50 Songs For 50 States
This weekend, we celebrate America and the 50 amazing states that make up this great country. And ever since 1776, artists have been writing songs about the places they've been from New York to California, and everywhere in between.. The following 51 songs — can't forget D.C.! — reach across decades and genres to commemorate the United States' connection to music, and prove that a song can connect you to any place, even when you're thousands of miles away.
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd SkynyrdDespite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Florida roots, their ode to the blue-skied Alabama is possibly the catchiest iconic state tribute.
“Alaska & Me,” John DenverIt may have a reputation as one of the coldest states, but John Denver didn’t care to focus on the climate. Instead, his raise-a-glass-to-Alaska song praised its people, mountains and overall beauty.
"The Painted Desert,” 10,000 ManiacsArizona isn’t exactly the place you want to be in the summer (unless you enjoy temperatures over 100 degrees), but the New York natives long for the state’s deserts and cacti during the hottest part of the year in “The Painted Desert.”
“Arkansas Heat,” The GossipThe Southern state’s heat and humidity is the general focus of this aptly titled rocker, but perhaps the most interesting lyric—whether true or not—is about a little Arkansas town that “hasn’t changed at all since 1965.”
“California Girls,” Beach BoysThe Beach Boys made just about anyone want to be Californian with this picture-painting tune about tan skin, palm trees, and what it’s like to date a West Coast gal—or as they put it, “the cutest girls in the world.”
“Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe WalshWhile the song is practically a 5-minute jam session, Walsh was inspired to write it while living in Colorado near the Rocky Mountains, where he thought life couldn’t get much better (or higher).
“Connecticut,” Judy Garland and Bing CrosbyAlthough Connecticut is the third smallest state in the country, Garland and Crosby give several reasons why it’s “the place to be”—and even throw some shade at Montana and Indiana.
“Delaware,” Perry ComoState puns are always entertaining, so Como decided to put a whole bunch of them in one song and gave Delaware the title as he starts and finishes with the classic, “What did Della wear?”
“Floridays,” Jimmy BuffettJimmy Buffett has become the quintessential island jammer, but his song “Floridays” is a much slower accolade to Floridian beach life. Even without the steel drum, the laid-back tune emphasizes just how nice it is to live in The Sunshine State.
“Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight & the PipsRay Charles had Georgia on his mind, but Gladys Knight knew it was the place to go if you wanted to get away to “a simpler place in time”— even in the middle of the night.
"Beach in Hawaii," Ziggy MarleyConsidering Hawaii is the United States' only option for true island living, who is more fitting to sing a song about it than a Marley? As long as you disregard the rather depressing lyrics, it’s a soothing island song that makes you want to say “Aloha” to the Hawaiian sand.
"Idaho," Afroman According to Afroman, the state known for its potatoes grows other things than spuds (we’ll leave the rest up to imagination). It’s not the most kid-friendly, but it wouldn’t be an Afroman song if it weren’t inappropriate, right?
“Homecoming,” Kanye WestThe Kanye-Chris Martin collab makes it exciting to return home wherever that may be, but once Martin mentions fireworks at Lake Michigan, Chicago (and, sure, all of Illinois) sound like a pretty great place to call home.
"Small Town," John MellencampRepping his Seymour, Indiana roots, Mellencamp’s elegy to small towns across America shares the experience of growing up in a tiny community.
“The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” Joni MitchellProbably not helping Iowa's “not much to do here” stereotype, Mitchell’s strange but catchy song about a dry cleaner from its capital makes the thought of the state at least a little more exciting.
"Kansas," Ashanti Ashanti gave Kansas an R&B makeover when she appeared in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz in 2005. Though Ashanti claims she has to escape Kansas to accomplish her dreams, we all know there's no place like home.
"Kentucky Woman," Neil Diamond Diamond celebrates Kentucky ladies in this upbeat ode to the sweet, beautiful Southern belle.
"Louisiana," Willie NelsonThe Red Headed Stranger recounts the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 on "Louisiana." Though river flooding continues to affect the Bayou State every summer, Nelson's easygoing Southern twang assures us Louisiana won't be washed away.
“Coast of Maine,” Ivory Regretting leaving Maine never sounded as pleasant and serene as it does when Ivory describe leaving a lover behind in Portland using soft falsetto.
"Baltimore," PrincePrince shined a light on Maryland by writing this song after black teenager Freddie Grey died in police custody. "Baltimore" acts as a call for justice to correct the actions that led to Grey's death.
"Holiday in Cambodia," The Dead KennedysThe Dead Kennedys started out in San Francisco, but quickly became a defining part of Boston's punk scene in the '80s. One of the band's best known songs, "Holiday in Cambodia," takes a satirical look at a young, privileged American learning firsthand about the world's brutality while fighting overseas—patriotism in its darkest form.
“Say Yes! To Michigan,” Sufjan StevensWhile Stevens dedicates other tracks on his all-Michigan album to cities Flint and Redford, "Say Yes! To Michigan," an old state tourism slogan, celebrates the entire Great Lake State and how you can never change someone who was made in Michigan.
"Stuck Between Stations," The Hold SteadyThe Hold Steady often set their songs in Minneapolis, and this time the group mentions Minnesota staples like the Twin Cities, the Mississippi River, the Golden Gophers and hating long winters. A movie by the same name follows two high school friends reuniting as they explore the lesser-known parts of Minneapolis.
"Mississippi," Bob DylanThough Dylan regrets an extended stay in Mississippi on this track, he combines a warm and soulful tone with elements of his earlier work to make "Mississippi" one of his best, especially among Dylan's more recent releases ("Mississippi" appeared on 2001's Love and Theft).
"Missing Missouri," Sara EvansEvans spent the first 20 years of her life in the Show Me State and remembers late summer nights, driving down the Missouri Bootheel and watching the St. Louis Cardinals in this upbeat country tune about missing her friends and family back home.
"Montana Song," Hank Williams, Jr.Williams heads to Montana to escape the blues one winter, but ends up finding a lady who loves him and leaves him. Bocephus reminds listeners of Montana's snowy mountains and cold winds with his mix of traditional Southern rock and country.
"(Ready or Not) Omaha, Nebraska," Bowling For SoupInspired by the College World Series, which takes place in Omaha, Nebraska each June, the pop-punk ditty expresses an overwhelming excitement for being in Omaha, and hails from Bowling for Soup's 2009 album of TV and movie-related tracks and covers.
"Waking Up in Vegas," Katy PerryYes, there's more to Nevada than Sin City, but Perry's ode to the type of night that stays in Vegas reassure listeners it's okay to have one of "those nights," as long as you're prepared to face the consequences (read: hangover). The catchy, confident anthem hits on the best and worst Vegas has to offer and sends the message that it's okay to let loose every now and then.
"New Hampshire," Sonic YouthThe New York City based band uses their cool, carefree sound to show some love for New England and assure us that New Hampshire boys Steve and Joe are "gonna lead on."
"4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," Bruce SpringsteenThe Boss pays tribute to summers on the Shore, New Jersey pride and his hometown in this 1973 Springsteen staple. The somber tune calls out "silly New York girls," acknowledges Garden State greasers and ultimately reminds us there's more to Jersey than cheap gas and 24-hour diners—it could be the home to your next summer fling.
"New Mexico," Johnny CashUnfortunately the Man in Black didn't enjoy the summer he spent working on a farm in New Mexico. In the track, Cash advises listeners to avoid the "God forsaken country they call New Mexico." Still, the song mentions New Mexican hail storms, logging and the fact that not everyone can succeed at wrangling cattle.
"New York State of Mind," Billy JoelWhile Jay-Z's take on the classic song holds its own, the Empire State still belongs to Billy. The Long Island native popularized the term with his 1976 single and wraps up why New York simply doesn't compare to the other 49 states in six minutes of dramatic piano, saxophone and tell-it-like-it-is lyrics.
"Carolina In My Mind," James TaylorThe unofficial song of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reflects Taylor's homesickness for the state in which he grew up as he recorded his debut album in London and continued to travel the world. The original version of the low-key tune features one-time Apple Records labelmate Paul McCartney on bass and an uncredited appearance by George Harrison as backing vocals.
"Nellie Kane," Hot RizeThe bluegrass band meet Nellie Kane in North Dakota and experience a kind of love they can't explain. "Nellie Kane" gives off a western plain feel thanks to its bango and ukulele use, and Phish put their psychedelic spin on the song when they started covering the song in the early '90s.
"Ohio," The Black KeysThe duo from Akron calls Ohio the place they "love most of all" in this bluesy rock song. The name of the state serves as the chorus on "Ohio" over standout guitar riffs and numerous pleas to return to the Buckeye State.
"Oklahoma Sky," Miranda LambertLambert invites her love to “meet me underneath the Oklahoma sky” in this 2011 song, a slow-burning romantic ballad defined by its calming guitars and Lambert’s pretty-but-passionate vocals.
"Oregon Girl," Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin"Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin" is from Missouri, but 2006’s “Oregon Girl” is all about the magic of a woman from the northwestern state. Frontman Philip Dickey’s slightly melancholic vocals combined with surf-rock guitars and lyrics like “Oregon girl, I’ve been around the world, but I’ve never seen an Oregon girl” together make for a song that’s both an ode to that special girl you can’t get over—and that special state she hails from.
"Pennsylvania," HeartPennsylvania’s full of suburbs and nature, but “Pennsylvania” spotlights the urban areas with their dark alleys and bustling city streets. Its haunting instrumentals mirror its haunting lyrics with references to “rusted angels floating everywhere” and “spirits passing by.” Sure, it’s not the most glimmering portrayal, but it’s an eerily poetic one nonetheless.
"Rhode Island is Famous for You," Blossom DearieDearie name drops multiple states in this ragtime number from Broadway’s Inside U.S.A., but Rhode Island takes center-stage: She lists what kinds of mundane things other states are famous for—potatoes from Idaho, cotton from Louisiana— and then addresses the listener by declaring, “Little ol’ Rhode Island is famous for you.” Aw.
"South Carolina," TennisThis old-timey, upbeat ditty praises South Carolina for its character-building abilities and sun-soaked marshlands, and ends with a sweet suggestion: "We'll make a family in the quiet country, you and me, in simplicity."
"South Dakota Morning," The Bee GeesNever did the Mount Rushmore State sound as pretty as it does in this 1973 track: Harmonica and lap steel guitar add a dose of gentle country charm to the trio’s retelling of some South Dakota mornings.
"Walking In Memphis," Marc CohnPlenty of musicians have tried their hand at covering “Walking in Memphis,” but it’s the piano-heavy original that really makes listeners feel like they’re, well, walking in Memphis.
"Amarillo Sky," Jason AldeanAldean pays tribute to hard-working Texans in “Amarillo Sky,” originally recorded by McBride & the Ride before Aldean covered it in 2005. The twangy track paints a clear narrative about a religious farmer who does his best for the good of his family, and what results is a country song that doesn’t shy away from the state’s struggles—“The diesel’s worth the price of gold, it’s the cheapest grain he’s ever sold”—or the strength of its residents.
“Utah,” The OsmondsThe Osmonds are from Utah, but it wasn’t until 10 albums into their careers that they dedicated an entire song to their home state. And the wait was worth it for any Utah fans: The outcome is a lively, sing-along-ready rock track about how “Utah is the place where [they] want to be.”
"Moonlight in Vermont," Ella FitzgeraldThis 1940s standard might as well be an add for Vermont: The lyrics themselves are enough to sell anyone on the place—“People who meet in this romantic setting are so hypnotized by the lovely”—but Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s serene 1956 rendition adds a whole new level of irresistibility to Vermont.
"Virginia Moon," Foo FightersDave Grohl grew up in Virginia, and his love for the state shows in this mellow, jazzy lullaby. The Foo Fighters frontman collaborated with Norah Jones—mellow jazz extraordinaire—on the track, which earned a Grammy nod in 2005
"Washington My Home," SickoSicko’s raucous ode to Washington emphasizes the lush landscapes—“your verdant forests green, caressed by silvery streams”—and the state’s overwhelming feeling of peace without actually sounding peaceful: “Washington My Home” is a punk-flavored state anthem that’d be as appropriate at Warped Tour as it would be at a football game.
"Take Me Home, Country Roads," John DenverDenver dubs West Virginia “almost heaven” in this country classic, which is just about the best compliment someone can give a place.
"Madison," Art Paul SchlosserThe kazoo’s out in full force in “Madison,” a song that extols the Wisconsin capital’s cheap sodas and fun atmosphere.
"Song of Wyoming," John DenverListening to the harmonica-tinged “Song of Wyoming” is like drifting through the country on a slow-moving horse in a black-and-white Western. It’s slow and simple, perfect for a campfire or a beer with buddies.
Bonus: Washington, D.C.
"Banned in DC," Bad BrainsThe title track on Bad Brains' punk/reggae compilation album, which originally appeared on a reissue of Rock for Light, defines D.C.'s punk scene in the early '80s. Bad Brains describe being banned from playing in DC nightclubs, encapsulating the "fight for your rights" and "never back down" attitudes that often saturate the nation's capital.
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