Memphis Music: A Mix 

A foolhardy attempt at summing up a decade of local music in 28 songs.


We'll look back on the past year in local music in this space next week. But first, let's gaze back even further with these liner notes to a not-at-all-imaginary mix of some of the best, most memorable, and most meaningful Memphis music produced over the past 10 years.

Space limitations forced me to stop at 28 songs, though I could have easily gone three or four times that many. As a bonus, you can listen along using the playlist below.

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1. "Stop and Think It Over" — Compulsive Gamblers (2000): Greg Cartwright often writes songs that sound like vintage covers, but perhaps none sound as much like a classic rock/soul monument as this swelling, melodic gem from the Compulsive Gamblers' swan-song album. A good way to end a band; a better way to start a decade.

2. "Shake 'Em On Down" —  North Mississippi Allstars (2000): Jim Dickinson's sons — Luther and Cody —  emerged fully grown here, stepping out (along with bassist Chris Chew) to unite the city's bohemian rock of the '70s with the droning hill-country blues of the '90s to form one of the quintessential Memphis sounds of the aughts.

3. "The Walk" — Shelby Bryant (2000): One of the true sui generis musicians produced by Modern Memphis, the much-missed Bryant's exquisitely personal Casio-pop peaked here. When he croons, "The sky above is speaking some inane thing to me," girls-who-wear-glasses everywhere swoon in unison.

4. "I Didn't Like It That First Time" —  Di Anne Price (2000): A deliriously skilled and soulful interpretive singer, Price is at her most carnal and clever on this live staple, best heard on record via her 2000 album Wild Woman.

5. "One Philosophy" by Satyrs (2000): The most disappointingly short-lived Memphis band of the decade, the Satyrs delivered one stately, stirring, mysterious album and then called it quits. Here's a reminder of what we've been missing ever since.

6. "Chickenheads" — Project Pat (2001): Three 6 Mafia protégés Project Pat and female rapper La Chat offer up a gangsta-rap dozens game that evokes Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' epic battle of the sexes on "Tramp," all while the dueling "squawk squawk" sound effects and dismissive female vocal interjection ("Boy, please, whatever") shadow-box Pat and Chat's give-and-take.

7. "Reasons to Kill" — Lost Sounds (2001): Alicja Trout's suffer-no-fools civic anti-anthem, from an epic album (Black Wave) by a crucial local band of the aughts: "This city's filled with reasons to kill/But everybody wants to play the blues."

click to enlarge Lost Sounds
  • Lost Sounds

8. "Click Click Boom" — Saliva (2001): Rap-metal boom-bap happily freed of the psychodrama they later insisted on adding, riding a triumphant journey from bedroom dreams to radio waves.

9. "Miss Ferguson" — Cory Branan (2002): The shoulda-been-a-hit single that landed him on Letterman is buoyant, joyous, word-drunk, and oh-so-mischievous, earning its sha-la-la refrain while subverting it throughout. Inspirational — and erotic — declaration of commitment: "Now I'm curious to see just where them eight pounds will end up/I wanna be around to watch the Southern kick in/Ain't got no Purple Heart, no blue ribbons/Blow out them candles and I'll show you where I been."

10. "Here at the Starlite" —  Lucero (2002): Hard to single out one Lucero song from a prolific, consistent decade, but the cathartic rise-and-fall explosiveness of this early, now rarely played epic song captured the band's live power as well as their ability to turn the ostensibly mundane (girls, booze, cigarettes, late nights) into high drama.

11. "She's Bored With You" —  Reigning Sound (2002): At the forefront of garage-rock's boys' club, Greg Cartwright offers a sly corrective over a tight, tumbling rhythm section: "You don't give her anything to look forward too/She's bored/So bored with you."

click to enlarge Reigning Sound
  • Reigning Sound

12. "Click On 'Em" — Nasty Nardo (2004): Nardo never became a local household name on par with Three 6 Mafia or Al Kapone, but name-checking them here on this spirited Dirty South defense, he became their equal.

13. "Ms. June" —  Snowglobe (2004): No local band of the decade deserved a better shake outside the city limits than Snowglobe, whose casual musical density, palpable camaraderie, or excited creativity made them one of Memphis' best bands. This gem, remastered five years later for inclusion in Craig Brewer's $5 Cover, captures their sound and spirit as well as anything.

14. "Bottle and Hotel" — Harlan T. Bobo (2005): An idiosyncratic honky-tonk heartstopper in the form of a hymn to the bare essentials of make-up sex.

15. "Still Got It Bad" — Jack O & Tearjerkers (2005): A swooning, lilting riff opens up into a Dylan-worthy lament spiked with personal detail ("Now I got cable/I found a coffee table/I've got a color TV in my room").

16. "Whoop That Trick" — "DJay" (2005): "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won the Oscar and coined a catchphrase. The title track was the most elegant lyric. But in Memphis, this menacing, crowd-igniting, Al Kapone-penned banger is Hustle & Flow's real anthem.

17. "13s" — Kontrast (2005): A righteous, comic response to hip-hop songs about expensive, gaudy car rims (T.I.'s "24's," Three 6 Mafia's "Ridin' on Spinners"), Kontrast makes clear their critique is no hometown renunciation with Jason Harris' opening lines: "Rollin' down Park Avenue bumping bass/Got that Eightball & MJG Comin' Out Hard in my system gettin' played."

18. "Memphis" — Charlie Wood (2005): Maybe the funniest and most knowing song ever written about the city, by a guy who used to spend seven nights a week banging out blues and jazz on Beale Street and seems like he's been waiting for years to tell the truth on wax: "What is it about people from out of town?/You feel like you're on TV when they come around/They say they love it here, they love the atmosphere ... They take their lives so literally, they got no sense of irony."

19. "Stay Fly" — Three 6 Mafia (2005): The local single of the decade. The city's most commercially successful musicians reached a new level of craftsmanship with this skittering, exciting, eloquent tour de force. Lyrically, it's not about much — "I gotta stay high/Til I die" — musically, it's limitless.

20. "Lord I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City" —  Alvin Youngblood Hart (2005): Ostensible blues musician covers a country song by a psychedelic rocker. A joyful piece of music that says so much about the artist and his city.

21. "Red Neck, Blue Collar" — Jim Dickinson (2006): Ably backed by his "family band," Dickinson delivers a growling, stomping take on old pal Bob Frank's rousing class-conscious anthem.

22. "Killing Him" — Amy LaVere (2007): A genius bit of songcraft bolstering a tasteful, cleverly restrained performance announced the arrival of a new star on the local scene.

23. "Lay It Down" — Al Green (2008): The city's greatest living musician regains his classic sound and spirit in a way not heard since 1975. Unlikely, but it happened.

24. "Stacks of Stax Intro" — Redeye Jedi (2008): Local DJ flips through the city's musical back pages, cutting up about 30 different (mostly '70s) Stax samples over one four-minute mix.

25. "Lookin' For a Thrill" — John Paul Keith & the One Four Fives (2008): Memphis is a magnet for paradoxically progressive roots artists, who take classic styles and combine them into something novel and personal. Welcome home, John Paul Keith.

26. "Gettin' Mine" — Al Kapone (2009): Kapone and son AJ were the true stars of $5 Cover, in no small part for this original song, a personal testament which director Craig Brewer built an extraordinary, self-contained mini-film around.

27. "Rotten Mind" — Jay Reatard (2009): Reatard's locally historic late-decade stretch of sub-three-minute punk/pop gems can be hard to keep up with. You could choose any of literally dozens as standard bearer, but this whiplash fever dream, where he lashes out at perceived enemies while simultaneously lamenting his own "rotten mind," seems like a pretty apt choice.

28. "Hey Boy" — Magic Kids (2009): Ending the decade, and greeting the next one, with the youngest artists on the list, a lush, twinkling debut that is perhaps also the most optimistic-sounding record here.

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