The Washington Post

Put another dime in the jukebox: More D.C. music


Only a fool would try to compile the definitive guide to Washington songs. And my momma didn’t raise no fools.

The 15-song set list I printed in my column last week — from Link Wray to Chuck Brown — barely scratched the surface of Washington music. But let’s keep scratching, shall we? Many readers sent in more suggestions. Remember that in my book it isn’t enough to say, “Well, Marvin Gaye was born in Washington” or “Dave Grohl is from NoVa.” I’m looking for songs by bands strongly associated with the Washington area, either because they were from here or did their major work here. In fact, many never enjoyed much success anywhere but here.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Lisa Tumulty Peklo suggested “Walking in Rhythm” by the Blackbyrds. “That is an uplifting song like no other,” she wrote. (Ruth Goins nominated a Blackbyrds song with an even more local angle: “Rock Creek Park.”)

Bandleader Donald Byrd taught at Howard. The white-gloved soul singers of the Unifics went to Howard, too. Let’s add their wonderfully judicial song “Court of Love.”

Brian Fallon of Olney wrote “How about George Harrison’s No. 1 hit ‘I’ve Got My Mind Set On You,’ lifted off a 1962 album by McKinley High alumnus James Ray?”

Hey, if it’s good enough for George, it’s good enough for me.

Washington has produced more than its share of killer guitar players. Let’s include a song by one of them: the often-imitated “Watch Your Step,” by Bobby Parker.

Speaking of guitarists, Peter Stifel wrote, “I would add Danny Gatton and the Fat Boys doing their signature tune, ‘Harlem Nocturne,’ and Roy Buchanan playing ‘The Messiah Will Come.’”

And speaking of the Messiah, we’ve got to have something from punk deity Ian MacKaye. How about “Straight Edge” by his early band Minor Threat and “Waiting Room” by his later band Fugazi?

Follow that with “I Against I” by the band that influenced so many D.C. punks: Bad Brains.

Segue into some go-go with “The Word” by the Junkyard Band and “Da Butt” by E.U., then change gears completely with the psychedelic soul of “I’m the One Who Loves You” from the Cherry People.

Love only gets you so far, so now let’s play “When the Screams Come” by Virginia doom metal legends Pentagram.

Then two of the loveliest women singers to come from the District: Roberta Flack with “Killing Me Softly” and Eva Cassidy with “Fields of Gold.”

Then a twofer from Joe Triplett, who was in both Claude Jones (“Sykesville”) and the Rosslyn Mountain Boys (“Been Awhile”).

If there’s something familiar about “Sally Had a Party” by Flavor it’s because it sounds a lot like “Gimme Some Lovin,” but it’s no less fun for that. Speaking of fun, the Nighthawks wonder what could be better than “Pretty Girls and Cadillacs”?

The Winstons are most famous for what’s become known as the “amen break,” G.C. Coleman’s much-sampled drum figure from the song “Amen Brother,” but we’ll include their R&B hit “Color Him Father.”

Our Metro system may be cursed but let’s reflect on the importance of public transportation with “Subways” by Washington’s answer to Talking Heads, the Urban Verbs.

Allow me to choose the songs that close the set, by some of the bands I enjoyed most in my callow youth: “Washingtron” by Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, “Feeling Right Tonight” by Tex Rubinowitz and “You Can Run (But You Can’t Hide)” by Razz.

And finally, cue up “Places That Are Gone” by powerpop master Tommy Keene.

Most of these bands are gone, though some of the musicians gamely play on. All live on our turntables, in our iPods and in our memories.


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