Rhode Island in the Limelight: Music

Rhode Island in the Limelight: Music

A small state of inspiration is a dangerous thing.

Close-up of a stratocaster guitar
Image source: David Monniaux/Wikimedia.

Music has as many meanings as there are emotions. It can be celebratory or mournful, spiritual or lascivious, angry or soothing. But when the subject is Rhode Island, the emotions involved seem to run to humor and sentimentality. Join us now as we explore the cheesy world of songs about Rhode Island. Did we miss one? Drop us a line at stuffie@quahog.org.

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Ann and Hope Waltz

by Mary Lee Parington

Performed by Pendragon as part of a medley on their 2005 CD Artistic License. The lyrics refer to the Ann and Hope Mill in Cumberland.

Ann and Hope Mill, circa 1930.
Ann and Hope Mill, circa 1930. (The Book of Rhode Island by the Rhode Island State Bureau of Information, 1930).

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Blackstone Valley

by Plainfolk

From the 2006 CD, Past Due.

"Blackstone Valley" is the unofficial anthem of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. You can download it for free (as of April 2020) from the Plainfolk Music Showcase on the Plainfolk website.

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Bound for Glory

by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band

From the 1988 album Roadhouse. Includes the lines:

I got a pretty little girl
Across the South County line
All day long down at that shipyard
She's been on my mind

I know a rockin' little joint
Right off of Route 95
Man you oughta' see her dance
She really lets it unwind

The "pretty little girl across the South County line" likely lives in Exeter or North Kingstown, which together form the northern border of Washington or "South" County. The Shipyard was a drive-in at Field's Point in Providence that operated from 1957 to 1976. Route 95, of course, bisects Rhode Island southwest to northeast, from Hopkinton to Pawtucket.

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Bristol March

by Oliver Shaw

A march "composed and arranged for the piano forte with an accompaniment for the flute or violin," published by Shaw in 1837. In his youth he studied music at Newport, and from 1807 until his death in 1848 he made his home in Providence, so he would have been familiar with the Town of Bristol, after which he named this composition.

Bristol March sheet music
Bristol March sheet music. (Library of Congress).

As performed by The Vox Hunters at the Music Mansion in Providence, April 7, 2017:

Related Link:
A brief biography of Oliver Shaw.

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Bristol, Yes, Bristol

by Theresa M. Donovan and Joan Doyle Roth

From EastBayRI.com, "Letter: Remembering Bristol's first song, from 1955," by Owen E. Trainor III, Bristol, August 7, 2020.

The town had quite a festive 275th celebration in 1955. Certainly a highlight, and historic at that, the townspeople were introduced and became participants in the singing—I believe in Andrews School—of a new song. A first—a song dedicated to Bristol in honor of its 275th anniversary. And what made this song more special was its authorship. Two of Bristol's most knowledgeable musicologists and classroom instructors of music: T.M. Donovan (name as listed in 275th anniversary book as Pageant Committee chair) and Joan Doyle Roth... yes, aunt and neice [sic], writers of: "Bristol, Yes, Bristol."
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Buddy Cianci

by Zumo Kollie

An anti(?)-Buddy-for-Mayor song from 2014. Note: contains explicit lyrics.

If you're feelin' unlucky, vote for Buddy.

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr. was mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984, and again from 1991 to 2002. He was much-loved for his charisma and genuine affection for the city of Providence, and despised for his shady dealings and vindictive temper. His first stint as mayor ended with a forced resignation following a violent altercation with a man who he thought was making time with his estranged wife. The second stint ended with a trip to prison for racketeering. He lost his 2014 re-election bid, and passed away in early 2016.

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Can't Stop The Feeling... School Is Closed!

by Matt Glendinning

Moses Brown School head Matt Glendinning announces a snow day with his 2017 parody cover of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling." This is Glendinning's third snow day song.

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Chafee Come Back

by Billy Mitchell

A parody to the tune of 1977's "Baby Come Back" by Player, lamenting a perceived lack of quality between the Rhode Island gubernatorial terms of Lincoln Chaffee (2011-'15) and Gina Raimondo (2015-'19). Released on YouTube on April 24, 2016.

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Clay Head

by Atwater-Donnelly

Clay Head, 2003.
Clay Head, looking south. (May 4, 2003).

From the 2006 CD Block Island Days.

Clay Head is a high bulge of land on the northeast side of Block Island. It's a popular spot for walkers, bird watchers, and other nature lovers. Sample lyric:

As I walked the Clay Head Trail
One fair and early morn,
The colors splashed inside my soul,
My heart she was reborn,
My heart she was reborn.
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Crescent Park

by Phil Medeira

From the 2018 album Providence.

Phil had this to say about the track:

Crescent Park, an old school amusement park, was literally a half mile from my house, as the crow flies. It was a much further walk, because the crow would be flying across a body of water called Bullock's Cove. Riverside was the town across the tracks, which all of us in Barrington considered beneath us. Barrington was the upper crust town with secrets and sorrow just beneath the surface. Of course, my dad was a pastor there, so we weren't well to do; we just lived there.

The pull of a forbidden place is as old as time itself, whether it's a tree in the Garden of Eden or Pleasure Island for Pinocchio. Crescent Park was the closest amusement park to Barrington, yet we usually went to Lincoln Park in Dartmouth, 45 minutes away. I don't know why. They had the better roller coaster, I guess.

One day, a neighbor boy named Richard and I snuck off to the park, and as the song says, experienced the rides, deep fried food, cigarettes, and nausea. Our parents never knew until I confessed to my mother. I was never good at keeping my own secrets—yours, yes; mine, no. Being a preacher's kid meant you had verses swimming around your head like "Your sin will find you out," so I would just cut to the chase and bare all.

Years later, I was home from college for a summer and wound up working at the park. Their "Comet" roller coaster was just a skeleton, out of service, and the next scary thing was the "Flying Fish," which I was in charge of. It was a small roller coaster with individual cars that looked like fish. (There's a sketch of a car in the lyric booklet of the record.)

It was a three person operation: one to get people seated and start their ride, and two brakemen—one for each of the hairpin turns the cars would careen through. The park was failing and that meant that I was the only person running the ride. I would start the ride, then run to the first brake, and then to the second.

Sometimes things were so slow that I would forget that I'd put a person on the ride, and they would be on the most terrifying ride of their life. No brakes! They would come crashing to the end of the ride, and I'm amazed no one ever got a bloody nose due to my slothfulness. I would be reading a book (I believe that summer it was a CS Lewis book called Perelandra), when BAM! someone's ride would end.

I've been reading Stephen King's Joyland, about an amusement park, and it is so similar to my experience at Crescent Park. Seedy, scary, yet somehow a weird little community of summer workers like me and year-rounders like Mr. Perry who ran the place. At the end of the day, the folks across the tracks were no different than the privileged upper crusters in Barrington.

We recorded this song, like the others, live in the studio, with the exception of John Scofield's guitar, which he added later in New England, which seems appropriate. I tried to play the solo piano as if it were one of the shaky, unpredictable carny rides at the park, just like real life, I suppose... shaky, unpredictable, and occasionally thrilling.
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The Diva of the Silver Top Diner

by Billy Mitchell

From the 2003 CD The Diva of the Silver Top Diner.

The Silver Top Diner was located at 13 Harris Avenue in Providence from around 1940 to 2002.

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by Billy Mitchell

A circa 2014 parody about the trials and tribulations of getting your license renewed, set to the tune of The Village People's "Y.M.C.A."

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Drivin' in Rhode Island

by Ted Bird

Made in America album cover

From the 1991 album Made in America. Sample lyric:

Well, one thing that is really great about drivin' in the Ocean State:
It satisfies one's latent need for danger.
95, Thurber's Ave, let's see what kind of nerve you have
When you're confronted by a Toyota-wielding stranger.
You're gonna need all of your fingers on both of your hands;
Nine white knuckles around the wheel, one finger to salute your fellow man.
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Eldred's One Gun Batt'ry

by Jon Campbell

Keep on Fishin' album cover

From the 2000 CD Keep On Fishin'.

Covered by Marc Bernier on the 2010 CD Yup, I Said That. A Compilation of Artists Performing the 'Classic' Hits of Jon Campbell.

The song tells the true story of Conanicut resident John Eldred, who, in 1775, "lobbed cannonballs and cannonball sized stones at British ships from behind rocks on his farm north of Potter's Cove, until he finally tore out a sail and the British came ashore and spiked the gun."

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Expedition to Rhode Island


Sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle," this song describes the first attempt at cooperation between French and American forces at Newport in August 1778. Lyrics, with footnotes, can be found on AmericanRevolution.org.

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Federal Hillbillies

by Jon Campbell

From the 2004 CD Catch and Release. Sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Sample lyric:

This is the story 'bout a man named Vito.
He lived up on Vinton Street,
Very incognito.
Put a dollar on the PowerBall
And sonofabeech he won.
He packed up the family
And he moved to Barrington.

For those unfamiliar, Federal Hill is a traditionally Italian-American neighborhood on Providence's west side. Barrington is a town in the East Bay that is arguably la-di-da.

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Fender Rhode Island

Composed by Pat Daugherty

From New York Electric Piano's 2005 album Citizen Zen. This is an instrumental jazz track named for its lead instrument, the Fender Rhodes piano, which was named, not for the thirteenth state, but for its inventor, Harold Rhodes.

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