YOU’RE sitting quietly at the bar, peeling the label and stacking your change, when a stranger puts a buck in the juke.
The digits flash and the laser lines up on the disc, and suddenly the whole place is transformed.
It could be Sinatra or the Clash or Sheryl Crow or U-2, it doesn’t matter. Music makes a bar.
And it makes you wonder, what makes a great bar song?
Loud? Well, yeah, the Ramones go with a taproom like a shot goes with a beer. But a few easy chords of Frank on “Summer Wind” make me order another whiskey.
Well-known lyrics usually click, whether it’s a happy sing-along like “American Pie,” or the sad refrain of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” But, I swear, one more chorus of “YMCA,” and I’m going postal.
Rock anthems just don’t cut it. “Stairway to Heaven,” supposedly the most-requested song on radio, is almost never heard on a jukebox. Meanwhile, narrow-minded twaddle like “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd never sounds better than when you’ve got a beer in one hand and a cue stick in the other.
What about jazz? Miles, Coltrane, Coleman – forget it. I could listen to Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” in my car, at home, in a nightclub – but not in a bar. Louis, Ella and Duke are the only ones who fit comfortably on the juke.
Eminem, the Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson, Procol Harum – great music, but keep ’em out of the saloon. I mean, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is not about the latest brew from Sierra Nevada.
And just because an artist has one or two great bar hits, it doesn’t mean everything is jukebox worthy. The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and “Revolution,” yes. But save “Day in the Life” for your headphones.
I asked a bunch of friends to name me their favorite bar song, and I got a typically muddled mix.
Local film editor Michael Demirjian, who actually mixes his own eclectic tunes, can’t resist Ian Drury and the Blockheads’ goofy “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.”
I told George Hummel at Home Sweet Homebrew, whose musical tastes tend to be tie-dyed, that the Grateful Dead was off-limits. But he came back with “Does God Look Down on the Boys in the Bar Room” by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Beer Philadelphia expatriate Jim Anderson votes for one of my favorites, “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs. “It’s the one song that makes you feel cool, no matter where you are, what you’re wearing or which flavorless lager you ‘re being forced to drink.”
Flying Fish Brewing’s Gene Muller believes, “It’s not what the best bar song is, it’s what the best bar song instrument is.”
And that instrument is?
“Nothing cuts through the smoky, boozey haze of your brain in a barroom better than a cowbell,” Muller says. “Think about it – the beginning of “Honky Tonk Woman,” Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band,” anything by Guns n’ Roses, Mountain’s “Mississipi Queen” and on and on. Most of them songs you might not normally rock to in the cold light of day but after a few beverages in a bar – it’s headbanger heaven.”
So, what makes a great bar song?
The answer, my friend, is . . . you know it when you hear it.
Tonight, Rolling Rock sponsors the Top 33 Bar Songs of all time on VH-1. The video channel’s nominees, let me warn you, are lame. I think you’ll like Joe Sixpack’s better.
The Six Worst Bar Songs of All Time
Warning: Play these songs at the risk of personal injury. Guaranteed to clear the bar in 20 seconds or less.
- “Livin’ la Vida Loca” – Ricky Martin
- “Achy Breaky Heart” – Billy Ray Cyrus.
- “Karma Chameleon – Boy George and Culture Club.
- “Copacabana” – Barry Manilow.
- “Silly Love Songs” – Paul McCartney.
- “Afternoon Delight” – Starland Vocal Band.
The Six Best Songs About Beer
Maybe they’re not the greatest jukebox songs, but these tunes make me thirsty.
- Schaefer beer jingle.
- “Gettin’ Busy with an A-B Sales Girl” – the Pain Relievaz.
- “In Heaven, There is No Beer.”
- “Dona Nobis Beer” – Full Frontal Folk.
- “House of the Gods” – The Pogues (Singha Beer, don’t ask no questions . . . “)
- “Beer Run” – Todd Snider. (All we need is a ten and a fiver; A car and a key and a sober driver.)
Six Great City Jukeboxes (with great beer)
- The Khyber, 56 S. 2nd St., Old City.
- Most played: “High Voltage,” AC/DC.
- Best beer: Yards IPA.
- Doobies, 22nd and Lombard streets, Center City.
- Most played: “The Mercy Seat,” Johnny Cash.
- Best beer: Flying Fish Summer Farmhouse Ale.
- Anthony’s Olde City Pub, 226 Market St., Old City.
- Most played: “Is This Love,” Bob Marley
- Best beer: Yuengling Lager.
- Standard Tap, 2nd and Poplar streets, Northern Liberties.
- Most played: “Wakeup Bomb,” REM.
- Best beer: Cask-conditioned Stoudt’s Pils
- Royal Tavern, 937 E. Passyunk Ave., South Philadelphia.
- Most played: “Bittersweet Symphony,” the Verve.
- Best beer: Yards ESA.
- Grey Lodge, 6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair.
- Most played: “Fade to Black,” Metallica or “Summer Wind,” Frank Sinatra.
- Best beer: Victory Sunrise Weisse.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA.