I’ll say at the outset that I’m not a native Detroiter. I root like mad for this city, for its sports teams, and for its traditions, but I come to today’s topic as a guy who grew up outside its city (or even state) limits.
When I realized 27 years ago that I was moving to Detroit as a singer and songwriter, I was thrilled to be heading for such an extraordinary music epicenter. But I had no idea. Not really. Fortunately, It didn’t take me long after arriving in the D to realize that I had come to the greatest music city in the world.
I’ll entertain no debate on this matter. And with all due respect to the other great music cities around the globe, I don’t think it’s even close.
There are plenty of cities that seem inseparable from their music. New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville come immediately to mind. The blues of Chicago, the jazz of Kansas City. And let’s be clear that New York, Los Angeles, London and Berlin all have a near mythic musical history. But by and large, other music cities are defined by a singular genre. And by and large, they have drawn musicians to their cradles from other places. (It’s particularly true of Nashville, a city I truly love for its signature country music that I adore. But Music Row is populated by writers, players and singers who’ve emigrated from elsewhere. I can hardly blame them; I’ve recorded two albums there myself.) But Detroit, oh, Detroit. Your sound is built on the talents of your very own sons and daughters, and they race around the musical dial, from R&B to rock and roll, from punk to techno. It’s one stop shopping at the best music mall on the planet.
Detroit is, of course, synonymous with the Motown sound and that alone would be enough to secure its place among the elites. But by moving beyond the unreal talents of Smokey, Stevie, Diana and Marvin, we really start to see why Detroit is so unique in its greatness, a greatness that borders on the outrageous. That’s when you start to add Aretha (for my money the greatest female singer of the modern music era), Seger, Eminem, and Madonna. And we’re just getting started.
The good folks at ClickOnDetroit asked a few of us to put together a playlist and I decided quickly to focus my choices on Detroiters. Before anyone takes issue with some notable omissions let me just note that these are my favorites. The absence of “RESPECT” and “My Girl” just makes my case that much stronger. And heavens, if I didn’t care how long the playlist would go on, to make my point, it would certainly include “School’s Out”, “Kick Out The Jams”, “Cat Scratch Fever”, “Seven Nation Army”, “Mustang Sally”, and “Runaway”. But I urge you to give this playlist a listen and then see if you can come up with any other city that can touch it. (I don’t want to get bogged down in rules here, but these are artists who are generally considered Detroiters whether they were born in the city or not, and I’m willing to accept suburbs –for Detroit or any other city you want to put forward.) But after one trip through this playlist, I think you’ll agree with me; it’s not even close.