US State Songs Part I
March 27, 2009 | Lists
We previously delved into the (if you’ll excuse the redundancy) world of geography with our 25 Horrible Bands Named after Places and in doing so incurred the wrath of hardcore fans of Kansas/Boston, bands we perhaps unfairly dumped on because they’re part of that most loathsome movement in music—Prog Rock. Then again, the more comments we get from people leaping to their defense, the less we regret their inclusion.
Gene Simmons defended the music of KISS, saying basically—and we’re paraphrasing here— simplicity is good (hell, KISS stands for Keep it Simple Stupid) and that people prefer things that are basic and catchy, like the marches of John Philip Sousa. Such advice was never heeded by those terrible bands in the 70s who dominated our list by penning 8 minute songs often accompanied in the studio by a horn section, chamber orchestra, penitents who Gregorian chanted, a high school Glee club, out of work poets (the only kind) and basically everything but the organ grinder monkey.
Defenders of these acts always say “they’re amazing musicians”. Well, not really. They’re decent compared to the likes of Nirvana, who couldn’t tune their guitars if you gave them a four string head start, but compared to jazzers and the classically-trained, it’s a different league. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Folk/Pop/Rock/Rap music is simple, fun and that’s why people are drawn to it, the same way musicians are usually the only people who like jazz.
Anyway, we’re back riding the geography train here and wondered after hearing Sweet Home Alabama, would anyone sing a paean to Pennsylvania? How ’bout an ode to Oregon?
So, here’s a rundown of US STATE SONGS, listed alphabetically, so we wouldn’t tire out our Google fingers tracking down when each joined the Union.
- Nearly every single one was penned by John Denver
- We’ve left out fight songs.
- This is by no means exhaustive, as you could fill a brochure with music about the states of California/Texas, but this is the best we could do.
Alaska: North to Alaska, Johnny Horton. Horton was a buddy of Johnny Cash and being born in LA didn’t stop him from writing about pretty much everywhere else. “Where the river is winding, big nuggets they’re findin”. Horton also made the Honky Tonk Man famous before the WWF introduced the wrestler, known for a finishing move that was an acoustic guitar to the back of the head (lucky for his opponents, he wasn’t a bassist)
Arizona: Hotel Arizona, Wilco, Arizona, Kings of Leon. One of our faithful readers pointed out that in our Top 10 Drinking & Driving Songs of All Time (incidentally, Johnny Horton was killed in a DUI crash) we failed to mention the great Chicago band Wilco and their homage to boozin’ behind the wheel (or in this case, just next to it), Passenger Side. So, they make an appearance here. Here are two songs that pay homage to the high & dry state.
Alabama: Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd / Alabama, Neil Young. Alabama along with Southern Man, were Northern Neil’s Red State baiting, famously countered by Skynyrd. In the Gene Simmons Celebrity Roast (because no list of US State Songs is complete without at least two references to him), one of the comics slammed the house band saying, “I’ve heard better sounds from Lynyrd Skynyrd—as they were crashing!”
Arkansas: Mary, Queen of Arkensas, Bruce Springsteen. Arkansas, They Might be Giants. At the recent Superbowl, The Boss didn’t do himself any favors by gleefully sliding into the audience nearly crotch-first, but did us all a favor by writing this pretty decent tune. “Seems like I’m a lonely acrobat.” Bruce’s acrobatic skills kept the first row in the aforementioned performance from getting a crotch-full.
California: California Love, Dr Dre Tupac / California Stars, WIlco Billy Bragg. California Love is one of the greatest music videos ever—more was spent on that than Obama’s bail out package and it’ll do just as much for the economy. On the opposite end of the monetary scale, socialist Billy Bragg collaborated with Wilco on the quite excellent California Stars. Yes, there is Californication, California Dreaming, Losing California, and here is where completists are welcome to write their own lists, or to complain bitterly by posting below.
Colorado: I guess I’d Rather be in Colorado, John Denver. Bound for Colorado, Jackson Browne, Colorado, Merle Haggard. The former not exactly a sentiment that’ll make it onto t-shirts or into brochures. From what we gather, John Denver sang about every place his tour bus ever stopped. Speaking of tour buses, The Dave Matthews Band don’t seem to be toxic waste dumping recidivists, and have confined their garbage to the stage. In ‘Colorado’, the phrase “if God doesn’t live in Colorado, I’ll bet that’s where he spends most of his time”, puts it in the Mile High Fan Club.
Connecticut: Kylie from Connecticut, Ben Folds / Wives are in Connecticut, Carly Simon. The state of ‘Green’ (both in wealth and naming convention for towns), boarding schools, lacrosse and Yale University—noted alum, C. Montgomery Burns.
Delaware: Hello I’m in Delaware, City & Colour. “No sleep tonight. I’ll keep on driving”. Delaware is generally the state that’s forgotten when trying to name all 50. Why that is, we’re not sure but it might have something to do with the lyrical sentiment expressed here.
Florida: Florida Room, Steely Dan. Florida, Modest Mouse. Because the Patio Enclosure Blues didn’t quite rock out enough. In the movie Knocked Up, Seth Rogen’s character mentions that “Steely Dan gargles my balls.” The band’s name was inspired by Naked Lunch (“I can think of at least two things wrong with that title”, says Nelson Muntz, about the movie version) and has easily as many defenders as they do detractors (about 75 apiece). “Even as I left Florida, Far enough, far enough, wasn’t far enough”. So sing Modest Mouse, escaping from the other one in Orlando.
Georgia: Georgia on my Mind, Ray Charles. Devil Went Down to Georgia, Charlie Daniels. The Devil Went Down to Georgia, for reasons you’d need a cultural anthropologist to explain, has been inextricably associated with plaid and miniskirt-clad dancing on bar tops even before the excellent piece of reality TV, The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search, came out. Would hate to see The Penultimate Coyote Ugly Search, as top prize in ‘Ultimate’ is merely a chance to dance on the bar for tips at one of the eponymous chain saloons, where women who don’t work there, are about as likely to be patrons as they are at the Cannonball Cabaret—and not surprisingly, given a clientele withdrawing from Oxycontin and looking to sneak a peak up their skirts.
Hawaii: Hawaii, Beach Boys. Blue Hawaii, Elvis. If you ever get the opportunity, just as someone is going to launch into what a pop masterpiece Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is, just walk away, catching them off-guard mid sentence. Don’t engage, just walk away. Elvis without question, put the ‘blue’ in Hawaii with both the song and the movie.
Idaho: Private Idaho, B52s. Idaho, Train. Fred Schneider from the B52s has one of the more annoying voices in music. Hearing someone do Love Shack at karaoke, is ample reason to install a home sensory deprivation chamber. [Please see our Songs that Inspired Karaoke Violence] Train is one of those bands that have helped progressively erode the legitimacy of the Grammy Awards.
Illinois: Johnsburg Illinois, Tom Waits. Illinois Enema Bandit, Frank Zappa. Consistently a forerunner in the, Name the Most Boring State you Can Think Of, sweepstakes, Illinois is usually spared top prize by virtue of a) the pure awesomeness of Chicago and b) the states of Nebraska, Indiana, Oklahoma and Delaware. For the more boring provinces in Canada, please see (or don’t, as the case may be) Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the latter, best known for its sand…yes…sand.
Indiana: Indiana Wants Me, R Dean Taylor. But does anybody want it?
Iowa: Iowa, Slipknot. A band named after a hangman’s noose, who wear scary masks and churn out awful, awful music. They have an album called Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat, but a more accurate title would be: Play, No Need to hit Repeat.
Kansas: The Devil Came from Kansas, Procul Harum. Procul Harum is known for their smash, Whiter Shade of Pale, which could be the Kansas state song. The Devil definitely didn’t come from Kansas, as he’s a visible minority (red).
Kentucky: Kentucky Woman, Neil Diamond. Kentucky, the Louvin Brothers. We’re big fans of the hipster-bashing website Stuff White People Like and a favorite t-shirt sported by people whose jeans are skinnier than a crack addled drag queen, is one that says ‘Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky.’ This is obviously ironic, as the type of person who’d wear such an item loathes people from Kentucky, actually a really pretty state with great booze and music.
Louisiana: Leaving Louisiana, Oak Ridge Boys. Louisiana Blues, Muddy Waters. Louiasiana Woman, Mississippi Man, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn. Louisiana has hands down, the best food anywhere in the United States. For whatever reason, nobody has ‘prime swamp land’ to sell you there, like in the state of Florida. Still, if you’re going to get bilked out of real estate, it’s better that it’s here instead of a place where retirees go to drop dead. Not surprisingly, LA has spawned lots of devotion, three examples of which we’ve shared here….unlike….
Maine: Stein Song. Nobody it seems, wants to write a song about Maine, probably because one-syllable states don’t aid in the songwriting process. Of the three books Stephen King pens every year at least 2.5 of them have something to do with mysterious goings-on in Maine.
Maryland: Maryland Bridge, Vonda Shepherd. Maryland Bridge, The Weakerthans. Vonda Shepherd wrote and performed the awful theme music from the equally awful Ally McBeal. To make matters worse, she’d be occasionally written into plot lines to get extra time for her bad music that didn’t play while the credits rolled. 30 Rock is an updated version of Ally McBeal—except with TV writers instead of lawyers and the same kind of awful mugging for the camera that is so disconcerting to the viewer and so favored by kids at the zoo when the channel 8 action news team show up.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts, Bee Gee’s. Because we can’t think of anything to write about the Bee Gee’s, here’s a hilarious clip of the band storming off the Clive Anderson talk show with a “You’re a tosser pal”. (Brit slang for jerk off). What makes the clip so great is the remaining brother, perhaps the one the other two screwed out of songwriting royalties, sheepishly sticks around for a moment afterward and can’t extricate himself from his mic. A bemused Clive, who’d spent the minutes leading up to the walk off, offering backhanded compliments interspersed with straightforward put downs, doesn’t seem to mind.
Michigan: Especially in Michigan, Red hot Chili Peppers. “Double chins and bowling pins”. A little unfair, as parts of Michigan, especially the upper part, are really stunning and mostly devoid of people, double chins or otherwise.
Minnesota: Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Weird Al. Minnesota Girl, Green Day. Minnesota has given us Bob Dylan, Prince, a giant mall and a big case of writers block. Those two guys, who are weirdly starting to resemble one another, are monumental talents, yet neither put pen to paper to serenade the home state—Californian Weird Al did, and it’s a song about a ball of string, not a mall so big it can fit the Philadelphia subway system in it.
Mississippi: Mississippi, Bob Dylan, Goin’ to Mississippi, Magic Slim. Snow, Knopfler, Winter, Broonzy, Haggard and many others penned ol’ Miss ditties, the very best though, is by His Bobness, who’s put out some of his career-best music in the last decade. See Modern Times. At Toronto’s Silver Dollar Room, one of us had the pleasure of sharing a bourbon mid set with Magic Slim (who, at 6’5 and well over 250 lbs is not particularly slim, though a slide guitar is magic in his hands).