Look, I realize why we all need to social distance right now. I get why we are cooped up in the house as the Midwest weather starts to warm up.
But that doesn’t mean we all aren’t getting a little stir crazy. How about a little road trip?
I recently assembled a playlist that takes listeners on a north to south tour through Illinois. Hey, I’m bored just like you, and this is how I choose to cure my boredom.
Oh, and there isn’t a single Sufjan Stevens song on here since his 2005 album of Illinois-based songs can stand alone as its own playlist of sorts.
Houndmouth “Come on, Illinois”
We start our journey with a general Illinois song from Houndmouth. “It’s a long way to make it to the border line” the band informs us halfway into the song. Illinois is a long ass state, so sit back and enjoy the rest of this ride.
Something Corporate “I Woke Up In A Car”
Cheap Trick put out an entire album called “Rockford.” But selecting Cheap Trick to represent the Screw City was a little too on-the-nose. Enter Something Corporate with “I Woke Up In A Car.” Andrew McMahon sings “she wrote me a letter as we passed through Rockford.” Dude, you could have at least stopped for a burger at 15th and Chris or grabbed some cheese fries at Beefaroo while you were in town.
Tom Waits “Johnsburg, Illinois”
Tom Waits doesn’t have a lot to say about Johnsburg during the 1:34 runtime on this track. But really, what is there to say about Johnsburg? It’s where sprawling suburban Chicago meets the green rural countryside of Northern Illinois?
Local H “Fritz’s Corner”
When Local H had a breakthrough moment with their 1996 album “As Good As Dead,” their growing fanbase was given a glimpse of their hometown of Zion, Illinois. The far north Chicago suburb’s water tower makes a brief appearance on the back of the album. A local dive bar also gained name recognition upon the album’s release. Fritz’s Corner sits at the corner of Routes 173 and 131 in Zion. One Yelp user describes it as “A really small bar that has a few TV sets and is a good roadside stop for a quick brew or watch a sport.” The song’s lyrics never mention the bar or even the city of Zion. But the photos on the Fritz’s Corner website indicate this dive bar is worth the drive.
Wilco “Via Chicago”
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy is Illinois in human form. Having grown up just outside of St. Louis in Bellville, Illinois, Tweedy has that unrefined central-to-southern Illinois edge. Yet, his music doesn’t always follow that path. Instead, it has twinges of the Windy City. while maintaining roots planted much farther south.
The Hold Steady “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”
The Hold Steady knows how to deliver songs that take the listener on a tour of a city. It’s just that most of their lyrical treks are around their hometown of Minneapolis. Craig Finn did find time to catch a few shows in Chicago while growing up in the Twin Cities. Maybe he just showed up on the the wrong night.
Laura Jane Grace and The Devouring Mothers “I Hate Chicago”
Even if you love, and I mean LOVE, Chicago, you’ll still be able to agree with a good portion of this song. Grace followed her now ex-wife from Florida to Chicago and hasn’t exactly been won over by the city. From deep dish pizza to rush hour traffic, this track touches on just about everything that is stereotypical Chicago. The video even spoofs “Wayne’s World,” which leads us to our next stop…
Alkaline Trio “Fuck You Aurora”
As much as Laura Jane Grace hates Chicago, Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba might despise Aurora even more. The song is basically about how Skiba’s friend moved to Aurora to work at the Chrysler plant and he kind of lost his relationship with her. So fuck you, Aurora. And screw you too, Chrysler!
“I wanna be your kingpin, living in Pekin,” Jeff Tweedy proclaims. If you have ever been to Pekin, you know this is a rather bold statement. I’m not really sure what it takes to be the kingpin of Pekin, but I do hope the position comes with free bread from Avanti’s. At least Tweedy wasn’t pining to be the guy in charge of Creve Coeur.
The Mountain Goats “Weekend In Western Illinois”
While the song title hints at a big wet sloppy kiss to all of the western half of Illinois, this one is really just about Galesburg. Of course, the song appears on the 1997 album “Full Force Galesburg.” But they could have at least given a shoutout to Macomb. As a Western Illinois University alum, I desire more songs about the subs at International Sandwich Shop and weekends at the Pace.
Old 97’s “Champaign, Illinois”
“No you will not go to heaven. You’ll go to Champaign, Illinois,” Rhett Miller repeats on this one. Is Champaign the opposite of heaven? Is Champaign maybe a close second to heaven? We never really get an answer across the nearly three and a half minutes of the track. The song is co-written by Bob Dylan, which is a fun fact in itself. Not only is that notable because it’s Dylan, but also because this was the second song he has co-written with that title. The other being…
Carl Perkins “Champaign, Illinois”
Yep, Dylan also penned some, if not all, of the lyrics “Champaign, Illinois” released by Carl Perkins in 1969. The Old 97’s version isn’t a cover of the Carl Perkins song. And the two really don’t even intersect save the title. Perkins checks in with a more bluesy attempt while name-checking Champaign.
Braid “Urbana’s Too Dark”
Braid has always had strong connections to the Champaign-Urbana area. They formed as a band there. They played their “final” show in 1999 at Mable’s, a longtime music venue staple around Champaign-Urbana. Mable’s would close for good the following year. Braid, however, were not done yet. The band has reunited for various tours since 2004.
Chicago Farmer “Indiana Line”
Cody Diekhoff (AKA Chicago Farmer) tends to tell tales that live up to his stage name. Whether it is lamenting about expensive beers at arena concerts in the city on “$13 Beers” or documenting a “standstill in Danville” as he does on “Indiana Line,” you can expect Diekhodff to take you on a ride that toes the line between urban and rural.
Ben Folds “Effington”
“Effington” is as goofy as the name of the Illinois city that served as the inspiration for the song, Effingham. “Effington could be a wonderful effing place. I can see it from the highway and I’m wondering. Are they effing in their yards? Effing in their cars? Effing in the trailers in the back roads and the parking lots of Effington? Making my way to Normal, Illinois.” Folds can be at his best when he is upbeat and silly. “Effington” is one of those times.
Pokey LaFarge “Cairo, Illinois”
Want to make it as a songwriter in Illinois? Write songs about the southern half of the state. There’s a serious void when it comes to songs about cities south of Springfield. Bloomington native Pokey LaFarge gives us this one about Cairo. Apparently Carbondale doesn’t inspire lyrics like this far south city.