The 100 Greatest St. Louis Songs

by

This is the story of St. Louis, as told by the musicians and artists who have glimpsed its complicated beauty. - ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER
  • Illustration by Fred Harper
  • This is the story of St. Louis, as told by the musicians and artists who have glimpsed its complicated beauty.

By Roy Kasten, Christian Schaeffer and RFT Music

St. Louis isn't just a city. It's a song. Or rather songs, hundreds, thousands and more. Don't bother counting. We tried.

In back rooms and basements, on stages and streets, musicians have paid tribute to St. Louis again and again. Place matters. St. Louis doesn't define artists like Chuck Berry or Scott Joplin or Nelly. On the contrary, those performers helped define the city by producing music that reflects its depth and variety. Their songs, and those of countless other musicians, tell the city's story and represent it to the world.

This is a list of 100 of the greatest songs about, for and of St. Louis. It's not a roundup of our greatest musicians (though many are here), nor is it a catalog of influential tunes (though they're here, too), or a compendium of songs that namedrop St. Louis. Rather, this is a list about what it means to invoke St. Louis in song.

Many of the artists on this list (and we limited ourselves to one song per artist) are St. Louisans. Some never lived here but were inspired by this town. Just ask 1920s chanteuse Bessie Smith ("St. Louis Blues") or R&B crooner Lloyd Price ("Stagger Lee"): Summon St. Louis, and you scratch a touchstone. The city is home to the father of rock & roll; it's also a homeland for anyone who loves music.

Some songs use St. Louis to evoke a feeling -- be it the gritty blues of the city's 20th-century industrialism or the earthy twang of its frontier heritage. Others look unflinchingly at the region's fault lines of race, class and opportunity. One proclaims pride for the Lou; the next wonders what the hell happened. Every song, however, is rooted in a love for St. Louis.

Can a city enriched by the confluence of major rivers and complex cultures be reduced to a playlist? Not likely. These 100 songs, spanning three centuries, are not a reduction. In words and music, they expand the story of a St. Louis both real and imagined. Nearly every style of American music has emerged from or passed through this place and come out changed. When musicians pay tribute to St. Louis, they are joining our deep musical streams.

We'd like to acknowledge some very kind music lovers who made valuable suggestions for this list: Ed Becker, Michael Bishop, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, Bil Gelb, Matt Harnish, Chris King, Mark Mason, Dean Minderman, Jim Nelson, Jack Petracek, Tom Ray, René Spencer Saller, Dennis Stegmann, Josh Weinstein and Toby Weiss. Thanks also to Nick Lucchesi and Kiernan Maletsky, who first suggested this project years ago. Extra special thanks to Dennis Owsley, whose book City of Gabriels: The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973 was beyond helpful, and Kevin Belford, who offered generous advice and insight. Belford's book (and blog) Devil at the Confluence is an inspiration.


100. Emmett Miller - "The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues" (1929)

This countdown of 100 songs begins where it ends (or vice versa, if you prefer), with "The St. Louis Blues," or rather with the ghost of that song -- and the specter of the trickster to end all musical tricksters, Emmett Miller. So much more than just a minstrel performer, Miller is like the missing link between blues, jazz, country and even rock & roll. On this parody, he and his band the Georgia Crackers have a comedic ball with W. C. Handy's immortal song, turning it into a politically incorrect séance, with his piercing yodel all but mocking the sound of Louis Armstrong's coronet, as recorded four years earlier. Miller (and composers Billy Curtis and J. Russell Robinson) had one thing right: You can't escape an earworm like "The St. Louis Blues." But you'd have to be as insane as Miller sounds to even try. -Roy Kasten

99. Bottoms Up Blues Gang - "South Broadway Blues" (2002)

A good blues song needn't have flashy solos or hellhounds on its trail; sometimes it can be simple celebration of where you come from and where you'll always return. The acoustic-blues minimalists (at least when performing as a trio or even as the core duo of Kari Liston and Jeremy Segel-Moss) of Bottoms Up Blues Gang know that all roads lead back to the Arch and the stomping grounds of Benton Park and Soulard, where the legends before them -- Tommy Bankhead and Oliver Sain, to mention just two named in this song -- set the tone for sharing life-affirming music in small clubs you wouldn't want to live without. -RK

98. Oliver Cobb & His Rhythm Kings - "The Duck's Yas Yas Yas" (1929)

The original version of this party tune was recorded by piano player James "Stump" Johnson in early 1929, though fellow St. Louisan Oliver Cobb gave it a hot big-band arrangement that surely widened its appeal into the '30s, and remains the one you gotta hear (though don't miss Johnson's original, with expanded lyrics and bonus local color). When he scats, Cobb isn't shy about letting his Satchmo influences show, and he's also not shy about giving every musician (down to the banjo and doghouse bass) a few seconds in the spotlight as they all march down to Market Street "where the women all meet." "Yas yas," of course, is slang for hind parts, and we're not talking about a duck's tail feathers. -RK

97. Bessie Mae Smith and Wesley Wallace - "St. Louis Daddy" (1929)

We know all about the St. Louis women, with their diamond rings, apron strings, makeup and "store-bought hair." In 1929, Bessie Mae Smith (who recorded under various names, including Mae Belle Miller) sounds like she has just about had enough. She pleads with accompanist Wesley Wallace to cut the crap, and over some easy-striding piano he keeps dishing it out. Smith's voice has a creaky, sexy, smoky quality to it that must have driven Wallace (not to mention husband Big Joe Williams) crazy; it would have done the same for pre-Depression barrelhouses all over town. -RK

96. Erin Bode - "St. Louis Song" (2006)

As a singer comfortable moving between the jazz and folk worlds, Erin Bode has often been hailed as St. Louis' answer to Norah Jones. Her talent has taken her far and wide, but on "St. Louis Song" she plants her feet in her hometown. The track, from Bode's 2006 release Over and Over from the Webster Groves-based MAXJAZZ label, could be set in any city where two lovers part ways, but something about Bode's lyrics fits our city like a glove. Her man wants to leave St. Louis, but she wants to stay, though she sounds confident that he'll return home someday. Any outsider who has ever fallen in love with a Mound City native probably knows the feeling, and as Bode glides through the delicate guitar figure and sonorous bass runs, she tells of a love for her city that, at least this time, trumps romance. -Christian Schaeffer

95. Johnny Paycheck - "The Spirits of St. Louis" (1977)

Leave it to Johnny Paycheck to record one of the all-time great drinking songs (written by Roger Bowling and R.J. Jones) for a town that loves a good drinking song. Paycheck sings the hell out of the chorus -- "I've sipped Tennessee's best whiskey / Drank every bar dry in this old city / But all the spirits in St. Louis can't get you off my mind" -- and the band (flush with dobro, harmonica and a rhythm section that ticks steady as a clock hand headed to closing time) matches him phrase for set-'em-up-knock-'em-down phrase. If this song isn't on the jukebox, you're in the wrong honky-tonk. -RK

94. Dave Van Ronk - "Duncan and Brady" (1959)

When it comes to the rabbit holes of American murder ballads, few are as deep and labyrinthine as "Duncan and Brady." Based on a murder in St. Louis (Eleventh Street and Lucas Avenue, to be exact) on October 6, 1890, the song has traveled under various names (the first recording, by the string band Wilmer Watts & the Lonely Eagles, bore the title "Been on the Job Too Long") and accrued details that don't match up to history. Go figure. What we do know is James Brady was the police officer slain at the rowdy tavern, and Harry Duncan, a black man and local singer, was the accused. Despite numerous appeals, Duncan would hang for the crime, though the saloon's owner, Charles Starkes, ultimately copped to the murder in a deathbed confession. Just about everybody who's anybody in folk music (Lead Belly, Judy Henske, Bob Dylan) has recorded this bad-man ballad. Dave Van Ronk's interpretation from 1959 deserves special notice for its crisp, growling soul. -RK

93. Signifying Mary Johnson - "Delmar Avenue" (1936)

The disparity between rich and poor, and often between black and white, in the city of St. Louis has often been typified by what is called "the Delmar Divide": great wealth, infrastructure and opportunity on the south side of Delmar Boulevard, great poverty on the north. Listen to enough blues music, and you'll find that the street was the setting for a different kind of pain. In this 1936 recording, slide guitarist James "Kokomo" Arnold and singer Mary Johnson tell of empty streets, rain clouds and "ragged daddies." It's desolate and dark, and while Johnson sings of wanting to cry, Arnold's bottleneck runs feel one step ahead of her. -CS

92. DJ Quik - "Jus Lyke Compton" (1992)

It's one thing to rap about street life but quite another to witness the consequences. On tour to promote his first album, rapper/producer DJ Quik was surprised to see LA-style gang culture spread across America. He recounted some of his experiences in "Jus Lyke Compton." In St. Louis, "where they country as fuck," Quik and his entourage rolled in on a typical hot summer day. They met some friendly locals who showed them some local spots, including the Smith Center and Gus's Fashions. After the show, however, there was a shootout between local gangs who had adopted the Blood and Crip symbols they'd seen in movies and heard in records. Quik was left shaking his head: "In Missouri?" he raps. "Damn, how could this happen?" -Mike Appelstein

91. Henry Brown - "Deep Morgan Blues" (1929)

The area known as Deep Morgan appears elsewhere on this list of songs, either in spirit or in location. Located on Biddle Street in what was known as north St. Louis' "Bloody 3rd Ward" at the turn of the century, Deep Morgan was where "Stack" Lee Shelton shot William Lyons, but it was also a red-light district that was home to the city's music clubs. As such, the neighborhood offered fertile ground for the evolution of ragtime, blues and jazz, and it's that history that piano player Henry Brown channels in "Deep Morgan Blues." The Tennessee-born Brown moved to St. Louis at age twelve and came to be known as a barrelhouse piano player with few peers; you can hear him exemplify the form on this track, with its stately walking bass line keeping time for Brown's more emphatic right hand. Listen closely and you can hear elements of Deep Morgan's musical contributions to American music in this three-minute rag. -CS

90. Murder City Players - "Big City Life" (1986)

In case you somehow missed it in their name, veteran reggae outfit Murder City Players don't shy away from the unsavory side of St. Louis. Take "Big City Life." Despite riding a gentle major-key groove that would fit perfectly in a cruise-ship ad, no tourism board would want to touch this track. "It isn't very pretty what a town with no pity can do" is just the start. Later, the group warns that you'd better be careful, lest you end up on the cover of the St. Louis Evening Whirl like so many other murder victims. In this context, the occasional happy sax riff that bursts through sounds like it's laughing at you. -Bob McMahon

89. Thurlbredz - "So St. Louis" (2011)

When Murphy Lee dropped in on the remix for Jermaine Dupri's 2002 single "Welcome to Atlanta," he had coined a phrase before his verse was even over: "I'm so St. Louis, ask my tattooist." Almost ten years later, the four members of Thurlbredz -- Vet, A1, Lil Bay and Kebo -- would take that idea and run with it. What does it take to be so St. Louis? "Fresh, fly, cleaner than a bitch," according to the track, and Thurlbredz syrup-slow drawl and streetwise boasts underline the point. It's how we walk and how we talk. -CS

88. Meat Sisters - "St. Louis County" (1993)

Suburban angst and ennui have long been the fodder for great punk rock, but the mid-'90s troupe the Meat Sisters takes that boredom to a whole new level in "St. Louis County." The track opens with an archly sarcastic spoken-word monologue about how, unlike the drug- and gang-fueled action of movies like New Jack City, life in the 'burbs is painfully slow. With Sex Pistols-like attitude and efficiency, the band rips though a litany of suburban pastimes -- cruising the mall, high-school football games -- while returning to its key refrain: "St. Louis County -- where boredom is king!" For a band that repped Lemay on its hand-scrawled handbills, the Meat Sisters knew of what they sang. -CS

87. Drunks With Guns - "Wonderful Subdivision" (1990)

Despite performing fewer than half a dozen local shows and only a handful of recordings, Drunks With Guns became one of St. Louis' best-known exports in the late 1980s. It shared a basic approach -- punk rock slowed down to a snail's pace, with sludgy guitar and a sardonic outlook -- with certain contemporaries including Green River, the Melvins and Killdozer. However, DWG added an extra layer or two of grime, and it was definitely the most sarcastic. "Wonderful Subdivision" (as found on the 1990 album Second Versions) is perhaps the band's ultimate statement: over a Flipper/Sabbath rhythm, lead singer Mike Doskocil rants about a boring suburban life where "Dad's got a job at DuPont; Mom's working at Monsanto." By song's end, he's so disgusted that he can barely spit out the words. -MA

86. Keith Doder and the Blue City Band - "Scufflin' in St. Louis" (1999)

Beginning in the '80s, Keith Doder was a mainstay on our blues scene. A harmonica powerhouse who backed up Tommy Bankhead and Jimmy Rogers, he led his own group, the Blue City Band, with wit and a fulsome but haunting tone on the harp. Doder tells like it was (and still can be) on "Scufflin' in St. Louis," smiling at the lean times, groaning over the gigs even a veteran should know better than to take, all the "hustlin', scufflin', rippin' and runnin' in St. Louis." Doder, who passed away in July 2010, is much beloved in our blues community and beyond. -RK

85. Martha Bass - "Rescue Me" (1968)

It has been noted that to turn a religious song into a secular one, you need only to change the word "Jesus" into the word "baby." Turns out the reverse is true as well: Local gospel legend Martha Bass took her daughter Fontella's 1965 smash "Rescue Me" and turned it into a song of heavenly salvation. Maybe the matriarch was stealing a little of her daughter's fire, but if this rendition lacks the Aretha-esque power of the original, Martha takes a page from the Staple Singers and takes her listeners to church. -CS

84. David Olney - "Flood of '93" (1995)

Like the great flood of 1927 that inspired scores of blues chronicles, the disaster of 1993, which killed as many as 50 people and totaled upward of $15 billion in damages, lasted for months and led to some unforgettable songs (notably Son Volt's "Tear Stained Eye" and "Drown" and the Bottle Rockets' "Get Down River"). Dean of Nashville's folk 'n' blues scene, David Olney weighed in with the darkly comic, pre-war jazz and blues-inspired classic "Flood of '93" from his pointedly titled album High, Wide and Lonesome. "St. Louie's blue and getting bluer," he drawls, as his ramshackle band proves the point. "Don't anybody here know how to dance," though perhaps we just weren't feeling up to cutting a rug when the Mississippi was wiping out acre after acre. "I'll have my usual, here's to Stan Musial," Olney sings. "Here's to the Flood of '93." Make it a double. -RK

83. Illphonics (feat. Thelonius Kryptonite) - "Mound City March" (2013)

If you have only three minutes to sell someone on the merits of St. Louis, Illphonics' "Mound City March" is just what you need. The group's instrumentalists lay down a buoyant gospel-funk backing for MC Larry "Fallout" Morris and guest rapper Thelonius Kryptonite to celebrate their city over. They do this by giving a shout-out to its famous musicians, athletes, authors and architecture, all while deftly dropping details of St. Louis' history in their verses. The instrumental Dixieland horn chorus keeps the party going until Morris neatly sums up the tune's message in its closing lines: "Give us the praise. Drop on by, be amazed / The river city ablaze, proud and never ashamed." -BM

82. Mardra & Reggie Thomas - "All Blues" (1999)

Even the barest of jazz collections is required, by law, to contain a copy of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. It's an essential document of Davis and his sidemen in their improvisational prime, an album that has inspired immense praise and provided boundless inspiration. Jazz singer Oscar Brown Jr. took the vampy twelve-bar blues of Miles' original and wrote fitting lyrics to go with the timeless tune, and the St. Louis-born husband-and-wife duo Mardra and Reggie Thomas included a version of the updated track on their Fade to Blue album. Reggie's piano is both forceful and melodically nimble, while Mardra's nuanced vocals draw out the many shades of blue she sings about. -CS

81. Vess L. Ossman - "St Louis Tickle" (1906)

Take a trip back, way back, to the earliest days of popular music recording with Sylvester Louis Ossman, the musician known as "Plucks" or the "Banjo King," or simply "Vess." The New York native galvanized the sound of ragtime with successful recordings like "St. Louis Tickle." Whoever wrote it knew it was a sure thing by connecting it to the 1904 World's Fair and also knew just how playful and catchy music could be. If you've got a dancing bone, or just a funny bone, Ossman's gold-molded cylinder recording can still tickle it. The Banjo King wasn't a native St. Louisan, but he is buried in Valhalla Cemetery in the Bel-Nor neighborhood. -RK

80. Mathias & the Pirates - "#southcityliving" (2013)

Mathias James repped STL hip-hop as a member of the Earthworms, but his work as leader of Mathias & the Pirates has given him a platform to tell the stories of his hometown. On 2013's Life of the Buzzard, Mathias and his crew mixed sea-shanty melodies with classic boom-bap rhythms, but "#southcityliving" is appropriately square-shouldered in its appreciation of the south side. The song works as an insider's map to the city's various pockets -- hipsters on Morgan Ford, food stamps on Jefferson, gun shots on the state streets, iced-out grills near the Compton Heights water tower. Mathias and fellow vocalist Ms. Vizion don't shy away from the realities of city living, and in so doing they produce a loving, warts-and-all portrait of their town. -CS

79. Theodore - "Across the River" (2010)

For all the bachelor-party bro-downs that talk up plans of "going East Side" for revelry, there are as many tales of the wages of sin that come from over-indulgence across the Mississippi River. On Theodore's final, masterful full-length Hold You Like a Lover, the boundary-pushing folk quartet sings of a life lived on the margins on "Across the River." With his typical bone-deep observations of the human condition, singer and guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster catalogs a litany of misdeeds; it's a place where everyone lusts, where everyone drinks and cuts lines, where "everyone is gambling shitty paychecks on a dream." It all takes place across some nameless river, but St. Louisans don't need a map to know the places where vice can briefly seem like a virtue. The song builds to a peak of peeling slide guitar, plaintive banjo plucks and rancorous Salvation Army horns, sounding as much like an exorcism as an exhortation. -CS

78. Out of Order - "St. Louis (Anthem)" (2001)

If St. Louis was ever going to have an answer to the bizarro, spitfire verses of Outkast, it was the short-lived quartet called Out of Order. Over a clacky drumbeat and chopped-and-screwed samples of baby talk, the group unleashes verse after profane verse in praise of STL, each bookended by a drawling hook about our "loony town." In the wake of the St. Louis Rams' 2000 Super Bowl victory, the Lou was poised for all kinds of national dominance on and off the field, and "St. Louis (Anthem)" is a remnant of that millennial pride. Crew member Shamar "Sham" Daugherty would go on to national acclaim as one half of the production duo the Trak Starz, but his work on this cut is a worthy picture of his time in front of the mic. -CS

77. Mama's Pride - "Ole St. Lou" (1975)

In the '70s, no local band was more hotly tipped to make it big than Mama's Pride. The band played Southern rock with stacked guitar leads and a boogie-woogie nonchalance that was both danceable and musically sophisticated. But even as success loomed, the band didn't forget its roots. "Ole St. Lou" begins as a homesick song from a bunch of bleary-eyed road warriors; it quickly becomes a rhythm and blues workout in tribute to the band's hometown and its musical heritage. Pat Liston sings of "listening to Oliver Sain and the things that he do" as his bandmates rip through Allman Brothers-inspired riffs. The song's subject matter and Southern-rock pedigree has long made the track a verified KSHE Klassic. -CS

76. Russell Gunn - "East St. Louis" (2003)

Grammy-nominated trumpeter Russell Gunn's high-energy "East St. Louis," included on his 2003 release, Ethnomusicology Vol. 3, blends Latin electronic grooves with knotty jazz harmonies, winding melodies and a sprinkling of turntable scratching to link East St. Louis' long-standing jazz tradition to Gunn's contemporary hip-hop sensibilities. The track's pulsing beat and fiery improvisations even landed it a spot on the soundtrack of the 2007 video game Project Gotham Racing 4, just one in a slew of accomplishments for the multi-instrumentalist and composer who has shared the stage with jazz luminaries including Jimmy Heath, James Moody and Wynton Marsalis, as well as pop stars Maxwell and Alicia Keys. -Nick Horn

75. Wendell B. - "STL Thang" (2003)

Smoothed-out grooves are matched with island cadences and hip-hop verses on Wendell Brown's tribute to his hometown, the grown-and-sexy jam "STL Thang." With his deep delivery reminiscent of soul men like Luther and Teddy, Wendell takes it slow in doling out the Midwest flavor. Nelly, Chingy and J-Kwon are all given a shout-out -- in 2003, you could be convinced that St. Louis' hip-hop scene would remain ascendant. Wendell B. prefers to keep his jams slow and smooth, and with his 1,000-thread-count voice, "STL Thang" sounds like both a city ode and a lover's call. -CS

74. Hi Henry Brown and Charley Jordan - "Nut Factory Blues" (1932)

The blues are many things -- the original protest music, for starters. The people of St. Louis have always had just reasons to protest. In the 1930s, it was Hi Henry Brown's turn to explain: "Way down on Deep Morgan, just about 16th Street / Well, they tendin' their business where the women do meet / Down in the basement when they work so hard / Well, it's out on the corner, they husbands ain't got no job." In "Nut Factory Blues," Brown crafts a story that should not be forgotten, and which still speaks to this moment. Women were at the center of the struggle, and those who worked at the Funsten Nut Factory -- and other industries in the city -- were fighting to keep themselves and their families alive. As Brown tells it, the thanks they often received was to get busted in the jaw by the husbands they supported. Sometimes, they had no choice but to turn tricks. A year after Brown and Charley Jordan recorded this song, the women of the factory went on strike, shut the joint down and doubled their pay. That's the blues in action for you. -RK

73. Ernie Hays - "Here Comes the King" (1971)

How can a 40-year-old beer jingle become part of the St. Louis canon? It helps when the beer in question is the mighty Budweiser and when the song transcends television advertisements to become a central part of every St. Louis Cardinals home game. Jingle maestro Steve Karmen, who wrote a handful of spots for Anheuser-Busch, adapted his song "When You Say Budweiser, You've Said It All," and "Here Comes the King" takes its cue from the oom-pah-pah style of the brewery's Germanic heritage. But in the capable hands of long-time Cardinals organist Ernie Hays, the song signaled the seventh-inning stretch with panache -- Hays would drop a little razzle-dazzle riff at the opening and, time permitting, slow down the song's tempo to a lurch. You can keep "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" -- St. Louisans want something a little more beechwood aged than peanuts and Cracker Jack to insure a Cards victory. -CS

72. Ann Peebles - "St. Louis Woman (With a Memphis Melody)" (1992)

Though it's been far, far, so very far too long since Ann Peebles has been seen in St. Louis, she hasn't forgotten where she comes from. One of the great voices of soul music made her career in Memphis, Tennessee, with Willie Mitchell and the Hi Records label. You know the hits -- "I Can't Stand the Rain" and "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," for starters -- but you should also know her catalog in toto, especially the rugged and bluesy Full Time Love, recorded in 1992. The album's standout track calls out to her roots: "I was born in Missouri, that's where my journey began / Singing in Kinloch County with my family and friends." Those late-night jam sessions, and the music and culture of that historic African American community, is the key to Peebles' soul. -RK

71. Benny Sharp and His Orchestra - "St. Louis Sunset Twist" (1961)

East St. Louis' Benny Sharp is well remembered for "Do the 45," a scorching answer song to Junior Walker & the All Stars' "Shotgun," and one of the great R&B dance numbers to come out of the Metro region in the '60s. Sharp performed under a variety of monikers (the Sharpees, Sharpies, the Zorros of Rhythm), and worked with a host of musicians including Vernon Guy, Horse O'Toole, Herbert Reeves and singer Stacey Johnson. For the instrumental workout "St. Louis Sunset Twist," he enlisted his Orchestra and positively let it rip. -RK

70. Ryan Spearman - "Willie McGee" (2011)

Like the best folk singers, local performer Ryan Spearman takes an old song and makes it new again. Using the tune of the folk standard "Daisy Dean," Spearman spins a tale of one of the finest, most beloved players to wear the Cardinal colors: No. 51, center fielder Willie McGee. He doesn't forget other members of that great 1982 squad -- Ozzie, Whitey, Hernandez all get namechecked, but it's the humble, capable McGee that is celebrated like a folk hero. "His '82 Game 3 was such a sight to see," Spearman reminds the faithful, as if we could forget his two homers and game-saving catch in center field. This song, released in 2011, recalls the days of powder-blue uniforms and Whiteyball while hectoring the ball club to retire McGee's number. Spearman got his wish this past August as Willie Dean McGee rightfully joined the ranks of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. -CS

69. Museum Mutters - "Gabriel w/ Gabriel" (2011)

"Gabriel w/ Gabriel" is a ballad bathed in booze, describing an experience familiar to the nocturnal set: being saved from the overwhelming loneliness of a Sunday-night ride home after last call by a familiar voice coming from the left of the dial. James Weber (of the band Museum Mutters) wrote this sincere song of thanks and praise to Gabriel -- legendary DJ, entrepreneur, recording artist and host of Gabriel's Tin Pan Alley on KDHX (88.1 FM) -- who captures the hearts of the lost souls of the city with an eclectic mix of blues, gospel, oldies, bizarre banter and occasional requests for a listener to bring him a sandwich. In this song, as in St. Louis every late Sunday, it's Gabriel, guardian angel of community radio, that guides the weary drunkards safely home. -Jenn DeRose

68. G.A.G.E. - "I Am Mike Brown" (2014)

The killing of Michael Brown and the aftermath have been devastating, transformative: To his family, friends, community, the greater region, the nation, it's not too much to say the world. "Ferguson is everywhere," says the graffiti. No one will ever think of St. Louis the same way; no one will sing this city as it was before August 9, 2014. The hip-hop community has responded -- in action, in words, in music. Tef Poe delivered "War Cry" and Mvstermind created "#OPFERGUSON WAVE 1 & 2 (Westfall)," and national stars the Game and J. Cole have all produced powerful work. One of the earliest expressions of grief and defiance, by a young Philly rapper, speaks to the moment in the summer of 2014 when the pain was searing. Chaz "G.A.G.E." Scott's elegy captures the universality of the tragedy. "I can't imagine Dorian's face when he saw Mike fall," he calls out, before splicing in a recording of Dorian Johnson recounting just what he saw. "We're from a similar town, walking similar streets," G.A.G.E declares. "We got similar police, so how I know I ain't gonna end up under a similar sheet?" The question still has no answer. -RK

67. Jon Hardy & the Public - "Restless City" (2014)

You'll hear fewer portraits of St. Louis that show the promise and splendor of our city so closely enmeshed with its cancerous violence and decay. Jon Hardy couldn't have known that his band's 2014 LP Restless City would be released just weeks after Mike Brown's death and the unrest that ensued, but the album's title track eerily pinpointed much of the tension that marked the last half of 2014. In the song, summertime drinks and dalliances on Cherokee Street are pierced by gunfire, and Hardy's protagonist comforts a mother whose son has been shot down. "I know this town gets heavy / Sometimes it hits so hard," Hardy sings with passion against the dense rumble of the Public's instrumentation, but he keeps the faith of a true believer who is convinced that the best of this city is still what defines it. -CS

66. The Art Ensemble of Chicago - "From St. Louis" (1970)

These titans of postmodern jazz aren't known for looking backward, but on the 1973 album Go Home (recorded in 1970 in Paris) the band, featuring St. Louis native Lester Bowie on trumpet, turned in one of its most lovely and loving slices of River City jazz. The brief "From St. Louis" is a snapshot of the band's roots and enduring (and often under-noted) affection for melody and dance-ready rhythms. The tune may seem quaint, even nostalgic when played next to visionary skronk-outs like "Theme De YoYo," but St. Louis swing is never as simple as it seems. -RK

65. One Fell Swoop - "Seven Solid Days/Film at Eleven" (1997)

By the end of 1993, things were looking grim in St. Louis. Violent crime was at an all-time high. The city had recorded 267 murders that year, and 1994 was shaping up to be more of the same. Then, a minor miracle happened: In late November, seven days went by and not a single murder was committed. The folk group One Fell Swoop celebrated this event in song, with songwriter John Wendland and singer Cheryl Stryker marveling over our good fortune and wondering over the cause for such relative peace on the streets (perhaps something good was on TV, they posit). Cynical? A touch sarcastic? Sure, but at least the song offers a way to look at our city's crime stats without breaking into tears. -CS

64. Funky Butt Brass Band - "South Broadway Stumble" (2011)

St. Louis' Funky Butt Brass Band lives up to its name with "South Broadway Stumble," the fourth track on the sextet's 2001 album, You Can Trust the Funky Butt Brass Band. Opening with a bass line from sousaphonist Matt Brinkmann, the track mixes punchy, free-funk-styled improvisations with a laid-back New Orleans-flavored rhythm from drummer Ron Sikes and wah-drenched growls from trumpeter Adam Hucke, creating a musical sketch of a drunken trek home through south city long after last call has come and gone. -NH

63. Rum Drum Ramblers - "South Saint Louis Boogie" (2010)

With an opening line of "I refuse to be broken, standin' in my own neighborhood," listeners might suspect that this song will be a statement on urban violence, but the sentiment quickly morphs into a celebration of south city, where the music scene carries a deep sense of community and good times (through hard work) are the goal. "South Saint Louis Boogie" is accessible pre-war blues merged with danceable funk that invites spectators to revel in staunch civic pride and to "throw your arms around each other and pass one another a beer." See you on a state street. -Jaime Lees

62. Darrell Glenn - "Born, St. Louis" (1966)

As cautionary tales go, Darrell Glenn's stab at rock & soul stardom is highly danceable and only nominally preachy. As the story goes, a young, hormonally charged St. Louis couple finds a slick set of Detroit wheels and a fifth of Kentucky bourbon and...well, you can guess the rest. Glenn first came to fame through his 1953 single "Crying in the Chapel," which was later covered by Elvis Presley and the Orioles, but 1966's "Born, St. Louis," traded in his tailored country croon for something a little more raw. The track's thundering drums and rangy guitar lead play against trumpet blasts, and Glenn's own full-hearted delivery gives a rollicking sendoff to these young, dumb lovers. -CS

61. Ebony Eyez - "Stand Up" (2005)

Ebony Williams is one of our city's most important rap artists, and not just because she broke the region's glass ceiling with her major-label debut 7 Day Cycle in 2005. Though she has yet to fully capitalize on that success, her verbal skills are undeniable, her work with Trak Starz and J-Kwon is the definition of confidence, and her sound and style is pure St. Louis. And there's no doubt where she stands on the track "Stand Up," which is more than just a club-smart vagina monologue. "Can't spell hustler without that S-T-L," she snarls. "Anytime that I failed, came back and prevailed." Against the Trak Starz's breathless beats she stares down a male-dominated scene and sounds like a champion: "Never hesitate, know I'm from the Show-Me State!" -RK

60. Blind Willie McTell - "East St. Louis Blues (Fare You Well)" (1933)

St. Louis has a reputation as a boomerang town; those who leave tend to come back. This was the case even in the 1930s, when Blind Willie McTell recorded "East St. Louis Blues (Fare You Well)." W. C. Handy recalled the germ of the song as the first blues he ever encountered -- in 1892 in St. Louis, in fact. Forty years later, in William Samuel McTier's hands, it becomes a classic walkin' song -- the singer leaves on foot after pawning his sword and chain -- interpret as you please -- to lay his head in the lap of a New York City hussy. He shortly returns the way he came, on foot, with the same "one thin dime" in his pocket as when he left; in other words, he is exactly where he started, and there ain't nothin' wrong with that. -JD

59. Charles Bobo Shaw & Human Arts Ensemble - "Streets of St. Louis" (1972)

While we could easily have included any number of influential and stunning avant-garde recordings from the Black Artists Group scene -- it was difficult to cut Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." from this list -- we couldn't ignore this awesomely expressive, fourteen-minute excursion into the outer limits of jazz. The lineup is a who's who of the BAG movement: Brothers Lester and Joseph Bowie, Julius Hemphill, Hamiet Bluiett, Abdul Wadud and Dominique Gaumont. Led by composer, drummer and percussionist Charles Bobo Shaw, the group takes listeners on a visionary journey. The sound is subversive, free, mournful, violent, unified and transcendent -- just like the streets of this city. -RK

58. Finn's Motel - "Eero Saarinen" (2006)

Call St. Louis backward or provincial or old-fashioned -- we won't necessarily disagree with you. But take a look toward the riverfront sometime and consider, for a moment, that giant catenary curve that frames our city like a 630-foot, art-deco croquet wicket. With a rumble that's equal parts Cheap Trick and Archers of Loaf, Finn's Motel pays tribute to the Gateway Arch's architect Eero Saarinen and his futuristic vision of westward expansion. Joe Thebeau, long-time leader of various smart and nervy rock bands, doesn't need much more than the song's 90 seconds to sing his praises to our city's trademark, but that doesn't stop him from getting a subtle dig in at the song's end. He sings of "a future we couldn't hope to live up to," recognizing either the vast brilliance of Saarinen's design or that the Arch's 1968 inauguration happened to coincide with the city's continued depopulation. -CS

57. Tef Poe - "Coming Outta Missouri" (2012)

The recent civil unrest in St. Louis has brought many issues into the forefront of national consciousness -- systemized racism, police brutality and how marginalized citizens react to these struggles have all become commonplace debates -- but these issues have always been in Tef Poe's lyrical spotlight. In "Coming Outta Missouri" the local rapper (birth name Kareem Jackson) reps his city as he takes aim at those who would shut him up. Predictably, Jackson has become a figurehead for the Ferguson cause, recently addressing the United Nations with the family of Michael Brown. Tef stands true to his demands here: "I'm coming outta Missouri. Let me tell my story." -JL

56. Bennie Smith - "Penrose After Hours" (1993)

When we lost Bennie Smith in 2006, we lost a lot. Smith was there at the birth of St. Louis rock & roll and R&B, playing with the Roosevelt Marks Orchestra and leading a band at the legendary Dot Club that included one Charles Edward Anderson Berry. For decades he'd just strap on his guitar and slay, so subtly and dexterously, just about any time he was asked. His late-career residency at the Venice Café picked up where his partner in blues James Crutchfield left off. (If there are two St. Louis musicians deserving of University City Walk of Fame stars who haven't yet received them, it's Crutchfield and Smith.) His classic instrumental "Penrose After Hours," named for the north-city street and neighborhood where he lived, is archetypal Smith: expressive, fleet and oh-so-cool. -RK

55. Isaac Green & the Skalars - "High School" (1996)

There's no more St. Louis question than "Where'd ya go to high school?" It's the locals' preferred method of tag-and-release. But when the talented ska-soul combo Isaac Green & the Skalars released the single "High School" on the dynamite Skoolin' with the Skalars LP, the band wasn't trying to determine your socio-economic background. The song deals with the pangs of saying goodbye just when you've gotten comfortable, the insecurity that comes with life's stops and starts. Isaac Green got top billing in the band but was little more than the band's hype man; it's singer and alto saxophonist Jessica Butler's soulful and vulnerable vocals that give the song its bittersweet sway. Backed by a crack horn section, bluebeat guitar strokes and the reedy chords of an old Farfisa organ, "High School" sounds oddly ageless for a coming-of-age song. Butler comes by her talent honestly; her father is long-time local fixture Ralph Butler. -CS

54. Jimmie Rodgers - "Frankie and Johnny" (1929)

In simplest terms, "Frankie and Johnny" is a murder ballad based on the true story of a St. Louis woman named Frankie Baker and her boyfriend Allen Britt. On October 13, 1899, Baker stabbed (some reports claimed shot) Britt (the name later morphed into the homophone Albert and/or was changed to Johnny out of deference to Britt's family) after a quarrel over another woman on the iniquitous Targee Street in St. Louis, where now stands the Scottrade Center. The victim later died from his wounds at the infamous City Hospital. The tune has endless variations, but one of the finest versions is sung by Jimmie Rodgers, who makes the tragic tale even more devastating with mournful yodeling and guitar pluckin' that makes his later influence over Hank Williams Sr. -- and therefore all of country music -- obvious. In his interpretation, Rodgers sympathizes with Frankie, laments the bad behavior of men and bemoans the resulting doomed nature of relationships: "This story has no moral, this story has no end / This story just goes to show, that there ain't no good in men." -JD

53. Henry Spaulding - "Biddle Street Blues" (1929)

Whether or not Henry Spaulding truly hailed from Future City at the bottommost tip of Illinois, his music charted a path forward for pre-war blues. Spaulding apparently only recorded two songs in his career: the seminal "Cairo Blues" and the intricately-snapping, rhythmically shifting and plaintively sung "Biddle Street Blues," named for a street -- "only 26 blocks long" -- in the Deep Morgan area of St. Louis. Details of Spaulding's life are few and obscure: He was a barber in the city and performed with Henry Townsend and JD Short, among others. But where he went and how long he lived after making his mark on St. Louis is still unknown. -RK

52. Nadine - "Dark Light" (1997)

Formed out of the vestiges of Sourpatch, a Washington University college-buddy band, Nadine released its first EP in 1997, featuring the voice and songs of Adam Reichmann, backed up by the core of Steve Rauner and Todd Schnitzer, as well as Bill Reyland on drums. "Dark Light" is one of the record's strongest tracks, a slice of St. Louis city life in the '90s: "Colored hair, kids and deadbeats / The girl from the county, convinced that she's been reborn / And on cue a Buick of young men lay on the horn." Lest you think Reichmann is going to paint too pretty a picture, Rauner's grungy guitar throbs over the mandola and a childproof lighter gets ready to hit the spoon. -RK

51. Roosevelt Sykes - "Highway 61 Blues" (1932)

"I'm leaving St. Louis, I'm going out Grand Avenue." And that's where the singer's troubles begin. Eventually the legendary blues highway, the inspiration to umpteen songs and one seminal album by Bob Dylan, leads him to Memphis. Still, it all begins in St. Louis for Roosevelt Sykes -- a.k.a. Willie Kelly, Dobby Bragg, Easy Papa Johnson -- one of the most recorded and influential of our city's blues musicians. Historian Kevin Belford claims "Highway 61 Blues" is about a visit to Sykes' girlfriend's house; apparently the romance wasn't going so hot. "Breaks my heart to think about Highway 61," the Honeydripper sings, letting his fingers fly over the keys like he can't get off the road soon enough. Sykes, a prodigious traveler, returned to St. Louis in 1981 to give his final concert and christen the newly opened BB's Jazz Blues and Soups, not far from the vanished clubs where he held forth for so long. -RK

50. The Urge - "Going to the Liquor Store" (1992)

We'd be remiss to talk about the songs of St. Louis without mentioning one of its most beloved bands. The ska-and-funk-influenced alternative rockers have been polishing off brass-studded songs intermittently since the late '80s to widespread acclaim. This particular track gets rapping, singing and screaming frontman Steve Ewing pogoing onstage to a sweaty horde of devoted, lip-syncing fans like none other. Bonus: See if you can find the reference to it on the menu at Ewing's joint Steve's Hot Dogs. (Hint: It involves a pickle.) A series of reunion shows over the years makes the group's message all the more clear: The party's not over yet -- not now, not ever. -Mabel Suen

49. Thomas Turpin - "St. Louis Rag" (1903)

You know the name Scott Joplin, and you can probably hum along to "The Entertainer." But make some room in your ragtime heart for Thomas Turpin, the author of "Harlem Rag," the first such tune published by an African American. (That would be 1897 for those keeping score.) Turpin played piano in Babe Connor's Castle, a legendarily sinful "entertainment house" on Sixth Street, and ran his own joints (notably the Rosebud at 2220 Market Street) where some of the major black pianists of the day would gather. Turpin was not prolific, but his "St. Louis Rag," written (like so many other tunes of the time) to capitalize on the Lewis and Clark Expo, captures the bawdy and auspicious spirit of a new age. It still sounds like anything goes. -RK

48. The O'Neal Twins - "Jesus Dropped the Charges" (1981)

In the history of gospel in our town, few names cast a bigger shadow than Edgar and Edward O'Neal. As men of great girth and even greater vocal force, the twin brothers began their recording career in the 1960s, cutting several singles for Peacock (1966's "I'll Trade a Lifetime" gave them their first real exposure), and in the '70s the O'Neals worked with Leon Russell and his Shelter Records. But it's the powerhouse track "Jesus Dropped the Charges," a nonstop stunner of confessed guilt and professed salvation that shows the O'Neals at the peak of their power. Edgar mans the piano while Edward leads the choir -- and eventually the congregation -- to the mountaintop where they are emphatically "saved by grace!" Whether or not you've found religion, you can't deny the spirit that inhabits this performance, especially as heard on the live-in-St. Louis Saved By His Love LP and on the gospel documentary Say Amen, Somebody. -CS

47. Bits N Pieces - "The City Is Us" (2000)

The story of Bits N Pieces shouldn't have ended with Katt Davis' untimely death, but songs like "The City Is Us" ensured the hip-hop duo's legend would outlast its lifespan. Over a mid-tempo DJ Crucial beat built around a minor-key piano loop, brothers Katt and Jia Davis chronicle the various people they encounter every day in the city. Katt's standout verse uses his daily commute to connect his miniature character studies. He relates to some people in painful ways: "Some bum he asked me for change, which had me laughing in vain, 'cause I'm just as broke as him without the smell and clothes." Bits N Pieces are talking about St. Louis, but they emphasize that all cities are composed of people who internalize this life and carry it with them wherever they go. -BM

46. Bunnygrunt - "S. Kingshighway Bubblegum Factory" (2009)

The south side of Kingshighway is not the most romantic stretch of street in town - in fact, dotted with fast-food restaurants and big-box retailers, it might be one of the ugliest stretches of road around. Turning the concrete and asphalt wasteland into the tasty treat of "S. Kingshighway Bubblegum Factory" is a feat only Bunnygrunt, expert practitioners of bubblegum punk, could manage. The grand total of three lines of lyrics make this official mating call of the south side easy to sing along to: "Knew that I could love you when you drove me down the street just the other day / knew that I could love you when you took me to the place that the lovers play / South Kingshighway Bubblegum Factory!" -JD

45. Chris Johnson - "Down in Lemay" (2005)

With nothing more than plaintive guitar plucks and a harmonica that's as soulful as it is mournful, Chris Piedmont Johnson take a tour from the edges of south St. Louis, where the dregs of south sity merge with the dregs of south St. Louis County. Zeke's Bar on Meramec gets memorialized (you may know it better as the Time Out Sports Bar & Grill), and the sad, dirty River Des Peres' metaphorical weight will be obvious to anyone who has caught a whiff of its foulness. But Johnson holds no bitterness for his roots as he lingers over faded yearbook photos and fading memories. "Life's fragile," he sings, "and I'm almost certain that it was designed that way." Sitting on the shores of the River Des Peres, it's hard to feel any other way. -CS

44. Clark Terry - "Swahili" (1955)

Renowned trumpet player Clark Terry's more than 70-year-long musical career began in the jazz clubs of early '40s St. Louis, but it wasn't until Terry released his self-titled debut as a bandleader in 1955 (also released alternatively as Introducing Clark Terry and Swahili) that Terry was recognized nationally as a figure at the forefront of jazz trumpet. The album's opener, "Swahili," demonstrates Terry's distinctive combination of the "clear, singing tone" (as jazz historian Dennis Owsley puts it) associated with St. Louis' early jazz trumpet players like R.Q. Dickerson and Charlie Creath, and the literate, sophisticated musical language of bebop. -NH

43. Otis Spann - "Down on Sarah Street" (1966)

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Otis Spann made his name in Chicago, though, as this song makes plain, he had a soft spot for this river city. Recorded live in the studio with an audience invited in just to urge him on, Spann borrows some players from Muddy Waters' band -- including Sammy Lawhorn, Luther Johnson, Mac Arnold, George "Harmonica" Smith and Francis Clay -- and checks in on "a great old friend of mine" down on Sarah Street. Spann lets Smith and Clay do the driving, but his piano fills are the sound of a man who wants to lose the blues and hold on to them all at once. -RK

42. Skip Battin - "St. Louis Browns" (1972)

The St. Louis Cardinals are so tied to our city that it's easy to forget St. Louis once had a second baseball team. Skip Battin remembers. In 1972, toward the end of his tenure with the Byrds, the journeyman country-rock bassist cut a novelty tune about what essentially was a novelty team. Over down-home piano, funky drumming and ever-present twangy lead guitar, Battin recounts the history of the franchise that "lost more than the Mets could ever dream." Battin gets some of the details wrong -- stunt batter Eddie Gaedel stood all of three feet and seven inches, not "about four foot eleven" -- but he captures the spirit of the hapless team that had just enough going for it to be rebranded as the successful Baltimore Orioles in 1954. -BM

41. All Stars - "All City" (2005)

Standing in stark contrast to the lighthearted party rap of St. Louis' most recognizable hip-hop exports like Chingy, Nelly and Sylk Smoov, All Stars' hard-hitting, socially conscious track "All City" -- which opens the 2005 album of the same name -- showcases St. Louis' darker side, opening with the line "Welcome to All City, where it's not at all pretty." The track's abrasive drum sounds and gloomy synth-strings set the stage for Trust, Top Dolla, Nimmy Russell and Vic Damone to ruminate on "Missouri's misery," resulting in a picture of St. Louis decidedly different than the urban glorification of Nelly's "St. Louie." -NH

40. Bob Kuban and the In-Men - "The Cheater" (1966)

Local singles don't get much bigger than this slice of horn-fueled blue-eyed soul. Bob Kuban led his In-Men from behind his drum kit, and this song of romantic philandering and karmic comeuppance would rise to No. 12 on the pop charts. Years later the song would earn Kuban a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...in the one-hit wonder exhibit. The In-Men had a few more moderately successful singles before splintering into different groups, though Kuban still leads his eponymous band to this day. Kuban's marquee song would remain on local oldies stations for decades to come, though the epitaph to "The Cheater" is equal parts tragedy and irony: Singer Walter Scott was found murdered in 1983 at the hands of James Williams, his wife's lover; for her part, Scott's wife JoAnn was found guilty of hindering the prosecution, giving a harrowing ring of truth to her former husband's big hit. -CS

39. MU330 - "Hoosier Love" (1994)

Dissertations have been written on the many definitions and ramifications of the term "hoosier," but, as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, St. Louisans know hoosier-dom when we see it. Thankfully, third-wave ska band MU330 boiled down some of the key components -- El Caminos, Mötley Crüe tapes, Busch Light in cans and all the low-rent joys that south-side living affords. The kinetic, pogo-worthy song was the leadoff to the band's 1994 debut Press and has remained MU330's signature song even twenty years later. Founding members of the band -- Dan Potthast, Ted Moll, Rob Bell and Chris Diebold -- still rep their hoosier roots at the band's occasional shows, and there's a good chance that ska kids coast to coast only know St. Louis through this little portrait; we're not in any hurry to correct their perceptions. -CS

38. Count Basie and His Orchestra - "St. Louis Boogie" (1947)

This list (and the weight of history) has canonized W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues," but the blues were hardly the only music to be molded and shaped by our town. Count Basie's instrumental "St. Louis Boogie" is emblematic of other boogie-woogie tunes of its day -- dig his hopping left hand and Emmett Berry's trumpet blasts -- but the song's swing shows some sophistication befitting its namesake town. Listen to the way Basie and the band take it down from a whomp to a whisper in its final movement; you can practically hear him caressing those piano keys as they tinkle out the final filigreed moments of the song. -CS

37. Albert King - "Lovejoy, ILL." (1971)

Like other legends of the St. Louis blues, Albert King was not born here. But his name is synonymous, or at least should be, with the town where he established his career. The Mississippi native scored his first hits with St. Louis' Bobbin label in the '50s. Though he made some masterpieces in Memphis for Stax, including the essential collection Born Under a Bad Sign, on his 1971 album Lovejoy he paid tribute to his home on the east side of the river, the town of Brooklyn, Illinois, known to residents as Lovejoy (after the abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy), where King perfected his southpaw style and his massively influential tone. -RK

36. Timothy Cooper - "East St. Louis Rock" (1959)

A half-century before Boxing Clever and FarFetched started promoting St. Louis-area artists with their compilations, father and son Fred and Bill Stevens established Stevens Records in East St. Louis in the hope of shining a national light on local blues and R&B talent. East-side bluesman Timothy Cooper recorded several songs for Stevens in 1959 backed by Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm (Turner was credited under the pseudonym "Icky Renrut" due to an ongoing contract with Sun Records), including the rollicking twelve-bar blues "East St. Louis Rock." The good-time party tune with a catchy chorus even name drops the Mambo Key Club, one of the city's most popular joints at the time. -NH

35. Charlie Creath's Jazz-O-Maniacs - "Market Street Stomp" (1925)

By the mid-1920s New York and Chicago had already superseded New Orleans as the hubs of the dynamic, improvisational style known as "jazz," but "Market Street Stomp" -- written by trumpeter Charlie Creath and East St. Louis clarinetist Horace Eubank and recorded during a late-1925 recording session for the Okeh label -- served to remind the nation that St. Louis possessed a vibrant, productive jazz scene of its own. Named for the bustling downtown street where Creath's office was located (in addition to being a successful bandleader and one of the city's best trumpet players, Creath is remembered as the first African-American booking agent in the town), the song's effervescent swing and frenetic collective improvisation are an aural insight into urban life in the early 20th century. -NH

34. Murphy Lee - "St. Louis Niggaz" (2009)

Along with modern-day superstar and long-time accomplice Nelly, Murphy Lee formed St. Lunatics in '93. The crew spawned a regional hit that put St. Louis on the map with their song "Gimme What U Got," but it's gems like "St. Louis Niggaz" from Lee's career as a solo rapper that spell out St. Louis pride in bold letters. The track appears on Lee's 2009 album, You See Me, and comes complete with a music video outlining the best lyrics and lines -- a veritable smorgasbord featuring the Lou's culinary rap sheet, all set to a deceptively catchy rhythm. The video touches on Lee's favorite neighborhoods, sports teams, storefronts and snacks to give listeners a firsthand taste of the city -- St. Paul sandwich, anyone? -MS

33. Eddie Fisher & the Next One Hundred Years - "East St. Louis Blues" (1971)

Recorded and engineered at St. Louis' own Archway Studios by Oliver Sain, guitarist Eddie Fisher's 1970 release Eddie Fisher & the Next Hundred Years was the second of two classic albums for the Cadet label which launched an enduring solo career for the St. Louis-based guitarist, previously a little-known sideman for Albert King and Solomon Burke. The album's closer, "East St. Louis Blues," is a sweaty, swampy funk number that captures the feel of a muggy late-summer afternoon on the East Side, thanks to Fisher's sticky, psychedelia-tinged improvisations and the laid-back, thumping grooves of his rhythm section. -NH

32. The Rolling Stones - "Route 66" (1964)

The very first song on the very first Rolling Stones album was a cover of "Route 66." Bobby Troup wrote "Route 66" in the late '40s, and subsequent covers have made it a pop standard -- meaning that bands all across the world have namechecked "St. Louie" for the past 60-odd years. According to historian Kevin Belford, Troup wrote the song based on a 1946 roadtrip to see Louis Armstrong at the St. Louis Club Plantation, now known as the Palladium, a historic and endangered cultural landmark near the corner of Grand and Delmar boulevards. The journey led him through the heart of St. Louis. The Stones likely recorded the cover because Chuck Berry had played it, too. Berry was a hero of the Stones, and his tune "Carol" was also featured on the band's first album. The song helped to popularize our city as a must-see destination for all of those taking a trip on "the Mother Road." -JL

31. The Natural Bridge Bunch - "Pig Snoots Pt. 1" (1968)

The Natural Bridge Bunch was a short-lived collaboration between St. Louis music kingpin Oliver Sain and the Southern-fried blues and funk singer Andre Williams. Their sole single was this well-marbled slab of greasy funk, which is introduced by the Bunch's proclamation that "cued pork sho' is good pork." The song doesn't get much deeper than that claim, though Williams expounds on the joys of barbecued snout. (His love of swine was well-known; one of his biggest singles was 1957's "Bacon Fat.") Pig Snoots may be little more than a broad-stroke novelty record, but its percolating organ chords and fuzz-bombed guitar lead set an in-the-pocket groove with a touch of modern rock. If you're a crate digger, hold out for the Norman Records version, which clocks in at a minute longer than its ATCO pressing. Gotta get all the snoot you can for your dollar. -CS

30. Ice Cube - "My Summer Vacation" (1991)

From the incendiary Death Certificate LP, "My Summer Vacation" is a morality tale wrapped in Compton gang colors. Tired of police harassment and rival gangs, Ice Cube and his Lench Mob move their drug-dealing business to St. Louis. They fly into town, take over a local drug spot by way of a drive-by shooting, and set up shop. It all seems easy enough at first: The money rolls in, and there doesn't seem to be much competition. Very quickly, however, everything goes awry. The local dealers retaliate, leaving Cube's friend dead. Cube himself ends up in jail facing a life sentence. It's a gripping track, and apparently based on a true story. -MA

29. The Blind Eyes - "Hold Down the Fort" (2011)

Brick thieves are a particularly odious scourge of the city's north Ssde, pilfering the literal building blocks of homes caught between disrepair and demolition. Sure, copper thieves are a bunch of bastards, too, but those red bricks are the central hue to the literal landscape of St. Louis (watch local filmmaker Bill Streeter's Brick By Chance or Fortune for proof). So the Blind Eyes' singer and guitarist Seth Porter isn't being metaphorical in the opening gambit to this standout from With a Bang, but he also looks at these wandering bricks as a symbol of a city that's been chipped away at piecemeal, both in its historic infrastructure and in dwindling population numbers. With an economical tightness reminiscent of the Jam or Ted Leo, the band motors through the verses before launching into a spirited coda that neatly sums up much of St. Louis' inferiority complex: "The cure to all your ills is heading for the hills," sings Porter. He's right, of course -- many native sons and daughters light out for the coast, but just as many stay and put their backs into the work of maintaining and rebuilding what we have. -CS

28. Jeanne Trevor and Ray Kennedy - "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" (2000)

The story of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is a thumbnail sketch of the Central West End's cultural legacy. The New York-born lyricist Fran Landesman moved to St. Louis with her husband Jay, and together they ran the Crystal Palace nightclub in Gaslight Square. Together, the Landesmans wrote a play called The Nervous Set, inspired in part by the fertile, beatnik-esque arts scene of their club. The musical went nowhere but this central ballad endured as a jazz standard, which reinterprets one-time CWE denizen T.S. Eliot's opening salvo from "The Waste Land." That poem's "April is the cruelest month" was recast as beatnik slang for the song's title, but along with pianist Tommy Wolf's languorous musical composition, the song transmits the ennui that comes with changing seasons and stagnant lives. Many of the big voices have taken a swing at this one -- Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand (herself a former Crystal Palace performer) -- but it's our own town's Jeanne Trevor who connects the song back to its roots. Her version comes from Ray Kennedy's The Sound of St. Louis album, in which the local pianist interprets the best songs of St. Louis -- most of which appear somewhere on this list. -CS

27. World Saxophone Quartet - "Hattie Wall" (1987)

East St. Louis, including the satellite town of Brooklyn, Illinois, was a crucible of American music. Gospel, blues and jazz flourished in the clubs, churches and social gatherings of the city, and musicians like Miles Davis, Ike Turner and Chuck Berry soaked it all in and gave back to it. So too did composer and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, one of the driving forces of the pioneering World Saxophone Quartet. The original lineup of the group featured Bluiett, David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake, and it's that quartet you hear on the theme song "Hattie Wall," a tribute to Bluiett's aunt, who ran the popular Harlem Club in Brooklyn. If you're seeking the roots of jazz-funk, search no more. -RK

26. Uncle Tupelo - "New Madrid" (1993)

Hard not to feel nostalgic about this track, harder still not to sing along. "Come on do what you did / Roll me under New Madrid," harmonize Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, because in 1993 they were still singing together, still drawing on each other for inspiration. "Shake my baby and please bring her back" -- back to Belleville, Illinois, the band's home. "New Madrid," like much of the band's place-minded catalog, neatly and unpretentiously captures what it means to still be from that town across the river: the opening banjo plucks, the daydreams that turn into disasters, the skepticism about the big city. In the song, the Mississippi burns and runs backward, as it was fabled to have done during the mighty New Madrid quake of 1811-'12. That fault line, some locals believe, runs straight beneath the Belleville fountain, where Tweedy wishes he could walk again with his girl. Three years before the song was written, climatologist Iben Browning had predicted the world as Jeff and Jay knew it would end courtesy of that notorious Midwestern fracture. In the context of Uncle Tupelo's story, the line "buries us all in its broken back" now sounds like a very different kind of presage. -RK

25. Judy Garland - "Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis" (1944)

Let's all sing it together, shall we? Few St. Louis songs are as revered as this one, and while you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who can recite the oddball verses, the chorus paints our town and its World Fair as the center of the known universe. Written by Tin Pan Alley composers Andrew B. Sterling and Kerry Mills in 1904, the song was reborn 40 years later in the MGM musical of the (nearly) same name, and Judy Garland's performance gave a whiff of turn-of-the-century optimism for post-war Americans. You can tell us the lights are shining any place but here, but we won't believe you. A good St. Louis song has a special glow. -RK

24. Sleepy Kitty - "Hold Yr Ground" (2014)

Paige Brubeck kicks off the final track to Sleepy Kitty's second album as an open letter: "To whoever stole the Dodge Caravan on June 11, 2010..." But rather than spew vitriol at thieves, she turns the song into a rumination on life in the city, both for the supposed teenager who ran off with her wheels and for herself. The song addresses the highs and lows of city living, recognizing that the crime and poverty that plagued the band's beloved Cherokee Street has given way to progress. But that progress only comes from keeping your feet planted. "Hold Yr Ground" celebrates those who haven't abandoned St. Louis' urban grit for more verdant pastures. -CS

23. Henry Townsend - "Cairo Is My Baby's Home" (1962)

Though born in Shelby, Mississippi, in 1909 and raised in Cairo, Illinois (150 miles south of St. Louis), Henry Townsend embodies a rural thread of the blues that's well worn in the mythology yet often lost in discussions of St. Louis music. Originally "Cairo Blues" belonged to the awesome (and under-recorded) Henry Spaulding. It later became a signature for Townsend, even kicking off his classic 1962 album for the Bluesville label. Backed on that recording by his St. Louis protégé Tommy Bankhead, Townsend navigates the challenging rhythms with deceptive nonchalance, even as he tells of the Cairo women who will treat you "kind and sweet" one minute and then slash you the next. -RK

22. Thee Dirty South - "Top of the Dirty South" (2007)

Bob Reuter didn't live long enough to see this list, and he would have bristled at the choice. But he bristled at everything, and there are so many of his fiery, poignant songs of St. Louis to choose from. Written during his transition from the Americana Kamikaze Cowboy to the punk-bluesy Alley Ghost, "Top of the Dirty South" howls with despair and pride. As guitarist Marc Chechik slashes, the lifelong St. Louisan snarls: "These red bricks were made to hold the heat/I got this fan in the window sucks it in off the streets...I got nothin'!" It was a lie -- he had this and a hundred more great songs -- but it cut like the truth. -RK

21. Grant Green - "The Holy Barbarian Blues" (1959)

An integrated beatnik hangout and jazz club in the DeBaliviere neighborhood in the late '50s didn't really stand a chance. The Holy Barbarian, located at 572 DeBaliviere Avenue, made history when it hosted an up-and-coming guitarist named Grant Green playing with organist Sam Lazar, drummer Chauncey Williams, and sax man Bob Graf. The club was newly opened, so maybe Green had something to prove; maybe he was just burned out on the strip-club gigs. This tune is Grant at his hard-bopping, single-note-speeding best. With sinew, precision and a million twanging notes, he blows the berets off the room. It was Christmas 1959, the club would close in the new year, and Green would head to New York for a stunning career with Blue Note Records. He never again recorded in St. Louis. He didn't have to. -RK

20. Jay Farrar - "Outside the Door" (2001)

Haunted and haunting. That's the music of Jay Farrar, and the ghosts of St. Louis music gather in this four-minute blues ceremony: Peetie Wheatstraw, Buck McFarland, Steady Roll Johnson and Jelly Jaw Short, the pre-war bluesmen of St. Louis. Their names aren't often remembered, but their force is unforgettable. Or at least Farrar won't let us forget. As Kelly Joe Phelps' slide guitar rings out like jazz, Farrar rings in a new century by recalling what's been razed and glossed over: Deep Morgan, Gaslight Square and Mill Creek Valley. This isn't just history to Farrar; it's his DNA. It's ours, too. -RK

19. Fontella Bass - "To Be Free" (1972)

From the opening acoustic-guitar figure and the majestic strings, to the first lines sung -- "I think I'll go down by the river, gonna sit down and try to rest my mind" -- you know that St. Louis' first lady of soul is making this one to last. "To Be Free," written by Bass and producer Oliver Sain, speaks to its time: a civil-rights anthem refracted through an intensely personal and intensely St. Louis prism. As a timeless freedom song, it speaks to the here and now. The cover of the 1972 album Free shows Bass, in full Afrocentric regalia, standing on a bridge in Forest Park, her arms outstretched. This is her bid for "A Change Is Gonna Come" greatness. -RK

18. John Hartford - "Long Hot Summer Days" (1976)

New York-born, St. Louis-raised and Washington University-educated, John Hartford's life story reads like a 20th-century update of Mark Twain's career. Like Twain, the singer and multi-instrumentalist was fascinated by regional customs, particularly the stories that came from working the river. Hartford was a steamboat pilot in the 1970s, and the work never really left him. "Long Hot Summer Days" (from the album Mark Twang) is a simple round about piloting barges on the Illinois River, but with its circular, swirling quality (especially when matched with Hartford's fiddle and octave-spanning vocals), the song becomes part meditation, part celebration. St. Louis Cardinal Matt Carpenter honors Hartford and his adopted home by using the Turnpike Troubadours' version as his walk-up music. -CS

17. Della Reese - "You Came a Long Way from St. Louis" (1964)

Your high-class ways and fancy airs don't fool Della Reese, pal. At least for this song, she's from Missouri too, and she can spot a climber and striver as good as any. Bob Russell knew what he was talking about when he wrote the lyrics; he attended Washington University (rooming with writer Sidney Sheldon for a time), and though the song has been covered by the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Marvin Gaye, it's Reese's cut that practically spits fire. The song closes out the singer's 1964 live album Della Reese at Basin Street East, and fittingly so: it's hard to imagine anything topping it, especially because Reese commands the band to take it again from the bridge after receiving a well-earned ovation. -CS

16. The Bottle Rockets - "Slo Toms" (1997)

It's now closed, but Slo-Tom's Lounge, at 6728 South Broadway, was a classic south-city dive, Busch sign, glass bricks, dollar-bill-stuck ceiling and all. It was both bigger and smaller than life, a joint where regulars would smoke the uninitiated into oblivion, and where a legend named Gary really would play "Sweet Home Alabama" on his Peavey guitar, just as Brian Henneman sings in this true-to-barstool-spinning-life tale. When it comes to telling the real stories of real St. Louisans, no rock & roll band ever has -- or ever will -- beat the Bottle Rockets. -RK

15. Lonnie Johnson - "St. Louis Cyclone Blues" (1927)

"I was sitting in my kitchen, looking out across the sky," begins the singer. "I thought the world was ending, I started in to cry." Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson never intended to be solely a blues musician; his talent and vision were boundless. His innovations on the guitar solo influenced scores of musicians after him, and he sang as expressively as he played. "St. Louis Cyclone Blues" is one of his most forceful recordings, tooting wind impressions and all. The twister of September 29, 1927, obliterated six square miles of St. Louis and left scores dead. Johnson witnessed the disaster and tells the story with astonishment -- and astonishing power. -RK

14. Ike & Tina Turner - "A Fool in Love" (1960)

"A Fool in Love" wasn't supposed to spotlight Anna Mae Bullock (who had already recorded with Ike Turner as "Little Ann"). When Ike's go-to singer didn't show, he gave the song to Ms. Bullock to demo. Demo? She flat-out demolished it, with a gritty, gospel frenzy beyond her twenty years. The song hit No. 2 on the R&B charts, No. 27 on pop, and became a concert highpoint for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue as well as for Tina's solo shows. "We never, ever do nothing nice and easy," she later famously warned from the stage. Fifty-four years on, "A Fool in Love" remains as ferocious and tight as music gets. It is the big bang of St. Louis soul. -RK

13. St. Lunatics - "Midwest Swing" (2001)

If Midwesterners have long endured the burn of being considered "flyover country" by the coastal elites, the St. Lunatics show 'em how we roll: with blue Cutlasses, starched jeans and enough ice to fill a deep freezer. Nelly's crew released Free City the year after Country Grammar went worldwide, and they continued to plant a flag for St. Louis. Nelly laughs off the idea of the Midwest as nothing but farmland, and the track's use of barnyard noises mocks the haters. You can practically hear Murphy Lee strain to over-pronounce his R's -- a cri de coeur for the Lou's own phonetic gifts that endures as a St. Louis hip-hop earmark. -CS

12. Miles Davis Quintet - "Walkin'" (1956)

East St. Louis' most famous son returned to his roots in July of 1956 to play at the Peacock Alley club in Gaslight Square. The sets were recorded and broadcast on KXLW (1320 AM) and hosted by Spider Burks, one of the city's first prominent black DJs. Oh, and Miles was joined by a relatively unknown tenor-sax player named John Coltrane, who along with Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers and Red Garland, would comprise the "First Great Quintet." The two-disc recording from those summer sets remains a valued bootleg and a portrait of the ever-evolving Miles (at his expressive best on "Walkin'"), just as he was working through one of his most celebrated periods. -CS

11. Pokey LaFarge - "Central Time" (2013)

We knew that Pokey LaFarge couldn't remain St. Louis' worst-kept secret, and when he released last year's self-titled album on Jack White's label, LaFarge introduced himself to an international audience with an ode to the heartland. For all of his genteel manners, LaFarge is downright defiant in his proclamation of the Midwest's superiority over cities on the coasts. "Central Time" is St. Louis time, our pace and our rhythms, the music of our pre-war heritage, the classic blues and jazz that inspire LaFarge. The song is backed on a vinyl 45 with an abbreviated history lesson called "St. Louis Crawl" in case you missed the A-side's message. -CS

10. Wilco - "Casino Queen" (1995)

In the wake of the 1993 flood, some members of the flock thought that the mighty rain was God's retribution for those sinful riverboat casinos. Jeff Tweedy gives some credence to that idea on this parodic take on the gambler's blues. As Brian Henneman's guitar nails a blues-charged, Stonesy riff and Max Johnston saws away on fiddle, the protagonist prowls the decks of the Casino Queen, that neon-and-flashbulb showboat perennially docked on the east bank of the Mississippi, and finds nothing but bad luck and sketchy romantic prospects. Wilco's fortunes would only improve, and this tribute to Tweedy's side of the river showed that the band could graft pop hooks onto the alt-country template that its predecessor band, Uncle Tupelo, forged. -CS

9. Scott Joplin - "The Entertainer" (1902)

Scott Joplin didn't invent ragtime, but his songs perfected and typified the form. He came to prominence during his time living in Sedalia with the success of 1899's "Maple Leaf Rag," but his move to St. Louis in 1901 led to more acclaim (and a profitable relationship with local music publisher John Stark). Joplin was living and performing in St. Louis when he wrote "The Entertainer," and few songs feel as elementally American as Joplin's composition. The song's syncopation and evolving melody would later morph into jazz, and strains of "The Entertainer" are still heard ringing out from ice-cream trucks and emanating from grade-school piano recitals to this day. -CS

8. Chingy - "Holidae In" (2003)

"Right Thurr" introduced Chingy as St. Louis' best shot at a post-Nelly superstar, but this slice of hotel hedonism endures. It doesn't hurt that the Trak Starz team drops some ridiculously punchy, jiggly beats, or that Chingy's label boss Ludacris drops a chorus and Snoop Dogg bookends the joint in his inimitable style. It is unclear if the actual Holiday Inn St. Louis-Airport (not far from his stated location at I-270 and Natural Bridge Road) truly offers valet service, but in Chingy's world, "Holidae In" is a state of mind reachable with enough VSOP and sticky-icky. -CS

7. The Skeletons - "St. Louis" (1992)

"Show me the way to St. Looouuisss, show me!" Talk about irresistible choruses. Like "St. Louis Blues," the song "St. Louis," originally by Aussie rockers the Easybeats (of "Friday on My Mind" fame) is an archetypal anthem of the river city, written by those who never called it home. Though the Easybeats' 1968 original is fantastic, and covers by British rockers Warhorse and Albert Lee have their charms, it's Springfield, Missouri band the Skeletons, flexing all its Midwestern rock & roll and R&B muscle, who best capture the spirit of a song that should be blasted out at stadiums all over this land. -RK

6. Duke Ellington and His Washingtonians - "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (1927)

Duke Ellington's first charting single paid tribute to that toddling town just across the Mississippi River, and its minor-key take on Dixieland jazz paints the titular city in shades of deep blue and percolating red. The rhythm, for Ellington, was like "the broken walk of a man who had worked all day in the sun and was leaving the field at sunset." Co-writer Bubber Miley left an indelible imprint on the song (and on trumpet technique) by employing a plunger-mute on his horn, giving the melody a rasping, slurring style. The tune was Duke's theme song for years; Steely Dan gave it an update on 1974's Pretzel Logic. -CS

5. Chuck Berry - "Back in the U.S.A." (1959)

What does Chuck Berry mean to America? Everything. What does America mean to Chuck Berry? Pretty much the same, but with an extra helping of money upfront and St. Louis right behind. For Berry, to be "Back in the U.S.A." meant to be back at his home "in ol' St. Lou," to have the freedom to be a rock & roller. It also meant a creative common ground with his partner, Johnnie Johnson, who deserves so much credit for the freewheeling sound of Berry's national anthem. "Uh huh, oh yeah!" go the backup singers, thump go the drums, and up-and-down and inside-out go the keys of Johnson, as driving as boogie-woogie, as virtuoso as bebop, as American and as St. Louis as all get-out. -RK

4. Lloyd Price - "Stagger Lee" (1959)

As tall tales go, St. Louis has no greater myth than the story of how "Stack" Lee Shelton murdered Billy Lyons on Christmas night, 1895. The song's purported title has as many variants ("Stagolee," "Stackerlee") as there are cover versions. Everyone from Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians to Mississippi John Hurt to Ike & Tina to the Clash have performed the song, but Lloyd Price's thrilling 1959 single topped both the R&B and pop charts, but not before an alternative version was censored by none other than Dick Clark. The media mogul should have saved his breath. The story of Stagger Lee -- that elusive, vengeful man -- has proved unstoppable. -CS

3. Nelly - "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)" (2000)

Nelly didn't just give St. Louis its first hip-hop superstar with the release of Country Grammar; he also gave our citizens a bona fide motto with its title track: "Sing it loud -- I'm from the Lou, and I'm proud." In the early 2000s, that phrase might as well have been suspended from the Arch. The song's nursery-rhyme chorus belies its streetwise swagger -- his street sweeper doesn't come from the department of sanitation. Reaching No. 7 on the charts, "Country Grammar" placed Nelly and St. Louis hip-hop on the national map. -CS

2. Oliver Sain - "St. Louis Breakdown" (1972)

Look and listen closely: Oliver Sain is everywhere, not just in this list, but in the music of St. Louis: past, present and future. Producer, songwriter, arranger, impresario, multi-instrumentalist -- he did it all, from hot R&B to free jazz, from conscious soul to dirty funk. "St. Louis Breakdown," stutter-strutting and greasy as a barbecue baster, is Sain's calling card. "I want everybody to get up and do the St. Louis Breakdown!" And he means everybody, shouting out to the babes in hot pants, the hippies in San Francisco, his funk brother Rufus Thomas in Memphis. Sain let the world know where it's at. -RK

1. Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong - "The St. Louis Blues" (1925)

Imagine a world without "The St. Louis Blues." And after you've emerged from your despair, remind yourself of just how amazing this song is. Savor every image, every note -- especially as performed by Bessie and Louis. Published by W.C. Handy in 1914, the song is the cornerstone of American music. Remove it, and the palace collapses. Handy claimed that he first heard the blues on the levees of St. Louis. This line from the song, "My man's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea," also traces back to this river town. When Bessie sings the tune, she slows down time and stretches her lines, while Louis improvises as if to lift her spirit. After all the versions, as numerous as the rocks in the sea, Bessie and Louis' 1925 recording reigns supreme: luminous, mournful and intoxicating as that evening sun going down -- in St. Louis and around the world. -RK


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