Chicago has a new tourism song, the product of Choose Chicago, Umphrey's McGee, Chicago (the band that moved to Los Angeles in 1968), and Buddy Guy (whose guitar work is well after the point in the song anyone will hear it). It sounds like exactly what you would expect from that combination, which… wait, I have no idea what one would expect from that.
Marah Eakin of the Onion's A.V. Club is not impressed: "Is this the song we want to represent our fair city? It’s retro at best, and says nothing about the vibrant, bustling, gritty metropolis we are now. Even the bands were a dumb choice to begin with." (Edward McClelland: "a power anthem that would have embarrassed Damn Yankees, The Outfield or White Lion.")
This assumes that a tourist-bureau theme song is ever good. It is not. This is probably the most-liked one:
It is somewhat beloved, if ironically. It's also mercifully short. It was succeeded by "New York: For the Time of Your Life," which despite coming out in the Internet-rich era of 2005, was apparently so bad it has not been archived anywhere.
Atlanta actually tried to represent its "vibrant, bustling, gritty metropolis" with the help of R&B producer Dallas Austin (probably most famous for co-producing CrazySexyCool). It's not very good, either.
What happens when you try represent vibrance and grittiness with R&B? Guess: "The song drew some criticism from people who questioned the use of an R&B song to represent all the citizens of Atlanta." A generic mishmash means not drawing "some criticism from people."
Vancouver's is "It's You." It's fine until they start scatting. ("I want to get close to you like your clothes do.")
Minnesota hit up some indie musicians. And it's cute. Might as well get the ironic distance in early.
London is just repurposing "London Calling," for the 2012 Olympics because, well, austerity I guess.
And that's one option: just grab something people already like.* Instead, we'll do what cities usually do with tourism theme songs: suffer it until, in a decade or two, it's a charming relic. Thanks to the synths and the auto-tune, it's already halfway there.
Update: John Darnielle, maybe America's best songwriter, is spitballing alternative ideas.
* This presents something of a problem as well. Most of the good songs about Chicago are about how hard the city is, as Ramsin Canon notes. (To which I would add Lou Rawls's "Dead End Street" and, more recently, Tom Waits's "Chicago.") The old and new classics about the city, "My Kind of Town" and Kanye West's "Homecoming," are about liking the city from afar. Even the commissioned "Calling Me Home, Chicago," is written from the perspective of someone who moved, which is kind of an oddly plaintive sentiment for tourism purposes.