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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The (Other) 10 Best Songs About San Francisco: Lesser-Known Gems About the City by the Bay

Posted By on Tue, Jul 2, 2013 at 10:41 AM


Here is the test for a truly great song about San Francisco: If you've lived here more than three years, know the city well, and the lyrics still don't make you cringe. Listen to the vast number of songs that are in some way about this city (there are more than 35 titled "San Francisco" alone) and you'll quickly realize that most fail this test. The city has inspired so much whimsical whining from so many tepid singer-songwriters that it comes across as kind of spineless. Then there are the sonic equivalents of Fisherman's Wharf: cliched, worn-out odes like those from Scott McKenzie and Tony Bennett. You won't find Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" on our list, either, even though we love it. Instead we've dug up newer and/or weirder, lesser-known tunes that portray the city accurately -- and hopefully in a way that even its most jaded residents can appreciate.

10. Dubtribe Sound System, "We Used to Dance"

A classic anthem of San Francisco's '90's rave scene, "We Used to Dance" looks nostalgically at a long-gone period in the city's cultural life, name-dropping numerous S.F. clubs and parties over a steady beat: "Wednesdays we would go over to the EndUp ... their soundsystem was so terrible, and it was pitch-black in there on the dancefloor." The vocals in the song purportedly come from an interview with Dubtribe singer Sunshine Jones, and pretty well encapsulate the optimistic spirit of the day. "We didn't care about the social scene. It didn't matter what you were wearing or who you were friends with... in those days, we used to dance."

9. DaVinci, "In My City"

There are too many sad songs about San Francisco. As an antidote to all that, let us present Fillmore native and quickly rising local rapper DaVinci, and this swaggering

assertion of metropolitan dominance. This song only came out last year, but it's earned a place on this list thanks to the man's godfather persona and smoky flow, as well as that triumphant beat. DaVinci hails from one of the city's dwindling black neighborhoods, but in this song, he runs the city, and he ain't scared: "I'm a Frisco nigga, all gas no brakes/ My king-size mattress is overflowing with cake."

8. Silver Jews, "San Francisco B.C."

Pair David Berman's literary wit with California's wackiest city, and you get this rambling whodunit, wherein a brokenhearted idealist turns to a life of petty crime and ends up solving the mystery of his ex-love's father's murder. The lyrics are worth reading on their own, with lines like "Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie," and "She said, 'You don't make enough to provide for me'/I said, 'What about the stuff we quote believe?'" The story gets pretty weird -- there's the requisite small clue leading to a big reveal at the end -- but we dig how it uses various S.F. locales (a Lower Haight bar, a downtown hotel) as set pieces for an engrossing yarn.

7. Village People, "San Francisco"

This wouldn't be a complete list without a big gay disco anthem, so we're thankful to the Village People for supplying the world with a great one about San Francisco. It's as effervescently optimistic as you'd expect, full of funky basslines, chorus vocals, and sincere lyrics about how San Francisco is a city known for its freedom. Given last week's Supreme Court rulings, that may be truer now than ever.

6. Carmen McRae, "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco"

This song almost qualifies by its title alone, but the feeling expressed isn't as simple as it sounds. A slow blues sung in McRae's brassy tones, and backed by a full horn section, this 1968 recording is an excellent one to play while sipping an old-timey cocktail and looking out at a sweeping view of the city. Or, really, whenever you need an excuse to drink. But maybe hold off for a bit, you lush, because McRae is actually fooling: In the last line of the song, she reveals that San Francisco delivers a potent buzz even though she hasn't had a sip of alcohol.

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Ian S. Port


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