This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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An introduction to the Greatest Hits Music Issue
How does the South inform my music? How do I describe the sound that your bare feet make when they pat the cool, packed red dust under them? How do I describe the color of the sky when you know there’s going to be a tornado? How do I tell you about my grandmother’s smile when she’s singing old church songs? How can I even tell you the way it feels to hear the cicadas sing in the humid evenings on my great-grandmother’s porch, or the first breeze of fall after an oppressive, jungle-like summer where you worked all week and never got ahead?
Originally published in our Georgia Music Issue
Grandmama’s stank was root and residue of black Southern poverty, and devalued black Southern labor, black Southern excellence, black Southern imagination, and black Southern woman magic. This was the stank from whence black Southern life, love, and labor came. I didn’t fully understand or feel inspired by Grandmama’s stank or freshness until I heard the albums ATLiens and Aquemini from those Georgia-based artists called OutKast.
Originally published in our 2007 Music Issue
In a remarkable 1963 appearance with Juilliard professor and friend, Hall Overton, at the New School in New York, Monk demonstrated his technique of “bending” or “curving” notes on the piano, the most rigidly tempered of instruments. He drawled notes like a human voice and blended them (playing notes C and C-sharp at the same time, for example) to create his own dialect. Overton told the audience, “That can’t be done on piano, but you just heard it.” He then explained that Monk achieved it by adjusting his finger pressure on the keys, the way baseball pitchers do to make a ball’s path bend, curve, or dip in flight.
An introduction to the Music Issue’s Icons Section
Beyond my eye, beyond the death and decay of matters left behind and unsettled, the music ringing up above my head told a thousand stories of bounty and belonging, and it glimmered in the light.
An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
Charlie Daniels was, in one very real sense, hippie to the core. The Charlie Daniels Band’s first hit was a novelty song called “Long Haired Country Boy,” the opening stanza of which went like this: “People say I’m no good and crazy as a loon / ’Cause I get stoned in the morning / And get drunk in the afternoon.”
Originally published in our 2011 Music Issue
Now, I wonder, is the song about a smokestack, a place, a woman, or a state of mind? “Whoa oh tell me, baby / Where did ya stay last night?” The phrases seemed to collide, creating tension essential to the blues shaped around the timbre of Howlin’ Wolf’s voice, which perhaps echoed the familiar robust presence of a deacon I’d heard at church.
Originally published in our 1993 Music Issue
Long before any R.E.M. albums went gold or platinum, the band’s omnipresence on the college scene made them as much an oppressive force in bookworm circles as the “mainstream” music they were supposed to be an “alternative” from was to the rest of the world.
Originally published in our 2001 Music Issue
“One night we were at the house getting ready to go to a concert later that evening, and it was just pouring down with rain, and thunder was cracking,” Peebles told the Memphis Flyer in 1994. “All of a sudden I popped up and said, ‘Man, I can’t stand the rain.’ And Don looked at me and said, ‘Ooh, that’s a good song title!’”
An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
Great Black music is that which isn’t trying to impress or entreat or even necessarily communicate with a white audience—or any audience. Instead, great Black music works to retrieve what Rahsaan Roland Kirk called the missing Black notes: the sounds and calls and rhythms and cries that colonizing languages submerge, reconstituted of the very lexicons that would have liked them to vanish from sound and memory.