, the falsetto exposition and the riot thatfollows. — JG

24. “AragonMill” by Si Khan (New Wood, Rounder Records, 1994) The labor movementis practically buried in the official history of North Carolina, whichis said to regularly trade places with South Carolina as the leastunionized state in the nation. So a Jewish troubadour who threw himselfinto organizing and the folk traditions of working people in themid-1970s might seem especially marginal. And yet, an outsider who madethis state his home is probably best qualified to tell this story we sowell know — about a textile mill that’s closed down, and a woman who’sdone this work all her life who asks, “Where will I go?” — JG

23. “WagonWheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS, 2004) At a party to celebratemy 30 th birthday some new friends pulled out acoustic guitars andstarted playing “Wagon Wheel,” which had been out for less than a yearat that time. “This is like our ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’” DanielBayer explained to me. As a piece of recorded art that instantly entersthe folk bloodstream, “Wagon Wheel” automatically meets the test.Fiddler and singer Ketch Secor spent several years in Greensboroplaying old-time music with gutter punks, so the lyric’s authenticityis guaranteed: “Headed down south to the land of the pines/ And I’mthumbin’ my way into North Caroline.” — JG

22. “PoorEllen Smith” by Neko Case (Canadian Amp EP, Lady Pilot Records, 2001)Case didn’t originally pen this tale of one of the most well knownmurder cases in state history; that information is lost in antiquity.The song has been around since the late 19 th century, but Case’sversion stands out for its contemporary sensibilities. — RS

21. “VoteWith A Bullet” by Corrosion of Conformity (Blind, Relativity, 1991) Oneof the state’s great metal bands was at their ear-shattering best whenthey got just a little bit political. Like any good head-bangers, theytake it to the extreme in this track where they play out theirpolitical allegiances through the barrel of a gun. — RS

20. “LongGone Sailor” by Jeffrey Dean Foster (Million Star Hotel, Angel SkullRecords, 2005) Jeffrey Dean Foster’s first solo album is lushlyproduced, taking cues from the great classic rock records of the 1970sand artists like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Electric LightOrchestra. “Long Gone Sailor” is as keen an evocation ofdisillusionment as any American recording in the past 30 years, but thegorgeous piano and guitars make it a gorgeous pleasure. — JG

19. “Birdsof Prey” by the Pinetops (Above Ground and Vertical, MonolythEntertainment, 1999) Practically all of Winston-Salem rocker JeffreyDean Foster’s bands — the Right Profile, the Carneys and the Pinetops —have seemed to be on the cusp of success before fading into obscurity,but he keeps plugging away. His earnest songcraft is expressed throughany different mediums — rock and roll, country and adult pop. Many ofFoster’s themes — the ache for escape and release, darkness and lightand simple empathy — are fitted into “Birds of Prey,” which soars on acrunchy, loud guitar riff. “Angels and birds of prey/ circle all nightand sleep all day….” No surprise that Foster took the song title andused it to name his current band. — JG

18. “MurderIn the City” by the Avett Brothers (Second Gleam EP, Ramseur Records,2007) The bearded Scott Avett, son of Concord, sings, “If I getmurdered in the city, don’t go revenge-ing in my name/ One person deadfrom such is plenty, no need to go get locked away.” The simplevernacular of the lyric sums up everything that is good about NorthCarolinians: earthiness, magnanimity and forgiveness. — JG

17. “Wrong”by Archers of Loaf (Icky Mettle, Alias, 1994) One of the great NorthCarolina indie acts, this was the song that started it all for them. Itwas initially released as a 45-single with “South Carolina” as a B-sideand got them the record label attention that inevitably helped makethem the darlings of ’90s college radio. — RS

16. “TheSlummer the Slum” by the “5” Royales (King, 1958) Citing “The Slummerthe Slum” as one of the top 1,001 singles of all time, rock critic DaveMarsh has credited guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling withcapturing the first intentional use of guitar feedback on record, yearsin advance of the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Velvet Underground. Anotherfan, Saving Graces principal Michael Slawter, describes the band as across between the Temptations and Jimi Hendrix. For my tastes, nobodyrocks harder than the Royales on this cut. The class rage is implicitin the title, and the way the backup singers spit it out, it soundslike a different language. “Don’t try to figure out where I come from,”the singer sneers. “I could be a smart guy from Wall Street, or thePurple People Eater’s son.” — JG

15. “OneDime Blues” by Etta Baker (Mrs. Etta Baker & Friends: InstrumentalMusic of the Southern Appalachians: Traditional Years, TraditionRecords, 1956) Amidst the homogenization of the genre thanks to thehouse-rockin’ style popularized by Chicago players who had migratedfrom the Mississippi Delta, some people forget that there is anindigenous style from North Carolina called the Piedmont blues. EttaBaker of Morganton, who died in 2006, was perhaps its greatestexponent. Recorded when at the guitarist’s home when she was 43 yearsold, “One Dime Blues” was Baker’s breakout song, and it showcased herfine, melodic picking. — JG

14. “CosmicSlop” by Funkadelic (Cosmic Slop, Westbound, 1973) Kannapolis-bornGeorge Clinton wrote and produced this song with guitarist Eddie Hazelin mind and the result was one of the most incendiary opening guitarriffs in all of rock music and a favorite among P-Funk fans. — RS

13. “SlackMotherfucker” by Superchunk (Tossing Seeds: Singles 89-91, Merge, 1991)This ranking doesn’t shouldn’t imply that Superchunk is necessarily abetter band than their peers Archers of Loaf, but they did arrive onthe scene a couple of years before with a barrage of Chapel Hillanthems like this one. — RS

12. “Dedicatedto the One I Love” by the “5” Royales (King, 1961) “Dedicated” has aplace in the American pop music canon thanks to better known covers bythe Shirelles and the Mamas and Papas, but the group responsible forwriting and cutting the original was the “5” Royales out of Winston-Salem. They played raw and passionate R&B of the kind that has beenwashed out by the beach music that excels it in popularity. The vocalssound like someone about to break down in hysterics and the guitarplaying stings. — JG

11. “Passthe Peas” by Maceo Parker (Life On Planet Groove, Polygram, 1992) Thesecond entry from Maceo’s finest album was originally written duringhis time as a part of the James Brown backing band the JB’s. It’s atestament to just how amazing Parker really is that he can create oneof the funkiest instrumental tracks ever by building it around such aninnocuous phrase. — RS

10. “Rumble”by Link Wray and His Ray-Men (Cadence, 1958) Modern rock owes more toLink Wray than most people realize and the start of it can all betraced back to his performance of a bar in Fredericksburg, Va. Wray hada new song he wanted to play for the audience, but it was a littledifferent than what people were used to. The song was “Rumble,” and itwas the first song on record to utilize power chords and distortion,along with being the first instrumental to be banned from airwaves. —RS

9. “TobaccoRoad” by John D. Loudermilk (originally recorded in 1960) TerrySullivan covered the song at Winston-Salem’s Garage in 2007. A recordstore clerk in Winston-Salem told me his favorite version is by theEnglish prog-rock band Spooky Tooth. The Jefferson Airplane’s takestreams across the internet from the Wolfgang’s Vault website. TheAnimals and Lou Rawls have also done great versions. But it was John D.Lowdermilk, cousin to the famous Louvin Brothers, who put pen to paper,immortalizing his childhood neighborhood in East Durham. No one evernailed privation, squalor and resignation quite so well. (91 words) — JG

8. “Ain’tGot No, I Got Life” by Nina Simone (’Nuff Said!, RCA Records, 1968)Recorded live at the Westbury Music Fair in New York State just threedays after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Ain’tGot No….” bears a nearly unbearable intensity and grief. Born to MaryKate Waymon and John Divine Waymon in Tryon in 1933, Simone made herway north like many other talented black North Carolinians of her day.Classically trained and defiant towards white supremacy, Simone wasunapologetic about making music to give sustenance to black people, andher song rescues triumph from despair. — JG

7. “Soulshine”by the Allman Brothers Band (Where It All Begins, Sony, 1994) It was along time before the Allman Brothers Band came up with a song powerfulenough to supplant “Whip ping

Post”as show-closer and it took the emergence of Asheville’s Warren Haynesas a prominent member to do so. You’re likely to hear this one as apivotal moment in not just ABB shows, but Gov’t Mule and Haynes solosets as well. — RS

6. “ShakeSugaree” by Elizabeth Cotten (Shake Sugaree, Smithsonian FolkwayRecordings, 2004) The song is hardly anything more than a children’slullaby, but if it was anything more it could not possibly encompassthe pulsing heart of our state’s music. Originally from Chapel Hill,Cotten had made her way to Washington, DC by the 1940s, where shelanded a job as a domestic for the Charles Seeger family (whose sonsPete and Mike are folk-music giants in their own right). Cotten’sguitar playing is melodic and gentle (her influence can be heard ineveryone from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia to Greensboro folksingerBruce Piephoff) and her vocals are plaintive and absolutely singular. —JG

5. “CrazyHazy Kisses” by Flat Duo Jets How influential was the voice and guitarof Dexter Romweber? The White Stripes’ Jack White said that listeningto him taught him how to be himself. The manic, throwback rockabilly ofRomweber and Crow Smith never sounded better than it did on their firstvinyl release, a 7-inch shared with the completely obscure bandSqualls. — RS

4. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” by Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker, Bloodshot, 2000) This is the last Ryan Adams’ song on the list, I promise. The entire album itself is said to be inspired by his feelings over a breakup, but this travelogue with Emmylou Harris providing backing vocals seems to reflect Adams’ feelings of loneliness while out on the road. — RS

3. “ALove Supreme” by John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Impulse!, 1965) No jazzsong burned an impression into my teenage ears quite like “A LoveSupreme,” with its majestic exposition, frank spirituality andinspirational reach. My atheist cousin played it on Sunday mornings,and I witnessed an ecstatic worship service with instrumentaltestimonials at a church in San Francisco organized around thecosmology of St. John. Anyone who’s been to High Point, where Coltranespent his formative high-school years, will understand his humility andreligiosity immediately. — JG

2. “ChapelHill” by Sonic Youth (Dirty, Geffen, 1992) The song is at once atribute to a youth rock scene and a snapshot of a historical moment —the collision of the past and the future in North Carolina after theend of the Cold War. New York noise merchants Sonic Youth clearly tookthe measure of North Carolina’s flagship college town, with referencesto “a bookstore man” meeting the CIA and getting the “Cradle rocking.”In doing so, they confirmed that Chapel Hill was the coolest place inthe nation to making and listening to music, while indictingmoss-backed conservative Sen. Jesse Helms. The lyrics say it all:“We’ll round up the Durham HC kids/ And the Char Grill Killers/ JesseH. come into our pit/ Ah, all ages show.” — JG

…AND THE NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA SONG IS….’ 1. “Samsonand Delilah” by the Rev. Gary Davis Where to even begin with this one?You could start with his unique finger-picking that was fundamental tothe Piedmont blues style. Or you could point to the countless blues,country and rock musicians who he influenced. “Samson and Delilah” is atraditional work most notably recorded by the Grateful Dead for theirTerrapin Station album, which instantly became a crowd favorite.Though, Bob Weir may have never known it had Davis not taught it tohim. — RS

What didn’t Make the Cut

Musical tastes are both subjective and learned. Songs often lodge inour consciousness because we first heard them during decisive momentsin our lives, and the music carrries strong emotional associations forus. Songs that one person may love may make no impact on another personbecause there are no references to it in our repertoire of seminalexperiences. On the intentional side of listening practice, critics andfans can learn to appreciate a song for its technical and innovativequalities. Here’s where it gets complicated: Great NorthCarolina songs must not only be great, but, in our estimation at least,they must either be made by a North Carolina artist or be related tothe state in a topical way. We’ve already anticipated this protest:Where is “Carolina Girls” by the Chairmen of the Board? The song wasrecorded and is performed by an immensely popular group, it sings thepraises of girls from North Carolina (“California girls are sexy andNew York girls are too, but Carolina girls got good looks and sweetpersonality too”) and it’s an exemplar of one of our indigenous forms,beach music. The problem — and this is only going to throwsalt in the wounds — is that neither of us can stand it. The melody isnot particularly inventive and General Johnson’s voice is unimpressive. Now, you can add hypocrisy to your bill of charges. JamesTaylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” didn’t make our list initially. We knewit has strong associations for many North Carolinians, and JT is anaccomplished artist that was produced by this state. Theproblem is that the song has just never really done much for either ofus. Still, we made an accomodation and wedged it in by dropping “WhiteTrash Heroes” by the Archers of Loaf, who were already represented witha better song. Also, a list such as this can easily become a roll callfor great North Carolina artists. Mitch Easter, who is perhaps better known for his production work — most famously, Murmur byREM — found critical acclaim if not commercial success with hisjanglepop band, Let’s Active, in the 1980s. Still, compared tocontemporaries Jeffrey Dean Foster and Don Dixon (represented on thislist with the song “Black Death” by Arrogance”), Easter’s recordedoutput doesn’t hold up quite as well. Two songs by bands that includedEaster landed on our list just shy of the 100 mark: a 1972 track called“The Hots” by Easter’s MC5-inspired outfit Rittenhouse Square, and“Every Word Means No” by Let’s Active that has become something of anMTV classic thanks to a second life on YouTube. It was easy tolet go of 104 th ranked “Good-Bye Carolina” by Lyle Lovett. While it’sa good song that references North Carolina, Lone Star Lyle Lovettdeserves a place on a Texas list. It was harder to drop 101 st -ranked“Confederate Soldier” by Chatham County Line, a solid cut by a reallyfine group. Let the brick-bats fly.— JG

Share: