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The US100: 100 songs from the heart of America

It was just supposed to be a playlist. A few tunes to provide a soundtrack to my own stateside journey, informed by the places I was to visit - a thematic accompaniment to those long Amtrak rides and stretches of open road; an excuse to throw Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan with The Strokes' New York City Cops all while gleefully mapping out artists and songs to their states and cities of origin, purely for my own geeky amusement...

But at some point during the initial stages of research, as our train hurtled through the vast expanse of the Midwest, I glanced down at my notepad and realised that this playlist may have spiralled out of control, with over 50 artist and song names jotted down for New York City alone.

Fast-forward nine months and I have somehow ended up here: roughly somewhere between curating an online museum, delivering a thesis, weaving a historical tapestry, and presenting a chart show. That innocent playlist ultimately mutated into the US100: 100 songs I have selected as being at ‘the heart of America’, (a wonderfully vague and fluid criterion that I can twist and mould at my discretion) based geographically on the route of my trip.

Each number comes with its own tale which I shall endeavour to tell: some of extraordinary cultural impact brought about by an individual singer, song, stage show, or style; others of the city or state in which they originate and how music can represent its identity and history. At times I will be examining the role of music in clashing with and feeding into wider societal forces, but here and there you might find me merely relating to you my own personal anecdotes and experiences.

All 100 will be traced from origin to legacy – drip-fed through this website, as well as our supplementary podcasts – often delving into the fascinating lives of those who brought them to life, but at times looking at the role of a producer, a venue, a movie, or a movement. Secondary research, courtesy of the great dual digital powers of Spotify and Wikipedia and a whole host of books, film, and TV, has comprehensively expanded upon the primary research I was able to conduct through the museums, venues, bars, jukeboxes, and people of the USA itself.

It may only cover nine states (plus the political oddity of the District of Columbia) but in my own limited, muddled, slightly counterintuitive* way, I’ll try and offer you at least a glimpse into the ludicrous musical richness offered by this vast landscape. And if I don’t succeed in that aim, then I’ll at least have given you a decent playlist.

*Disclaimer: The US100 has no pretension of being comprehensive, objective, or logical. It is entirely based on a route which some friends and I took on a group holiday over Christmas and New Year 2015/16, and is furthermore completely clouded by my own personal taste and bias. Songs may be included for their enduring symbolism or a significant legacy it has left behind, or they may be selected simply because I like the guitar solo. Some of these songs changed the world; others just changed my CD collection.

Fairytale of New York not included.

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The US100: Volumes I – IV

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