Everyone should be so lucky. My introduction to D.C. didn’t come from a Hill-intern meet-up, a drunken night throwing up behind the Fifth Column, or getting mixed up by a traffic circle. It came by way of an all-ages show at the old Food for Thought in Dupont Circle. I couldn’t have gotten a louder introduction. I stumbled away agog at how tiny and in-your-face it all felt. Did I get Chris Thomson’s spit on me? How can a band sound so intense? The show also made me realize just how little I knew about this city. Could it really be this cool?
The District often shuns its musical history. We bulldozed Marvin Gaye’s childhood home. We pushed the go-go scene to the suburbs. And gentrification replaced show spaces with granite countertops and Jacuzzis. But new residents can still learn a lot about this city just by listening. It sure beats lurking on listservs.
The music scene here can be as deep and complex as Senate procedure, but to start you off, I recommend albums by the bands I saw on that first night: Circus Lupus’ Solid Brass and Hoover’s The Lurid Traversal of Route 7. But that’s just my history. Here are first-record recommendations from a few experts:
Kevin Coombe, the DJ, archivist, and historian behind DC Soul Recordings, recommends Eddie Kendricks’ People…Hold On. Kendricks is not a D.C. native. But his backing band, the Young Senators, were D.C. all the way, helping pioneer the go-go sound. “It’s a cool, accessible way to hear a go-go related group doing soul music,” Coombe says. (Coombe also recommends the super funky mid-’70s single “Rock Creek Park” by the Blackbyrds.)
Maurice Shorter, Junkyard’s long-time manager, picks go-go’s biggest crossover hit—“Da Butt” by E.U. “It [has] universal appeal,” Shorter says. “It still gets the party going.”
Mingering Mike, songwriter and visual artist, recommends Marvin Gaye’s “I’ll Be Doggone.” He remembers the first time he heard the single in the mid-’60s, when he lived in the neighborhood of 50th Street NE. He calls it “hand-me-down-music”—something older relatives had passed on to him. “I think my sister was playing it. They was into Marvin Gaye before I was. It just seemed like the music was uplifting and the way he could sing…like what Al Green could do, go high and low with one voice. They do it like it’s just second nature.”
Josh Harkavy, owner of Red Onion Records & Books, recommends Velocity Girl’s Copacetic. He first heard the record as a teenager growing up on Long Island. “This was the first D.C. band I really listened to. I felt like D.C. must be a really funny, happy place to live. I’m sure for some people it is. That was definitely the sunnier side of D.C. As a teenage boy, I’m sure I thought [singer] Sarah [Shannon] was kinda cute.”