american music

femmes' add it up cover (borrowed image)
As you all know, I really like music. A few weeks ago, I got the idea in my head to create a massive but well thought-out playlist devoted to songs about America. Specifically, one song for each state. It occurred to me that I’ve got a lot of music, and a lot of that music references certain parts of this country. And it being election time, a time when folks run all across this country talking about its “core decency” and its “values,” I thought it’d be fun to see what I could come up with.

This was no easy task. In part, it’s no easy task because I knew I’d have to buy some new music. I simply don’t have “Wild Planet,” the B-52’s album with “Private Idaho.” But also, you’d be surprised how infrequently people sing about Vermont.

Or do they?

Which brings us to the post at hand. I’ve reached my musical limits. And since I know there’s a few avid music fans who read this blog, I thought I’d put the matter to you. Below is my tentative list. Where I’m missing states, please let me know if there’s a song I just can’t think of that would be apt. And let me know if there’s a better more applicable song out there for any one of these states. As much as I act to the contrary, I don’t really know everything.

Also know that in some cases I opted to chose an artist or band who represents a state rather than a song about that state (such as the Violent Femmes for Wisconsin). Which makes me think I should make a couple different playlists: one for songs about states; one for songs by artists from those states.

Also also, I apparently have a lot of music that references Illinois and/or Chicago, Michigan, and California. These choices haunt me.


Alabama – Stars Fell on Alabama, Billie Holiday

Alaska – Grey Ice Water, Modest Mouse

Arizona – Hotel Arizona, Wilco

Arkansas – Mean Eyed Cat, Johnny Cash

California – California, Joni Mitchell

Colorado – Rocky Mountain High, John Denver

Connecticut – Connecticut’s For F*cking, Jesus H. Christ and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Delaware – Delaware Slide, George Thorogood

Florida – Florida, Modest Mouse

Georgia – Georgia on My Mind, Ray Charles (too obvious?)

Hawaii – Kailua Breeze, Bill Brooks (that’s right, Dana’s uncle!)

Idaho – Private Idaho, The B-52s

Illinois – Via Chicago, Wilco

Indiana – Goin’ Back to Indiana, Jackson 5

Iowa – The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines, Joni Mitchell

Kansas – True Dreams of Wichita, Soul Coughing

Kentucky – Coalminers, Uncle Tupelo

Louisiana – Louisiana Blues, Muddy Waters

Maine – Maine, John Linnell (of They Might Be Giants fame)

Maryland – Raining in Baltimore, Counting Crows

Massachusetts – ???

Michigan – Say Yes! To M!Ch!Gan!, Sufjan Stevens

Minnesota – ???

Mississippi – Mississippi Goddamn, Nina Simone

Missouri – Kansas City, James Brown

Montana – Montana, John Linnell

Nebraska – ???

Nevada – ???

New Hampshire – New Hampshire, Sonic Youth

New Jersey – ??? (for a state that’s produced such a plethora of “American” rock bands, I couldn’t think of a good song to represent the state)

New Mexico – ??? (a lot of songs reference New Mexico — Route 66, Wanted Man by Cash, etc. — but only as they’re passing through. Does anyone stay in New Mexico?)

New York – The Only Living Boy in New York, Simon & Garfunkel

North Carolina – Against The Law, Billy Bragg

North Dakota – ???

Ohio – Ohio, Modest Mouse

Oklahoma – Oklahoma, U.S.A., Yo La Tengo

Oregon – ??? (I was thinking an Elliot Smith song would be most applicable)

Pennsylvania – What They Do, the Roots (maybe not about Pennsylvania, but they’re from Phily)

Rhode Island – Sweet Rhode Island Red, Ike & Tina Turner

South Carolina – Darlington County, Bruce Springsteen

South Dakota – ???

Tennessee – Graceland, Paul Simon

Texas – Houston, Soul Coughing

Utah – Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues, Bob Dylan (only because he prefaces this song by calling it a “foreign song I learned in Utah)

Vermont – Moonlight in Vermont (there’s a million versions of this standard by everyone from Mell Torme and Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles)

Virginia – ???

Washington – ???

West Virginia – John Hardy, Uncle Tupelo

Wisconsin – American Music, Violent Femmes

Wyoming – Blame it on the Tetons, Modest Mouse (this might be too much Modest Mouse)

8 thoughts on “american music

  1. Here are a couple of native sons representing my homestate and last state I lived in before moving to Japan:

    Minnesota-Uptown, Prince

    Washington-Seattle Ain’t Bullsh*ttin’, Sir Mix-a-lot

  2. If you’re doing bands that represent the state, then either the Cars or Boston (way more obvious) work for Massachusetts. Any Seattle band for Washington – if it were me, I’d pick Soundgarden over Nirvana or Pearl Jam anyday.

    Wait, what am I thinking – “Massachusetts” by the Bee Gees!!!

  3. Scott,

    Check out this thread from a forum that I read often and post to seldom. It doesn’t quite match what you’re doing, but it might be a fun read nonetheless.

  4. I agree with Harry that Soundgarden would be a better choice than Nirvana or Pearl Jam. I would personally recommend “Spoonman,” which calls to mind the buskers and other colorful characters who line the sidewalks of Pike and Pine in downtown Seattle. That particular song is also rather Buddhist in spirit of the shakuhachi-playing itinerant monks of the Fuke School in Edo Period Japan. (I’m still pulling for Sir Mix-A-Lot, though.)

  5. Sticking with the theme of artists that represents states, how about Bob Dylan for Minnesota?

    An interesting list. Thanks.

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