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Top Songs About The Twin Cities

August 11, 2011 8:00 AM

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So maybe we’re not California, a state about which there seem to be dozens of songs written — even Minnesota’s own Low has a song named after the Golden State. But when Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell said he was looking California and feeling Minnesota, was that necessarily a bad thing? St. Paul and Minneapolis have had plenty of admirers—both hometown and national artists — who have immortalized the Twin Towns in song. Here are a few of the most notable.

lifter puller Top Songs About The Twin Cities

(credit: Myspace)

01. “Lake Street is for Lovers”

by Lifter Puller
Fiestas + Fiascos

Like a couple of these songs, Lifter Puller’s just-over-a-minute ode to one of Minneapolis’ best-known byways doesn’t exactly have a lot to do with the street itself. But at its core is the scuzzy, down-and-out heart of singer Craig Finn’s menagerie of streetwalkers and bartenders. In songs like “Nice, Nice,” Finn specifically namechecks intersections like 15th and Franklin, but the real significance of all his waypoints and street signs is that every city holds a lost generation, a class of shady characters living on the fringes. Plus, “Lake Street is for Lovers” has the late, lamented Wesley Willis on backup vocals, chanting the song’s signature, “Yes, yes y’all.”

hold steady Top Songs About The Twin Cities


02. “Stuck Between Stations”

by The Hold Steady
Boys and Girls in America

When Finn decamped to New York and formed The Hold Steady, he didn’t forget about the Twin Cities. If anything, Finn’s lyrics became even more Minnesota-centric, and on “Stuck Between Stations” he pulls in a real-life Twin Citian, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Berryman. Berryman was teaching at the University of Minnesota in 1972 when he committed suicide by jumping from the Washington Ave Bridge. Poetic license in hand, Finn follows the poet on a walk with the devil, who explains, “You’re pretty good with words / but words won’t save your life.” And so Berryman joins Finn’s mytho-poetic cadre of misfits and burnouts, a man who “loved the Golden Gophers” but “hated all the drawn out winters.”

tom waits Top Songs About The Twin Cities

(credit: Henry Diltz)

03. “9th and Hennepin” and “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” (Tie)

by Tom Waits
Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine
Website / Website

Fact once again collides with fiction in Tom Waits’ “9th and Hennepin,” a spoken-word jazz meditation about the downtown Minneapolis corner where “[a]ll the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes.” According to Waits, most of the song’s vivid imagery is actually drawn from New York (the dead giveaway is the “evening train” in the last line), but it was initially inspired by a donnybrook between pimps at a donut shop on Hennepin. The donut names Waits remember? “Cherry twist, lime rickey.”

“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is an open letter to an ex-lover where the titular hooker papers over her rundown life in an attempt to win sympathy, and a bit of cash. Ninth Street makes another appearance, where the narrator lives “right above a dirty bookstore / off Euclid Avenue.” The only problem? There’s no Euclid Avenue in Minneapolis. There’s a Euclid Place, right near Lake of the Isles, and a Euclid Street in St. Paul, but Waits’ Euclid Avenue is a work of pure fiction.

bob dylan Top Songs About The Twin Cities


04. “Positively Fourth Street”

by Bob Dylan
Released as a non-album single in 1965

Now 4th Street positively exists in Minneapolis (in Dinkytown, specifically), and Dylan even lived near there before moving to Greenwich Village. Most people will tell you this song is a snide backhand to the entrenched folkerati in New York, but for an artist who evoked both the Delta and his hometown of Hibbing in “Highway 61 Revisited,” it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think Dylan could be using 4th Street to do double duty. Dylan’s always had mixed feelings about Minnesota, and it’s entirely possible to hear the song as a kiss off to a place where he never quite felt at home.

that dog Top Songs About The Twin Cities

(credit: Myspace)

05. “Minneapolis”

by that dog.
Retreat from the Sun

It’s not all suicidal poets and hookers and jerks when it comes to the Twin Cities in song, though. Despite the title, “Minneapolis” takes place in Los Angeles, where the narrator starts crushing hard on a boy at the (now defunct) Jabberjaw Café. The catch? The boy is from Minneapolis where “he saw [her] at the Entry.” Throw in a reference to Low and a sly callout to Semisonic’s big hit (“Hung around till closing time / I wanna make him mine all mine”) and you’ve got a golden Minnesota pop jam.

atmosphere Top Songs About The Twin Cities

(credit: Amazon)

06. “Always Coming Back Home To You” / “Say Shh”

by Atmosphere
Seven’s Travels

“Always Coming Back Home To You” is one of those perfect album closing songs: a little sad, a little nostalgic, but clear-eyed and ultimately resolute. It follows Slug through Uptown, down Lyndale and past the places he’s known in a virtual tour of south Minneapolis. But the hidden track that truly closes out 2003’s Seven’s Travels has arguably become the more famous track. “Say Shh” (or possibly just “Shh,” depending whom you ask) was the first cut played on MPR’s The Current when it debuted in 2005, and fittingly so. It makes as eloquent an argument as any Minnesotan could for having Midwestern pride. Like Slug says, “It sucks that you think where I’m from is wack / but as long as that’s enough to keep your ass from coming back.”

Steve McPherson is a writer and musician who has lived in the Twin Cities since 2004, where he teaches writing and music at McNally Smith. His dog is named after both a drink and a guitar. He tweets from @steventurous.

View Comments
  • v

    No “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. Are you kidding?
    No “Uptown” by Prince?
    Why even have the list if you’re not including both the above?

    • James Nagan

      Funkytown is actually New York. The band wanted out of Minneapolis.

      • v

        You made my point.
        It’s about wanting OUT of Minneapolis.
        The list didn’t say anything about the songs being POSITIVE bout the Twin Cities, did it?

  • Sundown

    “Minnesota” by The Push Stars
    “Going up North” by Fyder & Everhart
    “Northern Lights” by Gaelic Storm

    • readb4uwrite

      The list is about the Twin Cities. Not Minnesota as a state.

  • Hey

    Root City, POS

  • gear_daddy

    Skyway – Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)

    • Seriously_MN

      I agree with you completely. How you could ever leave The Replacements of a list like this is beyond me!!!

  • meorme

    Minnesoter – Dandy Warhols

  • CharlieAnarchy

    MPLS by Westerberg as well…

  • Mr. Jimmy

    You Can’t Always Get What You Want—The Rolling Stones (Mr. Jimmy)

  • say it aint so joe

    I like ( theres more to explore in minnesoootaaaaa ) even tho joe cant sing, hahahahahahahaha.

  • Timm McCoy

    WEIRD AL YANKOVIC – “Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota”, HELLO?!?

    • mmm

      The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota is not in the Twin Cities.

  • meg

    Of all the Lifter Puller songs, you chose Lake Street is for Lovers? It’s not even about Minnesota.

  • Bill from Saint Paul

    Good call with Minneapolis by That Dog.

  • Sara

    I totally agree with the Explore Minnesota song – I smile every time I see it/hear it! But I haven’t heard it lately – come on Explore Minnesota – make me smile again!

  • Jaimie

    How about North Country by Rocket Club?! It’s played at every Twins game!

  • mmm

    Death on Hennepin by the Flash Girls

  • Amy_C

    Anyone who had 830 on the radio in their kitchen all the time in the 60’s like we did remembers ‘Minneapolis, You’re So Many Things to Me”. If I remember right, it was the winning song in a “contest” for promoting the city. It was recorded by the Ray Charles Singers. Sure can’t find much about it on the net, other than there’s a 45 rpm copy of it in the Minnesota Historical Society in the Northwestern National Bank archives.

  • lee

    Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone by John Prine

  • Steve M.

    A lot of good other nominees for songs about the Twin Cities here. This wasn’t intended to be an exhaustive or definitive list by any means; just a few suggestions of some famous and not-so-famous ones. There should be another post shortly on here, a listener’s guide to Minnesota bands, that includes both The Replacements and Prince, so don’t worry: they’re getting their love soon.

  • Oren Goldberg

    What kind of person are you?

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