The great Minnesota road trip mix
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
It's summer. If you're anything like me, you're becoming obsessed with the great outdoors, barbecuing, watching baseball, complaining about baseball, and the true Minnesotan sport: road-tripping.
There are so many amazing destinations in the state and nearby that are worth visiting -- whether it's the musty glory that is (possibly) the world's biggest ball of twine, the giant Paul Bunyan, numerous Babe the Blue Oxes, or even an outdoor music festival somewhere, the destination isn't as important as the soundtrack. To that end, oh dear and gentle reader, I provide you with the most kick-ass Minnesota classic mix tape ever. Well, at least this week.
"Action Woman" - The Litter
The Litter was a one of the more important MPLS groups of the late '60s.
They didn't have a massive following nationally, but their garage rock
sound became a template for the '70s punk vibe. "Action Woman" was their
seminal hit that was covered numerous times in the decades since.
"Surfin' Bird" - The Trashmen
This is sort of the first definitive MN hit -- number four on the Hot 100 when it
was released -- and a staple of the soundtrack circuit. Its power can't be
denied. While the group is Minnesotan, the song itself is untimely a mash-up of two pieces by the Rivingtons with additional bits by the Trashmen. It's annoying as all ell, yet you know that you'll be singing along with it.
"Liar, Liar" - The Castaways
You probably know this song mostly from its Another Nuggets mainstay. This track is also well-known from its inclusion in the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, and as being a staple of oldies radio. The falsetto vocal calls to mind Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but unlike Mr. Valli's warbling, you don't want to punch anyone after hearing this.
"Mule Skinner Blues" - The Fendermen
This is a country tune written by Jimmie Rodgers, but arguably the definitive version and million-seller was by our very own the Fendermen. This recording is a staple of early rockabilly, plus it's likely to be the only song about mule-skinning that you will ever need.
"Six Days on the Road" - Dave Dudley
This is another track not written by a Minnesotan, but one did the definitive versio. It was this version that spawned a truck-driving song milieu. The LP hit number 16 on the country charts. He's technically born in Wisconsin but was very active in MN and lived here when the song was released -- so take that [bronx cheer].
"Ted Mack Rag" - Koerner, Ray & Glover
This is a group that didn't see tremendous chart action. Given that they are a folk group is not all that shocking. They were a massive influence on the folkies -- not to mention being a major influence on Bob Dylan.
"Toolmaster of Brainerd" - Trip Shakespeare
Possibly the most popular song ever written about Brainerd, it insanely links dairyland folklore with the enduring rock myth of guitar-hero supremacy:" Hailing from "Brainerd,
where the children go to milking school," the Toolmaster learned to play the Gibson that his dog had found and he came to haunt the bars of Minneapolis. In days gone by this very publication said that this song "perfectly captured the tension between Minneapolis ambition and out state resignation that pretty much informs life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes."
"Blue" - The Jayhawks
One of the bigger hits from this landmark Americana group. Seriously, if you don't know this song, just go listen to it.
"Tangled Up in Blue" - Bob Dylan
While Bob Dylan is definitely a son of Minnesota he didn't record here until much later in his career, nor did he deal with his home state much at all (contrary to popular opinion, "Positively 4th Street" is about New York) he did however come back to Minneapolis to record part of the masterpiece that is Blood on the Tracks. "Tangled Up in Blue" is one of the masterstrokes of one of the greatest records from a guy who makes great records for a living. Bonus ponts: it was recorded here across from the Black Forest and using a number of local musicians. Sure they didn't get credit on the first pressing, but they got it now.
"Closing Time" - Semisonic
A definitive song for the late '90s, this is a song that instantly brings back an era with its refrain. Heck, it even made it on an episode of the Simpsons; the song is beloved across all sorts of genres.
"Runaway Train" - Soul Asylum
There are bands that everyone hopes will someday get their due. SA was one of them. It wasn't until their fifth record that they had any sort of major success and then it was ridiculous. The album that this song is from Grave Dancers Union went 3x platinum, and "Runaway Train" got to the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100. As "Closing Time" was to the late '90s this song was to the early '90s. They went from the little punk band that could, to being mainstream media darlings. This is a song that helped define the era of alternative going mainstream. It might not be the purists' favorite song of theirs, but they still know all the words.
"Love is the Law" - The Suburbs
The Suburbs are a band that didn't quite garner a gigantic following outside of Minnesota. But in state they were insanely popular -- starting as a new wave and on the outskirts of punk, they crossed over to become the youth music of choice for the mid to late '80s. The jocks loved them, the outcasts loved them. This is hands down their biggest hit and if there was a karaoke version of it, it would replace "I Touch Myself" as the soundtrack to a night of beer-driven bad decision making.
Side Two: The Return of Doctor Funktapuss
"Purple Rain" - Prince
By now, you're an hour in, you're not read to stop for pie. You are, however, ready to get a little funky. You can't really do better -- if Minneapolis had a theme song, it would probably be "Purple Rain," and it certainly defines an era.
"Sunshine" - Har Mar Superstar
Har Mar started as more of a spoof then anything, but much as the case with the Beastie Boys the joke eventually became the real thing. In this case, sexually charged R&B dance music which has had some massive successes and made him a formidable star in the U.K., a popular feature on a number of soundtracks, and even a number of cameos in big-budget Hollywood films.
"Nothing Compares 2 U" - The Family
You probably know this song the way that Sinead O'Connor covered it. It was a massive hit in the late '80s and led to the Irish singer appearing on Saturday Night Live and tearing up a picture of the Pope. Originally this track was written for the Family, the last of the Prince super groups and the first signed to his Paisley Park Label. The Family might not be as notorious as others that have been touched by the Purple People Eater, but its aged better than almost all of their kin.
"The Bird" - The Time
America, Have you heard. we've got a new dance, and its called the bird. The only problem is you will be trying to do it as you drive.
"Crush on You" - The Jets
Possibly the only top 40 band of Tongan decent, they had a number of hits: "Crush on You" is arguably their most iconic. They are a band many forget are from Minnesota. Hell, they are sort of forgotten in general, and we just cant let that happen to the Minnesota Menudo.
"What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" - Information Society
The lone MPLS new wave synth-pop hit. INSOC had a number of late '80s hits but none to the scale of this. A total anomaly amongst the waves of guitar rock and funked up R&B this track became a cross over track and a stable of the early techno scene.
"Funkytown" - Lipps Inc
The ultimate one-hit wonder and the last big hit of the disco era; "Funkytown" is very much a MN record. Its pure Cooperstown, disco in all its glory, so definitive that it became the last big hit of the disco era.
"Say Shhh" - Atmosphere
It's not the biggest hit, you might not even know it. Yet it might be the hip-hop definition of the twin cities, and good luck not smiling while listening to it.
"I Will Dare" - The Replacements
Their records are always on serious critics top 100 albums of the 20th century lists. They took punk rock sensibility and added to it a scene of melody and songcraft that paved the way for the sounds that are still dominant in the genre. "I Will Dare" is a powerful statement and another era-defining track, loved by the rock crowd, the dance crowds and was even the sting that WCCO used for Twins games on the radio. Just watch your speed on this one.
"Makes No Sense at All" - Hüsker Dü
If the Replacements are the Minnesota Beatles then Husker is our Kinks. They refined punk, brought it into hardcore and created melodic masterpieces of sound and fury. The fact that the column is named after this song should give a clue as to the sheer otherwordly massiveness of it.
"Slaughterhouse" - Powermad
Sure speed metal is not what you typically think of when it comes to Minnesota, but then Powermad isn't your typical speed metal band. Former jazz fusion players this band formed in the early '80s helped to define the prototype for bands to come, bands like Metallica to name just one. "Slaughterhouse" is a good example of them doing what they do at their best: Complex rhythms intertwining intricate melody. Bonus points: Powermad's lead guartist is also the brewmaster behind Surly Brewing.
"Bruise Violet" - Babes in Toyland
Babes defined the Riot Grrl scene of the '90s and this track is one of the best examples of their power, and vulnerability. this is pure unadulterated power, crazy sexy cool in a way that TLC could never even hope to understand.
"Complicated Fun" - Suicide Commandos
A flawless victory of pure power pop perfection, the Commandos were the Sex Pistols of MN, with the fashion sense replaced with a sense of earnestness, that makes this just a whole lot of special.
Bonus Track: "Love Is All Around (Mary Tyler Theme)" - Hüsker Dübr /> MTM show is for a lot of people when Minnesota really got on their cultural radar, and in the '70s and early '80s it became a motivating factor that brought a lot of people from around the Midwest to come here as opposed to moving to Chicago, New York or L.A. We were on the map because we had a sitcom. In many ways this sitcom helped to pave the way for the artistic explosion that started here in the mid 70's and shows no signs of stopping.
So know you have the soundtrack, the question remains: Where are you going to go, and do they have pie?
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