Song of the Day #340: ‘Pensacola’ – Joan Osborne

joanosborneYou know how the other day I said some of my favorite songs are by artists I don’t consider among my favorites? Well, a perfect example is Joan Osborne’s ‘Pensacola,’ which I consider absolutely brilliant despite not thinking much about her one way or another. I’ve been dying to get this song on the blog since the beginning but I’ve been thwarted in my attempts to post it on YouTube. It inspired my first rant against the YouTube copyright protection, way back at Song #69.

But now I have my fancy new streaming capabilities, so I’m happy to bring you this wonderful tune. This week will probably be very cathartic, as I get out of my system many of the songs I’ve been unable to feature over the past year.

When I said I don’t think much of Joan Osborne, that wasn’t entirely true. Her debut album, Relish, is a fantastic piece of work. Known primarily for the oddball hit single ‘One of Us’ (as in “What if God was one of us?”), which is the worst thing on it by far, it’s a soulful and sexy collection of rock, rhythm and blues. Osborne’s voice is one for the ages, rugged and dramatic — she’s got the blood of the land in her voice, right Bob?

I could do a theme week on Relish alone, particularly the epic drug tale ‘St. Theresa,’ the majestic ‘Ladder’ and the funk-blues gem ‘Spider Web.’ Long story short… if you don’t have this album, you should.

My favorite song on Relish is today’s track, ‘Pensacola.’ What’s interesting about this song is not the passionate vocals or the muscular music, though both play a big role in its success. It’s the lyrics. The song is a brief sketch of a young woman’s experience tracking down the father who presumably abandoned her and in just three short verses I feel like I know this man, and I experience the sadness of the girl who has found him.

Osborne offers up the bare minimum here — the only description of the man is that he’s “squinting and stubbled” in “Pensacola in a trailer in the sand” — but those few lines show me this man’s whole life. He speaks only two lines. The first — “If you’ve come to take the car away, I don’t have it anymore” — gives some insight into exactly how down on his luck this guy is.

It’s his second line that really sends chills down my spine: “I sold my blood for money. There wasn’t any pain. But I just can’t stand the feeling it’s in someone else’s veins.” It’s another glimpse at his financial desperation but it’s also a splendid metaphor for this man’s abandonment of his daughter. Does he know who she his as he tells her this… does he know that his blood is in her veins, too?

I love songs for all different reasons, but I have a special fondness for songs that tell a tale. They are the ultimate short stories, and set to music to boot.

Well, I found him in Pensacola in a trailer in the sand,
The man from the picture, creased and yellow in my hand
Creased and yellow in my hand
He was squinting and stubbled and standing in the door
He said, ‘If you’ve come to take the car away,
I don’t have it anymore, I don’t have it anymore.’

He got the gospel on the radio and the gospel on T.V.
He got all of the transcripts back to nineteen sixty-three
Back to nineteen sixty-three
He said, ‘I sold my blood for money
There wasn’t any pain
But I just can’t stand the feeling
It’s in someone else’s veins
It’s in someone else’s veins.’

Momma took me aside and she tried to change my mind
She said, ‘Don’t waste your time in looking,
There’s nothin’, nothin’ left to find,
Nothin’, nothin’ left to find.’
So I left him in Pensacola in a trailer in the sand
The man from the picture, creased and yellow in my hand
Creased and yellow in my hand

Joan Osborne – Pensacola

8 thoughts on “Song of the Day #340: ‘Pensacola’ – Joan Osborne

  1. Amy says:

    Wow. Powerful song. Just curious – To what does he have the transcripts? The gospel show?

    I, too, love when a person – or a segment of society – can be conveyed so vividly. Typically, I gravitate to films that tell this sort of story more than I do songs that do the same. Maybe I don’t look to music for the same emotional depth. Still, I can understand why you hold this song out as a favorite, and I’m very glad YouTube is no longer your only way to share music on this blog. This song is a great reason to have adopted your new fancy streamlining capabilities. Well-done, you.

  2. Dana says:

    Great song.

  3. Jem says:

    Always my favourite from that album. What a voice. The kind you dream of having.

  4. Jeffrey levine says:

    After MANY (many) failed efforts, I’ve finally found an Android music player that suits me. It’s called PlayerPro, should anyone be interested… But… THAT’S off topic. The point is that one of the cool features is that when the “song” screen is displayed, there’s a button you can tap to search on the internet for lyrics…. so I was listening to Joan Osborne’s .”Relish”, and clicked on “Lyrics”, which led me, through a series of steps, to this blog page.
    The song (Pensacola) is quite brilliant, as is the entire album in general. Joan’s voice is compelling… Inspired.
    I was a bit puzzled, however, at the blog author singling out “One of Us” as “the worst thing [song] on it [the album] by far.” By far? Gee… How bad could it be?… I think it’s a great song, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people trashing it. I’m curious if they have been influenced by its having been popular… perhaps diminishing its appeal to the more erudite? It might not be quite as brilliant as Pensacola or St. Theresa, but that still leaves a LOT of room for goodness.
    I think I’ll side with Eric Bezilian on this question–who wrote the song, and is the other musical genius behind the album–who thought enough of it that he actually prepared an acceptance speech for the “Best Song” Grammy Award, apparently expecting it to win! (see
    I infer he didn’t think it was the worst song on the album, unless he thought 8 other songs would have been more deserving nominees.

    • Clay says:

      Hi Jeffrey… I was probably a bit too harsh on ‘One of Us,’ and my dismissal was at least in part due to how often it was played. That was also a way of saying how excellent I find the rest of the album, and letting people who weren’t crazy about ‘One of Us’ know that they shouldn’t avoid Relish as a result.

  5. Knarf Niatsugna says:

    Brilliant! Class act Joanie…saw her several times in Cali during the passed decades. There isn’t artist/singer who can match her voice & delivery of content. She can sing any genre, any style, any tier!

  6. K says:

    I just stumbled on this blog and i felt validated because yes i share your opinion on “One of Us”. Sure it’s cute but my god, the rest of “Relish” is incredible! I then got so excited when I read the part about your favorite line that gave you chills. Yes yes yes!!! ME TOO!!! I love this song probably solely because of that verse. It is deeply profound!

    She really has a way with words that hits you in the solar plexus. Another lyrical favorite of mine from Joan is in Lumina. “Eve bit the fruit, Eve bit the fruit, juice ran down her chin, babies will put things in their mouths, never heard of sin.” !!! Because in a way, Eve was a baby, simply because she wasnt very old technically. A little over 7 or 8 days, right? Didnt understand what sin was … whew.

    Well i just wanted to share that with you. I think I’ll check out the rest of your blog posts because since we are on the same page about this, i just might discover some more great music from you. 😊

    • K says:

      Ok, one of us isn’t a terrible song. Its good. It just was played alot yes, but also, it’s almost nothing like the rest of her album which has more powerful songs. Like the author said in a previous comment, “..letting people who weren’t crazy about ‘One of Us’ know that they shouldn’t avoid Relish as a result.”

      I think St Teresa being out there better represented Joan, though sadly it didn’t/doesn’t get played as much.

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