Thursday, May 26, 2022

One-Mind Tracks: Open Your Golden Gates

2024 UPDATE: Ultimately, this was the last aired episode of One-Mind Tracks due to a dispute with the station it aired on. Maybe One-Mind Tracks will be revived at some point, but for now, all One-Mind Tracks editions will only be in print.

 I know it's rude of me to use a line from a song not included on this playlist as the title, but that's the decision I've made. 

The Golden Gate Bridge was opened on May 27th, 1937, so this week's One-Mind Tracks is all about San Francisco, the city that would be home to my alma mater had I graduated.

"San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie
San Francisco is still associated with flower children, love, and acceptance. In the '60s, the hippie movement found a home in the city, particularly in the Haight district. John Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) wrote this song as a celebration of the city and as a means of promoting his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. With Scott McKenzie on vocals, the song ended up becoming something of an anthem for the counterculture movement in the late '60s.  

"St. Dominic's Preview" by Van Morrison
Van Morrison was living in San Francisco in 1972 when he wrote "St. Dominic's Preview" in a stream-of-consciousness writing session. The Troubles had been heavy in Morrison's heart as he had grown up in Belfast, Ireland. In 1972, things had gotten so bad in the conflicts between religious and political factions in the country that 500 citizens, mostly civilians, lost their lives that year. Morrison got homesick in the way that one might, but said he didn't long to go back with the prejudice that had become apparent. Still, while his heart went out to Belfast, his drummer Gary Mallaber longed for his home in Buffalo, New York. These thoughts, and Morrison's memories of his days in Paris as he tried to "make it" all made it into the song, with the overarching theme of prayer at Saint Dominic's. Morrison didn't realize that there was a real church in San Francisco called St. Dominic's, but thought of it more as an imagined church that would pray for peace in Ireland. Oddly enough, there is a St. Dominic's, which Morrison discovered weeks later when he picked up a paper advertising a mass being held there for peace in Belfast.

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett

New York native Tony Bennet made this his signature song. The writers, George Cory and Douglass Cross wrote it from a genuine place of longing for their hometown, as they had moved to New York to further their careers. The song was first offered to Claramae Turner, who sang it as an encore song, but never got around to recording it. She recommended they give it to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who turned it down. In 1961, Tony Bennet debuted his version of the song at the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in front of the mayor and future mayor. He has since performed it every time he appears there. 

"San Francisco (In Situ)" by They Might Be Giants
In 2004, They Might Be Giants set out to write a song about every venue they performed at on tour (however loosely associated). "San Francisco" features a list of streets in the city (ones I used to frequent as a resident). It ends on the street that also lends its name to the venue at which they were playing; The Fillmore.

"Russian Hill" by Jellyfish
The Russian Hill neighborhood in San Francisco has always been prestigious. Jellyfish frontman Andy Sturmer and keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. were both born near Los Angeles, but were moved to Pleasanton, California by their families later on. Pleasanton is only about an hour from San Francisco. After the release of Jellyfish's first album, Sturmer got an apartment in Russian Hill- only to find that he had no time to spend there, as the band were so often touring. Still, Sturmer wanted the song to convey the beauty of the neighborhood with a touch of cynicism. 

"San Francisco" by The Mowgli's
The song "San Francisco" was one of the first songs written or released by The Mowgli's. It also became their first and most successful single, reaching #2 on the U.S. Adult Alternative Airplay charts. Much like the city itself, the song is full of love. It references the song made famous by Tony Bennett with the line "I lost my head in San Francisco."

"Step" by Vampire Weekend
Are there songs that fit this theme better? Probably, but none of them just so happened to be stuck in my head already when I started developing the theme. Many elements of "Step" are lifted from the demo "Step to My Girl" by Souls of Mischief, a band from Oakland.  Vampire Weekend secured rights for the sample and spoke to the group about the song. Souls of Mischief were blown away by the finished product, and expressed desire to work with Vampire Weekend in the future. "Step" name-drops cities in the bay area during one of the verses, and that's good enough in this case to make it onto the playlist.

"Piazza, New York Catcher" by Belle and Sebastian
In 2009, when I first moved to San Francisco, Belle and Sebastian were seeing a resurgence thanks primarily to the film Juno. "Piazza, New York Catcher" is partly about New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, whose sexuality saw rumors swirl around it (Stuart Murdoch, frontman for Belle and Sebastian saw Piazza in a game and was himself drawn to the mystique of the man). The other part of the song, however, demands its inclusion on the playlist, as it tells the tale of Murdoch romancing his future wife in San Francisco. The tale of new, young romance is adorable, with lines like "I love you, my responsibility has found a place." While I still lived there (though it may have been 2010 or 2011), one of the free San Francisco newspapers featured Belle and Sebastian on the cover, and an interview with Murdoch in which all I can remember is that he talked about the impact the band's success in San Francisco had on them. 

"San Francisco" by Foxygen
I thought at first that I was hearing another Belle and Sebastian song when I first listened to this one. But that's offensive to The Kinks, who you can also hear the influence of in the song, and to the band Foxygen themselves. There does appear to be one more influence though, as the female voice pops in about halfway through the song with what I hear as an interpolation of a line from The Beatles' "Northern Song." Actually, there's yet another thing: a reference the aforementioned Tony Bennett song, this time manipulating the line to "I left my love in San Francisco." Don't let all this deter you- it's a great song that benefits rather than suffers from its influences. 

"San Francisco" by Vanessa Carlton
Vanessa Carlton may have had a couple of smash hits, but I've always felt she still deserved more than that out of her career. "San Francisco" hails from Carlton's second album, Harmonium, much of which she wrote with her then-boyfriend Stephan Jenkins, lead singer of Third Eye Blind, a band formed in the titular San Francisco. Though Jenkins had the connection to the city, "San Francisco" is one of the songs on the album that Carlton wrote alone. It ended up as the only love song on an album otherwise filled with dark, introspective songs from what Carlton called her "diary" phase of songwriting.

"We Built This City" by Starship
Jefferson Airplane was formed in San Francisco during the '60s. From there, the band became Jefferson Starship and then simply Starship. The three bands saw varying levels of success, but out of anything post-1970 (possibly even before that, I'm growing out of touch with what people remember of classic rock anymore), most people would be most likely to recognize "We Built This City." "We Built This City" was penned in part by band member Peter Wolf, along with Dennis Lambert, Martin Page, and none other than Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin. Taupin stated that the song was about the disappearing live music scene in Los Angeles. The song is formed as something of an open letter to corporate interests who were shutting down live performance clubs left and right. Since Starship and their predecessor bands were all based in San Francisco, the references to Los Angeles were changed to San Francisco. The music scene in San Francisco has always been strong, so it's fair to say that they also built their city on rock and roll.

"Grace Cathedral Hill" by The Decemberists
Very like "Russian Hill" in presentation, "Grace Cathedral Hill" captures the atmosphere of the places in San Francisco that it mentions, yet it still holds the typical storytelling and mystery of a Decemberists song.

Catch these songs on the One-Mind Tracks radio show this week! The show starts at 7PM EST on Thursday. You can catch it streaming over at Or you can listen in for an episode of One-Mind Tracks any Thursday at 7pm!

Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have a song that fits the theme!

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