Urban Planning: Songs of Cities, Spaces and Society
Link
A collection of 21 songs that deal with some aspect of urban planning and the way we interact with our built environment.
I tried to spread things around the urban landscape. We have four perspectives on mass transit, a handful of disillusioned takes on suburbia, songs about patterns of poverty and abandonment in the inner city, unintended consequences of development, road maintenance, traffic, and housing security, and an instrumental interlude that evokes the passing of cars on a freeway like so many bits of information.
I also tried to balance the negative with the positive where I could—see the alienation of the Dismemberment plan’s “The City” going back to back with the celebration of incidental community in Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”—but when you’re talking about this stuff through a pop culture lens, inevitably the balance comes out a little lopsided in favor of the bad (I could have done a whole series of mixes about ghetto life, for instance).
1. M.F. McAdam: While You Wait 2. Talking Heads: Cities3. Lancelot Layne: Yo Tink It Sorf?4. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: The Wacky World of Rapid Transit5. Syl Johnson: Concrete Reservation6. The Jam: London Traffic7. The Monkees: Pleasant Valley Sunday 8. Chatham County Line: Route 239. Jonathan Coulton: Shop Vac10. Rachel’s: Arterial11. Bobby Womack & Peace: Across 110th Street12. Mercury Rev: Hudson Line 13. Tony Allen & the Afro Messengers: Road Safety14. Marlena Shaw: Woman of the Ghetto15. The Divine Comedy: Commuter Love16. Chicago: Saturday in the Park17. The Dismemberment Plan: The City18. Fugazi: Cashout19. Malvina Reynolds: Little Boxes 20. Danny Brown: Fields21. The Arcade Fire: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Urban Planning: Songs of Cities, Spaces and Society

Link

A collection of 21 songs that deal with some aspect of urban planning and the way we interact with our built environment.

I tried to spread things around the urban landscape. We have four perspectives on mass transit, a handful of disillusioned takes on suburbia, songs about patterns of poverty and abandonment in the inner city, unintended consequences of development, road maintenance, traffic, and housing security, and an instrumental interlude that evokes the passing of cars on a freeway like so many bits of information.

I also tried to balance the negative with the positive where I could—see the alienation of the Dismemberment plan’s “The City” going back to back with the celebration of incidental community in Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”—but when you’re talking about this stuff through a pop culture lens, inevitably the balance comes out a little lopsided in favor of the bad (I could have done a whole series of mixes about ghetto life, for instance).

1. M.F. McAdam: While You Wait
2. Talking Heads: Cities
3. Lancelot Layne: Yo Tink It Sorf?
4. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: The Wacky World of Rapid Transit
5. Syl Johnson: Concrete Reservation
6. The Jam: London Traffic
7. The Monkees: Pleasant Valley Sunday
8. Chatham County Line: Route 23
9. Jonathan Coulton: Shop Vac
10. Rachel’s: Arterial
11. Bobby Womack & Peace: Across 110th Street
12. Mercury Rev: Hudson Line
13. Tony Allen & the Afro Messengers: Road Safety
14. Marlena Shaw: Woman of the Ghetto
15. The Divine Comedy: Commuter Love
16. Chicago: Saturday in the Park
17. The Dismemberment Plan: The City
18. Fugazi: Cashout
19. Malvina Reynolds: Little Boxes
20. Danny Brown: Fields
21. The Arcade Fire: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Marlena Shaw: “Woman Of The Ghetto” (The Spice Of Life, 1969)

So this thing happens sometimes where I have two versions of a song that I really want to post, and can’t decide which one to go with. I’ve had Phyllis Dillon’s reggae cover of this song on my iPod for years, and it came up yesterday, and I instantly knew I’d write about it, but I recently heard the original and love that too. So I’ll just do both.

First, the original version, recorded in 1969 by Marlena Shaw, who had a strange career. She started performing at a very young age with her uncle, Jimmy Burgess, who was a jazz trumpeter, but her mother soon put an end to that. She went away to teaching college, but dropped out and got married.

Shaw had five children, but somehow managed to reignite her music career while still taking care of all of them, performing on free nights. She was in Howard McGhee’s band for a while and had a regular job at the Chicago Playboy Club for a time, and even scored a minor hit in 1966 with “Let’s Wade In The Water,” one of about a bazillion versions of that song to be recorded in the mid-20th Century.

She signed with Chess, and they put her on their Cadet imprint. The Spice Of Life was her second album, and it’s a broad mix of MOR pop, jazz and brooding, socially conscious funk, of which this song is the best example.

And man, this song has some intense lyrics. “How do you make your bread in the ghetto?/baked from the souls of the dead in the ghetto.” Dang. I love that “my children learn just the same as yours/long as nobody tries to close the doors” part, too. The groove just slides along, but there are some neat little details in the production—flourishes of sitar and other little unexpected noises, solos that come in out of nowhere, those processed backing vocals near the end. This is from a time when psychedelia could actually be a vehicle for something and wasn’t mostly used as a fashion accessory.

Shaw’s children were getting older by the time she made this, and after the album dropped, she broke with Cadet to sign with Blue Note for her next five albums. That run included Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?, which has to be one of the best album titles ever, especially when paired with the awesome cover photo. Shaw is still performing today.