E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One. When our forefathers included this expression on the Great Seal of the United States, they surely must have been looking ahead to our “50 songs for 50 states playlist.” Like the many distinctive landscapes and diverse communities that make up our remarkable republic, the vast variety of artists and genres featured in our carefully curated playlist make for a surprisingly unified soundscape of proud Americana. So throw some meat tubes on the grill, light a minor explosive or two, and join us for an upbeat, musical road-trip from sea to shining sea.
Who makes the cut in this most patriotic of playlists? Firstly, you will find plenty of folk and country musicians (they’re always singing about traveling from Point A to Point B, after all). Johnny Cash, alone, recorded enough state-centric tracks to fill up half this playlist, but we wanted to keep a strict one-song-per-musician rule, so he, Patsy Cline, Lacey J. Dalton, Phil Ochs, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, John Denver, George Strait, and Arlo and Woody Guthrie (son representing Oklahoma and pops right behind with Oregon) are all held to one entry a piece.
The same rule goes for our influential jazz, blues and soul musicians, including Muddy Waters, Albert King, Andre Williams, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Ray Charles produced an entire state-themed concept album, but we chose only the best known track from that record, “Georgia On My Mind” (which also happens to be one of the few somber inclusions on our playlist; on the principle of having a good time, we eliminated any track that killed our buzz. So take a hike, “Nebraska” by Springsteen, and “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman).
The only exception to our one-song-per-musician rule is a surprising one: Judy Garland, who pops up twice for show tune odes to Connecticut and Missouri. Missouri is also one of the few states that gets the reductive treatment, wherein we chose a song about a particular city to represent the whole (in this case, “Meet Me In St. Louis”). In the same vein, the whole of Maryland is represented by Nina Simone’s “Baltimore”, Nevada by Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas”, Tennessee by Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, and a handful of others. We get most reductive with Washington State, where Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ tribute to the Mariners, “My Oh My”, feels like a fitting representation of that sports-centric state. A few songs don’t mention their states at all, but provide enough detail to paint the picture: “Delaware Slide” by George Thorogood, “Island Style” by John Cruz, “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence, and “Simple Life” by Dressed for the Occasion fit the bill.
The remaining tracks of the playlist are a complimentary mix of classic and indie rock, with a sprinkling of hip-hop to keep things interesting. Of course, “Weird Al” Yankovic is included as is fellow accordionist and pal, the late, Frankie Yankovic (no relation).
The most difficult decision came early, debating if the aww-shucks-dismissiveness of “Sweet Home Alabama” (an otherwise obvious inclusion) would be inappropriate in light of our ongoing national conversation regarding the Confederate flag. On the other end of the spectrum, Neil Young’s finger-waving moralism in “Alabama” seemed a little too heavy for the 4th of July. We decided to chuck both and go with Phosphorescent’s celebratory “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)”. Neil Young does eventually make the list with our only instrumental track, “The Emperor of Wyoming”.
As you celebrate the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this weekend, we hope you enjoy these sounds of the Nifty Fifty, available below via Spotify.
As always, please share your own favorite state songs in the comments below! And if you’re curious which tracks nearly made the cut, here’s a second playlist of 25 Runner-ups.
Finally, if you need to brush up on you’re geography before Saturday’s barbecues, there’s always “Wakko’s State Capitols” song…
- Alabama: “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” – Phosphorescent
- Alaska: “The Alaska Song” – Lacy J. Dalton
- Arizona: “By The Time I Get To Arizona” – Public Enemy
- Arkansas: “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” – Johnny Cash
- California: “California Girls” – The Beach Boys
- Colorado: “Colorado Bluebird Sky” – The String Cheese Incident”
- Connecticut: “Connecticut” – Judy Garland & Bing Crosby
- Delaware: “Delaware Slide” – George Thorogood & The Destroyers
- Florida: “Deep Down In Florida” – Muddy Waters
- Georgia: “Georgia On My Mind” – Ray Charles
- Hawaii: “Island Style” – John Cruz, Jack Johnson & Jackson Browne
- Idaho: “Private Idaho” – The B-52’s
- Illinois: “Come On! Feel The Illinoise! Part I… Part II…” – Sufjan Stevens
- Indiana: “Goin’ Back To Indiana” – Jackson 5
- Iowa: “Stranded” – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
- Kansas: “Kansas City” – Albert King
- Kentucky: “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” – Patsy Cline & The Jordanaires
- Louisiana: “Born On The Bayou” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Maine: “Going To Maine” – The Mountain Goats
- Maryland: “Baltimore” – Nina Simone
- Massachusetts: “U-mass” – Pixies (“Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers is a close runner-up)
- Michigan: “Lake Michigan” – Rogue Wave
- Minnesota: “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota” – “Weird Al” Yankovic
- Mississippi: “Mississippi Queen” – Mountain
- Missouri: “Meet Me In St. Louis” – Judy Garland
- Montana: “Hannah Montana” – Migos
- Nebraska: “Plains of Nebrasky-o” – Phil Ochs & Eric Andersen
- Nevada: “Viva Las Vegas” – Elvis Presley
- New Hampshire: “Simple Life” – Dressed for the Occasion
- New Jersey: “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – Bruce Springsteen
- New Mexico: “Taos, New Mexico” – Waylon Jennings
- New York: “New York, New York” – Ryan Adams
- North Carolina: “Raise Up” – Petey Pablo
- North Dakota: “I Gotta Gal I Love (In North And South Dakota) – Frank Sinatra
- Ohio: “Ohio” – The Black Keys
- Oklahoma: “Oklahoma Hills” – Arlo Guthrie
- Oregon: “Oregon Trail” – Woody Guthrie
- Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania Polka” – Frankie Yankovic
- Rhode Island: “Sweet Rhode Island Red” – Ike & Tina Turner
- South Carolina: “South Carolina” – Tennis
- South Dakota: “Only Black Man In South Dakota” – Andre Williams
- Tennessee: “Graceland” – Paul Simon
- Texas: “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” – George Strait (nod to my hometown’s favorite, “Amarillo By Morning”)
- Utah: “Utah Carol” – Marty Robbins
- Vermont: “Moonlight In Vermont” – Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
- Virginia: “Virginia Girl” – Deer Tick
- Washington: “My Oh My” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
- West Virginia: “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – John Denver
- Wisconsin: “Oh, Wisconsin!” – Locksley
- Wyoming: “The Emperor Of Wyoming” – Neil Young
- (BONUS!) District of Columbia: “Washington, D.C.” – The Magnetic Fields