Certain Songs #604: The Hold Steady – “Constructive Summer”

hold_steady -stay_positive-frontal Album: Stay Positive
Year: 2008

Some of you might have noticed that one of the things I really like in an artist is prolificness.

And by the standards of the 21st century, putting out their three albums in three years, the Hold Steady were absolutely on fire. So to me, the two years between the world-beating Boys and Girls in America and the 2008 follow-up seemed almost interminable.

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Certain Songs #603: The Hold Steady – “Southtown Girls”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

First it’s just Craig Finn:

“Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay”

Dead air while the rest of the guys saunter up to their respective mics to join in with some raggedly imperfect harmonies.

“Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay”

More dead air. Tumbleweeds. Days, weeks, months pass.

And then, with a swoosh of Franz Nicolay’s organ, the entire band kicks in, and it’s utterly glorious.

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

And then, just like that, Kubler, aided by the huge spaces in Bobby Drake’s drumbeats, peels off yet another big-ass Zep riff that kicks “Southtown Girls” into a new lane.

Meanwhile, Finn gives us some unreliable narration on just how to find the titular girls:

Take Lyndale to the horizon
Take Nicollet out to the ocean
Take Penn Ave out to the 494

Near the end, after a nice twin-guitar solo by Kubler and a rarer-than-rare harmonica solo by Nicolay, the back half of the last verse gets almost funky, as Gavin Polivka leans into his basslines over Drake’s stuttering beat while Finn leaves a couple of text messages.

Meet me right in front of the rainbow foods.
I got a brown paper bag and black buckle shoes.
If anything seems weird then just cruise.

Meet me right in front of the party city.
That two sided tape it gets way too sticky.
I got a bad case of noisemaker blues.

But with “Southtown Girls,” it’s all about that chorus, which rings out over and over again, always keyed to that organ swoosh and those joyful harmonies.

Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay
Southtown girls won’t blow you away
But you know that they’ll stay

Easily the least epic of all of the Hold Steady’s album closers, “Southtown Girls” is nevertheless a fitting closer for Boys and Girls in America, positing that after all of the craziness that goes on between those American boys and girls, sometimes a little stability is just what the doctor ordered.

And for the second straight year, The Hold Steady had made my favorite album of the year.

The last time that had happened was was 1979-1980 with St. Joe Strummer and The Clash, back when I was just beginning to live some of these stories.

Fan-made video for “Southtown Girls”

“Southtown Girls” performed live at Glastonbury, 2007

Certain Songs #602: The Hold Steady – “Chillout Tent”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

It seems to me that “Chillout Tent” is one of the more divisive songs in the Hold Steady canon.

After all, the story it tells is a combination of meet-cute and meet-gross, featuring a pair of singers — Dave Pirner and Elizabeth Elmore — voicing the thoughts of the characters in the songs, and the music is filled with dramatic piano flourishes and mariachi horns.

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Certain Songs #601: The Hold Steady – “You Can Make Him Like You”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

This is my favorite song on Boys And Girls in America.

“You Can Make Him Like You” is everything I could want in a rock ‘n’ roll song: catchy, smart and anthemic, and not for a second does it ever stop moving and changing, even as it builds to a fist-pumping, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs climax.

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Certain Songs #600: The Hold Steady – “First Night”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

Boys and girls in America.

I’m sure I’m conflating a bunch of different memories into a single moment, but I still have a memory of the first night I felt part of the Fresno Tower scene. It was a warm summer evening in 1985, and it was at the Wild Blue.

Boys and girls in America.

I don’t recall who was playing: it coulda been Aqua Bob or The Wayne Foundation or Western Chapter or somebody else. It doesn’t really matter, because there was as much going on outside as there was inside.

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