While San Francisco may enjoy the lion’s share of musical mentions in the region, Marin has its own legacy of namechecking, defined by the Urban Dictionary as “how people look cool by association by naming a famous place or person.” The late Otis Redding takes top billing for writing the most famous song about the region with his (posthumously completed) 1967 hit “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” But what comes after that?
The answer comes in the form of tracks from a diverse array of artists. From punk to rap to folk, the allure of Marin’s natural beauty — or, in some cases, the elitist ethos often associated with the region — have served to inspire a slew of songs. Here are ten of the most notable examples.
Ten songs that find 2Pac, Van Morrison and more namechecking our local landmarks.
“Swansea” — Joanna Newsom (2014)
Album: The Milk-Eyed Mender
The hushed lullabies of harpist Joanna Newsom’s discography are often at once both serene and startling. Beloved for her intricate, poetic wordplay, Newsom’s “Swansea” from her debut release, 2014’s The Milk-Eyed Mender, makes brief reference to “all these ghost towns, wreathed in old loam… Ho Swansea! Buttonwillow! Lagunitas! Ho Calico!”. Given Newsom played keyboards for the San Francisco outfit The Pleased prior to going solo (as well as the fact that her second cousin is the current governor of California), it’s no surprise that the comforting auspices of Lagunitas were already on her radar.
Play Swansea: YouTube
“Save Me San Francisco” — Train (2009)
Album: Save Me, San Francisco
Although it’s named for a place not actually located in Marin, this 2009 pop rock offering from local boys Train begins with the following lines: “I used to love the tenderloin until I made some tender coin and then I met some ladies from Marin.” Despite these ostensibly tone-deaf lyrics, the otherwise upbeat anthem continues to enjoy local radio play thanks to its regional ties. Back in its heyday, it was even performed live by the band as part of the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series championship ring ceremony.
Play Save Me San Francisco: YouTube / Spotify
“Sausalito” — Conor Oberst (2008)
Album: Conor Oberst
A mainstay at San Francisco’s annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, one can easily understand what Conor Oberst is getting at when he and his Mystic Valley Band dreamily suggest that we “move to Sausalito, living’s easy on a houseboat.” The message at the heart of Oberst’s “Sausalito” is one many of us can relate to: the desire to go somewhere a bit more off the beaten path. Known first for his work under the moniker Bright Eyes, Oberst has subsequently gone on to form and collaborate with a number of other bands.
Play Sausalito: YouTube / Spotify
“Hippie from Olema No. 5” —The Youngbloods (2003)
Album: Good and Dusty
“We still wear our hair long like folks used to,” Jesse Colin Young sings on “Hippie from Olema No. 5.” This charming cut from folk rock act the Youngbloods sings the praises of how different life can be out in the wilds of West Marin and beyond. Formed in 1967, the band never enjoyed the acclaim many of their peers would receive, but the lyrics suggest that life was still good. “Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema,” the song starts, “where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights. We still take in strangers if they’re ragged. We can’t think of anyone to hate.”
Play Hippie from Olema No. 5: YouTube / Spotify
“Moon Over Marin” — The Dead Kennedys (2001)
Album: Plastic Surgery Disasters
At first glance, the infamous punk band the Dead Kennedys and the splendor of Marin County appear to be as natural a pair as a tuna and peanut butter sandwich. Instead, front man Jello Biafra used the natural splendor of Marin’s shorelines in his 2001 track to warn of a future in which pollution and greed have spoiled Marin’s luster for all. There is something sinisterly false in Biafra’s eventual promise that “there will always be a moon over Marin” as well. Perhaps there will, but will we be around to see it? That’s the power of punk at work.
Play Moon Over Marin: YouTube / Spotify
“I Don’t Give a F***” — 2Pac (1995)
Album: 2Pacalypse Now
Rapper Tupac Shakur’s teen years in Marin County were brief but informative. While living with his mother and siblings in Marin City, the artist also known as 2Pac grew to distrust and resent local law enforcement. By the time Shakur was recording his debut album, 1995’s 2Pacalypse Now, his anger had congealed into the lyrics of “I Don’t Give a F— .” The rapper even calls out his adversaries directly during the track’s waning moments, with pointed words for the San Francisco Police Department, the Marin County Sheriff’s Department as well as the FBI, the CIA, and more.
Play I Don’t Give a F***: YouTube / Spotify
“Samba de Sausalito” — Santana (1973)
Written by timbales player Chepito Areas, this cut from Carlos Santana’s fifth studio album, 1973’s Welcome, reflects the jazz-fusion stylings the guitarist favored at the time but with a Brazilian samba twist. The record also notably featured an appearance from Alice Coltrane — widow of the jazz great John Coltrane and a ferocious talent in her own right. This simmering song from a true rock legend may not conjure visions of Sausalito as it looks today but nonetheless still feels in line with the bohemian ideals that long defined the area.
Play Samba de Sausalito: YouTube / Spotify
“Snow in San Anselmo” — Van Morrison (1973)
Album: Hard Nose the Highway
Written while the artist was living in Fairfax, everything sounds good when it’s Van Morrison singing, but hearing the names of familiar locals like San Anselmo and San Rafael certainly adds an extra thrill. Appearing on the artist’s seventh album, 1973’s Hard Nose the Highway, Morrison called on the Oakland Symphony Chamber Chorus to provide backing vocals. In his book, Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, author Brian Hinton got the artist’s inspiration for the song. As Morrison explained, it was “just a sketch on when it snowed in San Anselmo. It’s about the images that were happening when it was snowing there for the first time in thirty years.”
Play Snow in San Anselmo: YouTube / Spotify
“Girl from Mill Valley” — The Jeff Beck Group (1969)
Written by pianist Nicky Hopkins about a love affair with a girl living in the redwoods, this sweet instrumental piano ballad from the Jeff Beck Group was included on Beck’s second album, Beck-Ola. Released in 1969, the record represents the second and final offering from the first incarnation the Jeff Beck Group, who would later reform without Rod Stewart or the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood for two subsequent albums. It’s not hard to imagine the notes of this one wafting through a lively Friday night on Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Avenue.
Play Girl from Mill Valley: YouTube
“Golden Gate” — Al Jolson (1928)
Album: The Singing Fool (movie soundtrack)
Most famous for his (now infamous) role in cinema’s first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer, and his song “California Here I Come” (1924), Jolson’s boisterous voice serves as the perfect complement to this ode to a truly unparalleled slice of natural beauty. Who says San Francisco has dibs on the Golden Gate? This timeless classic (technically released in 1928) does wax poetic about “a little sun-kissed blonde… comin’ my way just beyond that Lincoln Highway” but mostly focuses on the majestic open space where the bay meets the ocean. That’s Marin territory too!
Play Golden Gate: YouTube
Zack Ruskin is a freelance reporter living in San Francisco. His regular beats include weed, music, literature, comedy, and drag. He’s written the cannabis column “Chem Tales” for SF Weekly since 2016 and reviews new music releases for Variety. His other bylines include Vanity Fair, Merry Jane, San Francisco Chronicle, Alta Journal of California, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Cannabis Now, and Marin Magazine. Follow him @zackruskin on Twitter or visit his website at www.zackruskin.com.