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Random Fri Apr 27 2012

5 Songs Choose Chicago Should Use Instead of Umphrey McGee's New Anthem — & 1 to Avoid

By GB Staff

Umphrey's McGee Chicago songAs the "official Chicago visitors' site," Choose Chicago aims to provide information and updates on all the city has to offer, "whether you're visiting for business or pleasure." And, like their fellow citizen ambassadors, they want visitors to experience the city with the access and ease of the savviest locals. Recently, to sum up their mission and the city they represent, they commissioned a song -- anthem -- from Umphrey's McGee/Buddy Guy/Chicago that was instantly met with varying degrees of harsh criticism and articulated distaste.

Chicago is a fast, friendly, colorful city with littered backstreets and sparkling main streets where even locals get lost in the grid among skyscrapers, sandwiches, CTA stations, corner bars, festivals, foot traffic and the overwhelming sense that there's always more to do than there are hours in day. We're a diverse but segregated city, a city full of progress but with a conservative side. Comedian Greg Proops, in an Eight Forty Eight interview on WBEZ last week, called Chicago, "the real New York ... I love the culture, the avidity."

To many — including us — the new anthem sounds like the product of design by committee. Take out the word "Chicago" and it could be about any city. (In fact, "Toronto" fits perfectly in there -- maybe we could just donate it to the Canadians.) A.V. Club's Steve Heisler discovered that it's ready-made for karaoke -- the willfully generic tune already sounds like a keyboard cover.

So, in the spirit of positivity, here are some alternatives from the literally dozens of songs about the city that Choose Chicago could choose to use instead of their manufactured monstrosity. Think you've got one that's even better? Add it in the comments.

Graham Nash, "Chicago"

Chicago is a city of extremes: extreme food, extreme weather, extreme divisions, extreme accents, extreme counterculture, extreme sports fans, extreme history. And it's a city that inspires extreme reactions in locals and visitors alike. A Choose Chicago anthem has to convey the depth and excitement, stasis and innovation, Midwestern tenderness and Windy City edge that are the real Chicago. It's not easy to choose just one song for such a dynamic city but in the interest of an alternative to the new anthem, I suggest the aptly titled tune "Chicago," by Graham Nash. It has just enough of an upbeat, catchiness to balance the deeper message of its lyrics and conjure the hopeful spirit that Chicago refuses to leave latent. So determined is Chicago to keep hope alive, more than 40 years after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, about which the song was written, the sentiments still seem relevant. With the NATO Summit coming to Chicago next month and an election year looming on the horizon, an anthem borne out of a call for change is perhaps not only appropriate but also important. It can serve to remind those passing through, and those who've put down roots, that Chicago is positioned in the middle in more ways one. And of course, the welcoming repetition of "Won't you please come to Chicago," is a nice message to send to all those local tourists.
Emily Thornton

Buddy Guy, "Sweet Home Chicago"

I could see where Choose Chicago was going with including Buddy Guy in the new anthem — but it's too little, too late in the song. We need the full-on Buddy, the embodiment of the city's gritty Blues heritage. And he happens to have recorded — many, many times — the only anthem Chicago really ever needed: "Sweet Home Chicago." The Robert Johnson classic is programmed into Chicagoans' collective subconscious. Its verses are endlessly customizable, and the refrain contains the simplest, most sincere exhortation for tourism we could ask for: "Come on, baby don't you want to go?"
Andrew Huff

Serengeti, "Dennehy"

The main problem with the new tourism theme is that it sounds like something from the 1980s. Frankly, I don't think we want to be advertising Chicago as what it was in the older days, unless people feel nostalgic about the Blues Brothers. Serengeti's "Dennehy" mentions all of the best Chicago sports teams — Sorry Cubs fans, I'm a Brewers fan — and feels more representative of Chicago itself. Many Chicagoans are still fixated on Ditka and we enjoy softball in the summer, not to mention Tom Skilling is our favorite weatherman. But more importantly, the song would be a better choice simply because it sounds better.
Monica Reida

Tom Waits, "Chicago"

Any major city tends to be a refuge for misfits. A promise land for the kids who never feel like they fit in their small towns, rural areas and suburbias of the world. I moved to Chicago for those same reasons, for the hope that I'd find people that felt the same as I did, that I would belong somewhere. I wanted a hope, a promise that no matter what, at least things would be better when I moved to Chicago. So how fitting of a city anthem would Tom Waits' "Chicago" be? It's an ode to life being better in our fair city, and just like this land it might be a little rough around the edges, but it has a lot of heart. And that sure beats a cheesy horn section that is the sonic equivalent of how real Chicagoans feel about Navy Pier any day.
Lisa White

Andrew Bird, Yet-to-be-Written Whistling Tune

Maybe you're not the best singer, does that mean you shouldn't care about an anthem for your fine city? No way. You know how to whistle, don't you? Chicago singer-songwriter, violinist, indie darling, and all-around whistling virtuoso Andrew Bird knows a tune with a good whistle section means a good time. Let's get Andrew to pen us a new tune. One with the charm of the classical music world (for Chicago's loving grandparents), the festival-worthy name recognition of a major indie star (for the Millennials, who need the latest and greatest for their summer jam mixes on Spotify), and the easy-going whistle refrains of a fine memorable tune (for inspiring good, old-fashioned crowd participation from everyone, including your dad). Heck, he's even got something started in "Oh No" with the line "Oh, arm and arm we are the harmless sociopaths."
Anne Holub

...And One to Avoid

The new theme is pretty bad but I think it has competition from Ministry's Chicago anthem "Keys to the City," written for the 2009 world champion Blackhawks.
Jason Olexa

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Cliff / April 27, 2012 5:22 PM

With regard to "Sweet Home Chicago" I prefer the Junior Walker version.

But if you wanna capture Chicago, there's only one choice:

Kill Hannah's "Welcome to Chicago Motherfucker". It's modern, aggressive, gritty, and has the best quote from the "Untouchables".

FeRD / April 28, 2012 10:35 AM

"The main problem with the new tourism theme is that it sounds like something from the 1980s."
...Specifically, it sounds like a crappy sitcom theme from the 1980s. If "Perfect Strangers" or "Full House" had launched a spinoff set in Chi-town, this is what would have played over its opening-titles montage featuring well-known city landmarks.
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