I enjoyed Gaby Dunn’s Thought Catalog post “Songs for College in Massachusetts,” and as an alumnus of Boston University (undergrad, ’93-’97) and Harvard (grad school, ’97-’07), I immediately started making a sequel—or, perhaps, prequel—playlist in my head. Whereas Gaby’s playlist comprises songs about Boston, this is more of a Massachusetts Music 101 primer. I’ve listed the songs below, and created a playlist on Spotify that includes first the songs on this playlist, then the songs on Gaby’s (except Ted Leo’s “Bridges, Squares,” which isn’t on Spotify). Enjoy!
1. The Revels, “Boston.” Throwback to the Bay State’s nautical roots.
2. Joan Baez, “Silver Dagger” (1960). Joan Baez, the first performer to achieve national success in the 1960s folk revival, moved to Massachusetts as a teenager and started making a name for herself in the coffeehouses of Cambridge. It was in Harvard Square that she first met…
3. Bob Dylan, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” (1962). In the opening bars of this this song from his debut album, Dylan explains that he learned the song from Ric Von Schmidt “in the green pastures of Harvard University.” Though the young Dylan remains most closely associated with the Greenwich Village folk scene, in the very early 1960s he was a regular on the important Cambridge circuit. It was after meeting Dylan there that Baez, recognizing the talent of the Minnesota expat, brought him onto her tour—and into her bed.
4. Dick Dale, “Miserlou” (1962). That’s right: the king of surf guitar was born and raised in the Boston area, though he found his first fame after his family moved to California.
5. The Standells, “Dirty Water” (1966). This is on Gaby’s list too, but I’m including it here because it’s so essential it really needs to be on both lists. “Dirty” secret: the creators of this legendary garage-rock paean to Boston were actually from California. Whatev. Let’s call it an even trade for Dick Dale.
6. Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” (1967). This epic hippie story was inspired by Guthrie’s experiences in the hill country of western Massachusetts.
7. The Modern Lovers, “Roadrunner” (1972). Another one that has to go on both lists. Jonathan Richman, one of the patron saints of nerd-rock, is a Massachusetts native who founded the Modern Lovers in Boston in the early 70s.
8. Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion” (1975). A classic from the biggest band to ever come out of Boston.
9. Boston, “More Than a Feeling” (1976). The band Boston, as far as the recording of “their” debut was concerned, was basically Tom Scholz alone in his basement…but yes, in Boston.
10. The Cars, “Just What I Needed” (1978). The second-biggest band to ever come out of Boston, the Cars developed their New Wave sheen gigging in Boston’s proto-indie rock scene.
11. J. Geils Band, “Centerfold” (1981). Yet another band from Boston’s fertile 1970s rock scene to go national; this song spent six weeks at #1.
12. Mission of Burma, “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” (1981). These Boston punk rockers split up in 1983—only to reform 19 years later sounding as ferocious in middle age as they did in their youth. They may soon be playing a club near you; don’t miss the show.
13. The Del Fuegos, “Sound of Our Town” (1985). A beer commercial was as close as these guys ever got to going national, but this is what Boston bars sounded like in the 80s. Listen for the Del Fuegos reference in song #17, below.
14. New Edition, “Candy Girl” (1983). Boston has never been a big R&B town, but this suave boy band were straight outta the Hub. The band’s breakout star was the now-infamous…
15. Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative” (1988). This guy, Massachusetts. This guy.
16. The Pixies, “Gigantic” (1988). Once “college rock” became a thing, obviously Boston was going to own that ish.
17. The Juliana Hatfield Three, “My Sister” (1993). Blake Babies frontgrrl Juliana Hatfield was the Perfect Alt Crush of the early 90s in Boston. She’s since clarified that she did not lose her virginity to Evan Dando of the Lemonheads as had been widely rumored; in fact, her first sex friend was filmmaker Spike Jonze. Dando came later.
18. Morphine, “Honey White” (1995). This was my college era, and music in Boston in the mid-90s was all about the horns. Among the fiercest and most innovative horn bands were Morphine, who built a power trio around a sax instead of a guitar.
19. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “The Impression That I Get” (1997). Boston’s representatives in the 90s ska revival, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are one of those backwards-cap bro bands that have since become the face of Boston music (see also: the Dropkick Murphys, on Gaby’s list).
20. Guster, “Careful” (2003). These Tufts University boys got their start busking in Harvard Square under their original name, Gus.
21. Jesus H Christ and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, “Julie on the Fung Wah Bus” (2008). A sweet ode to the cheapest way to get from BOS to NYC.
22. Passion Pit, “Take a Walk” (2012). The new Cambridge sound.
Bonus track: The Dropkick Murphys, “Tessie” (2004). The Dropkick Murphys are also on Gaby’s list, but I couldn’t not include this fantastic update of a classic Red Sox anthem.