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The Oracle

The Newspaper of McDaniel High School

The Oracle

The Newspaper of McDaniel High School

The Oracle

5 songs that pay homage to Portland, Oregon

Up and down the West Coast, you’ll find some of the greatest homes for creativity and individuality in all of the United States. Whether it’s the several bands and performers pumping out of Seattle—Jimi Hendrix, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, etc.—or the visionaries living out their dreams in Los Angeles and Hollywood—Brad Pitt, Samuel L Jackson, Katy Perry, etc.—it’s not really a surprise that artists would draw inspiration from a city in the middle of it all. 

Portland’s slogan “the city that works” was coined in the late ’90s and portrayed Portland as a thoughtful, diligent environment—which still holds true today. But just how much is there to say about Portland? This list provides wide-ranging angles of the city and different perspectives from both Portland & non-Portland musicians. 


On the Bus Mall

The Decemberists


This track is off of The Decemberists 2005 album Picaresque. Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Colin Meloy said in an article with the Rolling Stone that the entirety of the record was audiotaped in a Baptist church in Portland. This detail is notable because not only does the live performance in the sanctuary give the song a very echoey and encompassing sound, the band was also formed locally in Portland just five years earlier. With a patterned, reverberating acoustic guitar, poetic wording and a repeated drum-line, it’s certainly my favorite on this list. 

Many of The Decemberists’ newer music doesn’t have the same delicate story-telling elements that Picaresque does so perfectly. I first heard “On the Bus Mall” a long time ago because I grew up listening to The Decemberists, so analyzing the lyrics was a super fulfilling and nostalgic experience. Meloy paints a picture of a pair of young runaway lovers hustling cash to keep afloat in Downtown Portland: And here in the alleys/Your spirits were rallied/As you learned quick to make a fast buck.” The singer expresses profound care for the safety and value of youth in the city, which I think is a really important message. 

The title, “On the Bus Mall” is in backing to Portland’s transit mall along 5th and 6th Avenue. The song shows reverence to Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Chinatown: “On the colonnades of the waterfront park.” 

The little references to popular Portland areas strengthen the personal, homely feelings of the piece, and it all crescendos into its final message, “We’re kings among runaways!” I think this song deserves to be on this list because it is a good demonstration of Portland’s downtown life which is an important staple in the city’s culture. 



Elliott Smith


When I think of Portland musicians, I think of Elliott Smith. Known for the intimate and melancholic timbre of his voice and lyrics, Smith was not only an incredible talent, but also an alumnus of Lincoln High School. 

“Alameda,” released in 1997 off of Smith’s third album, Either/Or, is about the Portland neighborhood of the same name. Like “On the Bus Mall,” another special part about the track is that it was recorded in the city as well, which adds to the local feel. “Alameda” is the personal thoughts and feelings that Smith takes us through while traveling along the street that he grew up on: “Walk down Alameda/Brushing off the nightmares you wish/Could plague me when I’m awake.” The song is intricate, which is common in all of Smith’s discography, but something about the narrative in which it’s told makes the track very one-of-a-kind; the line: “Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own ’cause you can’t finish what you start.” exemplifies a reflection in personal narration and taking responsibility for one’s actions. 

My favorite part about Smith’s music is that his voice always sounds like a whisper, so it allows for the guitar and memorable bass-line to do all of the talking; you don’t fully appreciate his words until you really look at them, so it’s always a treat to discover true meaning in his songs. 


City of Roses

Sufjan Stevens


The Portland nickname, “City of Roses” came to fruition in 1905 after the Portland Rose Society planted 20 miles worth of roses for the centennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark trail. This song is off of the Sufjan Stevens 2017 album, The Greatest Gift, which is a lovely, airy admiration for Stevens’ childhood summers spent in Oregon. 

The Greatest Gift was made in honor of Stevens’ mother, Carrie—an Oregon resident who passed of stomach cancer in 2012 and dealt with schizophrenia, depression and substance abuse. 

“City of Roses” is filled with dainty banjo melodies and a string-quartet cacophony, which creates a gorgeous mixture that reminds me of French film composer Alexandre Desplat, who worked on a number of Wes Anderson movies in the early and mid 2000’s. 

The harmonious and gentle references to the city shine bright in the line: “A break in the clouds is a break in my day/Face the sun of my salvation/As Hathaway Jones would have made it his own feet/Fly by the wings of your creation.” It is a beautiful nod to Portland weather and the son of Oregon Trail pioneers, author Ivan Hathaway Jones. 

Like “On the Bus Mall”, this song has a lot of personal mentions to Portland culture which makes it a much more compelling and precious piece of art.



Drake, Quavo, Travis Scott


According to the online music website, Genius, “Portland”, off of Drake’s 2017 record More Life is about the rapper’s originality and success. It features Quavo and Travis Scott, who both, like Drake, have unmatched skills with lyricism, producing and shaping a genre. 

NBA team The Portland Trail Blazers, got their name in respects to the ending of the Lewis and Clark Trail, and all of the hardships that were faced during it. Additionally, “trail-blazing” is often a euphemism for doing something that’s never been done before—like Drake, Quavo and Travis Scott “shaping a genre” and Lewis & Clark expediting to the west. 

We see the correlation between the song and “trail-blazing” with lines like, “Michael Phelps with the swim moves/Michael Jordan with the tennis shoes.” Both Phelps and Jordan single-handedly paved ways in their own careers and inspired future generations — Phelps, by achieving being the most decorated Olympian and Jordan’s influence in popularizing basketball as a sport. Just like the influence and journey of Drake, the Portland Trail Blazers and Lewis and Clark, Phelps and Jordan made for new waves in their respective crafts. My favorite part about this track is that the beat is really artfully ornamented with a frequent flute chord that builds a very distinct tune. The song was also in the basketball video game NBA 2K18.

Following the track’s release, Travis Scott, a Texan, tweeted, “I was once asked my fav place in America to find peace, Portland is the answer. Took a trip and found happynes.” We see that Portland is evidently pretty special to people that aren’t even from it.  


Paul’s Song

M. Ward


“Paul’s Song,” off of M. Ward’s 2005 album Transistor Radio, quite literally reads as a love letter to Portland. This is truly endearing because, like Travis Scott, Ward is not a Portland native either, hailing from sunny California. Ward gushes about how there’s no place like Portland, and accompanied with an almost blues take on folk music, it’s all very hypnotic: 

 “Well, I ain’t gonna lie to you/Well, every town is all the same/When you’ve left your heart in the Portland rain…” 

Ward is the only artist on this list that I wasn’t previously familiar with before listening, so I would say that this track definitely made me a fan. Ward’s ghostly voice really stands out against a complex beat, which makes it all the more impressive. The harmonies, backing vocals and dreamy bass makes everything slightly lullaby-like and peaceful. 

Moreover, I think that this song is the perfect ending to this list because it’s an adoring and reflective piece on an often hated attribute of Portland, the rain. 


All of these songs give exceptional outlooks on Portland as a city, which only proves its effect in the music industry. With lyrics alluding from Portland’s NBA team to Portland’s weather, there’s almost no box unchecked for what’s been artistically said about the city. But I believe there is still room for more innovation, more ingenuity and further stories to be told about Portland. After all, how could any city’s entire longevity be crammed into one melody? Obviously, it can’t, and if I were to meet a person unfamiliar with Portland, I would show them these anthems and allow them to draw up their own conclusions of the city because I believe all of these tracks combined give a pretty good representation of what Portland is about. 

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About the Contributor
Aria Peters, Review Editor
Aria Peters (she/her) is a sophomore who loves going to concerts and playing piano. She enjoys being a journalist because it allows her to express her viewpoints and creativity.

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