When considering the work of Kevin Morby, the word Americana springs to mind. Not in the patriotic sense, but in the way that Morby’s music conjures up a distinct image of America and all its peculiarities. For the most part, his music and lyrics create a surreal evocation of the many diverse vistas of the expansive nation. Morby’s work touches on all the nooks and crannies tourists would never usually behold.
Whether it be on his most recent offering, Sundowner or 2016’s Singing Saw, Morby has consistently shown himself to be an adept songwriter, one who can merge many different styles, making his discography a diverse one, a tremendous feat when you note that all of his work fits under the umbrella of Americana.
One of the most interesting points in his back catalogue is the track ‘1234’ taken from 2017’s City Music, which pushes his dance with Americana to the limits, and is a tribute to New York punk legends, Ramones. Three chords, punky and anthemic, it’s one of the more upbeat moments of Morby’s back catalogue, and it’s here that you hear the influence of his early band The Babies.
Interestingly, he doesn’t mention The Ramones as a band in the track. However, if you were thinking that this sounds remarkably like the Ramones before reading this, you were right. Towards the end of the number, Morby namechecks the Ramones’ most iconic members by using Jim Carroll’s 1980 piece ‘People Who Died’. Morby chants: “Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy / They were all my friends, and they died.”
Of the track, Morby explained to NPR: “This began as a sort of joke to myself. I wanted to write a song called ‘1234’ that would act as a homage to The Ramones. While writing it I thought, ‘what better way to pay homage than to just name off the original lineup (of the band) one by one?’ Once I had done that, I decided to tie a neat little bow on it by lifting the refrain off the chorus of one of my favourite songs ever, ‘People Who Died’ by Jim Carroll.”
Morby continued: “I do not know what kind of relationship Jim Carroll and The Ramones had, though I imagine they all knew each other, as they ran in the same scene. So let it be known: This song is dedicated to Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone as well as Jim Carroll. May they all rest in peace and be wearing leather jackets in rock ‘n’ roll heaven.”
A stellar tribute to New York’s favourite band of non-brothers and Jim Carroll, listen below.