Few things get a concert crowd going like a rock star lyrically name-dropping city they’re playing in.
Back in May it happened twice.
Bruce Springsteen pulled out “From Small Things (One Day Big Things Come)” with its reference to a deadly burger waitress who left her man and “ran down to Tampa” with a new guy. Soon after, The Hold Steady were on stage in Ybor City city singing “Don’t tell them Ybor City almost killed us, again” from “Slapped Actress,” one of four songs in the Brooklyn band’s catalog that mention the neighborhood.
That got us wondering, who else has immortalized Tampa in song lyrics?
It turns out there are lots of songs that mention Tampa, but not all lyrics are created equal.
Sometimes the city shows up as part of a long list of other places. The Rolling Stones were “Tampa bound” on their 1972 rockabilly ramble across the U.S., “Rip This Joint,” and Johnny Cash went everywhere on “I’ve Been Everywhere,” including Tampa, but also LaPaloma, Bangor, Tocapillo and a couple dozen others, while posterior-loving ’90s rapper Sir Mix A Lot included Tampa with Miami, Orlando and Atlanta in the long list of towns he invited to “Jump On It.”
Sometimes Tampa is an omen of doom, such as on Fleetwood Mac’s “Bermuda Triangle,” in which those ships and planes that mysteriously disappear, “they leave from Tampa.” According to The Mountain Goats’ song “First Few Desperate Hours,” “bad luck comes from Tampa,” which foreshadows their “See America Right,” on which they were “driving up from Tampa when the radiator burst,” leaving them feeling that “life’s too short to spend the rest down here in Tampa” on “Jam Eater Blues,” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop in Tampa Bay” on “The Alphonse Mambo.”
The Goats aren’t any kinder to Tampa’s sports teams on “Cubs In Five,” singing the “Tampa Bay Bucs” taking “it all the way to January” is as likely as finding life on the moon, or “Canterbury Tales” shooting to the top of the bestsellers list. Of course, seven years after the song was released the Bucs did win a Super Bowl. Country star Easton Corbin is indifferent, not even paying attention to the game between “Tampa Bay and Carolina” that’s on his TV in “Let Alone You.”
Country singer Joe Nichols desperately wants someone to “Talk Me Out of Tampa,” because “Between that first right at Busch Gardens, and room eight Bay Side Motel, there’s no way around the memories” of a lost love. As “the clouds roll over Tampa Bay” Gainesville-founded ska band Less Than Jake was “waiting on the rain to wash the past away” on “Done and Dusted.”
Others are more optimistic. Steely Dan sang about “Janie Runaway” for who “down in Tampa the future looked desperate and dark,” but became “the wonderwaif of Gramercy Park” after hopping a bus to NYC. Owl City dreamed of opening a window to “see from Tampa Bay to Juneau” on “Fuzzy Blue Lights,” and punks MxPx make you want to “BMX all night” from “Chicago to New York to Tampa Bay” on “The Broken Bones.” Country duo Montgomery Gentry remembers meeting a girl “down in Tampa Bay” over Spring Break of ’88 on “She Loved Me.”
Some come for a rowdier good time. Southern rockers Molly Hatchet say that with “the Outlaws down in Tampa it’s a mighty fine place to be” on “Gator Country.” Atlanta Rhythm Section “drank all the wine in Tampa last night and most of the beer” on “Cuban Crisis,” but former Drive-By Truckers guitarist Jason Isbell partied too hard in “Ybor City on a Friday night” when he “couldn’t even stand up right” on his 2013 solo track “Traveling Alone.”
Kevin McCall referred to a sort of vice Tampa is better known for on Chris Brown's 2011 ode to strippers, “Private Dancer,” rapping “All about her bucks you would think she came from Tampa,” while Wyclef Jean shouts out Tampa’s Mon’s Venus among the world’s most famous gentleman’s clubs on his “Perfect Gentleman.”
It wasn’t Tampa’s first brush with hip-hop. Wyclef also mentions the city on his anti-crime allegory “Thug Angels,” asking “my thugs in Tampa, you wan’ push drugs?” Killer Mike raps about rolling through Tampa “on vogues” with Bubba Sparxxx on “Claremont Lounge,” Black Rob thought Tampa was “Whoa,” Riff Raff is “in Tampa, thinkin’ Pensacola” with Action Bronson on “Beautiful Lou” and Digital Underground described an encounter with a woman “like a bite into a salty Tampa Bay Boiled peanut” on “Do Ya Like It Dirty.”
Tampa’s not the only city in the Bay area captured in lyrics, either. Randy Newman remembers “this double jointed guy with the circus in St. Pete” on “Miami,” and on the rare track “St. Pete Blues” a young Ray Charles sings, “Down in St. Pete, Florida, I found my baby there.”
The list could go on with dozens of other Tampa references, but one of the most thoughtful is on David Dondero’s “South of the South” from 2005. Dondero, once named one of the greatest living songwriters by NPR Music, sings about Ybor City, “that was once a Cuban district and a center for the arts was now a mall like atmosphere, homogeneous and insincere, they burned it’s heart right out.” He might be happy to know that Urban Outfitters Ybor location has since closed.