Opening Filler: Geographic Rock

by Bill Tuomala



Years ago, I was a guest of the Cosmic Slop show via the phone for a short segment. They had just played a song by Chicago and asked me if I was pro-Chicago or anti-Chicago. I said that "I am probably anti-Chicago," though I admitted that they had songs that I liked. Then in an effort to be witty, I declared Chicago to be in a genre I called "geographic rock" along with bands like Boston and Kansas. These were bands who simply named themselves after a location and only that location; i.e. the New York Dolls, the MC5, and the Iron City Houserockers are not part of the geographic rock genre.


For some reason, I had never written up my thoughts on geographic rock. Maybe it was because that was my first appearance on the Slop show (I was nervous and had pounded a Landmark beer while being on hold) and I could see myself treating just not sounding like an idiot as being the only worthwhile achievement that afternoon. Maybe it was because the geographic rock theory didn't hold much water - I had concocted a genre of popular music that wasn't based on the sound of the music. But recently I heard Orleans's "Dance With Me" on KOOL 108 and it reminded me of geographic rock. And come to think of it: Calling a band "geographic rock" actually makes more sense than calling them "rockabilly," "postpunk," "emo," or any such genre out there. Genres and subgenres always have their border wars over what is authentic or not. But who is to deny that any of the bands listed below aren't named after specific locations? I win!


The thing is, there are no great geographic rock bands. Many geographic rockers have been very successful; but in terms of quality, their originality in choosing a name is an indicator of music that is generally just as lifeless. Most famous of the geographic rockers are:


Boston - American city known for residents who talk funny. Also known for pro sports teams that used to be sympathetic underdogs but are now hated almost as much as New York teams. The band Boston's debut album, basically a group of Tom Scholz demos with Bradley Delp singing over them, was a smash sensation in the late seventies. The second album followed soon after. Scholz, oops I mean, "they" took another eight years to make the third, whose release was continually promised to be right around the corner. My brother and I had fun with this through most of the eighties, promising each other that: "The new Boston album will be out next year!" Then Scholz, errr, "they" finally showed up with a third album in late 1986.


Chicago - American city known for residents who talk funny. Also has awesome pizza. Famously referred to as "a tough-guy town" by former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice. The band Chicago was notable in the early seventies for being the "other" with-horns pop band, along with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Reliable hit makers in the seventies, their focus revolved around Peter Cetera in the eighties and the hits became atrocious.


Orleans - French city known for having a seventies pop band named after it. Orleans the band made obnoxiously catchy hits and is burned into my mind for having an obnoxiously hideous album cover that featured all five members shirtless. Ugh.


Kansas - American state known for residents who talk funny. (Or at the very least the guy doing play-by-play for Pittsburg State in a playoff game vs. the University of North Dakota a few years back sounded funny ... "First and tinnnnnn!") The band Kansas was known for being an American version of British progressive bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They had more of hard-rock sheen to them then their Brit counterparts, but were no less pompous.


New England - American region known for residents who talk funny (or at least the ones in Boston do.) New England the band was an AOR outfit that was around during the seventies-into-eighties turn. They define the word "faceless," as the only reason they show up in my mental Rolodex is for having a geographic rock name.


Asia - Continent known for being the hardest to conquer and hold in the board game Risk. The band Asia was known for being a supergroup made up of progressive rock alums determined to cash in. They succeeded for a couple of years and a quarter-century later there are now two Asias out there touring. Everything I learned in business school is wrong: apparently supply can exceed demand.


Europe - Land mass known for once being known as a continent, but later being demoted to simply being part of Asia. This may have been punishment for being the place that launched both world wars. Also known as the place you are told you "have to visit" by pretentious, America-frowning acquaintances. The band Europe was a crappy metal-lite band whose one big hit, "The Final Countdown," mysteriously continues to be played loudly at sporting venues across the USA, confirming that the best way to watch sports is on TV while home and alone.


America - Confusingly, America is both: 1) Shorthand for "The United States of America", a country known for being the one that the rest of the world has a love/hate relationship with; and 2) A couple of continents, boringly named "North America" and "South America." Neither continent has countries that have started world wars. The band America had mellow Top 40 hits in the seventies that actually don't sound too bad all these years later. "Ventura Highway" famously refers to "purple rain" twelve years before Prince did!


Of course, this list is by no means definitive. A "list of bands named after places" article in Wikipedia showed that there are/were bands with names such as Oregon, Delaware, Earth, and Mars. Mars?? Geographic rock or space rock? What would Syd Barrett think?








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