Some cities seem to scream to be sung: just think of Frank Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town (Chicago)”, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”… Heck, even Weezer’s “Beverly Hills”. But does Boston fall into this category?
We asked Boston.com readers for their views on Greater Boston’s most memorable references in popular music, and they’ve had more than a few suggestions over the decades. But it’s up to you to choose which one is the best. Check out the songs released below — along with our historic commentary — then take our poll (here or at the bottom of this article).
We’ve limited entries to one per artist or band (otherwise it would have to be mostly Dropkick Murphys songs), and we know there are plenty of lesser-known songs on the Hub that have probably been left out – feel free to list them under “Other.” Meanwhile, show your musical bona fide in the Boston area by voting and we’ll crown a winner next week.
“Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)” (1928), written by Cole Porter
“Some Argentineans without means do it, people say in Boston even the beans do it, let’s do it, let’s fall in love…”
Even if Cole Porter really wanted us to believe that “it” in this case refers to “falling in love” (whatever you say, Mr. Porter), we think it’s safe to say that beans don’t. .
‘MTA’ by the Kingston Trio (1959)
“He can ride the streets of Boston forever, he’s the man who never came back…”
With the MBTA’s Charlie Card named after the hapless hero of this song – forever stuck on the train as his wife hands him his daily sandwich at Scollay Square station – it’s hard to deny the extent of his influence . Plus, it’s really eye-catching!
Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’ (1965)
“Because I love this dirty water, oh, Boston, you’re my home…”
There are few songs as much about Boston as this one, from its cry “to the banks of the Charles River” to its reference to female BU students frustrated by their early curfew. Factor in how he looks at the end of every Red Sox home game and he definitely looks like the one to beat.
“Massachusetts” by the Bee Gees (1967)
“The lights all went out in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is a place I’ve seen…”
The Bee Gees had supposedly never been to Massachusetts when they recorded this song, and it shows.
‘Sweet Baby James’ by James Taylor (1970)
“Now December 1st was covered in snow, yes, and the Stockbridge to Boston Turnpike too…”
There’s no denying that James Taylor is a local favorite, although he’s arguably more Stockbridge than Boston. Still, the man certainly has a way with evocative lyrics.
“Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins (1974)
“Please come to Boston for the spring, I’m staying here with friends and they have plenty of room…”
Loggins — Kenny’s first cousin, FYI — doesn’t really seem to have a preference between Boston, Denver or LA in this easy-listening favorite, as long as he doesn’t have to go home. For the Boston faithful, you’ll probably prefer the version by Joan Baez, who started her career at Cambridge.
‘Roadrunner’ from The Modern Lovers (1976)
“I’m in love with the modern moonlight, 128 when it’s dark outside, I’m in love with Massachusetts…”
A Boston.com staff member who will remain anonymous once referred to this Jonathan Richman classic, in print, as “a bunch of losers hanging around the Stop & Shop parking lot.” He still receives death threats.
Boston ‘Rock & Roll Band’ (1976)
“Well, we were just another bunch from Boston, on the road and trying to make ends meet…”
The song also references Hyannis (okay, not the hippest place, unless you really like the Kennedys), so it’s kind of like a Greater Boston two-fer. Plus extra points for the band name.
“They Came to Boston” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (1991)
“I hired a car to see the sites but they found the Hub confusing, they looked for the Swan Boats in Mattapan, well, I find that really fun…”
It happened a few years into their esteemed career, but on this track, the Bosstones finally crystallized a classic Boston truism in its purest form: most people who come here are mean and boring.
‘My Sister’ by The Juliana Hatfield Three (1993)
“She would have taken me to my first show for the general public, it was the Violent Femmes and the Del Fuegos, before they released a record, before they won gold…”
This song has been suggested by several readers although it does not specifically mention Boston; however, fans of Hatfield (and/or the Violent Femmes and the Del Fuegos) know that the show she refers to actually happened, in Storyville at Kenmore Square in 1983. (Also suggested by a reader:” Move With Me Sister” by the Del Fuegos, with the line “We’re taking this trip to Kenmore on the Fenway side…”)
Augustana’s “Boston” (2005)
“She said I think I’ll go to Boston, I think I’ll start a new life. I think I’ll start over where no one knows my name…”
Good luck – everyone knows this is where everyone knows your name.
“I Ship to Boston” by The Dropkick Murphys (2005)
“I’m shipping to Boston whoa, I’m shipping… to find my peg leg!
Admittedly, Red Sox standard “Tessie,” or better yet, this year’s “Queen of Suffolk County,” with its mentions of Skippy White’s and the Red Line, might be better choices when it comes to credentials. Beantown by the Dropkick Murphys. But it’s undoubtedly their best-known song (thanks at least in part to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”), and although it contains almost no lyrics other than those mentioned above, they are certainly delivered brilliantly.
Note: This post has been updated to correct the release date of “They Came to Boston”.
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