Songs about Boulder, Colorado

by Jim Harrington

It was surprising to find more country like songs mentioning Boulder than Grateful Dead lyrics. Dead and Company fill Boulder’s Inn neighboring University of Colorado football stadium in a way that Country bands do not. In the late 1970’s there was a resurgence and re imagining of country music that led to more experimentation with new sounds. Texas would welcome the new sounds but not if it came first from a yankee town like Boulder. Boulder in the early 1970’s had a group of deadhead hippy musicians and well educated jazz players in need of jobs. Local bars not yet use to the new beats of the times would only pay bands to play two kinds of music. Old school Country and Western. Boulder was changing but many of the local bars had remained the same as in the 1950’s. Faced with eviction and starvation this talented bunch of long haired musicians cut their hair, put on clean shirts, boots, Dacron slacks with creases and cowboy hats on and called their act Dusty Drapes and the Dusters. Now they were able to get gigs. They were in fact the regions first alt-country band. They would sing the Country and Western favorites but although they were dressed as cowboys everyone understood their musical hippie and jazz roots. Texans were not very approving. Invariably they added a bit of sophisticated jazz, rock and roll flair to the stoic Country songs and leaned into new kinds of country swing tunes. Dusty knew how to lightheartedly play a country gent character on stage that audiences truly praised. Musically they were serious but a little ahead of their time by fifteen years some producers figure and their performance was a bit giddy. In the 1970’s Boulder was a mecca for eastern spiritual movement including those that practiced a kind of ‘godhead chant’. Dusty decided to lead audiences on with a ‘cowhead chant’. Instead of chanting ‘Om’ he would lead the audience in a ‘Moo’ chant. It was a bit over the top, but funny and other musicians were listening and started to have courage to add more flair to their own songs. They were not from Boulder so their new country music was more accepted. Sometimes though they mention Boulder at least more often than Grateful Dead songs do. For a great history of Boulder’s rock music history check out this documentary Sweet Lunacy https://www.youtube.com/user/sweetlunacyboulder

Dusty Drapes and the Dusters with their county songs are all there. For your listening enjoyment here is an evolving playlist of those great songs and many others that mentions a little town here at the base of the Flatirons in the foothills of the rocky mountains Boulder, Colorado. Listen for and discover why the songwriter and many others chose Boulder.

 

  1. The Chainsmokers, “Closer” (2016)

Is a duet romantic comedy of sorts. It is considered a millennial romance anthem celebrating young love and of course devastating heartbreak. She lived in Boulder, they bonded in Tuscon. She is not so good with money, he drinks a bit much. Talkin about that “stolen mattress from a roommate in Boulder.” Singing about heartbreak, you know better but can’t stop plunging back together and you remember again why you left. Ouch! But after a time apart from loves lost is there a deeper level of amour uncovered when reunited? or is it a groundhog day love with the same old suffering all over again? You know better but… you do it again. The single cover art features a topless fully tattooed couple hugging. A close up of their flesh embracing shows their arms crossed over to form a new kaleidoscope of joined tattoo art and slogans. Their individual tattoo hands touch to form a heart and the text on each body comes together to read “Baby pull me closer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT2_F-1esPk

  1. Shawn Mulins, “Santa Fe” (2000)

Sittin in a Santa Fe cafe and here comes a magic infused school bus “they had puddered here from Boulder, covered in dust.” They ware free loving Boulder hippies not wanting to work for the ‘man’ but willing to sing you a delightful dainty song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBziOdRZbs4

  1. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Colorado Christmas” (1997)

From Telluride to Boulder the closest thing to heaven on this planet anywhere is a quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow.” It is so true you can feel it in the air, journey from Telluride to Boulder and taste now heaven on earth. Glittering neon lights of five star Hollywood hotel do not compare to the shimmering lights of a brisk rocky mountain sparkling dawn. Boulder is a gateway to the kingdom beyond.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbODSEP9m_A

  1. Cowboy Junkies, “Towne’s Blues” (1992)

Time to take a little spin Boulder looks like the type of town that I could spend some time.” Boulder could be your kinda town to slow down and rest in but big city lights are calling your name. You are in the bug time now. If only you knew where inner tranquility was to be found you might slow down and stay awhile in this kinda town. Stay awhile we think you will like it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a58lXH14YU

  1. Garth Brooks, “What She’s Doing Now” (1991)

Last I heard she had moved to Boulder.” Oh my what to do. When you love her but you don’t end up with her it tears your heart out. She moved to Boulder and your love for her still burns.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAjdTQ7mX1E

  1. Kathy Mattea, “She Came From Fort Worth” (1989)

She worked at a diner but “Fort Worth couldn’t hold her. Her dreams were bigger than the Texas sky. She got a one-way ticket on the next bus for Boulder.” She waited on a man who gave her a smile and they lived happily thereafter in his Boulder cabin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwnNgnehfWU

  1. Emmylou Harris, “Boulder to Birmingham” (1975)

I don’t want to hear a sad love song but here I am in the heartbreaking wilderness surrounded by fire yearning with desire to see you one last time. Just one more time. “I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham If i thought I could see, I could see your face” Make no doubt of the suffering here. Emmylou Harris is inspired to sing a lament about the loss of her personal and professional partner Gram Parsons. They had plans to transform both rock and country music by fusing them together. They had plans for a life together. The song is specific to Parsons but is also a source of universal comfort to all who have lost someone so close and near. There is in the rawness of one individuals despair the recognition of the experience of loss we all share. Pretty much annually you can hear Emmylou Harris play in Boulder’s Chautauqua Park.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9A48houSs0

  1. Todd Rundgren, “Zen Archer” (1973)

One of pop genius Todd Rundgren’s most whimsical–and menacing–creations tells of a dark figure, lurking in the shadows, striking down all that is beautiful with a cavalier indifference and determined lethal precision. A man in parts forgotten With an outlook that is rotten …
Finds relief inside a hatchet And he halved someone in Boulder

And you just don’t know what people will do next. Mountains of pain,Valleys of love…, ”
Very very disturbing in how it captures the essence of life in all its extremes. Boulder is both in the valley of love and at the foothills near the mountains of pain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTQdEcBbIEg

 

  1. John Denver, “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado” (1971)

In the subways of New York City you hear him “hummin’
Some old song he wrote of love in Boulder Canyon I guess he’d rather be in Colorado”
Even if you don’t make more than you spend it might be better to live out west or at least visit often.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBGksGTb90c

 

  1. Gordon Lightfoot, “10 Degrees and Getting Colder” (1971)

The song has a bit of word play alluding to both literal and symbolic interpretations. Is it just talking about Boulder dam or also Boulder Colorado? “Back in Boulder he had told her’I don’t know when I had a better friend’ ” At one level it is a hitchhiking song of a young broken muscian stuck on the side of the road in the dead of winter. Places to go and people to see, but he can’t get a lift and it’s getting cold. It details the hopelessness felt as everything passes you by and you’re stuck standing still, hopes and dreams deferred and the only thing you feel is the icy chill of failure and neglect. The hitchhikers sign does not give us an address it only says “Mother” which can be a unique place in any listeners mind. The song is literally about catching a ride and symbolically about a love affair that failed. It mentions insde human temperature as the past outside weather at “98.6 degrees and risin”. The song is of course “10 Degrees and Getting Colder” it is not just about the weather outside but the temperature inside when love goes wrong. 98.6 degrees and rising is your temperture when your best friend and lover is near. Promises were made, hopes kindled for something more but then it all kind of turned into an unexpected one night stand. The muscian was hit hard and depressed by the lost love and left in the freezing cold penniless trying to get a ride home to mother. It never gets that cold at Hoover’ dam. It is not about Boulder dam but about damn Boulder and the love found and lost.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmlL86FKdxk

 

 

  1. Leftover Salmon, “When I Grow Up I want to Work at Alfalfa’s” (1992)

An eclectic mix of rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, Cajun, soul, zydeco, jazz and blues. Sings about the Boulder health food scene

When I grow up, I wanna work at Alfalfa’s!
Where the cheese is dairy free.
A Birkenstocks, Spandex, necktie patchouli grocery store.
I’d have a job, picking through the produce – no pesticides for me!
I’ll be a working moderate income socially conscious Boulder hippie!
And I’d drink soy milk all day long
And fest on bulgar, wheat grass, and Windom Hill songs.
Ride home on my mountain bike,
Just in time to turn on my solar powered growing lights.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_qAKCsenhA

  1. Pure Prairie League, “Boulder Skies” (1972)

Cause more than anyone can try I hope you’ll see that I belong
Standing right before your eyes
And when you have the time to see its been too long
Then I’ll come on back to Boulder Skies”

 

Landscapes below are defined by sky above.

“Boulder Skies” sing a lament about a wonderful, curious and adventurous brown-eyed “Colorado Canyon Girl.” The song longs for a place where their love stands in harmony side by side a Boulder canyon landscape below with an emerging celestial heaven above. Is it real? or is she made up of dreams in a beautiful Boulder sky?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuXaIBGH248

  1. Atmosphere, “Shh” (2003)

Atmosphere’s “‘Shh’ the song that helped launch the Current

Such a pleasure to come home, Cuz I have a very special love for this city,” “Boulder” is hidden in the chorus that sings a lot of city names and the end in a song that is itself hidden “Shh.” was tacked on as a hidden track at the end of the Rhymesayers’ duo’s 2003 album, Seven’s Travels. “Such a pleasure to come home, Cuz I have a very special love for this city,” so says rapper Sean Daley aka Slug, as the opening line to Atmosphere’s, track “Shh,” (sometimes also listed as “Say Shh”). This song pays direct tribute to where Sean Daley grew up and where Atmosphere was born, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fame and fortune were never the goals for Atmosphere. As with most of their albums, Daley offers up social commentary as lyrics. “Shh” praises small town life and Boulder, Colorado is one of those towns.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV_E8SPc_jo

  1. John Prine, “Come Back To Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard” (1975)

Can’t you picture her next Thursday?
Can you picture her at all?
In the Hotel Boulderado
At the dark end of the hall”

The song is about losing touch with someone you used to be so close to because they’ve changed so much over the harsheness of time. In this case, “Barbara” was trying to find herself, and that’s why she’s drifted away from the people she used to know. In the 1970’s Boulder, CO the Haight Ashbury of the midwest, there were a number of people like Barbara Lewis with a story to tell. They went out in search of peace, enlightenment, love and daisies, and found instead hippie patriarchy, chaos and general human ugliness. So sad. Those from her old neighborhood don’t recognize her because of what she’s done to herself. The flower child life of the 1960’s was very rough on some. She was this girl who left home, did drugs, did religion, did husbands, and ended up living down and out in the Hotel Boulderado. Now if you are living in the newly renovated Hotel Boulderado today life is pretty darn good. But in the 1970’s the old Hotel Boulderado had fallen into being a decrepit flop house for alcoholics, drug addicts, broke beat poets, civil war pensioners, and disillusioned flower children on the verge breaking down into middle age. After being in the Hotel Boulderado you want her to come back to us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIYjz5ne7R4

  1. Jo Dee Messina, “Stand Beside Me” (1998)

He left me cryin’ late one Sunday night outside of Boulder
He said he had to find himself out on the road
I guess when love goes wrong
You’ve gotta learn to be strong

Although Boulder heartbreaks are so hard you learn to grow stronger and come to let him go because in the end you don’t want a fantasy man you want a man not to be in front of you nor to be behind you but a real man to stand beside you. He may have left you crying outside Boulder but you are the one to let him go.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWAJ5TlCLno

 

  1. Dialated Peoples “Tryin to Breathe” (2004)

I was told the world gets colder
Colorado air is thin, sold-out in Boulder
Much more in control gettin’ older

At about a mile high Boulder is hard to breathe in

even for athletes and performers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBtqdv3B7Ww

  1. The Infamous Stringdusters, “Road to Boulder” (2013)

It is hard to look at ones path toward sin and decide to take another road. I’ll take the one that’s a little colder Where the air is clear That road to Boulder. Enjoy that clean mountain high life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC3Xe5XmpzI

  1. 3OH!3, “Holler Till You Pass Out” (2007) The band started out in Boulder and is named for the Boulder area code “303”

You’s a punk XXXX if you don’t know bout Boulder

Not only do you know about Boulder you know what its area code is so don’t take no guff from this song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTrAtqaDuMA

  1. The Hold Steady, “Multitude of Casualties” (2005)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnK3OuUw-BM

She drove it like she stole it. She stole it fast and with a multitude of casualties.
She said I shipped it out from boulder.
Packed in coffee grounds and wrapped around in dryer sheets.

What from Boulder does one pack like that? “Multitude of Casualties” is the beginning of Holly’s redemption and, most likely, is the counterpoint to “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” There is a hint that Holly’s previous life- the suburban “good girl” who attended Mass- is something she actually wants once again. Holly makes her way back to church services while Holly’s boyfriend- the narrator from is shown for what he is.

  1. Kayne West, “Get Em High” (2004)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vBgv0frMSQ

Boulder then Denver, I ain’t a Madd Rapper just a MC with a temper

Being a mile above sea level we got mentioned in a song about Getting High

  1. REO Speedwagon “Ridin the Storm Out” (1973)

Ridin’ the storm out, waitin’ for the thaw out
On a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain winter

the song emreged from the band being stuck in a harsh winter blizzard after a show in Boulder, CO at a bar called Tulagi’s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVFgEBq0EKM

  1. Willie Nelson and Friends, “Highwayman” (1977)

I was a dam builder
Across the river deep and wide
Where steel and water did collide
A place called Boulder on the wild Colorado

Yup they are singing more about a dam than our fair city but Boulder Colorado is a bit wild too and we like the song so it must be about us as well even if just by a little drop.The song is about a soul with incarnations in four different places in time and history: as a highwayman, a sailor, a construction worker on the Dam then finally as a captain of a starship. In 1985, the song became the inspiration for the naming of the supergroup The Highwaymen, which featured Johnny Cash,Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFkcAH-m9W0

  1. Eminem, “Hellbound” (2000)

Everyday I grow more older, and more colder
Fly you to Colorado, roll you over with a Boulder

Is alluding to the city of Boulder without explicitly calling it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUkOYYDycTw

  1. Ozma, “Rocks” (2003)

I’ve been tryin’ to find a way to finally up and find you
Climbing every boulder in my way
To throw me off your trail you moved to Boulder, Colorado
A hop, a skip, and one long jump away

Clearly names Boulder here and plays with the popular Hop, Skip and Jump local transit bus lines that run about town in order to find true love once again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7OszilM5Y4