Most cities large or small have certain signature aspects that make them stand out. Some cities like New York or Philly or Boston, or really any large metropolitan area are associated with certain traits such as local food favorites, ethnic groups, styles, or really any aspect of culture. Many are of course celebrated in song. You know a city has arrived when somebody celebrates a metro area in the magistry of song. Here are just a few examples:
- San Francisco – Scott McKenzie – A hippie call to arms or flowers or drugs or whatever.
- Dirty Water – The Standells – “I love that dirty water, oh Boston you’re my home.” I believe George H.W. Bush was channeling this song when he ridiculed the water quality in Boston Harbor in his famous debate against Michael Dukakis.
- New York, New York – Frank Sinatra – New York City has probably been celebrated more through song than any city in the world, and deservedly so. It has been painted in both gritty and glamorous turns, and it is of course both of those things, and neither.
- Philadelphia Freedom – Elton John – At the time this song was released, everything Elton John put on vinyl became a hit, and this song arrived just before the bicentennial celebration, and Philly was knee deep in the fervor, so chalk up another top 10 for Sir Elton.
- Los Angelenos – Billy Joel – I’m not sure Billy Joel enjoyed living in Los Angeles when he penned this ode to where he found himself at the time, but it’s a catchy tune all the same.
- Special shoutouts speaking of Bill Joel to “New York State of Mind,” “We Love L.A.” by Randy Newman, and of course “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss.
The above list is merely a sampling, there are countless other examples of a city’s charm being catalogued by song. However, what of our beloved Albany? Why hasn’t some inventive tunesmith come up with a musical tribute to the capital of New York State? Is the problem that we haven’t produced any talented songwriters? Try telling that to the members of Blotto, one of the greatest bands to emanate from the Capital Region. Unfortunately their greatest hit, I Want to be a Lifeguard didn’t quite capture the essence of Albany, (Although it does reference the inane boredom of working as a shoe salesman in a shopping mall, hello Crossgates anyone?) and in fact may have actually had very little to do with New York State’s capital. Phantogram harkens from Saratoga Springs, but they haven’t written any odes to Albany, or Saratoga Springs for that matter. The fact is, if you Google bands from Albany, they pretty quickly turn to bands from Upstate, New York, and next thing you know they are giving a shout-out to The Goo Goo Dolls who are from Buffalo for goodness sake. I mean really, why don’t they just make a mockery of the whole thing.
Even if a talented and creative band attempted to capture all that is Albany in song, it’s not an easy name to rhyme. What on Earth even rhymes with Albany? How about a song that uses Albany’s original name Fort Orange? Wait, that’s even trickier to rhyme with. On second thought, I believe I’m on to something. Take a gander at this:
Hold on to your door hinge, you’ve just entered Fort Orange.
Okay, it’s a work in progress. You might be able to rhyme with the phrase “Capital Region.” Let’s see:
If you enjoy a nine month winter season, trek on up to the Capital Region.
Again, this is all just spit-ballin, so easy on the judgements.
It’s not just a song or phrase that we lack, we don’t even have a signature food that encapsulates the culture of the city. There are many Irish who live in this area, but it’s not like everybody in the United States harkens for Albany’s corned beef and cabbage. There are many Italians who have settled in the Capital Region, but nobody waxes poetic about our rigatoni or sausage. Utica has “Utica greens,” and chicken riggies. Utica! I mean, Utica?? They have two signature dishes, we have none! How about our Dutch roots? We were settled famously by the Dutch, and yet nobody says, “Wait till you go to Albany and try their bitterballen.” Buffalo has its chicken wings, our wings are good, but nobody has ever requested “Albany chicken wings.”
Maybe our issue is that we do have something we are noted for, and it is a blessing and a curse. We are the state capital, and for that we should be grateful, and depressed. Think of practically every state capital you’ve ever been to. They all have the same thing in common, they all die hard after about seven o’clock at night. The good thing about being a state capital is that from an economic standpoint, they are practically recession proof. After all, the state is always hiring. However, most state workers go home by around five thirty, and that means that most state capitals shut down for the night, and leave the nightlife to the other cities in the state. The streets of Albany can be so empty after dark, you would have a tough time getting a checker tournament going in most of the downtown area.
Ironically, Albany wasn’t even supposed to be the capital of New York State. The first capital of New York state as any traveler who happens upon its rest stop along the Thruway could tell you is historic Kingston, New York. Kingston was New York state’s first capital back in 1777, a great year for state capitals. The state capital of New York would bounce around the state to several locations, including New York City. However, Albany’s centralized location nestled in between the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers made it an ideal spot for New York state to settle on a capital.
While there are of course benefits in being a state’s capital, there is a certain socialistic dreariness to the architecture. The buildings have a mid-1970s Eastern European feel, parking is almost impossible, and every major holiday brings the city to its knees. The skyline isn’t too shabby, but most of that is due to Nelson Rockefeller during his time as governor. It seems that “Rocky” was embarrassed by the look of Albany while entertaining the Queen of England. Despite the improvements brought about by John D. Rockefeller’s grandson, the city still seems to consist of a combination of efficiency while lacking in basic charm, and because of this dilemma, it’s difficult to encapsulate a state capital such as Albany through the magistry of song.
At least Schenectady is known as the “Electric City,” and Troy is the “Collar City,” Albany sadly is lacking in nicknames. How can you write a song about a city that doesn’t even have a nickname? Maybe that’s what we need, a nickname. Here’s a few possibilities:
- New York City-lite
- The City that gets Plenty of Sleep
- The Crazy Capital
- The Big Freezy
- “Orange” you Glad you Live Here?
We may not have a food to call our own, or ever be celebrated in song, and our winters may last an inordinate amount of time, but we are an “All-American City,” as well as being pretty much three hours from a variety of awesome destinations such as Montreal, Boston, and New York City, as well as being near the Baseball, Basketball, Dance, Boxing, and Horse Racing Hall of Fames. We don’t need some cheesy anthem in order to claim credibility, or do we. Wait one more try:
“Albany’s alright with me, oh yeah!”
Again, this is right off the top of my head.