John Munson Makes You Smarter

The bass-playing maestro of <em>Wits</em> picks the 10 wittiest songs of all time

A few years back, someone coined the term “the Munson factor,” based on the Kevin Baconesque notion that everything worth knowing about in the Twin Cities arts scene is connected to John Munson in one way or another.

Sounds about right. The 45-year-old bass player rose to omnipresence in the late 1980s with Trip Shakespeare, the psychedelic pop band led by brothers Matt and Dan Wilson. He and Dan then created Semisonic before Dan left to become a songwriter to the stars. Munson now plays in The New Standards and The Twilight Hours and is the music director of Minnesota Public Radio’s popular Wits series at the Fitzgerald Theater.

In honor of this month’s three Wits shows, including a grand finale on June 30 with Amy Sedaris and They Might Be Giants, we asked Munson to share the wittiest songs he knows.


1. Political Science / Randy Newman • Such a list must include Randy Newman, and right at the top is as good a place as any. He can break your heart as quickly as he can make you laugh, and I could have picked any number of tunes—but this one’s a favorite. No one describes America’s special cross to bear quite like Newman: “Let’s drop the big one, there’ll be no one left to blame us.”

2. Eight Days a Week / The Beatles • One of the first songs that turned me onto the idea that a song could be about wordplay and surprise. I was probably about five. Admittedly, the idea is pretty facile, but the song is awesome.

3. Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow / Frank Zappa • Witty is not quite the word for this one. “Puerile” perhaps. Let’s be honest, it’s a short hop between the two.

4. Book of Love / The Magnetic Fields • “So long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing. It’s full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing.” Genius.

5. Cows / The Suburbs • My list wouldn’t be complete without this little absurdity by my friend Chan Poling’s band. Moo.

6. Subterranean Homesick Blues / Bob Dylan • This song has a nutty wit that’s irresistible. Watch Dylan’s accompanying movie to completely get it.

7. In Every Dream Home a Heartache / Roxy Music • A song with a twist. I won’t spoil it.

8. Watching The Detectives / Elvis Costello • One of Costello’s best, plus a great bass part!

9. You’re The Top / Cole Porter • “You’re the purple light of a summer night in Spain, you’re the National Gallery, you’re Garbo’s salary, you’re cellophane!” Dammit, if that doesn’t contend.

10. The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton / The Mountain Goats • One of my favorite recent discoveries. It’s a witty song about dreaming. And Satan.

Watch Munson show off his mad string skill on MPR Wits at