Songs about the death and life of the American city

A loose list, a set of vague connections, but all powerful in their condemnation of what’s happening to our cities. Songs about urban decay, suburban development, architecture, demolition, buildings and food:

* The Pretenders: “My City Was Gone” – the death of Akron, Ohio chronicled in a bitterly angry rock song
* Marvin Gaye: “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”
* Bruce Springsteen: “My City of Ruins” (about his home town of Asbury Park. Later repurposed as a post-9/11 reflection.)
* Stevie Wonder: “Village Ghetto Land”
* Jay Farrar: “Outside the Door”, a lament for the lost places and times of St. Louis
* Son Volt: “Way Down Watson” – Farrar & company mourn the death of St. Louis’s old Coral Court Motel
* Marah: “This Town” – (semi)closing track from their amazing Kids in Philly disk. Every track evokes the life and times of Philadelphia, none more poignantly than this short reflection. See also “History of Where Someone Has Been Killed”, “The Catfisherman”, “Christian Street”.
* Neko Case: “Thrice All American” – an almost apologetic song about Tacoma, WA
* B.J. Thomas: “Everybody’s Out of Town” – recently suggested by a friend. A sardonic take on the abandonment of the inner city.
* Talking Heads: “The Big Country” – David Byrne looks down on the suburbs from an airplane and dryly declares that “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” I hear ya, bro.
* Rush: “Subdivisions” – those long, drawn-out synth notes capture the essential emptiness of growing up in the ‘burbs

People might also suggest “Big Yellow Taxi”, but it’s a bit too chipper for the moods I’m circling around with this set.

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9 thoughts on “Songs about the death and life of the American city

  1. Most of the songs from the new Arcade Fire album "The Suburbs," but especially The Suburbs and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

  2. Great playlist, it's tragic that most of the songs are true. My suggestion is Nina Simone – Baltimore. Saddest song I've ever heard about a city.

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