REWIND: Wish Abe Lincoln a happy birthday with Mavis Staples and Disturbed

Disturbed band

Disturbed, Courtesy: Travis Shinn.

Last weekend was Groundhog Day, my mom’s birthday, and nothing else. Next weekend is—sigh—Valentine’s Day. That means we’ve got a weekend in the middle here that doesn’t have an obvious hook for a column topic.

I could do the whole February thing, though that doesn’t really work for the second weekend of the month. Or I could do old songs by artists who had an album come out this week since Green Day is one of them but then I have to acknowledge new music.

This leads us to Abraham Lincoln’s 211th birthday on the 12th. If I’m going to stretch the plausibility of a theme it might as well be in honor of a great man and a great president. So here are five of the best songs from Illinois bands in honor of Lincoln’s adopted home state—mostly Chicago, admittedly, rather than Springfield, but close enough.

Chicago — “25 or 6 to 4”

If we’re going to do Illinois bands we pretty much have to start with Chicago. It’s not just a clever name. These guys actually are from Chicago. They weren’t creative in at least one regard.

According to pianist Steve Lamm, the songwriter, this tune is about trying to write a song in the middle of the night—like I said, not immensely creative—and the title refers to 3:34 or 3:35 a.m., also known as 25 or 26 minutes to 4 a.m..

Or at least that’s what they want you to think. There are conspiracy theories that it’s code for drugs, or a coded message about someone. I’m sure someone out there thinks it’s secretly a message to Satan because someone out there always thinks everything is a message to Satan. But the official story is almost profoundly uninteresting.

Mavis Staples — “The Weight”

I know it’s not her song originally, and I’m not sure there’s actually an album version of her singing it, but Chicago native and American icon Mavis Staples has performed the song live with an amazingly diverse collection of people. And it’s always amazing.

The video I used was intentionally picked because it’s not one of those performances. This is just Staples, Wilco and Nick Lowe backstage before a show rehearsing. There’s no fancy acoustics or equipment and no audience. It’s just a group of people practicing, and Mavis Staples is better than most professional musicians are in perfect conditions.

She’s an amazing talent and if you get a chance to see her live you absolutely should.

Earth, Wind & Fire — “September”

I’ll level with you guys: I picked this specific Earth, Wind & Fire song because of Demi Adejuyigbe.

That’s not to say it’s not a great song. Because it is. It’s amazing, and the band is amazing. But I look forward to Sept. 21 every year to see the latest edition of Adejuyigbe’s increasingly amazing series of videos.

I have the T-shirt and everything.

Disturbed — “Down With the Sickness”

Wild tonal shift time!

Yes, Disturbed is from Illinois. And yes, I really wanted to include its amazing performance of “The Sound of Silence” from “Conan” again. But I’m starting to repeat myself way too much and I have to start trying to tone it down.

“Down With the Sickness” is actually not as bad a song as the jokes suggest! Yes, it’s absolutely a time capsule of its era. And yes, the bridge is absolutely unnecessary. And yes, nu-metal in general isn’t very good. But all that aside, it’s a catchy song with a good core riff. There’s a reason you’ve heard of it.

Tom Morello — “Battle Sirens”

Before he got a degree from Harvard and subsequently went to Los Angeles to become a stripper—really—the legendary guitarist from Rage Against the Machine grew up in Libertyville, Ill.

Morello also formed Tool, a band he’s famously not in, by introducing his then-roommate Adam Jones to Maynard James Keenan and Danny Carey at a barbecue. I am not making that up. The world is a weird place sometimes.

Anyway, I was going to include a Rage song but that band is from L.A., and a Nightwatchman song doesn’t feel right to follow Disturbed, so a track from Morello’s most recent solo album it is. If you don’t like it, get your own column.

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