May 20, 2009 12:00

The 100 North Carolina songs

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The 100 North Carolina songs Everyone loves lists. The Billboard charts, Forbes magazine and direct marketing firms 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 the Publisher’s Clearing House or male enhancement: the 100 Greatest North Carolina Songs. There’s a little bit of methodology due. Many are great songs by artists from North Carolina, while others are great songs about North Carolina. Others are a little bit of both, though these are treated with a slightly different importance, depending on who ranked them. There were two of us doing the rankings. Jordan Green gave more weight to just how “kick-ass” he found the songs to be, while I leant more gravity to the songs’ relevance to the subject. We each created our own top 100, the average values of which then factored into the final result.

There are sure to be omissions and I can think of at least one notable NC artist that was unfortunately overlooked until the list had already been compiled. There’s an even greater possibility that many will be left scratching their heads at some of the songs that made the final cut. There are some rather obscure inclusions, but let me assure you, the reader, that we 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. “All This Time” by Brandon D (featuring Ricco Barrino) (Rolling With the Punches, Naps Krew Entertainment, 2005) Brandon D emerged on the Greensboro scene promising to “bring back individualism,” and some of his work suffers from the same kind of self-centeredness that has made the hip-hop genre so predictable, but for “All This Time,” in which D enlisted vocal aid from Ricco Barrino (brother of “American Idol” star Fantasia), the rapper drew straight from the source of his hard-knock childhood 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 front man of San Fran’s Vetiver, but anyone plugged into the Triad indie scene in the mid-’90s will surely remember the angsty sound of one of his early projects the Raymond Brake. — RS

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

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

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

83. “New Moon” by Jimmy Herring (Lifeboat, Abstract Logix, 2008) Fayetteville-born jazz-fusion master Jimmy Herring has never minded sharing the stage, even on his long-awaited debut solo album. Here, he can be found trading entrancing licks with another virtuoso, Derek Trucks. — 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 Evans wrote this one to honor the downtrodden and beleaguered likes of strippers and LA Clippers fans. The track’s torpid pace provides the perfect compliment to the sunny fatalism of its lyrics. — RS

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

80. “NC Royalty” by Antiseen (Noise for the Sake of Noise, 1989) While Superchunk was busy innovating smart indie-rock from the noisy and loud elements of punk rock, Charlotte’s Antiseen was taking the form to brutal extremes with a sound that was raw and simple. They were also more blunt than their more collegiate peers, attacking “power-hungry slime” posing as “caring Christians” in this angry screed. — JG

79. “Concordia Military Club” by the Rosebuds (Life Like, Merge, 2008) The music of the Raleigh duo consisting of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp has drawn favorable comparisons to the Cure with its moody indolence, though their willingness to test lyrical boundaries is never more apparent than on this track. — RS

78. “I’m Just 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 and Bill Bolick from Hickory — were enjoying a second career playing the folk circuit of festivals and college campuses. With harmonized vocals and exquisite accompaniment on guitar and mandolin, their music is more polished than bluegrass and more traditional than classic country. Those voices and chops lend themselves wonderfully to a poignant tale about 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 history from viewing the dBs as one of the most influential pop-rock bands of all time. Chris Stamey’s influences are now even more evident thanks to his prolific producer credits. — RS

76. “Summertime’s Calling Me” by the Catalinas (7-inch, Sugarbush, 1975) As an outsider, I’ve never gotten beach music, just like I’ve never understood why Greensboro natives are so wild about Yum Yum hotdogs. Maybe I could dig it if shagging at Topsail Beach was in my repertoire of teenage memories.

This piece of ’70s pop confection that pays homage to surf, sand “and those golden tans… walking by” evokes carefree times at the beach. On second thought, the appeal is obvious. — JG

75. “Freight Train” by Elizabeth Cotten (Classic Railroad Songs, Smithsonian Folkway Recordings, 2006) Inspired by Cotten’s childhood observation of the train outside her window ferrying the university students back to Chapel Hill, the song is practically inscribed in the state’s DNA. The delicate finger-picking and inventive melody is why a mural of Cotton adorns the wall at the Cat’s Cradle in

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

74. “My Home Town” by Keevy Hazelton (“The Andy Griffith Show,” 1966) The amateurish qualities of the song written by Aunt Bee and Clara of “The Andy Griffith Show” went on to be co-opted by fictional pop singer Keevy Hazelton in one of the series’ most memorable episodes. If anything, the look on the writer’s faces while the crooner lays it out is priceless. — RS

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

72. “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” by Whiskeytown (Stranger’s Almanac, 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’ve Got 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-band revivalists from the Piedmont, joined with blues traditionalist Alvin “Youngblood” Hart to evoke the black milieu of 1930s east Texas for The Great Debaters. It’s about the kind of young, headstrong lust from which a girl with her eye on achievement would best steer clear. — JG

70. “This World Runs Like Clockwork” by Bruce Piephoff (Clockwork, Flyin’ Cloud Records, 2009) Few working songwriters, especially ones who’ve cleared their 60 th birthday, get their material from the street, but Piephoff’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 brooding accompaniment on the soprano sax. The protagonist in this jungle is neither good nor bad, just an ordinary hustler trying to keep his head low and get by. — JG

69. “Lazy Comet” by Polvo (Today’s Active Lifestyles, Merge, 1993) Chapel Hill noise-rockers Polvo put out some of the quintessential fuzz-enhanced music of the ’90s, but it was their sense of the absurd that made them such a hip band. The ugly yellow album cover contrasts the album’s title nicely thanks to a lawsuit by the originator of the artwork that was to be used instead. — RS

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

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

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

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

64. “The Ballad of Love and Hate” by the Avett Brothers (Emotionalism, Ramseur Records, 2007) Gentle and folkish, the song’s instrumentation is hardly more than an acoustic guitar. The lyric has the tinge of disillusionment but no hint of weariness. It’s perhaps the closest the brothers 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 last of a jar of the strongest stuff you can drink.” — JG

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

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

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

60. “Why Modern 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 was deemed worthy of inclusion in a great songs list. Skip Matheny makes his mark here with his approval of Top 40 and how its blandness could never inspire unwanted emotions. — RS

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

58. “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan (Aja, ABC, 1978) The Wake Forest Demon Deacons sure did used to suck at football. So bad, in fact, that it inspired Walter Beck and Donald Fagen to write a song about it. The team is contrasted next to the champs of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, though things have changed, but not by much. — RS

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

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

55. “All I 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 of Southern 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. The gentle arrangement plays up fiddle, dobro and piano, and singer Ronnie Van Zandt poses this immortal question: “Did you ever see the beauty of the hills of Carolina, or the sweetness of the grass in Tennessee?” — JG

54. “Devil Woman” by Toubab Krewe (Toubab Krewe, Upstream, 2005) One of the most innovative acts anywhere, Asheville’s Toubab Krewe blends the traditional string music of the mountains with that of West Africa to create an unparalleled sound. “Devil Woman” is a collage of unimaginable sounds and tight grooves that has helped propel the band into cult status. — RS

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

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

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

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

49. “Good Girls” by the Sams (unreleased) Sam Moss left behind a huge musical legacy and a lot of friends in Winston-Salem when he took his own life in 2007. This delectable piece of screaming rock-and-roll catharsis courtesy of Moss, KD Rouse, Doug Williams and Dave Seward proves that the fates don’t always cooperate to make chart-topping records of great songs. — JG

48. “Voices Inside (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 on record by none other than Salemburg’s Willie Weeks. Weeks is given full reign by Hathaway and proceeds to close out the show in blistering fashion. — RS

47. “Bite the 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 her scream/when I bite the bullet.” I think we can find a spot for this one. — RS

46. “Counting the Hours” by the Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt (Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt EP, Yep Roc, 1999) Paying tribute to the great country partnerships of George Jones and Melba Montgomery, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, the Two Dollar Pistols’ John Howie Jr. and rising artist Tift Merritt came up with a formula that sounded fresh again at the turn of the century. Few duets have sounded so tender and affecting in the last 20 years (except possibly fellow North Carolina partners in song Thad Cockrell and Caitlin Cary) as Howie and Merritt do on this song they penned together. — JG

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

44. “Break My Mind” by George Hamilton IV (Folksy, RCA Victor, 1967) The Flying Burrito Brothers and Linda Ronstadt have made “Break My Mind” a country-rock classic, but Winston- Salem’s George Hamilton IV had a hit first with this song, which was penned by fellow North Carolinian John D. Lowdermilk. The bass drum thumps lightly and the steel guitar rallies and a rueful lover observes, “If you leave, you’re gonna leave a 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 this heavily played mid-’90s release. This one is especially important to me because it was the first time that I really became cognizant of regional artists. — RS

42. “Jesusland” by Ben Folds (Songs For Silverman, Sony, 2005) Ben Folds’ piano-based balladry of suburbia regards modern life in the Old North State from a sardonic distance.

The light march and dark disposition cloaked under a sunny melody is the perfect example of Folds’ artistry, and the song spookily suggests disgraced televangelist Jim Baaker’s Charlotte. — JG

41. “Black Death” by Arrogance (Crescent City 7-inch, 1970) North Carolina rock ensembles that perform original music consider Arrogance to be Year 1. They arguably cleared the way for the pop experimentalism of Mitch Easter almost a decade later, the fertile Triangle rock scene of the 1980s and the indie-rock explosion in Chapel Hill that crested in the early 1990s. This song is almost heavier than Black Sabbath, but it’s doubtful many people in North Carolina had heard Black Sabbath in 1970. — JG

40. “Jacksonville Skyline” by Whiskeytown (Pneumonia, Lost Highway, 2001) Only Ryan Adams could find beauty in the city of Jacksonville, and I’m not talking about the one with the Jaguars. The NC military installation is aptly described in this song as a “city with a hopeless streetlight” and full of “neon signs, car dealerships and diners.” — RS

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

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

37. “North Carolina Line” by Gene Vincent (The Day The World Turned Blue, Kama Sutra, 1971) One of the last few songs recorded by Vincent before his unfortunate death, “North Carolina Line” remembers his youth in Norfolk, Va. and interstate racing with his buddies. Vincent would go on to leave an indelible impression on many great North Carolina rockabilly artists. — RS

36. “3 Faces In the Window” by Phil Lee with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (You Should Have Known Me Then, Shanachie, 2001) Phil Lee, who hails from Durham, excels at all kinds of music — Dylanesque rockers, Muscle Shoals soul and reprobate folk — but on this song the instrumentation is just a simple hammer-on acoustic guitar in the style of the Carter Family. The story is spare and moving: a well-to-do couple trying to enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant is interrupted by the visage of hungry man and his children. Lee’s character makes this searing declaration: “Now I have one more reason to hate you, my darling, yes love of my life… your words cut me worse than a knife.” And the next line belongs to Welch: “Those beggars out there, no manners I swear, we’re trying to eat, can they not see?” — JG

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

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

33. “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues” by Charlie Poole & His North Carolina Ramblers (Columbia, 1925) The fiddle drives the melody while Poole’s banjo tears forward with the guitar. The playing’s clean and the vocals have a hard edge. Wikipedia describes Poole as “textile mill worker, semi-pro ballplayer and hell-raiser supreme.” He grew up in Spray and played music around there. He was a bona fide star, with biographer Kinney Rorrer reporting that he sold 102,000 copies of “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues” at a time when there were only estimated to be 600,000 phonographs in the Southern United States.

He left more than 60 recordings behind when he died of a heart attack at the age of 39, and is said to have influenced both Bill Monroe and Hank Williams. Who will challenge his supremacy? — JG

32. “Carolina in 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 what it’s worth, I’d rather pay to hear Phish’s a capella rendition. — RS

31. “Tom Dooley” by Doc Watson (The Essential Doc Watson, Vanguard, 1986) “Hang your head, Tom Dooley, hang your head and cry/ You killed poor Laurie Foster, and you know you’re bound to die.” Confederate veteran Tom Dula is said to have killed Laura Foster and hanged for the crime in Statesville 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’ wintertime classic and the rocking “Carolina (I Hear You Calling)” and understandably so. Still, this spoken word piece has been a Christmas mainstay in North Carolina homes since its release. — RS

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

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

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

27. “Greensboro Woman” by Townes Van Zandt (High, Low and in Between, Rhino, 1972) The drunken spiritualist Van Zandt has a moment of clarity just long enough to say “thanks, but no thanks” to the women of Greensboro that he had met. There’s an aesthetic appreciation, he admits, but that alone won’t cut 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 falling in 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. “Baby Let 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 the 1960s. Doug Clark & the Hot Nuts were raunchy, unruly, driven equally by guitars and horns, and their popularity demonstrated both the elasticity and limitations of the race line. Their R&B is the antithesis 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 spoken intro, the boozy hiccups, the falsetto exposition and the riot that follows. — JG

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

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

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

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

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

19. “Birds of Prey” by the Pinetops (Above Ground and Vertical, Monolyth Entertainment, 1999) Practically all of Winston-Salem rocker Jeffrey Dean 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 through any different mediums — rock and roll, country and adult pop. Many of Foster’s themes — the ache for escape and release, darkness and light and simple empathy — are fitted into “Birds of Prey,” which soars on a crunchy, loud guitar riff. “Angels and birds of prey/ circle all night and sleep all day….” No surprise that Foster took the song title and used it to name his current band. — JG

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

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

16. “The Slummer the Slum” by the “5” Royales (King, 1958) Citing “The Slummer the Slum” as one of the top 1,001 singles of all time, rock critic Dave Marsh has credited guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling with capturing the first intentional use of guitar feedback on record, years in advance of the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Velvet Underground.

Another fan, Saving Graces principal Michael Slawter, describes the band as a cross between the Temptations and Jimi Hendrix. For my tastes, nobody rocks harder than the Royales on this cut. The class rage is implicit in the title, and the way the backup singers spit it out, it sounds like 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 the Purple People Eater’s son.” — JG

15. “One Dime Blues” by Etta Baker (Mrs. Etta Baker & Friends: Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians: Traditional Years, Tradition Records, 1956) Amidst the homogenization of the genre thanks to the house-rockin’ style popularized by Chicago players who had migrated from the Mississippi Delta, some people forget that there is an indigenous style from North Carolina called the Piedmont blues. Etta Baker of Morganton, who died in 2006, was perhaps its greatest exponent. Recorded when at the guitarist’s home when she was 43 years old, “One Dime Blues” was Baker’s breakout song, and it showcased her fine, melodic picking. — JG

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

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

12. “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the “5” Royales (King, 1961) “Dedicated” has a place in the American pop music canon thanks to better known covers by the Shirelles and the Mamas and Papas, but the group responsible for writing and cutting the original was the “5” Royales out of Winston- Salem. They played raw and passionate R&B of the kind that has been washed out by the beach music that excels it in popularity. The vocals sound like someone about to break down in hysterics and the guitar playing stings. — JG

11. “Pass the Peas” by Maceo Parker (Life On Planet Groove, Polygram, 1992) The second entry from Maceo’s finest album was originally written during his time as a part of the James Brown backing band the JB’s. It’s a testament to just how amazing Parker really is that he can create one of the funkiest instrumental tracks ever by building it around such an innocuous phrase. — RS

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

9. “Tobacco Road” by John D. Loudermilk (originally recorded in 1960) Terry Sullivan covered the song at Winston-Salem’s Garage in 2007. A record store clerk in Winston-Salem told me his favorite version is by the English prog-rock band Spooky Tooth. The Jefferson Airplane’s take streams across the internet from the Wolfgang’s Vault website. The Animals 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 ever nailed privation, squalor and resignation quite so well. (91 words) — JG

8. “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” by Nina Simone (’Nuff Said!, RCA Records, 1968) Recorded live at the Westbury Music Fair in New York State just three days after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Ain’t Got No….” bears a nearly unbearable intensity and grief. Born to Mary Kate Waymon and John Divine Waymon in Tryon in 1933, Simone made her way north like many other talented black North Carolinians of her day. Classically trained and defiant towards white supremacy, Simone was unapologetic about making music to give sustenance to black people, and her song rescues triumph from despair. — JG

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

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

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

5. “Crazy Hazy Kisses” by Flat Duo Jets How influential was the voice and guitar of Dexter Romweber? The White Stripes’ Jack White said that listening to him taught him how to be himself. The manic, throwback rockabilly of Romweber and Crow Smith never sounded better than it did on their first vinyl release, a 7-inch shared with the completely obscure band Squalls. — 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. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Impulse!, 1965) No jazz song burned an impression into my teenage ears quite like “A Love Supreme,” with its majestic exposition, frank spirituality and inspirational reach. My atheist cousin played it on Sunday mornings, and I witnessed an ecstatic worship service with instrumental testimonials at a church in San Francisco organized around the cosmology of St. John. Anyone who’s been to High Point, where Coltrane spent his formative high-school years, will understand his humility and religiosity immediately. — JG

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

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


What didn’t Make the Cut

Musical tastes are both subjective and learned. Songs often lodge in our consciousness because we first heard them during decisive moments in our lives, and the music carrries strong emotional associations for us. Songs that one person may love may make no impact on another person because there are no references to it in our repertoire of seminal experiences. On the intentional side of listening practice, critics and fans can learn to appreciate a song for its technical and innovative qualities.

Here’s where it gets complicated: Great North Carolina 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 to the state in a topical way. We’ve already anticipated this protest: Where is “Carolina Girls” by the Chairmen of the Board? The song was recorded and is performed by an immensely popular group, it sings the praises of girls from North Carolina (“California girls are sexy and New York girls are too, but Carolina girls got good looks and sweet personality too”) and it’s an exemplar of one of our indigenous forms, beach music.

The problem — and this is only going to throw salt in the wounds — is that neither of us can stand it. The melody is not particularly inventive and General Johnson’s voice is unimpressive.

Now, you can add hypocrisy to your bill of charges. James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” didn’t make our list initially. We knew it has strong associations for many North Carolinians, and JT is an accomplished artist that was produced by this state.

The problem is that the song has just never really done much for either of us. Still, we made an accomodation and wedged it in by dropping “White Trash Heroes” by the Archers of Loaf, who were already represented with a better song. Also, a list such as this can easily become a roll call for great North Carolina artists.

Mitch Easter, who is perhaps better known for his production work — most famously, Murmur by REM — found critical acclaim if not commercial success with his janglepop band, Let’s Active, in the 1980s. Still, compared to contemporaries Jeffrey Dean Foster and Don Dixon (represented on this list with the song “Black Death” by Arrogance”), Easter’s recorded output doesn’t hold up quite as well. Two songs by bands that included Easter 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 an MTV classic thanks to a second life on YouTube.

It was easy to let go of 104 th ranked “Good-Bye Carolina” by Lyle Lovett. While it’s a good song that references North Carolina, Lone Star Lyle Lovett deserves 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 really fine group.

Let the brick-bats fly.
— JG

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