Questions of Vast Importance: What is the Best U.S. Music City?

A meme got me thinking. Both SB teams come from prominent music towns. I would argue that the top 5 music cities in the country are (without thinking):
1) Seattle, WA
2) Austin, TX
3) Nashville, TN
4) Memphis, TN
5) Boston, MA
But am I right? These are things that an OCD musicological freak currently stuck at home with a winter cold must know the answer. So here goes (BTW using Wikipedia as the arbiter of bands from a location... I know... hate on your own time).

hendrixThe Case for Seattle, WA: Home of Hipsters before you know…

Bands: A Fine Frenzy (Alison Sodol), Band of Horses, Bikini Kill (Kathleen Hanna), Bing Crosby, Brandi Carlisle,  Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Death Cub for Cutie,  The Head and the Heart, Jimi Hendrix, Judy CollinsModest Mouse, MXPX, Nirvana, Poor Old LuPearl Jam, Ray Charles, Sir Mix-a-lot. Sleater-Kinney.

Seattle labels: Soundpop (Indie / Punk), 5 Minute Walk (Alternative Christian / Indie Christian), Tooth & Nail (Christian Punk). Kill Rock Stars (Punk).

You really should know: David Bazan.

Let’s deduct points for: Macklemore, Kenny G, Dave Matthews (He moved there after he started sucking), Blake Lewis, Hipsters (because even hipsters don’t like themselves), Macklemore (oh wait, mentioned him and hipsters already).

This is just a small list. A fuller list is here. Seattle brought us the Grunge, and 2000s indie movements. It also helped out with the Riot Grrl movement. And last gave us several all-time greats in Hendrix, Bing Crosby, Judy Collins, and Ray Charles. From a Rickman standpoint, hearing Nirvana, Hendrix, and MXPX were defining musical moments and it gave me the alternative Christian soundtrack of my teens and college years.

djThe Case for Austin, TX: Keeping Music Weird.

Bands: Abra Moore, …And You Shall Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Ben Kweller, Bob Schneider, Daniel Johnston, The Dixie Chicks (Courtyard Hounds), Gary Clark Jr., Explosions in the Sky, Janis JoplinLucinda Williams, Okkervil River, Riddlin’ Kids, Spoon, Stevie Ray VaughnWillie Nelson,

You really should know: most of the bands I didn't include who are so obscure but great. And Explosions in the Sky. Everyone should know Explosions whose music provides the backdrop for the movie version of Friday Night Lights. And while we're on it, the criminally unknown Daniel Johnston. Richard Linklater's movies are amazing but not near as amazing as the soundtracks that accompany them. Austin deserves a place just for this.

Let’s Deduct Points for: The Butthole Surfers (don’t care never could get past the name- some incipient homophobia, you decide), all the mary jane jokes I want to make when listening to Willie, people who think Texas blues and BBQ is better than Memphis. Editors note: My GOP friends may feel the same about the Dixie Chicks and I’m inclined to deduct for general smugness.

Austin serves us great country and blues with a side of indie goodness. It has given us classic artists like Willie, SRV, and Janis. Yet, Austin’s pull really comes from its landmarks. Waterloo Records was long considered the best record store in the nation. Of course Austin City Limits is the show that any band and music fan cannot ignore, Nor can we ignore the power of the SXSW festival.

thirdman-shopfront-fullThe Case for Nashville, TN: The Great Melting Pot.

Bands: Amy GrantThe Black KeysCharlie PeacockChet Atkins, Conway Twitty, Donna SummerEmmylou Harris, Ernest Tubb, Fleming and John, Gillian Welch, Hayley Williams (Paramore), JJ Cale, Johnny Cash, Michael W SmithMindy Smith (actually more Knoxville, TN), Patsy Cline, Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle, Jack White, Waylon Jennings. We could go on all night.

The Legendary music showcases: The Ryman Auditorium, The Bluebird Cafe, The Grand Ole Opry. CMA Music Festival.

Labels: Capitol Records (Country), EMI Christian Music Group (Christian Pop), Provident Label Group (Christian Pop), RCA Records (Country), Word Records (Christian Pop), Third Man Records (Jack White- Alternative / Indie), See above.

You really should know: Third Man Records is one of the most exciting labels / stores in the country. Charlie Peacock had a great career as a Alternative Christian music pioneer, founded a great Christian label, and recently earned Grammy acclaim for his work with the short-lived but wondrous Civil Wars.

Let’s Deduct Points: No one is really from Nashville (Black Keys = Ohio, Michael W Smith = West Virginia, Jack White = Detroit. Nashville often seems less a place that creates artists as a collecting place where artists from throughout the country go to become famous (giving Nashville credit for many of the musicians that call it home is like giving Hollywood credit for producing the movie stars that live nearby). Pat Boone. Kelly Clarkson. Miley Cyrus (Ok she lived there before so seems to disprove my above point but… famous dad). Kings of Leon. Kellie Pickler. Al Gore (oh sorry, this is about music, my bad).

Nashville is to the music industry what LA is to film and TV, and America is to the world. The great melting pot of talented individuals hoping to get noticed and become millionaires.

luceroThe Case for Memphis, TN.: Blue City.

Bands: Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Booker T and the MG’s, Carl Perkins, Derek Webb, Elvis, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Isaac Hayes, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash (Here too), Jerry Lee Lewis, Justin Timberlake, Lisa Marie Presley, LuceroRosanne Cash, Roy Orbison (could also be claimed by Nashville), Otis Redding, WC HandyWilson Picket.

Labels: Sun Records (Blues, Folk, Country), Stax Records (Soul)

Venues and Festivals: Lucille’s, Memphis in May, Beale Street (the location and the fest), Graceland.

You Really Should Know: Two of my favorite songs have Memphis on the mind: "Sequestered in Memphis" by The Hold Steady and "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn. Of all the famous children in music Lisa Marie is perhaps the most talented. One of my dreams in life is to walk into Lucilles and see BB King jump into the night's set.

Let’s Deduct Points For: I would say 70’s Elvis but we have Las Vegas to thank for that. Graceland. All the white kids who want to be cool by saying they like blues (myself included). Isaac Hayes’ wardrobe. Shaft (the 90s movie remake because the song and original is classic),Jerry Lee Lewis as an actor.

I have dabbled a bit in blues and my personal preference has always been for Memphis Blues (over say Texas, Delta, Chicago, etc). Not only that but Memphis BBQ is the king #iacceptnoargumenthere. One might leverage an argument such as I made against Nashville. But Memphis has really stamped its own label on its music. See Stax records who produced a dirtier and better soul music than the more widely known and loved Motown. Besides you have Elvis. And Johnny. Nuff said.

amanda-palmerThe Case for Boston, Mass: Oy. Punk.

Bands: Aerosmith, Aimee Mann, American Hi Fi, Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls), Bela Fleck, Bell Biv DeVoeBobby Brown, Boys Like Girls, The Cars, Donna Summer (also claimed by Nashville- can you see my point now), Dropkick Murphys, Guster, Julia Hatfield, Lemonheads, Letters to Cleo, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Nathanson, Mission of Burma, New EditionNew Kids on the Block, Passion PitPixies, State RadioRob Zombie.

You really Should Know: Amanda Palmer is quietly revolutionizing how we get music and she is an amazing talent to boot.

Let’s deduct Points for: Ben Affleck (because). New Kids because I was born in 1975 and had developed standards by the time they came on the scene, I am sorry if you were too young to realize how bad they were (Not Sorry). Most people at at Boston bar. Boston Dudebros. Any Aerosmith video not starring Liv Tyler. Any Mark Wahlberg movie not directed by Scorcese, The Red Sox and Patriots.

Let’s be honest and its easy to forget this: Seattle gave us Grunge and Indie-Rock; but Boston gave us Alternative / Punk Rock and that did spawn the other two. The Shippin’ to Boston scene from The Departed almost justifies a #1 position for Boston.


Atlanta / Athens has Outkast, Drive By Truckers, REM, Lil’ Jon, and Ludacris.

Cincinnati has Over the Rhine, Bootsy Collins, the Isley Brothers and a lively music scene. it also brought us Nick Lachey.

Denver has… wait for it… John Denver. It also has a few lesser run Punks.

Philly has RJD2, and Questlove.

LA has Black Flag, the Runaways, Haim, Metallica, Compton, and Tom Petty. It also has every starlet who thinks they can sing.

Vegas has Celine Dion and nary a mention of music on Wikipedia.

Chicago, IL: Midwestern Delights.

Chicago Pros: Andrew Bird, Benny Goodman, Buddy Guy, Chaka Khan, Chicago-style Jazz (My personal favorite), Crossroads Music Festival, Dinah Washington, Ella FitzgeraldFall Out Boy, Felix da HousecatHerbie Hancock, Jeff TweedyLiz Phair, Lou RawlsLupe Fiasco, Mahalia JacksonMavis Staples, Miles Davis, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine / Audioslave / The Nightwatchman), Muddy WatersNat King Cole, Rise AgainstPatti Smith, Pitchfork Music Festival, Plain White T’s, REZSmashing PumpkinsSoulja Boy, Steve CampWilco.

Kanye West as a rapper.

Chicago Cons: Peter Cetera (sorry my first manager ruined Chicago for me), Being Trapped in a Closet with R Kelly, Earth, Wind & Fire, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Styx and anyone who thinks they rock, Cubs fans,

Kanye West as a person.

sonicyouth420ai3New York City: Bright Lights.

Pros: Alicia KeysApril Smith (Great Picture Show), BlondieCyndi LauperFionna AppleInterpolIrving Berlin, Jack Antonoff (fun, Bleachers), LCD Soundsystem, Le Tigre (formed by Seattle native Hanna in NYC), New York Dolls, Ramones, Sharon Van EttenSonic YouthSonny Rollins, Talking Heads, Vampire WeekendThe Velvet Underground, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Cons: Chris Christie loves the Boss but governs like a manic depressive W. The whole if you can make it here thing gets overrated. The question here like in Nashville is about originally or has the NYC brand been about doing bigger what others have invented: take Vampire Weekend until looking it up I would have pegged them as a Boston band. Yankees fans. Not sure if Lady GaGa deserves to be here or above. Hall and Oates.

robertrandolphNew Orleans, LA: Southern Comforts. 

Pros: Allen TouissantLouis Armstrong, Better Than Ezra, Dr JohnFats Domino, Frank OceanHarry Connick Jr, the Marsalis family (all of them), Neville Bros, NO Rhythm Kings, Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Treme Brass Band,

I feel if a lot of NYC bands are overemphasized because of their visibility; alot of NO bands suffer the opposite effect.Besides in the You Ought to Know Category might I add: Grayson Capps– see him in the Scarlett Johanson flick A Love Song for Bobby Long and Robert Randolph.

Cons: None. Nope. Nope. Nope. Well, the humidity.

D.C. Metro: Serving and Protecting.

Pros: One of the nation’s least known and most vibrant alternative scenes. The 930 Club and NPR podcast. Bo DiddleyDJ Spooky. Dischord Records. Duke Ellington. Fugazi. Jelly Roll MortonJohn Phillip Sousa. Mama CassMarvin Gaye. Roberta FlackTed Leo. Thievery Corporation. WaleWild Flag (also call Seattle home). Youth Brigade.

Henry Rollins as a musician.

Cons: Politicians. Dave Grohl. Songs about Tori Amos touching herself. Here my friends is the birthplace of Straight Edge. Adam Duritz.

Henry Rollins as a person.


Upon Further Review, here is my list. It is based on the originality produced on scene. The artists produced and their influence on the national scene.
1) Chicago, IL.
2) Boston, MA.
3) Seattle, WA.
4) New Orleans, LA.
5) Memphis, TN.
6) Austin, TX.
7) NYC.
8) Washington D.C.
9) Nashville, TN.
10) Atlanta / Athens GA.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: