Minnesota's Fifty Greatest Hits

Kico Rangel Band
featuring the Rangel Sisters

Ábrete Sésamo
fromChris Kalogerson Plays Greek and Latin Favorites, Panaural Hi-fi Records, 1953; also available on Música de la Raza: Mexican and Chicano Music in Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society, 1999
The Rangel Sisters' breakthrough in the 1940s was much quieter than that of the Andrews Sisters, another set of Minnesotan daughters of immigrants. But the Rangels' influence was deep. Encouraged by parents who helped establish Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the Cinco de Mayo festival in St. Paul, the five girls and the various bands they worked with embraced a range of Latin music, not just the Mexican folk songs taught at home on the West Side Flats, but also the tropical music still plied today by brother Kico Rangel. By the time saxophonist Kico led the Rangel orchestra heard on this rare early-'50s track, mambo was the thing, and "Ábrete Sésamo"jumps out of its context like a hot pepper in a green-bean casserole. The title translates as "open sesame," but the boogie-woogie bottom would kick down any door, regardless. --Peter S. Scholtes


The Augie Garcia Quintet
Hi Yo Silver
North Star single, 1955
Augie Garcia came from St. Paul's West Side and formed a quintet with some old neighborhood buddies in the early '50s. The band became a fixture at the old River Road Club, located under the bridge in Mendota. For years Garcia and company played a combination of blues and R&B, eventually adopting a Fats Domino-inspired beat ("a shuffle," as Garcia called it) that largely introduced rock 'n' roll to the Twin Cities area. "Hi Yo Silver" is just one wallopin' song of the four sax-driven singles the quintet released between 1955 and '58. Collectors and fans of the state's early rock 'n' roll scene consider Garcia (an ironworker by trade who always performed in signature Bermudas) "The Godfather of Minnesota Rock." --Ron Thums


Dave Dudley
Six Days on the Road
Golden Ring single, 1963
Dave Dudley hailed from Spencer, Wisconsin, but we can sort of claim him, too. After working as a DJ and musician in Texas, Idaho, and elsewhere, Dudley set up shop in Minneapolis, where he formed the Country Gentlemen and, at Kay Bank Studio in 1963, came up with the quintessential truckers' anthem. Though it sounds like the work of men on a mission, "Six Days on the Road" was actually recorded as an afterthought. Dudley and the band wound up with some extra time at the session and decided to try a demo Dudley had of a tune by Earl Green and Carl Montgomery. Spurred on by Jimmy Colvard's ornery twang guitar, Dudley used his great disc jockey bass to revel in the final leg of a long haul down the endless black ribbon. "I'm taking little white pills and my eyes are open wide," he sings, and "I don't see a cop in sight," but of course he's no decadent joy rider, just a workingman with a modest outlaw streak and a hunger to see his lady. Dudley was signed later in '63 by Mercury Records, for whom he recut "Six Days"; the Mercury version, also very good, is the one typically anthologized. The next time you're motoring down 94 on your way back to this little truck stop, put on a tape (it must be a tape) of Dudley's classic and sing along with feeling: "My hometown's coming in sight/If you think I'm happy, you're right!" --Dylan Hicks


The Trashmen
Surfin' Bird
Garrett single, 1963
The only thing more punk rock than their name was Tom Andreason's lead vocals, a model of elevated obnoxiousness that surely inspired Jello Biafra. A completely irreverent amalgamation of late-period doo-woppers the Rivington's "Papa-Oom- Mow-Mow" and "The Bird's the Word," the Trashmen's pièce de résistance went to #4 on Billboard in late '63, selling over a million copies and filling as many Midwestern teenagers with dreams of pop stardom, however fleeting. The group reached #30 with the follow-up "Bird Dance Beat," but already their bird had flown. --Dylan Hicks


Koerner, Ray & Glover
What's the Matter with the Mill
from [Lots More] Blues, Rags and Hollers, Elektra, 1964
White college kids with chops galore singing, it almost seemed, in blackface, not for laughs or money but out of wide-eyed reverence, in the process helping revive the careers of some of the original practitioners and setting in motion the blues-rock boom just around the corner. Harpist Tony Glover is particularly strong on this ribald Memphis Minnie tune. His harmonica really does sound, as John Koerner put it, like "a nasty bug about to bite someone." --Dylan Hicks  


The Novas
The Crusher
Parrot single, 1964
High school kids from Edina try to start a new dance--by force. In the process they make history's greatest wrestling-rock record, though NRBQ and Lou Albano's "Captain Lou" later comes awfully close. Made with three chords and duct tape, the song is a tribute to Wisconsin grappler Reggie "The Crusher" Lisowski, who had recently defeated Verne Gagne to become the American Wrestling Association world's heavyweight champion. What you get, then, is a surf-guitar band featuring a teenager impressively suppressing laughter while roaring like the ring's toughest tough--maybe something like the Beach Boys fronted by Murray Wilson in a foul mood. Do the hammerlock, you turkeynecks! --Dylan Hicks


The Gestures

Run, Run, Run

Soma single, 1964
The band was from Mankato, the single went to #1 locally and Top 50 nationally in the summer of 1964 (even got a spin on American Bandstand!) and sold over 100,000 copies. Sure, there were bigger hits by local groups of that era, but "Run, Run, Run" was the one for me--an exciting and dynamic arrangement, just the right amount of reverb, great harmonies, fabulous drumming, and a knockout guitar solo. Even the hint of a fake British accent on the word "Baby" was cool. A perfect rock 'n' roll single. --Peter Jesperson


The Castaways
Liar, Liar
Soma single, 1965
The Twin Cities' golden era of teenage rock 'n' roll peaked with this spooky and goofy attack on mendacity by these Minneapolis and Richfield high school and college kids. Less than two minutes long, the song, which hit #12 on Billboard in August of '65, cycles over and over through a four-chord change: C, E flat, G minor, F. It's a simple but uncommon progression, later put to good use for the verses of the Rolling Stones' "Cool, Calm, and Collected" (probably a coincidence, but one never knows.) The E flat, G minor, and Jim Donna's organ give the tune its haunted-house effect, which is roundly undermined by lead guitarist Bob Folschow's ridiculous falsetto hook. Bassist Dick Roby handles chief vocal duties; his forlorn delivery is wise both beyond his years and the song's nursery rhymes, and his scream before the guitar solo would go unmatched in Minneapolis music history till Curtiss A, Prince, Paul Westerberg, and Bob Mould made the Twin Cities a wonderland of screamers. --Dylan Hicks


T.C. Atlantic
Turtle single, 1966
"Faces" holds the distinction of being Minnesota's first truly psychedelic record ("Surfin' Bird" notwithstanding). Bristling throughout with mega-distorto keyboard and reverberating raga guitar, T.C. Atlantic predated the Doors by a good 12 months. That said, the Lizard King & Co. never summoned (shaman-ed?) anything as gnarly as this fuzzy blast of prescient 'Nam-era paranoia. Freddy Freeman's doom-laden lyrics suggest four mod swamis too unnerved to leave their St. Paul Park opium den. Or even the plywood-paneled downstairs rec room. T.C. went on to record the first local rock 45 to feature a full orchestra, the epic "20 Years Ago in Speedy's Kitchen." This, however, was their finest hour. --Keith Patterson


The Litter
Action Woman
Warick single; also available on Distortions, Warick,1967; and on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 [boxed set], Rhino, 1998
This single by local punk/pysch/Anglophile pacesetters the Litter was a regional hit, but it failed to make the national charts, or rather the national charts failed to accept it--not too surprising considering how raw and loud and mean it is. Written by producer Warren Kendrick, the song was played and recorded with a pyrotechnic machismo inspired by the Who and the Yardbirds, an aesthetic loudly announced from the top with a feedback blast from guitarist Bill Strandlof. Following that is a whole lot of fuzz, bile, and squall backed by sex-beat clamor. Surely conscientious Lutheran parents were sent into a serious dither. Frontman Denny Waite employs a Jagger-derived snarl to match Kendrick's expression of frustrated, woman-hating concupiscence. Spurned by an allegedly haughty miss, the singer resolves to find an "action woman to love me all the time/A satisfaction woman before I lose my mind." (What he wants, perhaps, is a blow-up doll.) The tune was lifted from obscurity into some slightly less buried echelon of obscurity when it was chosen as the leadoff cut for 1979's Pebbles, a great collection of '60s punk rock inspired by Lenny Kaye's Nuggets. ("Action Woman" was later included on the Nuggets boxed set.) An exemplar of '­60s punk, "Action Woman" still sounds pretty damn nasty today. --Dylan Hicks  


Evil Woman (Don't Play Your Games with Me)
Amaret single, 1969
If you're skipping from "Action Woman" directly to the Suicide Commandos on this list, you probably dislike this song, with its bleating faux-Chicago horn section (the label's idea; Crow wasn't thrilled) and greasy baby-mama melodrama lyrics ("Sorrow will not change your shameful deed/You will bear someone else's fertile seed"). But few Top 20 rock hits from 1969 had anything as immediately funky as the tandem of Dave "Kink" Middlemist's organ licks--sadly muffled by the horns--and Larry Wiegand's monster-boogie bass, which 30 feet of concrete couldn't muffle. Black Sabbath covered this sans horns (Iommi does Kink's riff on guitar and Geezer's bass completely kills); if it's good enough for Ozzy, it should be good enough for anyone. --Nate Patrin


Wanda Davis
Save Me
Project Soul single, 1970; available on Midwest Funk, Jazzman Records, 2004
This 1970 groove single, a cover of the Aretha classic, is in $500 collector demand for a reason: Not only is it a rare recorded piece of pre-Prince Minneapolis funk, but the sound drifts on a unique path up the Mississippi. It's a dirty Southern groove with a massive drumbeat, snaking upward between Missouri and Illinois to catch the electric blues before stopping in the Twin Cities with a voice that--half Dusty Springfield, half Lyn Collins--seems to want nothing more than to find somewhere warm to stay. Like someone's arms. --Nate Patrin


Leo Kottke
from 6 and 12 String Guitar, Takoma, 1971
From Kottke's liner notes: "While at Watermelon Park Music Festival I had the opportunity to play a banjo in the middle of the night for a wandering drunk. When I finished he vomited--an astute comment on my playing." I can't speak to Kottke's banjo work, but his guitar playing has made many six- and twelve-string tyros sick with inadequacy, and inspired heartier souls to expand their practice regimen to 11 hours per half-day. Played on a dark-sounding 12 string, and apparently with 12 fingers, this pretty-sad contrapuntal ditty evokes a nature walk with Leadbelly and a big bag of gorp. Dig the cool clunk when Kottke goes for his slide; lesser artists and producers would insist on another take. --Dylan Hicks


I Do Love My Lady
from Haze, ASI Records, 1974
Another chapter in the Twin Cities' neglected history of pre-Prince R&B, Haze, formerly Purple Haze, scratched Billboard's soul chart in March of '75 with this groovy ballad in the vein of the Stylistics and Blue Magic. Seven pieces strong on this, their lone hit, the group wheedles on bended knee with skyscraper harmonies, Paul Johnson's smooth bass rolls, Peter Johnson's organ swells, and lead singer Willy Thomas's falsetto swoops of devotion. --Dylan Hicks


Wave Seven single, 1978
N.N.B. leader Mark Freeman is another underappreciated Godzilla of Minnesota music, as is demonstrated by "25 Reasons" (released as Red House; see "How Could You Idiots Forget..." p. 40) and this tense punk/wave classic from '78. "Can't sleep anymore 'cause I always wake up screaming," Freeman sings in a voice somewhere between Lou Reed's stoicism and David Thomas's anxiety. Drummer Jim Tollefsrud and bassist Wayne Hasti provide the steady pulse of existential dread, while Freeman and fellow guitarist Richard Champ pick and slash and whine, providing relief on the song's pretty turnaround, crying bloody effects-pedal murder on the nightmarish close. --Dylan Hicks


I'm the Gun
live performances
Unrecorded, unheralded, unforgettable. It usually capped three (yes, children, three) sets, and in its day it was as awesome as anything Springsteen delivered in his prime. Robert Wilkinson and Johnny Rey would face off with dueling guitars, playing for their lives, and the whole punk-pop epiphany was climaxed by Wilkinson soaring splay-legged across the stage, to a fevered crowd on the dance floor below. At the moment, Flamin' Oh's are in the studio recording new material with producer Rich Mattson; we want this one, dead or alive. --Jim Walsh


The Overtones
Calhoun Surf
Twin/Tone single, 1978
Minneapolis's fabled punk/new-no-now-wave Longhorn Bar era would seem an unusual time and place to spawn a surf band, but hometown boy Danny Amis and his band the Overtones were game to try. Amis's original instrumental "Calhoun Surf" shared the band's 1978 Twin/Tone 7-inch EP with vocal performances "Red Checker Wagon" and "Surfer's Holiday," a cover from an AIP beach movie. When Amis was invited to join New York's Raybeats, the song went with him. It later accompanied him to Nashville, where he cofounded Los Straitjackets. Recognizing a good thing, both bands recorded and released renditions of "Calhoun Surf." The capper came in 1999 when instro rock heroes the Ventures chose to record the tune as well, stamping their imprimatur on this modern surf classic. --Ron Thums  


The Suicide Commandos
Complicated Fun
from Big Hits of Mid-America Volume Three, Twin/Tone, 1979
"The New Wave is the old wave 'cause we know it all by heart," quavered guitarist Chris Osgood in 1978, already wearying of the scene he had helped create, "we're looking for an anthem that we haven't torn apart." But instead of being taken to heart, much less torn apart, "Complicated Fun" became a lost punk classic, released after the Commandos had broken up, and covered locally until a new version, recorded by the band with Magnolias singer John Freeman on vocals, appeared in a 2002 Target commercial that still airs occasionally. For a timeless song about how punk might grow up without growing out of its contradictions, the way-belated sellout was a fittingly complicated ending. --Peter S. Scholtes


Curtiss A
Land of the Free
Twin/Tone single, 1979
To me, this song, written by maverick keyboardist Mark Goldstein, defined the late-'70s/early-'80s Minneapolis music scene. There were two different recordings of the song: a version by Buzz Barker & the Atomic Bums (which was Curt, Mark Goldstein, and the Commandos) that appeared on Big Hits of Mid America Vol. 3 in the summer of '79, and another stab by Curtiss A (which was Curt, Mark, Bob Dunlap, Chris Osgood, Dave Ahl, and Renaldo Antonio Toro), issued as a single that fall. I hadn't listened to them both back-to-back for many years and when I recently did I found that I preferred the latter. Curt's impassioned, insane delivery and the exuberant guitars of Chris Osgood and the leader's longtime right-hand man Bob (later "Slim") Dunlap are what really made this particular recording. Live, it was an absolute showstopper. At the finale, when Curt screamed defiantly, "We're in the heart of the beast," it was empowering to the audience, as if we were all saying to the hipper, bigger cities, "You got nothing on this town!" --Peter Jesperson


Lipps Inc.
from Mouth to Mouth, Casablanca, 1980
It's playing in your head right now if you've heard it before--the catchiest song ever written about wanting to leave uncool Minnesota for someplace with more "energy." But St. Paul writer-producer Steven Greenberg stayed here, putting the Twin Cities back on the pop map with his deceptively simple electro-orchestral ditty, which reached #1 in 50 countries. Widely considered to be the last gasp of disco, its minimalism sounds as pivotal today as "Rapper's Delight," anticipating much of what disco would become--its stunning minor-key chorus is closer to Eurythmics than to KC & the Sunshine Band. Greenberg played everything, sang through a vocoder, and hired Cynthia Johnson, a former Miss Black Minnesota who sang in the band Flyte Tyme, to belt out lead. A live incarnation and two additional albums followed, but soon Lipps Inc. disappeared into one-hit wonderland. Today Greenberg runs the web marketing agency Designstein, Johnson is a staple of the live jazz scene, and engineer David Rivkin (a.k.a. David Z) went on to find success as a producer, earning a credit for arranging Prince's "Kiss." --Peter S. Scholtes


The Suburbs
Chemistry Set
from In Combo, Twin/Tone, 1980
Their heroes were Iggy Pop and Roxy Music, and they fused the raw power of the former with the suave musicality of the latter in this deceptively simple heat-seeker. It was an unwritten and unplanned thing; it hatched. It started with one young man screaming into a mic, a drummer and bass player making like a train, the guitar players following suit, and everyone deciding at once, like a five-headed Ginsberg blurting "Howl" on the spot, that the only lyric necessary would be "I'm into chemistry and that's about it." Which, of course, was a manifesto in the name of drugs and music and animal attraction and that's about it. --Jim Walsh


The Time
The Walk
from What Time Is It?, Warner Bros., 1982
This precise brand of funk didn't exist before Prince and the Time, which is why folks started calling it the "Minneapolis sound." Here's a prime example from the Time's best album. Morris Day nearly walks a hole in his Stacey Adams spectators while the band seems to say to all comers within earshot: You come onstage and play this well. The keyboard stabs actually do (stab), the rhythm section is into some kind of mind-meld shit, even the dumb closing skit justifies itself (best joke: [she] "How do I look?" [he] "Almost as good as me"). Also includes the best three-point platform of the '80s, delivered in deadpan unison: "We don't like policemen/We don't like new wave/We don't like television." --Dylan Hicks  


The Replacements
I Will Dare
live performances; also on 1984 Twin/Tone 12" single and Let It Be, Twin/Tone, 1984
Strange how deliberate--even formal--the 1984 recording on Let It Be sounds. In memory, a raggedly fervent invitation to...romance, yeah, and sex, certainly (lust ping-ponging between the singer and those smart girls in vintage wear). But something else also opened up live in the mischievous optimism of Bob Stinson's guitar figure. "How smart are you," Westerberg admired from the stage. Then, frustrated: "How smart are you?!" Not smart enough, speaking for myself, to both recognize the song's "hesitating beauty" (W. Guthrie) and answer its dare: What could I create in (for) this world, to show my love. --Terri Sutton


Hüsker Dü
Eight Miles High
SST single, 1984
Slaughtering hits from the '60s was customary in American punk rock circa 1984, but Hüsker Du's "Eight Miles High" was something else. Barely recognizable as a cover of the Byrds' folk-rock-jazz oddity, this track took the alienated jetlag of the original and rendered it as pure horror, garbling the lyrics in the hysterical sobs of guitarist Bob Mould. It was an exhilarating meltdown. For a moment, rock history seemed to fold back in on itself, connecting hardcore directly with the drug culture it loathed, and sending Clash guitar heroism straight into Père Ubu's heart of darkness. Much great Hüsker music flowed from this circuit of inspiration, about half of it sung by drummer Grant Hart, but this single was an influential reminder that punk was merely long hair with a finger in the socket. --Peter S. Scholtes


Willie Murphy
Fairy Tale
from Piano Hits Willie Murphy/Willie Murphy Hits Piano, Atomic Theory, 1985
A more raucous number would perhaps be more representative, and a tune from Murphy and Spider John Koerner's oddball classic Running, Jumping, Standing Still would be equally justified, but this voice-and-piano weeper goes a good ways toward summarizing the veteran bandleader's noble preference for singing and playing his heart out/ass off. Recalling the Band's Richard Manuel by pushing his voice to its upper limits, Murphy sings about nostalgia of the most sorrowful stripe. "I want to live in a fairy tale," he shouts, meaning he'd like to forever live back when he and his mate didn't know how good things really were. The piano gets a bit frilly in spots and the lyrics get a bit squishy ("a blanket of hope kept us warm"), but the song, especially its pained waltz chorus, is full of gospel rumble and high-level grown-up white-boy blues, worn, not worn out. --Dylan Hicks


Prince & the Revolution
1986 single; also on Parade, Paisley Park, 1986
"They hated it," David Rivkin, a.k.a. David Z, told author Per Nilsen in Dance Music Sex Romance: Prince--the First Decade. "They said, 'We can't put this out. There's no bass and it sounds like a demo.'" Well, exactly, because it was one. The song was put on cassette with an acoustic guitar and given to protégé band Mazarati, who along with Rivkin synced a hi-hat with the guitar, giving it an indefinably tinny texture, and added the galloping beat, turning "Kiss" into an endlessly elastic groove. Prince came in the next day, took one listen, snatched it back, erased the bass line, added electric guitar, and re-sang it in his top register. It was his third number one hit, and remains his greatest single. For a guy who sang so much about sex, he never elsewhere made the act seem (thanks to the impossibly slinky rhythm) or sound (via his lubricious-sprite falsetto) like so much fun. When he screams the last couple of lines, it's not a release so much as a bid for more, after a postcoital costume change. --Michaelangelo Matos


Soul Asylum
from While You Were Out, Twin/Tone, 1986
Punk birthed, soul loving, metal friendly, somehow both shambolic and deserving of backstage compliments such as "You guys were pretty tight," silly covers never played ironically, serious covers never played carelessly, singer in command of supreme sense of T-shirt aesthetics, singer also hot when his songs, such as this one, facilitate hip- and hair-shaking, lead guitarist's playing suggestive of long teenage afternoons playing along with Bad Company records, lyrics on the side of "beautiful freaks" wearing blank expressions, awaiting chord progressions. --Dylan Hicks  


Run Westy Run
Dizzy Road
live performances; also available on Tontine single, 1986, and self-titled album, SST, 1988
Not so much the band's best song as its prototype: cluttered and fantastical incantation opening up into giddily sinuous riff and joyous chant. The recorded version, released as Run Westy Run's debut single in 1986, lacks the roar of a RWR performance, not to mention their alchemical shiftiness. Drummer Bob Joslyn got John Bonham's teasing hump, and the brothers Johnson had elastic in their jeans; RWR's steel-spring heaviness knew many bounds. Even now I can feel the audience rise into their emancipation. This song like a hammer throw, round and round and tightly round then soar into the firmament, unwound. --Terri Sutton


Gear Daddies
from Let's Go Scare Al, Gark, 1988
They may best be known as Minnesota's great frat-boy drinking band, but that's a myopic assessment, as this chest-buster proves. Martin Zellar spent much of the '80s and early '90s planted at the lip of stages all over the Midwest, as his three buddies from Austin, Minnesota, helped him exorcise his guilt-demons and muster the guts to wail a prayer to his parents to "gimme the strength to change this fucked-up life of mine." (Full disclosure: I "produced" this record.) That kind of shit will take it out of a singer, to the point where he may never want to return to it. But the way it torched the air for fucked-up lives everywhere suggests it wasn't just an expression of youthful angst, and that he could very easily get it up again tonight. --Jim Walsh


Mighty Mofos
Same Old Story
from Sho Hard!, Treehouse, 1988
Same old story, told well at high volume. (See also "Action Men") --Dylan Hicks


Jevetta Steele
Calling You
from Bagdad Cafe Soundtrack, Great Jones/Island, 1988
Bagdad Cafe is an indie film about the serendipity that wafts through a handful of multicultural inhabitants of a forlorn outpost in the middle of the Mohave Desert. You can spend 91 minutes with its subtle charms or 5:20 getting its tactile sensations--ache, faith, elation, yearn, and wonderment--distilled by Steele's soaring arias on the choruses of the film's Oscar-nominated song. There are lyrics and phrases (by Bob Telson, who also wrote the book for Gospel at Colonus, which featured Steele at the Guthrie in the mid-'80s), but it's the grandeur of Steele's melismas that hardwires it into your memory. Her orotund notes seem to suspend time and invoke the desert's mobile stillness: its shimmering heat waves, dissolving cirrus clouds, patient lizards. By now, dozens of other singers--most notably Barbra Steisand, who commissioned an extra verse from Telson--have taken the song up for a flight, but Steele's immaculate blend of classically refined enunciation and gospel fervor remains most ascendant. --Britt Robson


Trip Shakespeare
Toolmaster of Brainerd
live performances; and from Are You Shakespearienced?, Twin/Tone, 1989
It's easy to think of Matt Wilson as some sort of rock 'n' roll geographer, since the songs he wrote for Trip Shakespeare were about locale as much as anything: the Washington Bridge, Turtle Lake, your local convenience store. But nothing can touch Wilson's depiction of Brainerd, the quintessential town in the heart of Minnesota. Freakin' Brainerd, where all the children go to milking school, is home to our hero, Toolmaster, a guitar slinger who leaves his job at the Buckeye Creamery to "haunt the bars of Minneapolis town." With an angular guitar line that rises over a slightly mocking Zeppelin groove, Wilson tells the tale of a small-town boy's stint in the big city that culminates with all four Trippers--Wilson's brother Dan, bassist John Munson, and drummer Elaine Harris--rapping of seamy characters both rustic (jeweled and cruel pastors) and urban (the dreaded cash-flashers). With "Toolmaster," Wilson perfectly captured the tension between Minneapolis ambition and outstate resignation that pretty much informs life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes--all told through the operatic Viking harmonies the brothers and Munson were (almost) famous for. And then there's the song's poor hero, who eventually ends up, hopes dashed, back at the creamery. (Whether this is a happy ending depends on how much you believe humble aspirations are good for every Minnesotan.) Nobody has written a comparably vivid song about the Lake Wobegon mythology of where we live. --G.R. Anderson Jr.


Babes in Toyland
Swamp Pussy
from Spanking Machine, Twin/Tone, 1990
Otherwise known as the "cease to exist" song. Probable subject: one Jesus Christ. The accusers, three faces of an avenging Eve: smart strut of Michelle Leon's maiden bass, rocking cradle of scene-mother Lori Barbero's drums, cross-splintering axe of Kat Bjelland's pitiless guitar/vox. Lost in "women in rock" condescension is the depth of this 1990 stew: Gang of Four stutter plus Hendrix sway, Pistols fearlessness plus Clash concord, Smith query plus Frightwig howl; brain, sex, feeling, and spirit not split off but moving together, testament to a fullness of (female and/or human) "exist"-ence still more verboten 15 years on. --Terri Sutton  


Hitting the Wall
from Peacetika, Amphetamine Reptile, 1991
Blaaaggh! Am-Rep's leading lights corral their mondo-hate-scum-boogie into something like a pop song without diluting Shannon Selberg's stay-away-from-me scream or Thor Eisentrager and Kevin Rutmanis's guitar-bass katzenjammer. Suitable for playing at high volume after a parent-child argument that ends with, "You don't understand me!" --Dylan Hicks


from Gone (self-released, recorded 1992, released 2002
Ethno-guitar mavericks TVBC perform infrequently and record less, so this 1992 concert recording carries more archival weight than most. But it's no dusty document--rather, it's a vivid tutorial on how to turn fifteen minutes into five. Guitarist Paul Metzger starts with a few sparse, atmospheric notes, while bassist Pat Dzieweczynski and drummer Freddy Votel rumble along in tow. As "Gandhi" climbs its compositional path, the rhythm section and Metzger's ascending, modal runs take turns pushing to the forefront. Then, suddenly, the piece whirls itself into a kind of avant-Eastern European frenzy, then collapses in a pile, spent. --Cecile Cloutier


The Leatherwoods
from Topeka Oratoria, Medium Cool, 1992
Co-penned by Todd Newman and Paul Westerberg, this ebullient rocker is but one of many highlights from the Leatherwoods debut, which the Trouser Press Record Guide rightfully labels a "lost classic." And while "Jamboree" may be the set's highlight, this list could include half a dozen others--namely "Proof Positive," "Happy Man," "Tinsel Town," "She's Probably Gonna Lie," and Tim O'Reagan's "Dreamworld," the creepiest/sweetest Alyssa Milano stalker song ever laid to wax. --Jim Walsh


The Hang Ups
Walkin' Around
from So We Go, Clean, 1996
The simplest song on a great band's Minneapolis pastoral, "Walkin' Around" sounds naive enough to convince you that these harmonizing Uptown boys really don't know what they did "to make her blue." But then the country bass line walks straight into a forest of John Crozier's guitars--which sound like a spectral orchestra of psychedelic banjos--and you realize they're just happy to be outside. --Peter S. Scholtes


Wall of Confusion
Communiqué 12-inch, 1995; also available on Strangely Arranged: Communiqué Records Volume One, 1997
Originally side four of a double 12-inch of acid techno released by rave hero Woody McBride's Communiqué label, this is a record that can take you right back to its era. Picture an outer-suburb warehouse in the mid-'90s, walls covered in sweat, speakers obliterating your consciousness, surrounded by college kids dancing serenely, while the sunrise glints through tarp-covered windows and the tall, benign figure of McBride works the EQs to accentuate the curves of the wobbling 303 bass-synth lines--first menacing, then soothing, then disorienting, then absurdist, finally ready to crack apart as they fade into the beat. As another McBride production once put it: Bad acid? No such thing. --Michaelanglo Matos


Lifter Puller
To Live and Die in LBI
from Soft Rock, French Kiss, 1997
Not just the best introduction to Craig Finn's first great band (and, by extension, his second, the Hold Steady), but to his entire lyrical steez. You've got your partying-gone-wrong: "She walks out of the crowd/ Her vision's kinda cloudy/The Sudafeds are downs/The crowd cheered when she threw up her beer." You've got beautiful loserdom begging for relief: "I deserve a little fuck-up every once in a while/I'm sick of being scared of falling off the side of my bed." You've got the bad decisions that result from all that partying: "She said she's waiting on the steady type/Then she disappears with the eye-patch guy." And you've got the most perfect behind-the-beat cymbal crashes hugging the main riff, which sounds like the one-note solo of the Buzzcocks' "Boredom" nudged a notch apiece in theory, syncopation, and slovenliness. In short, both the prequel to 1999's perfect Fiestas + Fiascos, and a miniature version of 2005's gargantuan Separation Sunday, minus the Catholicism. --Michaelangelo Matos


Too Close
from Rated Next, Arista, 1997
"How it all grows, how it all rises!" wrote horny teenager Arthur Rimbaud, summing up this definitive statement about dance-floor erections. Nice bass line, too. --Dylan Hicks  


Abstract Pack
Busy Like We
from Bousta Set It (For the Record), self-released, 1998
Captured on video in '95, the seven-member Abstract Pack were one of the more exciting live crews in hip hop. But then rapper Sess died, and their energetic stage unity translated to CD mainly as homage: Their best recorded hook remains a solo spotlight for Rastadile Dundee to big-up his group over a killer vibes sample, adding an extra syllable to the word "representing" (between the "P" and the "R") for emphasis. --Peter S. Scholtes


12 Rods
Part of 2
from Split Personalities, V2, 1998
On their early recordings, 12 Rods had a predilection for epics. Their pugnacious rants of self-contempt and outsider angst often topped six minutes. But it's the shortest track on Split Personalities, their full-length debut, that proves most dynamic. "I've been lapped by my losing streak and I'm going for the gold," sings Ryan Olcott, before launching a vocal-chord-shredding scream into the abyss. The three seconds of silence that follow enrapture nearly every ear they encounter. It's a moment that induces chills and the prickling of neck hair. When the tension finally breaks it feels like one's brain has been deprived of more than a moment's worth of oxygen. The pulsing synths and commanding bass resume their course, roaring to the finish line. --Lindsey Thomas


Mark Mallman
Kissing the Knife
from The Tourist, 1998
If you can momentarily overlook his infamous 52.4-hour marathon gig, his Meatloaf-esque bravado, and, yes, his feral wolf mask--in other words, if you can forget the theater of it all--you might be able to remember that Mark Mallman can be downright maudlin. "Kissing the Knife," off his first solo album, is a ballad bildungsroman of a country boy tangling with life and death in the big city of contradictions. Written before the glam-parody group the Odd were quickly conceived, praised, and disbanded as a joke, this pop ballad is wise enough to be a classic, yet reckless enough to declare, "I can taste freedom in kissing the knife." --Rex Sorgatz


Dillinger Four
O.K. F.M. D.O.A.
from Midwestern Songs of the Americas, Hopeless, 1999
An excoriation of jaded punk-rock snobs that seems important to those of us who don't give a shit about scene politics, probably 'cause the chorus is as tuneful as a Bay City Rollers soccer chant. --Dylan Hicks


The Abusing of the Rib
from Stuck on AM 2: Live Performances on 770 Radio K, No Alternative/770 Radio K, 1999
Baby got baggage. Rapping softly in the studios of KUOM-FM, Slug surveys the personality of a female lover who's "been put through hell," and sees a landscape of scorched earth, landmines, and other men's footprints. "Forget about the fact that many trails have been tracked/Maybe it's a plus that there's a path," he concludes, stepping back from insecurity. "If this was some uncharted land, I'd have to be a smarter man." A teenaged Eyedea offers gravelly backup, and Slug ends with what sounds like a spoken prayer for hip hop: "What do you love?" --Peter S. Scholtes


from Things We Lost in the Fire, Kranky, 2001
Darker, weirder, and slower than anything else on this list, Low require you to change the way you listen in order to hear how hard they rock. But "Sunflower" repays your curiosity, from its opening line, "When they found your body," to its deepening mystery about a ransom and sunflowers given to the night. The rustic chamber-rock bridge is the best thing Steve Albini ever set to tape, and those inflection-free husband-wife harmonies are hard not to forever associate with the drive into Duluth, the band's hometown. --Peter S. Scholtes


Brother Ali
Forest Whitiker
from Shadows on the Sun, Rhymesayers, 2003
An outsider five different ways comes into his own and goes national with a track about how ugly he is, how beautiful he is, how little he cares what you think, either way. From Ali's perfect opening mantra ("Whatever comes up comes out/We don't put our hands over our mouth") to producer Ant's rippling organ sample, this is some feel-good hip hop that actually feels good. --Peter S. Scholtes


The Jayhawks
All the Right Reasons
from Rainy Day Music, American/Lost Highway, 2003
The singer sits alone on his bed, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing an ode to the source of his freedom. Listen to it once, and you'll hear a love song. Listen a few more times, and you'll hear a man disappointed by love and love songs. The cry in Gary Louris's voice as he confesses, "I'm loving you for all the right reasons," and "you helped me write this song," and "goodbye," suggests he's unsure of his reasons, his romance, and his muse, which is why this could be "Amazing Grace" on opposite day: He was found, but now he's lost. --Jim Walsh  


Kid Dakota
10,000 Lakes
from The West Is the Future, Chair Kickers, 2004
Holy are the things that make Minnesotans feel small. Not just the scope of God's creation, but the dimensions of a 1,220-pound state fair pig, a super-sized cherry-spoon tchotchke, a 4.2-million-square-foot mall. For Kid Dakota singer-songwriter Darren Jackson, the Midwest itself is a mythopoetic dream of vastness--a great Paul Bunyan footprint that once pulled manifest destiny back from the coasts. In his ode to the frozen state, he gives in to all that space, as Alex Oana's orchestral, no-pedal-left-behind production dissolves into an airy fingerpicked guitar melody. Meanwhile, Jackson ponders his place in the big empty: The idea that he may be just a number in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? It makes him feel calmer. And weaker. --Melissa Maerz


Mason Jennings
Ballad of Paul and Sheila
from Use Your Voice, Bar None/Architect, 2004
It's not cool to keep fighting, but cool is overrated, anyway. Paul and Sheila Wellstone, R.I.P. --Peter S. Scholtes


In addition to all the people whose bylines appear in "Minnesota's 50 Greatest Hits," thanks to Paul Bringardner, Daniel Corrigan, Patty Dean, Randy Hawkins, Greg Linder, Aaron Money, Jason Nagel, Jean Silverberg, Doug Spartz, and Pat Whalen, all of whom offered ideas and suggestions helpful to the article's preparation.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >