Nothing better than a gimmicky playlist for a blog post. This one almost writes itself: the best song for each of the 50 United States.
50 Songs For 50 States
Posted by Charlie Recksieck
Best Song About Each U.S. State (Playlist)
When we say "best" we really mean a couple things: 1) The song really does capture something about the state and 2) You really do want to listen to the song. In some cases of a state with very few songs about it then the criteria get a LOT looser. Also of note: Protectorates and territories have been left off for the time being, at least until somebody can point us towards some great songs about Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
With no further ado, here’s our list with some comments or explanations when applicable. And there’s a handy Spotify playlist at the bottom (or just click here)
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
Such an underrated state for songs, right out of the box. Lots of heavy hitters I wanted here like Randy Newman "Birmingham". Bob Dylan "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", The Doors "Alabama Song"; And I really wanted to zag with a great one Amanda Marshall "Birmingham" to introduce it to you. But not putting Skynyrd here would have been a ridiculous hipster move. No way.
Dr. Dog - Alaska
I would have gone with Michelle Shocked "Anchorage" had it been available on Spotify, despite some late career weirdness from her.
The Eagles - Take It Easy
Surprisingly weak competition here; I begrudgingly went with the Eagles even though I think the song is only about Arizona because Glenn Frey thought it was cool it rhymed with the word "corner." A worthy runner-up is Isaac Hayes "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" but couldn’t pull the trigger on an epic 18-minute downer.
The Band - Caledonia Mission
I love this song even though it’s not revealed to be about Arkansas til the haymaker at the end. And besides, Bruce Springsteen’s "Mary Queen Of Arkansas" is a real bummer.
The Bigfellas - California King
This is totally crooked of me, but I went with a song I wrote. First of all, there are so goddamn many worthy California songs, maybe 10 alone from Brian Wilson and Cracker each. In our defense, "California King" hits so many things about the Golden State that it almost reads like a Wikipedia page.
Joe Walsh - Rocky Mountain Way
It pains me to leave off Warren Zevon "Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead" and The Band’s "Up On Cripple Creek" is kind of a Colorado song. But wow, Rocky Mountain Way is one of the best songs period. So, I think it qualifies as the best Colorado song.
Ben Folds - Kylie From Connecticut
I thought of this immediately and didn’t bother looking anything else up. Winner.
George Thorogood - Delaware Slide
It’s not a deep pool of Delaware songs to choose from, but when your band is named The Delaware Destroyers, I think you’ve earned the honor.
Tom Petty - Southern Accents
One of the best songs ever about the South, and Tom Petty is the best thing to come out of Florida since, um, anything. Which makes this one another no-brainer. You would have thought something on Eric Clapton’s "461 Ocean Boulevard" would have fit the bill, but no.
Little Feat - Oh Atlanta
Let me stop you right here: Gladys Knight & The Pips’ "Midnight Train To Georgia" is actually about having to turn tail and leave Los Angeles more than being about Georgia. Little Feat steps in nicely here.
Warren Zevon - The Hula Hula Boys
As a fan of terrible Elvis films, I love Elvis’ Blue Hawaii movie. The song is nice. But it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of a paranoid boyfriend’s admitted craziness with a lovely Hawaiian feel. If you know me at all musically, I’m not going against Zevon.
B-52s - Private Idaho
Not too much else came to mind, sorry. That said, I have spent a lot of time in Idaho and really love it. Hmmm, maybe it’s time for me to get out the legal pad. There’s an opportunity here.
Soul Coughing - Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago
Probably should be Sufjan Stevens "Chicago" here, but I’m saving him for Michigan. I love the Hold Steady but "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" really isn’t that much about the windy city.
Tom Petty - Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Second one for Tom Petty in this list. I can tell you one thing about this song: If you’re playing in a bar band and want to see every woman in the place get on the dance floor, just start with this guitar riff and you’ll see a dance-off by the time you hit the first lyrics. Rock solid runner-up: Jackson 5 "Going Back To Indiana"
Tom T. Hall - It Sure Can Get Cold in Des Moines
Somebody needs to get to work on more Iowa songs. Still not sure if "Turn The Page" by Bob Seger would have qualified. It’s a great jukebox song for a dive bar at 3:00pm.
Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman
Hard not to pick this one. We all know that "Jack Straw" in the Grateful Dead song was also from Wichita, but not enough.
Neil Diamond - Kentucky Woman
Was close to going with my hero, Randy Newman, and "Old Kentucky Home" but the song was written by Stephen Foster a million years ago, I’ve got Randy elsewhere on this list. And you could do a lot worse than Neil Diamond.
Lucinda Williams - Lake Charles
Probably the most controversial choice here to not go with one of the many incredible songs directly about our greatest musical city, New Orleans (e.g. Dr. John - "Goin’ Back To New Orleans") But this Lucinda song knocks me out.
Roger Miller - King Of The Road
My friend Kelly should kick my ass for not going with Tim McGraw "Portland, Maine", but with the mention of "Bangor, Maine" in one of the most iconic songs of all-time, it’s Roger Miller in the Maine slot.
R.E.M. - Don’t Go Back To Rockville
I could have had Randy Newman here (like I could have in about five states) for "Baltimore". So you’ll just have to make do with R.E.M.
Dropkick Murphys - Shipping Up To Boston
I’m always in the bag for a Bee Gees’s song so I would have loved to go with "Massachusetts" but when I think of Boston, I think of obnoxious 22-year-old drunks, therefore: Dropkick Murphys.
Sufjan Stevens - The Upper Peninsula
A beautiful song from Stevens that’s really about a place and a mood. Notably: Gordon Lightfoot "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" takes place there, but out in the lake instead of on land.
Prince - Uptown
I was a little shocked at how few iconic songs there are about Minnesota since it’s the home of Bob Dylan and The Replacements. But you know who’s also from there? Prince!
ZZ Top - Jesus Just Left Chicago
I almost went with a second Lucinda Williams song from the same album, "Jackson" but blah blah blah, who cares. I didn’t.
Wilson Pickett - Stagger Lee
Wilco "Casino Queen" and Ry Cooder "Leaving Missouri" were close, but no cigar.
The Decemberists - Rox In The Box
Another beautiful state that needs better songs to capture Big Sky country.
Counting Crows - Omaha
Bruce Springsteen’s "Nebraska" is a great song but never was meant to be anybody’s favorite song.
Was (Not Was) - Wedding Vows In Vegas
Some great songs would have captured more rural Nevada (R.E.M. "All The Way To Reno" or Billy Joel "Stop In Nevada") and Vegas is touched on by some good songs ("Viva Las Vegas" or The Killers’ "Sam’s Town"). All fine songs, but nothing relays a true Vegas experience like the Was (Not Was) song here.
Sonic Youth - New Hampshire
Forget what I said about Montana. THIS is the state that needs more songs.
Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City
The acoustic album version was always something I liked, catchy but acoustic. But once this got the full band treatments in concert, wow.
Neil Young - Albuquerque
Another one where I didn’t even bother looking for a second option.
Jay-Z - Empire State Of Mind
In my mind, a dead-heat tie between Jay-Z and Billy Joel’s "New York State Of Mind" but since Billy takes another spot here, let’s leave it in the hands of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. More runners up: Vampire Weekend "M79" and Elbow "New York Morning".
James Taylor - Carolina In My Mind
For this list to have any credibility I chose James Taylor’s song that, along with the Beatles backing, put him on the map forever. But PLEASE promise me you’ll listen to "North Carolina" by Melissa Ferrick and "Carolina" by Sheryl Crow. Maybe the best three-deep state in this whole exercise and I’m not even including Harry Styles.
Lyle Lovett - North Dakota
Just like in the NCAA Tournament, sometimes you get an easy draw. Nice victory for Lyle Lovett.
Phil Cody - Hats Off (To The Big Queen City)
The Jayhawks are an underrated favorite as is their song "Somewhere In Ohio" but I am so in the bag for this Phil Cody song. If a city ever commissioned a song to be a love letter, it should have been Cincinnati for the fantastic "Hats Off".
Rufus Wainwright = Tulsa
I’ll admit it, picking "Tulsa Time" by Eric Clapton probably would have made more sense. But tonight when I’m picking these, I just liked listening to the Rufus Wainwright song more. Such is the science of these choices.
Elliott Smith - Rose Parade
I’m absolutely shocked by the lack of quality songs about Oregon. Southeast Portland hipsters, get to work!
Billy Joel - Allentown
Tough choice between two rock legends (and tour-mates) Billy Joel and Elton John. But "Philadelphia Freedom" was written for Elton’s friend Billie Jean King and her pro WTT tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedom. True story.
Blossom Dearie - Rhode Island Is Famous For You
I didn’t even bother looking for something else about Rhode Island. A good thing too, since I probably wouldn’t have found much.
Dean Martin - Just A Little Bit South Of North Carolina
This Deano choice is 100% only because Gil Scott Heron’s "South Carolina" is not available on Spotify. But click it there for YouTube and tell me it isn’t fantastic. Til tonight I’d never heard "South Carolina" by Black Girls, but it’s growing on me fast.
Bee Gees - South Dakota Morning
Aha, I got the Bee Gees in here somewhere. Some decent runners-up for a surprising state: Bob Dylan "Ballad Of Hollis Brown", Dwight Yoakam "Rapid City. SD" and Nanci Griffith "Deadwood, South Dakota"
The Faces - Memphis
Despite one of my favorite songs, Little Feat’s "Dixie Chicken" taking place near and in the Commodore Hotel in Memphis, I’m going with Chuck Berry via the superior version by The Faces.
Old 97s - El Paso
Of course, Texas has some great music. I made a judgment call at the expense of ZZ Top’s "La Grange", The Doors’ "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" and Stevie Ray Vaughan "Texas Flood" for starters.
Randy Newman - The Beehive State
Yes, this song is really about political grandstanding in Congress, but you find me a great one about Utah.
Louis Armstrong - Moonlight In Vermont
The northernmost states in New England do not fare well musically.
The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
I wanted to go with "James River" from Cracker but it’s not on Spotify so chalk up another win for a Canadian band who sung more about specific U.S. places more often and better than almost any American band.
Jimi Hendrix - Spanish Castle Magic
If you think about it for a few minutes, then Hendrix singing about one of the first places he played is the choice. Best don’t sleep on Todd Snider’s "Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues".
John Denver - Take Me Home, Country Roads
Rod Stewart - What Made Milwaukee Famous
What am I missing here, people? There’s got to be other choices I didn’t think of, right? But even so, it’s a great song ... it’s just more about beer than Wisconsin or Milwaukee per se. But I wasn’t gonna choose the Laverne & Shirley theme.
Chris LeDoux - Paint Me Back Home in Wyoming
Another Spotify casualty since Black Crowes’ "Wyoming & Me" isn’t available there. Chris will have to LeDoux.
The Spotify List
to open this list in Spotify. And please let us know what worthy songs we may have missed.