Here’s a roundup of 10 local songs that attempt to capture something particular about the city, whether it be an homage to a well-known resident or simply that the city’s propensity for being unbearably cold for most the year.
“Milwaukee” – Maritime
“Milwaukee/ You’re my one horse town,” Maritime’s Davey von Bohlen sings both in a loving and self-deprecating way about his hometown on this Magnetic Bodies/Maps of Bones track. From The Domes to Fuel Cafe (and even a Milverine cameo!), the accompanying music video, which was released on Milwaukee Day two years ago, showcases all the places and people that make this one horse town so great. It’s hard not to feel pride about this heartfelt snapshot of the city.
“Hi Klass” – Klassik
The music video for this track from 2015’s Seasons seeks out the perfect summer day in Milwaukee. Klassik starts out by picking some seasonally appropriate head-wear at The Brass Rooster Hat Company before driving down Lincoln Memorial Drive in a convertible, partying on the shores of Lake Michigan and eventually ending up at Leon’s Frozen Custard for some milkshakes.
“Liberace Is Coming” – The Haskels
Still perhaps the city’s most popular export, the flamboyant showman Liberace died 30 years ago. While this song from one of Milwaukee’s first punk rock groups, The Haskels, was recorded while the entertainer was still alive, the track wasn’t released until 2001 when it was put on the compilation History in 3 Chords: Milwaukee Alternative Bands 1973–1982. (You can listen to the whole album via MKEPunk.com.)
“Red Arrow” – Space Raft[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=1115037458 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 track=3947067142]
Despite the progress made over the last couple decades, Milwaukee remains a pretty messed-up place. One of the single devastating tragedies the city has faced recently was the killing of Dontre Hamilton by a police officer in Red Arrow Park in 2014. The searing protest track from Space Raft tries its best to express the shock and bewilderment from such a horrific situation and the anger that rose from the unsatisfying investigation that followed. “Now as you sip your coffee/ Before the blood on the sidewalk dries/ One execution/ Tell me why 14 shots were fired,” singer Jordan Davis snarls. Even on a day of celebration, it’s good to remember how we need to improve the city in order to become even better.
“Walking In Milwaukee” – Juiceboxxx
“I can take the bus but I don’t want to spend the cash.” Armed with a microphone attached to a selfie stick, rapper Juiceboxxx walks through sleet and show to deliver an ode (in typical energetic fashion) about getting around Milwaukee on two feet.
“Survival of the Fittest” – Yo-Dot
“How you gonna be warmhearted with a draft by the window?” Yo-Dot raps on this wintertime diatribe from 2014’s A Winter’s Ration. He’s got a point.
“Blatz Beat” – Soul Low
No need to make sense of this eccentric Soul Low track from 2015’s Kind Spirit EP. (“Blatz me once and Blatz me twice but if you Blatz me thrice well I’ll be Blatzin all night.”) Just grab a Blatz and get down with the Milwaukee Blatz Beat.
“Great Southern Rail” – Midnight Reruns[bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=2972228691 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 track=24548831]
The source material comes from the 1979 Australian movie Wake in Fright, but the story feels like it could easily take place in Milwaukee. A schoolteacher on his way to Sydney for summer holiday finds himself enraptured with the desolate city of Bundanyabba during an overnight stop. He loses his money after a debaucherous night of drinking and gambling, misses his flight the next morning and goes into the only place that’s open—the bar. While perhaps not the band’s intention, with Milwaukee’s celebrated and infamous drinking culture, this cautionary tale hits somewhat close to home.
Violent Femmes – “Dahmer Is Dead”
Pretty straightforward take on the recent passing of notorious serial killer Jeffery Dahmer from 1995’s Rock!!!!!, a post-Victor DeLorenzo album, which was for a time was only released in Australia (though, it was later available here). It was subsequently performed on 1999’s live album Viva Wisconsin. “Dahmer is dead/ Am I supposed to feel outrage?/ Am I supposed to feel sorrow?” singer Gordon Gano contemplates.
“Downtown” – Platinum Boys
In the music video for this revved-up Junior Varsity track, the protagonists find themselves cashed out on beer, so they jump into the car, run into Sunrise Foods in Riverwest and grab a case of Miller Lite without paying. Things are fine until they run into the cops, who, while unaware to the shoplifting, pursue the car after the passengers give them the finger. The chase leads them through the city where they accidently run local celebrity Mark Borchardt off the road.