In honor of Minnesota Public Radio’s 50th anniversary, which was Sunday, January 22, the Current assembled a list of 50 Songs for 50 Years. Which got me thinking about how many important songs have come out of our state over these past five decades, from the commercially successful to the culturally significant.
This list was compiled with major help from Jackie Renzetti, who helps me to research The Local Show‘s weekly Music History Spotlights, as a tribute to MPR and the diverse, eclectic music community that continues to grow stronger every day here in Minnesota. —Andrea Swensson
1967: The Litter, “Action Woman”
Though this track never made the national charts, it was a hit in Minnesota. It’s since been covered by other famous local bands, like the Replacements.
1968: Rufus Lumley, “Minneap’lis, Minnesota”
This jazzy ode to Minneapolis was recorded in a Detroit bowling alley, according to Secret Stash Records. Lumley himself never lived in the Twin Cities, but the song is filled with Minnesota pride.
1969: Leo Kottke, “Watermelon”
Renowned guitarist Kottke was a prominent fixture of the West Bank music scene in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. “Watermelon” is from his second album, 6- and 12-String Guitar, which sold over 500,000 copies and garnered praise from Rolling Stone.
1970: Wanda Davis, “Save Me”
As Davis told Andrea Swensson in 2015, she didn’t realize how popular this song had become until Secret Stash Records asked her to perform at their release party. It was a hit in the underground R&B scene, and is now a valuable collector’s find.
1971: Bonnie Raitt, “I Ain’t Blue”
After watching Minneapolis-based folk duo Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy on tour, Raitt tapped Murphy to produce her first album, which includes a cover of their song, “I Ain’t Blue.”
1972: “Spider” John Koerner, “Everybody’s Goin’ for the Money”
This track appears on the 1972 album Music is Just a Bunch of Notes, which was a collaboration between Spider John and Willie Murphy’s then-new project, Willie and the Bumblebees. Filled with intricate guitar grooves and angsty lyrics warning against prioritizing wealth, this song may remind you of another Minnesota folk giant, whom Spider John influenced: Bob Dylan.
1973: Philadelphia Story, “You Are the Song”
As the Valdons, this group graced Minneapolis clubs throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s with their genius R&B ballads, contributing to the formation of what is now known as the Minneapolis Sound. After they traveled to the East Coast in the ‘70s to record, they changed their name to the Philadelphia Story.
1974: Haze, “I Do Love My Lady”
This track, off the group’s debut album, hit the top 20 on the Billboard charts. The groovy ballad is filled with polished harmonies and righteous organ riffs. After Haze put out their first album (on which this track appears), they moved to California to record some new songs, and the master tapes were reportedly stolen. The recordings famously resurfaced a few years ago, and Secret Stash Records reissued the album as When We Were Kids in 2010.
1975: Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”
Along with a few other songs from Blood on the Tracks, “Tangled up in Blue” was recorded at Sound 80 in South Minneapolis with a crew of local musicians: Kevin Odegard on guitar, Bill Berg on drums, and Billy Peterson on bass.
1976: The Moose Wallow Ramblers, “I Like it in Duluth”
Since John Berquist penned this folk tune in the ‘70s, several bands have covered it, including Father Hennepin.
1977: The Suicide Commandos, “Burn it Down”
When the Minnetonka Fire Department came to burn down Commandos Chris Osgood and Dave Ahl’s rundown house — which was without heat or water — the band responded by writing a song and making a music video out of the ordeal, featuring actual footage of the house, dubbed “Utopia,” dissolving into flames. You can hear in The Current’s in-studio version and more of the story here.
1978: Willie and the Bumblebees, “Honey From the Bee”
After touring the country with Spider John Koerner, Willie Murphy formed this R&B project in 1970. With their dancey funk, soul and R&B tunes, this band became an instant favorite in Minnesota and beyond. You can read more of the band’s story here.
1979: Lipps, Inc., “Funkytown”
Perhaps the most famous song to come out of Minnesota, “Funkytown” has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and appears in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Recorded in Sound 80, the track is reminiscent of the Minneapolis Sound, though as Steven Greenberg explains here, Minneapolis wasn’t the “Funkytown” they were singing about.
1980: The Suburbs, “Baby Heartbeat”
“Baby Heartbeat” comes from Minneapolis new wave band The Suburbs’ debut album, In Combo. Making for a fun listen, “Baby Heartbeat” is filled with catchy guitar riffs and a danceable rhythm.
1981: The Time, “Cool”
Just as Prince was starting his solo career, he still had enough energy to produce the Time, writing dancey, whimsical and brilliant tunes like “Cool.” This single was recorded in Prince’s Kiowa Trail Home Studio.
1982: Loud Fast Rules, “Bad Moon”
Loud Fast Rules, an earlier version of Soul Asylum, gave this Creedence Clearwater Revival classic their own new wavey twist.
1983: Husker Du, “Something I Learned Today”
This is the opening track for the band’s second album Zen Arcade, which has achieved classic alternative rock status and has a lasting cult following.
1984: Prince, “Purple Rain”
Nearly a year before the blockbuster Purple Rain was released, Prince recorded this track live during a benefit show for Minnesota Dance Theatre company at First Avenue before anyone knew what it was for. Few changes were made to the version we hear today, which is one of the most iconic Minnesota songs of all time.
1985: The Replacements, “Here Comes a Regular”
In a shift from their characteristic rock, this bar room ballad closes the Mats’ fourth album, Tim.
1986: The Jets, “Crush on You”
Comprised of eight Minneapolis siblings, the Jets had several Billboard hits. “Crush on You” peaked at number 3 on the Billboard charts, and was later covered by Aaron Carter and Nero.
1987: Tetes Noires, “Pour More Water on Her, George”
From their third album Clay Foot Gods, this track is a perfect example of Tetes Noires’ signature multi-part harmonies and artsy pop.
1988: The Clams, “Let Me Drive”
The Clams were one of the pioneering all-woman rock bands in the ‘80s. “Let Me Drive” features Rolling Stones-esque singing and guitar riffs, which lead singer Cindy Lawson says was a key influence in their music.
1989: Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation”
This track appears on Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which topped the U.S. album chart for four weeks and features seven top-10 U.S. singles. Only two other albums have done the same: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Jackson collaborated with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who have also worked with Prince), and recorded in Flyte Time Studios in Minneapolis.
1990: Babes in Toyland, “Dust Cake Boy”
The first single off the debut album Spanking Machine from Minneapolis punk queens Babes in Toyland.
1991: Mint Condition, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)”
Formed at St. Paul Central High School in the ‘80s, Mint Condition went on to achieve national recognition, hitting the Billboard R&B charts numerous times. This track, from their debut album Meant to be Mint, peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts, landing just under Michael Jackson and Prince.
1992: Sounds of Blackness, “I Believe”
From the three-time Grammy award-winning choir, “I Believe” hit the U.S. soul and dance charts and remains a classic today. The song was produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who also worked with Prince and Janet Jackson.
1993: Soul Asylum, “Runaway Train”
From the band’s sixth album Grave Dancers Union, this single sold over 600,000 copies and hit the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 and Top 40 mainstream charts. In 1994, it won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
1994: Cows, “Cow Island”
Among the Twin Cities’ most influential punk bands, the Cows are remembered for their post-hardcore sound and frontman Shannon Selberg’s stage antics, like performing nude (aside from a makeshift shaving cream outfit) or wearing mousetrap earrings.
1995: The Jayhawks, “Blue”
In the midst of new wave and punk dominating the Twin Cities music scene, the Jayhawks rose to acclaim as the alt-country genre began to take off. Their hit song “Blue” is from their classic Tomorrow the Green Grass, their fourth album.
1996: Slim Dunlap, “Times Like This”
In a shift from the Replacements’ alt-rock sound, “Times Like This” is a peaceful reflection on learning from difficult times. This is the title track from Slim’s second solo album.
1997: Next, “Too Close”
This Minneapolis based R&B trio is perhaps best known for “Too Close,” which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.
1998: Semisonic, “Closing Time”
As lead singer and songwriter Dan Wilson explained to Andrea Swensson, he didn’t see anything “commercial” or noteworthy about this song when he first wrote it. Now one of the most famous songs to come out of Minnesota, the song went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy. Wilson has also co-written with several high-profile musicians like Taylor Swift and Adele.
1999: Jan, “Dumb Guy”
This song appeared on the critically acclaimed album from Jan, The Early Year, which was so charming that the one and only Fred Rogers wrote to her to express his appreciation and thank her for shouting him out on a song.
2000: Mason Jennings, “Ballad for My One True Love”
Aptly named, this is a wonderfully sweet, beautifully written love song. It appears on the Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter’s second album, Birds Flying Away.
2001: Atmosphere, “Guns and Cigarettes”
Though Atmosphere only intended to combine their Ford and Lucy EPs to make a tour release, it sold so well that they released it as an official album, where “Guns and Cigarettes” can be found. This was their first album to be nationally distributed.
2002: The Selby Tigers, “Cheerleading is Big Business”
This St. Paul neo-punk trio was active from 1998 to 2003. “Cheerleading is Big Business” is filled with angst, screaming vocals and heavy drums, making it a classic punk song.
2003: Brother Ali, “Forest Whitaker”
This track is from the Minneapolis hip-hop artist’s second album, Shadows on the Sun. Here, Ali deals with feelings of being out of place and wanting to be yourself.
2004: Kid Dakota, “10,000 Lakes”
Though he’s not in Minnesota for any of the many landmarks or people he name-drops, this tune is a must-listen for any Minnesotan looking to improve their state trivia knowledge.
2005: Tapes ‘n Tapes, “Insistor”
2006: P.O.S, “Safety in Speed (Heavy Metal) feat. Craig Finn”
Starting out as a whimsical critique of the movie “Predator,” this nine-minute song eventually progresses into a story about disappointment in general. The Hold Steady’s Minnesota native Craig Finn pops up in the choruses, making for an interesting collaboration.
2007: Maria Isa, “MN Nice”
Off her debut album M.I. Split Personalities, this track features her “Sota-Rican” style, as she calls it. You can catch this singer-songwriter, actress and activist at the numerous events she contributes to in the Twin Cities arts scene (like this past Saturday’s Minnesota Women’s March at the State Capitol).
2008: Solid Gold, “Get Over It”
With an electronic, melancholy sound, this track exemplifies Solid Gold’s reputation for experimental instrumentation. In 2011, City Pages readers voted them the “Best Rock Band” in the magazine’s annual poll. You can hear their in-studio performance here.
2009: Eyedea & Abilities, “Smile”
This St. Paul indie rap duo began in 1999 and played a prominent role in the emerging underground rap scene. Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen became known for his freestyle and rap-battle skills. “Smile” is from their final album, By the Throat, released before Larsen passed away in 2010.
2010: Dessa, “Dixon’s Girl”
Filled with noir, this literary and catchy song has a killer music video. This track appears on Dessa’s breakout album A Badly Broken Code.
2011: Polica, “Lay Your Cards Out”
This track, which features Bon Iver’s Mike Noyce, was one of the first glimpses the Twin Cities got of Polica, released ahead of their debut album “Lay Your Cards Out.” Since their start in 2011, Polica has achieved international acclaim. You can listen to their Rock the Garden and in-studio performances here.
2012: Trampled by Turtles, “Alone”
From their sixth album Stars and Satellites, this track is featured in the movie The Way Way Back. You can hear their in-studio at The Current here.
2013: Har Mar Superstar, “Lady, You Shot Me”
Inspired by Sam Cooke’s last words, this catchy single off Bye Bye 17 stole the hearts of listeners across the country and in Minneapolis, where it won the City Pages award for Best Single in 2014.
2014: Haley Bonar, “Last War”
The title track off her fifth album, “Last War” was one of Minnesota’s biggest singles of 2014. Treble-y bass, intricate rhythm patterns and poignant vocals make this track a mesmerizing listen.
2015: Low, “Lies”
“Lies” comes to us from Low’s eleventh album Ones and Sixes, which was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Eau Claire with producer BJ Burton. You can hear the band play tracks off this album live in The Current’s studio here.
2016: Lizzo, “Good as Hell”
This self-positive anthem of the summer hit number 1 on The Current’s 2016 Top 89 countdown. “Good as Hell” comes from Minneapolis native Lizzo’s first major label EP, Coconut Oil.
2017: Jeremy Messersmith, “Little Blue World”
Written by Jeremy Messersmith, “Little Blue World” features an all-star cast of local musicians: Chastity Brown, Pavielle, Cameron Kinghorn and Chris Koza. In The Current’s in-studio version, he even brought in MPR staffers to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.