Americana One Two Three

Another slice of our series investigating the collision of those natural partners number theory and Americana. The last time we looked at songs which allowed us to progress along the number line from eleven to twenty – great songs, prime cuts everyone it was noted. Prime – ah, prime numbers…those endlessly fascinating integers which are divisible by themselves and the prime unit of one and by no other number. There’s a certain magic about them as they seemingly present a regular patterned series in their first few occurrences and then, no, like autumnal mist as the sun rises stronger those apparent patterns melt away and we’re left with an infinite number of still undefined primes. Can we, though, link the Prime numbers to Americana – are there actually enough songs that the sequence of prime numbers doesn’t get away from us too soon? Well, let’s consider the first 10 prime numbers – which you’ll recall are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, and 29. One, of course is not a prime – being only divisible by 1 and itself which is also 1 which can be quite easily shown to be the same number as 1. Which makes 1 very special indeed since it meets the prime requirement to be divisible by itself and by 1 but fails the prime requirement to be divisible by two distinct numbers. Wild. We might return to one at a later date, who knows?

Anyway, those are numbers we should be able to do something with so without further ado or idle rambling here are suggestions for Americana songs for the first 10 prime numbers.

2: Two Kinds of Love – Long Ryders

We’re always happy to give a nod to one of the bands who surely laid the groundwork for the whole Americana sound.  There’s a distinct Byrdsian feel to this song, but the slow destruction of the American Dream tracks all the way back to Woody Guthrie.

3: Three Song – Kingston Trio

Well, this is a double three, isn’t it? And it’s just a very pretty little ditty by Mason Williams which, if memory serves, was also recorded by The Smothers Brothers (it was!).

5: Five Guys – Feral Conservatives

What a band name – and whilst they were thinking about America it does rather hit a nail when we consider our own current situation.  ‘Five Guys‘ is from the Jon Auer produced album ‘Better Lives‘ which may explain some of the Big Star-isms.

7: Seven Curses – Tom Russell

Tom Russell embodies Americana like few other singer-songwriters.  That’s a statement that’s not open to discussion, well, unless we really have to.  Surely not.  ‘Seven Curses‘ is a version of the unfaithful judge who takes advantage and renages on the deal – a song that goes under many titles.

11: The Eleven – Grateful Dead

So, this is so good that you’ll want to rush off and listen to the whole of the Fillmore West gig this version comes from.  For which we can only say in equal measure “you’re welcome” and “sorry, ‘cos yes that is hours of your day gone…

13: Thirteen – Cam Penner

Cam Penner reclaimed the superstitious fear of this “unlucky” number on a song that seems almost stream of consciousness in form.  One of the best gigs that this writer ever attended was Cam’s appearance at The Green Note back in 2018.  Notable for the passion and the intensity of Cam Penner and Jon Wood, and also for the audience being about six people and Penner and Wood not giving a flying fuck.  They could have dialled it in.  They probably could have cancelled.  They played their hearts out.

17: At 17 – Janis Ian

If this was your teenage angst heartbreak anthem then you’ll be glad to know that this is the album version – can you believe that Janis Ian doesn’t have the single version on her Youtube channel?  Man, that is wack.  Fortunately the album version ups the jazz brass and downplays the guitars (the single doubled the nylon string guitar) and runs a whole 30 seconds or more longer – which really softens the impact.  So, no need for moody flashbacks just “enjoy” the remembrances of being picked last for basketball…and everything else.

19: 1956 – The Hazey Janes

A slight cheat, but surprisingly there are not that many songs with “na-na-na-na-nineteen” in their title.  You know, we featured this song on Americana UK’s Review December 2017 – back in the old days, but not the really old days, the subscriber’s got a monthly download of notable tracks (in the really old days it was a CD, but you knew that right, attentive reader?).

23: January 23-30, 1978 – Steve Forbert

Yup, there’s 23 hidden away in the dates of a song describing a sojourn back home, meeting old friends, drinking too much, “‘twas a merry night…Jesus what days we’ve seen.”  It’s Steve Forbert as his youthful best – open, honest, devil may care but still worried about overstepping decent bounds.  It’s a folk Americana delight.

29: 29 – Slaid Cleaves

Whatever happened to Slaid Cleaves – once a regular visitor to our shores, these days not so much?  We don’t know, but we do know that with this song we’re hiting our tenth prime number (remember, that’s why we’re doing this list?) so we can stop.  If anyone fancies doing the next ten prime numbers they are: 31 37 41 43 47 53 59 61 67 71, so, umm, good luck!

29‘ is from the album ‘No Angel Knows‘ which came out some twenty seven years ago. Wow.

About Jonathan Aird 2749 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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Hahaha, what will the AUK writers’ team come up with next?! Love that The Count got a look in at the top of the article.
And Slaid Cleaves, would love to see live. His emissary here on Earth, Rod Picott, was doing the rounds in UK Iast autumn. And played a couple of his co-composition with Slaid. Not quite the same thing, but very good indeed.

Alan Peatfield

I too saw Cam Penner back around 2018. He was obviously doing a “stadium tour” as I saw him at the Pump House in Louth, Lincs. Not quite packed out, but the 25 or so of us were treated to a magical performance. I hope he’s still playing his heart out!