Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ranking the songs about states

My column in Wednesday's paper (look for it at charlotte.com/news) is about state songs -- not the official songs, but songs ABOUT states. The song that might play in your head when you're on your way back home.

(And before we start: "New York, New York" is a fine song. But it's about a city, not a state. Same goes for "New York State of Mind.")

Here's the top 20. Comments open below -- feel free to add to the list, disparage my picks, argue about the best version of "Jersey Girl," etc.

20. "Indiana Wants Me" (R. Dean Taylor). A nice cheery song about a fugitive who'll never see his family again. I promise, it gets happier from here. (Jim Nabors doing "Back Home Again in Indiana" would make the list if you ever heard it outside the Indy 500.)

19. "North To Alaska" (Johnny Horton). Possible marketing lyric for McDonald's: Where the river is winding / big nuggets they're finding.

18. "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (Glenn Miller). OK, it's more about the telephone exchange than the state. But we have liberal rules around here. Don't wanna wear pants? Fine with us.

17. "My Own Private Idaho" (B-52's). I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: This is the best song ever written with "Idaho" in the title.

16. "Louisiana, 1927" (Randy Newman). There's a flood. People get wiped out. The government doesn't seem to care. Sound familiar?

15. "Mississippi Queen" (Mountain). Mississippi queen. You know what I mean. Somehow that's all that needs to be said.
Honorable mention: "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," the Loretta Lynn / Conway Twitty duet that would've taken care of both states.

14. "Rocky Mountain High" (John Denver). The only artist to put two songs on the list. If he had lived a little longer, he would've come up with the great Delaware song, I just know it.

13. "All My Ex's Live in Texas" (George Strait). Honorable mention: "Yellow Rose of Texas," "T for Texas," "Texas Flood," and Lyle Lovett's great "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)."

12. "Ohio" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). A whole protest movement summed up in three minutes.

11. "Jersey Girl" (Bruce Springsteen). Tom Waits wrote it, but Bruce made it his. I believe it's the last song on his live box set.

10. "Moonlight In Vermont" (lots of artists). This was a standard among the vocalists in the '40s and '50s -- Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney all gave it a try. (I found a great version once on a CD by R&B singer Walter Jackson.) Trivia fact of the day: Every verse in the song is a haiku.

9. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" (Bill Monroe). One of the holy texts of bluegrass -- although (sacrilege alert) Elvis does it better. In fact, the King owns the daily double in Kentucky music -- just pair this one with "Kentucky Rain."

8. "California Dreamin'" (The Mamas and the Papas). Barely the best in a really strong field. Honorable mention: "California Girls," "Hotel California," "California Love" (Tupac in the house!).

7. "Rocky Top" (The Osborne Brothers). This sort of violates the rule -- Rocky Top is a part of the state, not the state itself -- but once you've heard the University of Tennessee band play this 47,000 times in one football game, you can't pick anything else.
Honorable mention: "Tennessee Waltz," "Tennessee Stud."

6. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (John Denver). Every once in awhile I refer to the Unholy Trinity of music: Diamond, Manilow and Denver. But in a weak moment, I'll admit that this song is pretty damn beautiful. West Virginia should be proud.

5. "Hawaii Five-O." No TV theme has ever sounded cooler, with the possible exception of "Jonny Quest."

4. "Oklahoma" (from the Broadway show). The main thing you notice about this list is that the upper Midwest gets no love. Would it have killed Rodgers and Hammerstein to call their musical "South Dakota!"? It's even the same number of syllables!

3. "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Actually, Skynyrd was from Florida. But they had a lot of Jack Daniels on the tour bus back then. So it sort of makes sense. And either way, that's one killer guitar lick.
Honorable mention: "Stars Fell Over Alabama," "Alabama Getaway."

2. "Carolina In My Mind" (James Taylor). Hard to believe this song came out almost 40 years ago. Either James Taylor recorded it when he was 6, or we're all gettin' old.
Honorable mention: "Carolina Girls" ("best in the world...")

1. "Georgia On My Mind" (Ray Charles). Hey, I'm from Georgia -- what did you expect me to pick? Where I came from, we just called this the national anthem.
(But still: what a song, right?)
Honorable mention: "Midnight Train to Georgia" (GREAT song), "Rainy Night in Georgia" (really good song), "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (OK song), "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (um, let's just move on to the comments now...)


Anonymous said...

If "Rocky Top" sort of violates the rule (being part of the state, not the state itself), then doesn't "Rocky Mountain High" and ""Take Me Home, Country Roads" fall into the same category?

Just askin'.

Anonymous said...

How about any of numerous Chris Ledoux songs for Wyoming. "Paint me back home in Wyoming", "Song of Wyoming", "Sweet Wyoming Home", "Take Me Back to Old Wyoming", or "Wyoming Girl"

Anonymous said...

Actually, there IS another fine song with "Idaho" in the title -- "My Idaho Home," written and sung by Ronee Blakley in the movie "Nashville"

Anonymous said...

Some may be interested in full length albums about states. Sufjan Stevens composed on album about Michigan and one about Illinois. All songs are about and related to those states. They are very good. He plans to write an album for every state.

Here is a link to "Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lakes State"


Anonymous said...

You don't have to be from Georgia to know that Ray's version of "Georgia On My Mind" is not only the best song ever about a state, but also one of the greatest songs of any type ever.

Anonymous said...

Onec, after hearing the song "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" on the radio, a friend of mine said, "The only reason God made Oklahoma is so that there would be at least one THING in the world uglier than my ex-wife."

Anonymous said...


In honor of Tony Bennett's 80th Birthday, we are going to pitch our new song about Massachusetts to him, so wish us luck!

It's called "Autumntime in Massachusetts," and it was composed in 2004, the year the Red Sox finally won the pennant.

Hope you and our hometown Charlotte friends will give it a listen at:

And here's to the great Gaston County town of Lowell, which was named in honor of Lowell, Mass.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed it, but how
could you leave out "My home's
in Alabama" by... you guessed it...

And my favorite mention of a state or states, "Carolina, home
of rhythm and blues" by Charlotte's
own Bobby Smith and the Poor Souls.

Almost forgot a big one,
"Eyes of Texas".

marcusclarkus said...

Even if you never hear "Back Home Again in Indiana" outside the Indy 500 weekend, you have to remember that the 500 is "The Greatest Spctacle in Racing." That alone should warrant a Top 10. The best song Jim Nabors has ever done...I remember growing up in Indiana, every morning after saying the Pledge, we would sing Back Home Again.

Anonymous said...

What happens if you don't like country/bluegrass music? Or maybe that music is the most American and most able to represent our 50 states.

Anonymous said...

First want to make a correction. It's Stars Fell ON Alabama, not OVER. And, if you're including songs that combine states with women, I'm going to have to go with "Kentucky Woman" by Neil Diamond and covered by Deep Purple. Also, Glen Campbell's "Kentucky Means Paradise."

Anonymous said...


Manos said...

It's obscure but "A Mountaineer Is Always Free" by Pierce Pettis (from Alabama) is a folk song about West Virgina.

Anonymous said...

The number three wuss--see prior story--Dan Fogelberg did a pretty good song about my home state--Illinois--titled, appropriately,


Anonymous said...

Sure wish we had a Charlotte song! I've been here since 1976, wishing and wishing! Love to sing; lousy at writing lyrics. Anyone? Tommy, could you have a contest?

Bill Fitzhugh said...

Mississippi Lady -- Jim Croce
Louisiana Lady -- New Riders of the Purple Sage
Tennessee Stud -- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Alabama -- Neil Young
Louisiana Women -- JJ Cale
Mainline Florida -- Eric Clapton
Tennessee Jed -- Grateful Dead
Alabama Getaway -- Grateful Dead
Feels Like Mississippi -- J. Fred Knobloch
Beautiful Texas Sunshine -- Doug Sahm
Florida Room -- Donald Fagen

Anonymous said...

I was able to get my ex back after I followed the instructions at www.saveabreakup.com I totally recommend this site, saveabreakup.com helped me a lot, all I can say is big THANKS!!! I'm so happy now...

Anonymous said...

This article is brilliant. Thank you so much! :)

I was wondering if any states in New England had great songs, and they don't -- outside of Vermont.

Perhaps the reason is that New England doesn't merit a song. Or maybe the reason is that New England is so great that people stay here and don't have to get homesick and write about Sweet Home Alabama!

I wonder how many of these songs were written by people who still lived in those states.

-Johnny Monsarrat

Maureen McCabe said...

I tried to do all 50 states today, I broke my own rules using New York, New York and a couple of other city songs. Maine, I used a college song. I had a rule it had to have the state name in the title of the song. Washington State, I finally skipped. Wisconson (I could not find Bon Iver on the music site I was using! so used a Violent Femmes album name, Viva Wisconsin)and I am looking for Wyoming and I will be done.