Among the things that set America apart from other countries are its individual states. Each state has its own distinct history and characteristics, and songwriters since the birth of the nation have sought to capture that unique quality with a tuneful paean to each state.
From sea to shining sea, from Congo Square in New Orleans to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, this country has produced some of the greatest songs in the world.
24/7 Wall St. has collected the best song about every state, or song pertaining to that state. In certain cases, songs about popular cities within the state were selected as a proxy for the state. We’ve got ballads and rockers, tearjerkers and party anthems on this list. It’s a list as diverse as America itself and, like our nation, it’s full of surprises.
Some of the songs on our list are tributes penned by hometown heroes, but many were written by out-of-staters who were moved to song. Another surprise is that not all of the top tracks state-by-state are tributes. Many of these songs are personal reflections by the songwriter that merely use a specific state or city as a backdrop. A few of these tracks even express dissatisfaction with the state they are about.
The most prolific songwriter on the list is easily New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. The Boss landed the most popular song not only for his home state, but also for Arkansas and Pennsylvania. And while fellow rockers and singer-songwriters are the most heavily represented, this list also includes some R&B and hip-hop gems.
To determine the best song about every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the top-played songs about each state – or songs using a state as a major theme – on Spotify. In certain cases, songs about popular cities within the state were chosen as a proxy for that state. Spotify play counts are as of July 25, 2018 and are rounded to the nearest thousand.
> Song: Sweet Home Alabama
> Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd
> Spotify plays: 305,858,000
Though originally from Florida, Lynyrd Skynyrd became icons all over the South after “Sweet Home Alabama” was released. The song was written as joke by Skynyrd in response to Neil Young’s harsh view of the South in “Southern Man.” Skynyrd were actually a bunch of Neil Young fans, and Young later said he prefered “Sweet Home Alabama” to “Southern Man.”
> Song: North to Alaska
> Artist: Johnny Horton
> Spotify plays: 4,018,000
“North to Alaska” was Johnny Horton’s biggest hit, but the country star didn’t live to see the success. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts just days after Horton was killed in a car accident in Texas.
> Song: Take It Easy
> Artist: Eagles
> Spotify plays: 96,247,000
This Eagles classic was co-written with their soon-to-be famous Los Angeles neighbor, Jackson Browne. Glenn Frey, who first heard Browne’s song about a street corner in Winslow, Arizona, helped Browne finish the lyrics. Recorded later by the Eagles, “Take It Easy” was the band’s first ever single.
> Song: Mary Queen of Arkansas
> Artist: Bruce Springsteen
> Spotify plays: 1,027,000
“Mary Queen of Arkansas” was one of four songs Bruce Springsteen played during his audition with legendary CBS Records producer John Hammond on May 22, 1972. The tune wasn’t Hammond’s favorite of the four, but he was still blown away by the performance.
> Song: California Love
> Artist: 2Pac
> Spotify plays: 129,482,000
This iconic West Coast jam marked a rare collaboration between 2Pac and Dr. Dre. Despite the tune’s massive success, the two hip-hop legends didn’t share much California love for one another. Dre even told journalist Harris Rosen at the time that the two had never met in person – a highly dubious claim.
> Song: Rocky Mountain High
> Artist: John Denver
> Spotify plays: 17,807,000
“Rocky Mountain High” was a top 10 hit for John Denver in 1972, but it also dragged the country star into controversy. The song was temporarily censored by the FCC that year for perceived drug references. Denver ardently denied the claims.
> Song: Peace Connecticut
> Artist: Apathy
> Spotify plays: 79,000
Apathy, a.k.a Chad Bromley, is a native of Willimantic, Connecticut, and does his home state proud on this Da Beatminerz-produced track. The track even gets a nice cred boost from Raekwon, who provides the signature sample from his own track “Incarcerated Scarfaces.”
> Song: Delaware Slide
> Artist: George Thorogood & The Destroyers
> Spotify plays: 471,000
George Thorogood has been the First State’s chief ambassador of blues rock since the 1970s. Before he and the Delaware Destroyers topped the charts, however, he was busking in California. A passerby recommended him for an opening slot with Bonnie Raitt that launched his career. Thorogood showed his Delaware pride with the nearly eight-minute “Delaware Slide” on his band’s debut album.
> Song: Miami
> Artist: Will Smith
> Spotify plays: 84,721,000
Will Smith scored top 20 success with his 1997 track “Miami” and wasn’t kidding when he professed his love to the Florida city. Nearly 10 years later he gushed about Miami while speaking with Virgin Radio Dubai, saying “my two favorite cities on earth are Dubai and Miami.”
> Song: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
> Artist: Charlie Daniels Band
> Spotify plays: 42,037,000
Charlie Daniels is originally from North Carolina but will forever be loved in the Peach State for “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Daniels says the song was inspired by a fiddle-themed poem titled “The Mountain Whippoorwill.”
> Song: Beach in Hawaii
> Artist: Ziggy Marley
> Spotify plays: 40,320,000
Ziggy Marley has maintained his family’s beach-loving tradition throughout his career, especially on “Beach In Hawaii.” The Jamaican star not only shared his love for the island state on the track, but also made a guest appearance on the CBS reboot series “Hawaii Five-0.”
> Song: Private Idaho
> Artist: The B-52’s
> Spotify plays: 4,040,000
Athens, Georgia’s beloved art-poppers, the B-52’s, scored a top anthem for the Gem State with “Private Idaho.” The love affair between the band and Idaho hasn’t died down since the song’s 1980 release. In 2017, band member Cindy Wilson told Idaho’s Sandpoint Reader, “It’s always fun to come back to Idaho.”
> Song: Illinois
> Artist: Brett Eldredge
> Spotify plays: 2,940,000
Brett Eldredge brings a healthy dose of homestate pride to his anthem “Illinois.” The track was, in fact, penned by Eldredge along with his co-writers after an afternoon cruising through some of the rural farming communities near the singer’s hometown.
> Song: Small Town
> Artist: John Mellencamp
> Spotify plays: 20,822,000
John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” is a classic anthem in Indiana, but the first draft of the lyrics was riddled with spelling errors. He struggled so mightily typing out the lyrics that members of his family laughed out loud as his digital typewriter rejected the misspellings.
> Song: Iowa (Traveling, Pt. 3)
> Artist: Dar Williams
> Spotify plays: 556,000
“Iowa (Traveling, Pt. 3)” has endeared Dar Williams to the residents of the Hawkeye State, but the state also occupies a piece of her heart. Williams told website GoPride that she loves to write while on the road, and that she has “little pieces of [her] personality identifying with all of these different parts of the country.”
> Song: Wichita Lineman
> Artist: Glen Campbell
> Spotify plays: 11,313,000
“Wichita Lineman” is certainly one of the most popular songs based in Kansas, but it wasn’t born out of a love for the state. After scoring a hit with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” Glen Campbell was looking for a follow up. Songwriter Jimmy Webb, in “American Songwriter” magazine, recalled him asking, “Can you write me a song about a town?”
> Song: Blue Moon of Kentucky
> Artist: Elvis Presley
> Spotify plays: 2,578,000
The King of Rock and Roll ascended his throne in the Bluegrass State after recording his version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in 1954. Presley and his band were struggling through a recording session when bass player Bill Black began playing the song in imitation of Monroe. The rest of the band joined in and producer Sam Phillips encourage them to keep it.
> Song: House of the Rising Sun
> Artist: The Animals
> Spotify plays: 217,462,000
For decades, New Orleans historians have suggested that the legendary “House of the Rising Sun” was purely fictional. If the famed “house in New Orleans” referenced in the song ever existed, the New Orleans Times Picayune says it was probably located at 535-537 Conti St., which was once a hotel called the Rising Sun Hotel.
> Song: Portland, Maine
> Artist: Donovan Woods
> Spotify plays: 25,657,000
Donovan Woods wrote “Portland, Maine” out of frustration with his commercial songwriting work in Nashville. After making numerous trips to Music City, trying to write radio-friendly hits for other artists, he penned the kind of song he personally liked. The result – “Portland, Maine” – was subsequently recorded by Tim McGraw and Woods later released his own version.
> Song: Baltimore
> Artist: Nina Simone
> Spotify plays: 17,289,000
Nina Simone’s iconic track “Baltimore” was penned for her by Randy Newman. Simone’s producers selected the song – a fact Simone was adamant about making clear – yet she would continue playing the song live throughout her career. Newman also admitted he had only visited the city once before he wrote the song.
> Song: I’m Shipping Up to Boston
> Artist: The Dropkick Murphys
> Spotify plays: 96,115,000
“I’m Shipping Up To Boston” is an anthem for the entire New England region, but the lyrics were initially just placeholders. Dropkick Murphys’ singer Ken Casey says that he heard a Woody Guthrie line about a “sailor peg” and improvised the rest in a rehearsal.
> Song: Detroit Rock City
> Artist: Kiss
> Spotify plays: 41,594,000
Kiss helped define Detroit’s rock identity with “Detroit Rock City,” but the storyline that plays out in the song didn’t take place in Detroit. Paul Stanley reportedly had the song title and finished the rest of the lyrics after a fan was killed outside a Kiss show in Charlotte, North Carolina.
> Song: Say Shh
> Artist: Atmosphere
> Spotify plays: 584,000
Atmosphere’s “Say Shh” is beloved in the group’s home state of Minnesota. Speaking of the track, member Slug says it’s relatable for those living outside of the state as well, telling news website Minnesota Connected, “A song like ‘Say Shh’ translates well because it’s about being proud of where you’re from. Many people can relate to that if they choose to.”
> Song: Mississippi Girl
> Artist: Faith Hill
> Spotify plays: 5,197,000
Faith Hill is a native of Ridgeland, Mississippi, and puts her Magnolia pride front and center in her track “Mississippi Girl.” Hill released the track just months before Hurricane Katrina battered the Southeast, and Hill noted that track took on a whole new intensity after the storm.
> Song: Kansas City
> Artist: Wilbert Harrison
> Spotify plays: 2,433,000
“Kansas City” was a career highlight for both Wilbert Harrison and the songwriter team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The songwriters were still teens living in Los Angeles at the time and were commissioned to write the song to capitalize on the rising popularity of R&B music in L.A. The song has since been recorded by over 300 different artists.
> Song: Meet Me in Montana
> Artist: Dan Seals and Marie Osmond
> Spotify plays: 1,843,000
“Meet Me In Montana” was penned by songwriter and musician Paul Davis. He had been on tour with Merle Haggard and decided to take a few vacation days in the western state. Davis wrote the tune after becoming “thoroughly impressed with how majestic and beautiful the place is,” he recounted in a 1986 Chicago Tribune interview.
> Song: Omaha
> Artist: Counting Crows
> Spotify plays: 7,972,000
“Omaha” was at the center of Counting Crows’ breakout album “August and Everything After,” and songwriter Adam Duritz said the track had been in his back pocket for years. Speaking with Omaha.com he said that it took his fellows Crows to bring the tune to life, saying, “I had that song for a while. I tried it in all of my bands. Nobody could play it. People could not get the feel right.”
> Song: Waking Up In Vegas
> Artist: Katy Perry
> Spotify plays: 31,582,000
Las Vegas has always been second home to pop stars like Katy Perry, and she professed her love to Sin City with the track “Waking Up In Vegas.” Songwriter Desmond Child says some of the lyrics were inspired by a wedding party Jon Bon Jovi threw for him during which everyone dressed as Elvis.
29. New Hampshire
> Song: New Hampshire
> Artist: Matt Pond PA
> Spotify plays: 333,000
Matt Pond of Matt Pond PA grew up in New Hampshire and remembers his (mildly delinquent) days in the state with fondness. “We were always looking for something to do and kind of bored, but that was probably the most fun I’d ever have, scrounging for change, begging your parents for money, swimming in rivers and setting things on fire,” he stated in an interview with Substream Magazine.
30. New Jersey
> Song: Jersey Girl
> Artist: Bruce Springsteen
> Spotify plays: 7,299,000
Bruce Springsteen sits atop the pantheon of New Jersey rock stars, but his classic “Jersey Girl” was actually penned by Tom Waits. The Boss has scored much of the credit for this Jersey anthem, but Waits has taken it in good fun, joking to interviewer Bill Flanagan in 1987, “Bruce Springsteen? Well, I’ve done all I can for him. He’s on his own now.”
31. New Mexico
> Song: Albuquerque
> Artist: Neil Young
> Spotify plays: 502,000
Neil Young recorded his classic track “Albuquerque” following the death of two of his Crazy Horse band members: guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. It’s a sentimental track that captures the essence of a long drive down a desert highway.
32. New York
> Song: Theme from New York, New York
> Artist: Frank Sinatra
> Spotify plays: 52,769,000
Frank Sinatra redefined the “city song” with his iconic recording of Fred Ebb and John Kander’s “Theme from New York, New York.” The track was originally penned for Martin Scorsese’s 1977 classic “New York, New York.” Despite the tune’s ubiquity in the Big Apple, Ebb admitted he hated Sinatra’s lyrical alteration to include the line “a-number one.”
33. North Carolina
> Song: Carolina in My Mind
> Artist: James Taylor
> Spotify plays: 27,783,000
James Taylor was born in Boston but spent much of his childhood in North Carolina. He was on a vacation in Ibiza, Spain when he said he kept going to Carolina in his mind and wrote the tune out of homesickness. The track was included as part of his self-titled debut album.
34. North Dakota
> Song: North Dakota
> Artist: Lyle Lovett
> Spotify plays: 596,000
Lyle Lovett is a Texan, but he’s beloved in the Roughrider State for his track “North Dakota.” The definitive recording of this track appears on Lovett’s 1992 album “Joshua Judges Ruth,” which peaked at number 57 on the Billboard 200 chart.
> Song: Ohio
> Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
> Spotify plays: 24,904,000
Neil Young was at David Crosby’s house in Pescadero, California, when he read Life Magazine’s account of the tragic Kent State University shooting. He borrowed a guitar from Crosby and wrote the song before leaving the house. When he recalls hearing the song for the first time, Crosby told Young’s biographer Jimmy McDonough, “I was freaked out because I felt it so strongly,”
> Song: Oklahoma Sky
> Artist: Miranda Lambert
> Spotify plays: 2,557,000
Miranda Lambert is a hero in her home state of Oklahoma. Beyond just growing up there, she has also established charity organizations to give back in several communities. “Oklahoma Sky” has fans well beyond the Sooner State, however. Fellow country star Cam used it as the first dance song at her wedding.
> Song: Portland, Oregon
> Artist: Loretta Lynn
> Spotify plays: 1,039,000
Loretta Lynn’s “Portland, Oregon” is a perfect fit for the oh-so-hip city. The track was produced and co-written by Jack White as part his collaborative album with Lynn titled “Van Lear Rose.” During their first meeting, White was so insistent about recording together he offered to play nothing more than a tambourine on the album.
> Song: Streets of Philadelphia
> Artist: Bruce Springsteen
> Spotify plays: 75,298,000
Bruce Springsteen wrote “The Streets of Philadelphia” for director Jonathan Demme’s film drama about the AIDS epidemic, “Philadelphia.” The track landed Springsteen a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award. Jackson Browne lauded the track in Rolling Stone, calling it “quite a feat.”
39. Rhode Island
> Song: Rhode Island is Famous for You
> Artist: Blossom Dearie
> Spotify plays: 799,000
Blossom Dearie’s “Rhode Island is Famous for You” was originally penned by composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz for the musical revue “Inside U.S.A.” Originally, Estelle Loring and Jack Haley sang the song in the show, which was largely panned by critics at the time.
40. South Carolina
> Song: Hickory Wind
> Artist: The Byrds
> Spotify plays: 1,369,000
The Byrds were a California-based folk group, but their version of Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” has lasted as a treasure in South Carolina. The song paints a vivid image of the state’s lush countryside with a story that mirrors Parsons’ own struggles as a child in the Southeast.
41. South Dakota
> Song: Badlands
> Artist: Bruce Springsteen
> Spotify plays: 16,284,000
Bruce Springsteen came up with the title “Badlands” before he had any idea of what the song would sound like. According to The Boss, the title came quickly but the song itself took a little longer. “I kept writing, and I kept writing and writing until I had a song that I felt deserved that title,” he told Rolling Stone.
> Song: Tennessee Love
> Artist: Yelawolf
> Spotify plays: 12,113,000
Yelawolf was raised by a bartending single mom in Alabama and moved throughout Tennessee as a kid. His blue collar upbringing gave him a deep love for the South and its less privileged citizens. The rapper told The Guardian his tribe is “not the ideal American,” but rather “the Slumerican.”
> Song: Luckenbach, Texas
> Artist: Waylon Jennings
> Spotify plays: 17,752,000
Waylon Jennings and his longtime collaborator Willie Nelson scored nearly instant “anthem” status with the release of “Luckenbach, Texas” in 1977. The song is named after a tiny hamlet south of Austin. Waylon had never visited Luckenbach when he first began performing the song, his son later revealed.
> Song: Salt Lake City
> Artist: The Beach Boys
> Spotify plays: 199,000
The Beach Boys are best known as California icons, but they earned a special place in the state of Utah with their track “Salt Lake City.” Brian Wilson and Mike Love penned the track together after an early trip to the city during the group’s rise to stardom. Wilson was initially ambivalent about the town, but Love was so impressed that he insisted they write a tribute song.
> Song: Moonlight in Vermont
> Artist: Frank Sinatra
> Spotify plays: 3,373,000
“Moonlight in Vermont” joins “Stars Fell on Alabama” as one of a select few “state songs” in Frank Sinatra’s repertoire. The track was a multi-million selling hit and especially popular with troops serving overseas in World War II as it depicted a classic American scene.
> Song: Virginia Moon
> Artist: Foo Fighters
> Spotify plays: 6,312,000
Virginia is for lovers, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters truly loves Virginia. Not only did the rock icon grow up in the Springfield, Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., but also Virginia is his mother’s name. Before rising to fame as a member of Nirvana, Grohl fully expected to live his whole life in the D.C. area.
> Song: Hello Seattle
> Artist: Owl City
> Spotify plays: 10,660,000
Adam Young of Owl City wrote his iconic Washington state tribute “Hello Seattle” before he had really spent much time there. After spending some time in the Emerald City he admitted to Songwriting Magazine that it would be nice to write the song “over again and touch on what I thought it was and what it is.”
48. West Virginia
> Song: Take Me Home, Country Roads
> Artist: John Denver
> Spotify plays: 87,297,000
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” is the undisputed theme song for the state of West Virginia, but the song almost died on the vine. John Denver’s writing partners Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert were reluctant to play the newly finished song for Denver, thinking it was better suited to Johnny Cash.
> Song: Lake Marie
> Artist: John Prine
> Spotify plays: 880,000
John Prine wrote his classic track “Lake Marie” after visiting the lake during a tour stop in Wisconsin. A crew member had told Prine that the lake had some legendary history in the area. Prine was so curious about the lake he took time out of the tour to research it at a local library.
> Song: Paint Me Back Home in Wyoming
> Artist: Chris LeDoux
> Spotify plays: 222,000
Chris LeDoux was a son of Wyoming and remained in the state even after becoming a bonafide country star. Despite pressure to move to Nashville, LeDoux felt that he’d be more credible singing about the cowboy life if he lived in a state with actual cowboys. His hometown of Kaycee named its town park for LeDoux after his death in 2005.
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