Alan Eisenstock Playlist: ‘State’ Songs

Editor’s note: When Palisadian Alan Eisenstock is not researching and writing one of his nonfiction books (18 thus far!), he pursues what he calls “a crazy labor of love side project” that he started in mid-March: sending a weekly Covid-themed playlist of songs to his family and friends. These playlists (which can be downloaded on Spotify link span rock ‘n’ roll and pop music from the 1950s to 2020, and Eisenstock adds one or two lines of commentary about each song that is clever, amusing and informative.)

Hi, Everyone,

According to an article on November 26 in The NY Times, “As Surge Spreads, No Corner of Nation Is Spared.” Ten months after the virus appeared, things are actually worse. What a horrible “state” of affairs. What to do? Idea! Here are 20 “state” songs. Listen up!

  1. “Hawaii Five-O” The Ventures. Instrumental band from Spokane, WA, popularized the electric guitar. Here’s the theme from the TV cop show, first from 1968, and the current remake. Proud to say I’ve never seen one episode of either.
  2. “California Dreamin’ ” The Mamas & The Papas. Written by John and Michelle Phillips in 1965, this big hit with layered harmonies reflects the California counterculture. Heavy.
  3. “North to Alaska” Johnny Horton. Country singer Horton hit it big with story songs such as “Sink the Bismarck,” “Battle of New Orleans,” and this 1960 smash. I have never been to Alaska but I do enjoy a nice piece of cod.
  4. “Carolina in My Mind” James Taylor. Mr. Golden Voice wrote this song when he was in Britain, feeling homesick for his Carolina home. The song has become a sort of unofficial state song. In fact, JT was born in Massachusetts and lives in the Berkshires.
  5. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” The National. The Dessner twins, the Devendorf cousins, and Matt Berninger form my favorite band. This song from 2010 contains this killer lyric, “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe,” which describes the relationship with my first business manager.
  6. “Midnight Train to Georgia” Gladys Knight & The Pips. 1973 number one smash hit by this all-time great family funk R&B group, made up of Gladys, her brother and sister and a couple of cousins, none of them named Pip.
  7. “Delaware” Perry Como. TV star and popular singer recorded with RCA for 44 years. This song from 1959 covers 15 states. Perry’s birth name was Pierino.
  8. “Kentucky Rain” Elvis Presley. 1970 song recorded by the King, written by Eddie Rabbitt and Dick Heard. Tells the story of a guy driving in the rain, looking for a lost lover. Did she have an umbrella? Boots? Rubbers? Song sold over a million copies.
  9. “Nebraska” Bruce Springsteen. 1982 song from The Boss’s influential folk-ish album of the same name, which Village Voice named their album of the year. This is a lovely song about a mass murderer.
  10. “Colorado” Stephen Stills. He began with Buffalo Springfield, then Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, then formed Manassas in 1972 with Chris Hillman and others. He had a home in Colorado and started recording this double album there, finished in Britain. Good song.
  11. “Massachusetts” Bee Gees. One of the group’s favorite songs, recorded in 1967 and became a staple of their live performances. Ironically, nobody in the group had ever been to Massachusetts. They apparently liked all those “S” sounds. I wonder how they felt about Mississippi.
  12. “New Mexico” Johnny Cash. The Man in Black sings the excellent yet obscure song about getting a job as a cow puncher in New Mexico. It didn’t go well. Johnny calls New Mexico “God-forsaken.” I’ve never been. Not going now thanks to Johnny’s ringing endorsement.
  13. “North Dakota” Lyle Lovett. Texas singer/songwriter/actor/producer wrote this gorgeous song in 1992. Rickie Lee Jones sings backup. Lyle was married to Julia Roberts for exactly twenty minutes.
  14. “Leave Virginia Alone” Tom Petty. Tom wrote this song in 1994 for his “Wildflowers” album, but at the last minute pulled it. It’s now being released for the first time. Love the song. And, I know, Virginia in this case is a person not a state.
  15. “Louisiana 1927” Randy Newman. Randy wrote this lovely “lament” in 1997 about a devastating flood that left 700,000 people homeless. The “little fat man” he refers to is President Calvin Coolidge. Apparently, we’ve had some doozies for presidents.
  16. “Alabama” Neil Young. From Neil’s great 1972 album “Harvest.” Even though he split from CS&N, Crosby and Stills sing backup on this song. Graham Nash called Neil a name, so he wasn’t invited.

  17. “Iowa (Traveling Pt. 3)” Dar Williams. Born Dorothy Snowden Williams in upstate New York, folk singer Dar sings this from her 1996 “Mortal City” album. Dar now lives in Northampton, MA. I think. I know she moved there a while ago. Anyway, I LOVE this song and I have no idea what happened to Pts.1 and 2.
  18. “Mississippi” Bob Dylan. Continuing our very folkie playlist, here’s Mr. Nobel with a song from his 2001 Love and Theftalbum. He actually wrote it years earlier and it was covered by Sheryl Crow. “Stayed in Mississippi far too long.” Lot of songs here about states you never want to visit.
  19. “Jersey Girl” Tom Waits. Classic song by the great Mr. Waits allegedly written for his future wife, Kathleen Brennan. They’re still together so the song thing worked.
  20. “Tennessee” Arrested Development. 1988 hip-hop group formed in Atlanta by “Speech” and “Headliner” to promote positivity not normally associated with hip-hop/rap groups. This song became a #1 R&B single. The run of folk songs has ended. Put down your tea, kick off your Afghan, and dance!


So, that’s the “state” of things as we await a vaccine and governors across the country impose new stay-at-home orders. In the meantime, some advice:

Don’t Forget to Disinfect and… PLAY IT LOUD!


The link again:

Fact Check

Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts were married for longer than twenty minutes. I’ll give the over/under at two years.

Graham Nash did not call Neil Young a name. I don’t think they were speaking.

POLL QUESTION: Last week, Willie Nelson v. Ray Charles, Willie smoked Ray.

THIS WEEK’S POLL QUESTION: Who is a better singer: Bob Dylan or Tom Waits? Be honest. It’s a wedding, milestone birthday or your kid’s bar/bat mitzvah and you have to hire one of them. Who you got?


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