So, given the rich pool of musicians of all genres who come from Detroit, who was hired for this prestigious task? Two guys who virtually no one’s ever heard of — and to add insult to injury, it was recorded in Birmingham.
A sampling of the lyrics from "What It’s Like in the B … er, D":
And now we’re letting you know
So get ready to go
It’s all happening here — right here in the D
There’s something you need to hear about Detroit city
You just gotta be here — to truly believe
What’s it’s like in the D
There’s also some crap about a river running, spirit flying and Smokey singing, all layered over an unbelievably hokey jumble of bits of R&B and pseudo-gospel-soul. Frankly, it sounds exactly like a McDonalds jingle — and not even one of the catchier ones. When playing it for people, I’ve not seen one reaction that strayed from either uncontrollable guffaws or gape-mouthed horror.
It’s pure cheese, and not even good cheese. If the city really wanted a nice heaping dose of schlock, they should have dusted off the cheeseball classic "Hello Detroit," recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1984, a time when Detroit was considered worse than a war zone by most of the country. And this isn’t martini-swillin’, finger-snappin’, swingin’ ’60s Sammy — it’s pure ’80s synthesized corniness.
You’ve won my heart
Your renaissance, and waterfronts
Give you a flair of your own
Hug and kissable you
You’re alive with so much feeling
On a stroll through Belle Isle Park
Greektown after dark
You instill in the young, the will to become
Stars and champions
"Hug and kissable you", Detroit? Exactly what part of Detroit would you like to put your lips on? How times have changed. It’s doubtful white-boy rappers Eminem and Kid Rock would sell nearly as many records if they described their hometown as "hug and kissable." Oh, that’s right; they’re both from the burbs.
At least "Hello Detroit" is somewhat redeemed by its endearing kitsch factor — it’s doubtful anyone will be able to look back on "What It’s Like in the D" 20 years later and be able to say the same thing. If "Hello Detroit" is sharp cheddar, "What It’s Like in the D" is off-brand cheese in an aerosol can.
I’d have voted for Wally Pleasant’s "Ode to Detroit." A singer-songwriter on the Lansing college circuit, Pleasant says he grew up in Motown, which may explain his less than gushingly sentimental ditty that’s become a bit of a cult classic on the underground circuit. Instead of trying to plaster a shiny, hug-and-kissable veneer over gritty reality, Pleasant isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the city.
A few excerpts:
Shoot someone and tell everyone you’re from Detroit.
Steal a car and then tell them you’re from Detroit.
Become addicted to a major narcotic and tell people you’re from Detroit.
Join a street gang and act really idiotic, if you’re from Detroit.
When the Tigers win the championship,
Pretend like it’s really hip,
to get national media attention,
When you set a car on fire causing police intervention.
Rob from your neighbors and kill your friends, if you’re from Detroit.
Receive public assistance and drive a Mercedes-Benz, if you’re from Detroit.
Own a store that gets robbed four times a week, in Detroit.
And buy some crack cocaine right on the street, in Detroit.
Now I’d be shot and killed if I played this song in Detroit,
’Cause there’s a City ordinance that says you gotta say nice things about Detroit.
But since I can’t do that, I’m going to move away and be en route,
To a safer destination, like Beirut.
It’s the most dangerous city in the universe.
If you drive into town, you’ll probably leave in a hearse.
Or maybe get beat up by an angry mob, on national TV.
Now that’s an instant classic. And before you start in with the vituperative scoldings about Detroit-bashing, remember that Pleasant is being — gasp — tongue-in-cheek here … and it’s pretty damn funny. When musicians — and cities — take themselves too seriously, you wind up with, well, with "What it’s Like in the D."
Incidentally, Detroit’s not the only city suffering from theme song stupidity. New York City recently revealed a brand spankin’ new theme song for the Big Apple, "New York: For the Time of Your Life," by a Broadway composer whose credits include Dracula: The Musical.
Attention all city officials: Why don’t you leave the song choices to actual musicans, and stick to, oh, running the damn city? Sarah Klein is culture editor of *Metro Times*. Send comments to