I first met Jason Mendelson back in 2011, shortly after he announced his intention to write a song for every Metro station in the system.
Folks had their doubts about whether he could pull it off. After all, bigger musical artists than he had launched high profile projects only to see them fizzle. (see Sufjan Stevens and the 50 states album project). Some even suggested the sorry state of the Metro system would lead to a tragic end for the musician from Tampa.
Over the years, he checked in occasionally, updating me on his progress and even shared a few tracks. Then in April, he sent me a note: the final volume of Metro Songs was done. At last.
The result of nearly seven years of work is 91 songs on eight volumes, representing virtually every musical style. You can listen to all of the Metro Songs here and decide for yourself, but in the meantime, here are a few of my favorites. (I’m no expert so I apologize in advance if I’ve messed up my styles.) And yes, I listened to all 91 songs.
Volume 1, Mostly Blue:
Rosslyn — How could you not have a soft spot for the first song in the Metro Songs project. This one is about commuting and lost love. This is Mendelson’s wife’s favorite song.
From Volume 2, Party Train:
Pizza Party at Virginia Square: This tune reminds me a little of the B-52s. It’s goofy and fun.
Ice Skating at Archives: I love Peanuts and Charlie Brown. This song reminds me of the holiday classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It features Seth Kibel on flute and Oren Levine on piano.
Volume 3, Red Handed:
Adams Morgan — El Borracho de D.C. — This one has a Latin feel. The Spanish might not be perfect, but you have to give Mendelson props for trying. The title translates to “I am the drunk of D.C.”
Volume 4, Multi-tracking:
Strathmore — A song with that Mama’s and the Papa’s’ feel. It makes me think of California in the 1960s. This is also a favorite of Faith Hayden, one of Mendelson’s frequent collaborators. It features Maureen Andary on ukelele, flute and voice and Sara Curtin, bells and voice.
Volume 5, Blue Chromatic:
Foggy Bottom: A little doo-wop here about the west end of D.C.
Arlington Cemetery: I love the drums and quiet dignity of this song. Music and lyrics by Oren Levine, Jason Mendelson and Ian Taronji.
Volume 6, Outtatrack:
Mount Vernon Square: A tourist comes to D.C. — plus a reminder to stand on the left. Mort Rolleston on drums; Oren Levine, Rhodes (electric piano) Hammond Organ; Alex Parez, acoustic drums.
Shaw: A look at gentrification in this longtime D.C. neighborhood. Featuring Ardamus, voice and beat.
Volume 7, Connections:
Anacostia — Mendelson’s album notes say it best: “Anacostia” Frederick Douglass bought a house in DC he called Cedar Hill. Karlin McNeill proudly wrote and performed the narration you hear on this one, inspired by this great man’s achievements. Once, a young African-American asked Frederick Douglass for advice. He replied, “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” and those words still ring true today.
Forest Glen — A little New Age sound. From Mendelson’s album notes: “Forest Glen is near the Meditation Museum. I encourage you to visit for one of their introductory classes on a Saturday morning.”
Volume 8, Metro Lounge:
The Springfield Interchange (Springfield) : Who would have thought someone could make the infamous “Mixing Bowl” this fun. I love the line, “You won’t find anyone cooking dinner here.” This song is done in the style of those old 1950s newsreels about the future.
Branch Boss (Branch Avenue): A little Bossa Nova anyone?
Vienna: Who doesn’t love a good spy story? This song tells the tale of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who pleaded guilty to 15 counts of spying for Moscow. In all, he turned over more than 6,000 pages of classified documents, leaving them in in dead drop sites in New York and a series of Washington area parks. Hanssen lived in Vienna.
Judiciary Square: This one is for transit nerds and anyone else who wants to know about the people who built the Metro system. Mendelson saved this one for last since it’s home to Metro’s headquarters.
Take a listen to the collection and tell us your favorites in the comments. Create your own playlist to share with riders.
You can listen or purchase your own copies here.