Welcome once again to Five Songs About, our new weekly (so far, so good!) feature in which we pick a topic and then dig through music history to find relevant songs by some of our favourite artists. It's sort of like a musical parlour game, but mostly it's designed to keep us from finally going insane in this batshit era in which we live.
There are few things bleaker than February in Vancouver. Possible exceptions include November in Vancouver and January in Vancouver. If you're itching to get out of town but don't have the scratch, music can be your ticket out. These five tracks present a musical travelogue of sorts, but mostly they're just great songs. Enjoy, and be sure to send a postcard home.
1. Mounties, "Tokyo Summer" (2014)
The very clever conceit of the video for Mounties' endlessly infectious single "Tokyo Summer" is that, rather than do the obvious and show Canadians on summer holiday in Japan, it instead depicts a Japanese couple on a winter vacation in Canada. The rock on her finger—not to mention the Niagara Falls setting—would seem to suggest the two are on their honeymoon, but their lack of any true connection is painfully evident. They appear to be decades apart in age, for one thing, and she seems to be more interested in a wax-mannequin version of Justin Bieber than she is in her husband. For his part, he looks as if he would rather be anywhere else—Tokyo in the summertime, perhaps.
SAMPLE LYRIC: Mount Fuji tipped with snow/It leans against the sky/It makes our dreams align/All we want and all we ever/Could have hoped to be is still alive
2. Elvis Presley, "Viva Las Vegas" (1964)
Unfathomable as it seems today, once upon a time Las Vegas was the height of decadent cool. And, no, we’re not talking about stuffing your fool face full of crab legs at the Bacchanal Buffet in Caesars Palace or drinking your weight in Bellini’s at Bellagio. In the late ’50 and early ’60s, Vegas that was young, swinging, and cooler than a vintage DaVinci shirt—kind of like Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas, the 1964 movie which found him teamed up with human sex-bomb Ann-Margaret. Written for the film, “Viva Las Vegas” not only became one of Presley’s most recognizable hits, it's also been one of his most covered. The Dead Kennedy’s gave the song an amphetamined makeover on Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, Holly Cole injected it with smoky class on Night, and the Las Vegas-spawned Killer have made it their unofficial anthem. Today, “Viva Las Vegas” remains a kitsch-cool tribute to a city that was still years away from becoming a bloated parody of itself. On that latter front, it has something in common with the future American tragedy singing it.
SAMPLE LYRIC: Viva Las Vegas with you neon flashin'/And your one armbandits crashin'/All those hopes down the drain
3. Sleater-Kinney, "Light Rail Coyote" (2002)
The title is based on the rather awesome true story of a coyote who boarded a light-rail train by the Portland airport. Before he could take a ride downtown, however, he was apprehended by a wildlife official and released into the wild. (Check out a photo of said coyote here.) As for the song itself, it celebrates Portlandia for both its geography—the Willamette River snakes through the entire city, which makes the nickname of "Bridgetown" a very apt one—and its people, including not just the hipsters and college kids and put-a-bird-on-it types, but also those residing on the wrong side of the light-rail tracks.
SAMPLE LYRIC: And Burnside will be our street/Where the kids and the hookers meet/Diners and strip-club junk/Bookstores and punk-rock clubs
4. Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting (the Vampire Song)" (1990)
Any list of cities to see before you die isn't complete without New Orleans. Magical, sultry, and spookily atmospheric all suffice as starting descriptions, whether you're walking the American-gothic Garden District during the day or exploring the sidestreets of the French Quarter at night. The tortured ballad "Joey" was the hit on Concrete Blonde's 1990 breathrough album Bloodletting. But "Bloodletting (the Vampire Song)" should have got all the attention. Inspired by Anne Rice's wildly successful Vampire Chronicles books, Concrete Blonde captured the darkhearted vibe of the Big Easy in a way that was menacing without being cartoonish, the dark poetry starting with the song's opening lines "There's a crack in the mirror/And a bloodstain on the bed." Light the black candles, pour an absinthe, and get ready to be take a walk down by the river where it's warm and green.
SAMPLE LYRIC: Oh, you were a vampire/And baby, I'm the walking dead
5. The Rakes, "1989" (2009)
Nostalgia is a funny thing, especially when it's rooted in a place and time that you weren't around to experience. The U.K.'s Rakes indulge in a bit of Ostalgie with "1989", an imagined rubbing of shoulders with the disaffected youth of Friedrichshain, a neighbourhood formerly on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. The Wall came down in November of the song's titular year; a year later, hundreds of Friedrichshain's squatters were forcefully evicted, which led to violent clashes in the streets. There are still many punks and squatters in the area, but the inevitable gentrification has rendered Friedrichshain more artsy than dangerous.
SAMPLE LYRIC: Spent the night in Friedrichshain/Where the bars were full it was summertime/Punks were hangin' out in the park/While someone practiced electric guitar