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Jul 02, 2007

States in Song

Rhodeislandphysicalmap_2 A challenge inspired by my pal jenny who has a fondness for Michelle Shocked: come up with a list of not-ridiculously-obscure songs whose lyrics include all fifty US states.

If you know the one obvious song for the state shown at right, you'll get a dozen states straightaway.  But after that...

Here are a couple to get you started:

Alaska, New York and Texas: Michelle Shocked, Anchorage <-- click for a nice video at AOL.
Louisiana: various artists, Cotton Fields Back Home
Massachusetts: John Forster, Entering Marion

By the way, did you know that the official state rock song for Ohio is "Hang on Sloopy"?  Well now you do, and I apologize.

12:01 AM in Misc.Blog 2007 | Permalink


Hey. this is actually Stew, not Jamie. I am at Jamie's house, though.

And I'm (I think?) not the jenny who posed this challenge.


Fifty Nifty United States
from 13 original colonies
Fifty Nifty stars on the flag
that billows so beautifully in the breeze
Each individual state
(something) a quality that is great.
Each individual state.
Deserves a bow
Let's salute them now!

Alabama, Alaska Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana.


I suppose that either counts as obscure or a part of the midwestern experience of Music Class in the late 1970s

Posted by: Jamie | Jul 2, 2007 8:45:34 AM

Off the top of my head:

Eagles - Hotel California
Mark Lindsay - Arizona
Mountain - Mississippi Queen
Jimmy Buffett - Migration (Florida & Texas)
Paul Simon - America (Michigan & New Jersey)
Nat "King" Cole (and others) - Route 66 (Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona & New Mexico)
Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
Ray Charles (and others) - Georgia
John Denver - Colorado Rocky Mountain High
Frank Zappa - Montana
CSNY - Ohio
George Jones - Tennessee Whiskey
James Tayor - Carolina in my Mind
Jonathan Richman - Roadrunner (Massachusetts)
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Loretta Lynn - Portland, Oregon
Green Day - Minnesota Girl
Robyn Hitchock - Viva Sea-Tac (Washington state)
Elvis Presley - Blue Hawaii
Frank Sinatra (and others) New York, New York
R. Dean Taylor - Indiana Wants Me
Ray Charles (and others) Moonlight in Vermont
John Denver - Take me Home, Country Roads (West Virginia)
Blossom Dearie - Rhode Island is Famous for You (that's gotta be the song Phil is referring to up in the top of the post; there's actually about 20 states named in it - thanks to Christa for me knowing that one)

Posted by: barry | Jul 2, 2007 4:39:14 PM

Good job Jenny/Jamie (and yep, that's a different "jenny" who started this one).

VERY good job, Barry -- but with a couple of not quite and/or OK, I should have been more clear.

The not quite: James Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind" clearly refers to the Old North State, but it doesn't say it explicitly, so I'll have to keep that state on the "not-yet-checked-off" list.

The shoulda-been-more-clear: "Route 66" mentions "Oklahoma City" but not the state. No big deal, but I was really just looking for an excuse to mention the other just-now-obvious-to-me song, "Oklahoma" from the musical "Oklahoma".

And yes, Barry has correctly ID'd the Rhode Island song, which has 15-19 states, depending on who's singing. "Vests come from Vest Virginia" is a non-count to me, but "Minnows from Minnowsota..." Hmmm.. All depends on the pronunciation, I think. In any case, Barry has "Minnowsota", "Vest Virginia" and "Tent-a-see" all covered.

As for the RI song's mention of "Coats from Da-Coat-ah", that's another case of insufficiently precise for my needs. Which is my excuse for hinting that Lyle Lovett has a song that mentions one of the Dakota states specifically. Feel free to mention which one, and to find a song that gets the other.

Posted by: Phil | Jul 2, 2007 5:14:00 PM

D'oh! I always thought that song was "Hang on Snoopy." I don't have my poor hearing to blame for, because I'm sure I heard that song repeatedly when my hearing was fine.

WRT "Carolina in My Mind": could JT be singing about UNC-Chapel Hill? ;) He is essentially from there.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 2, 2007 6:47:58 PM

Joe: thanks for pointing out the ambiguities. I now wonder if James Taylor was actually singing about an acid trip.

BTW, here's a list of musicians that I am sick of because I and/or others in my past thought way too highly of them:

James Taylor
The Indigo Girls
Billy Joel
Michael Moore (oh wait, that's Joe's)

Posted by: Phil | Jul 2, 2007 7:23:42 PM

Phil - any mention of "Oklahoma City" by necessity includes a mention of "Oklahoma".

The Arkansas Traveler is a traditional bluegrass song, as is Blue Moon of Kentucky. Kentucky Woman, by Neil Diamond, is not.

Lyle Lovett does a song called North Dakota. The Bee Gees had a song called South Dakota Morning on one of their pre-Saturday Night Fever early 70s pieces of dreck. John Denver milked it a bit longer with Song of Wyoming.

And while i think that JT was clearly referring to the Tar Heel State in "Carolina in my Mind", Christa can tell you that Dean Martin's A Little Bit South of North Carolina name checks both states.

what's left besides Wisconsin and Delaware?

Posted by: Barry | Jul 3, 2007 4:33:21 AM

First, there's this: http://www.ovenall.com/diary/2007/07/coats-come-from-dakota/
From there I learned that there's a Perry Como song called "Delaware" (which mostly puns on state names and mentions a bunch, altho not as many as Blossom Dearie).
"Let's Get Away from It All" (by Sinatra, among others) mentions a lot of places (Quincy, Nyack, Reno, Laguna, etc)
Switching genres, there's "Seattle" by Public Image Ltd. which quite conspicuously never actually mentions Seattle
Still blanking on Wisconsin, tho. Perhaps somewhere in the Replacements catalog there's one for there...

Posted by: georg | Jul 3, 2007 8:54:31 AM

my bad... the Mats were from MN not WI

Posted by: georg | Jul 3, 2007 9:25:40 AM

I had a copy of the Perry Como single when i was a kid. It had a call and response format that had couplets like:
"Where has Ora gone boys, where has Ora gone?"
"I don't know, I'll ask her."

"What did Della wear boys, what did Della wear?"
"She wore here brand new jersey."

And that kind of stuff, I deliberately refrained from bringing it up.

There's also Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere," recently resurrected for a hotel chain ad campaign, not to mention his "Big River," which both call out cities, although "Big River" does include St. Paul, Minnesota.

I had to recheck the lyrics to see if Billy Joel's "Allentown" actually used the name Pennsylvania. It does.

Ray Charles also covers "Carry me Back to Old Virginia" on Genius Hits the Road.

Google shows a couple of punk type bands with Wisconsin songs (Static-X, Samiam, and the Crucifucks, to be specific) I don't think any of them qualify on the basis of not "not ridiculously obscure". Violent Femmes' live album Viva Wisconsin (which has Blister in the Sun and Gone Daddy Gone, so it's definitely not obscure) doesn't include a single song that mentions Wisconsin.

Posted by: barry | Jul 3, 2007 10:22:10 AM

I was thinking "Milwaukee, Here I Come" might mention Wisconsin, but it only specifies the city, as well as Nashville, Tennessee. Another George Jones/Tammy Wynette song covered by John Prine on In Spite of Ourselves is "We're Not the Jet Set," which mentions Festus, Missouri, and Mullinville, Kansas.

Steve Goodman's gotta have a song about Wisconsin. I'm going to check my library and let you know.

Posted by: Barry | Jul 4, 2007 9:04:29 AM

Ha - i'm listening to WXDU right now playing "Lower 48" by the Gourds.

Game over.

Posted by: Barry | Jul 4, 2007 10:12:25 AM

Saginaw, Michigan Lefty Frizzel

I Got A Gal In Kalamazoo Glenn Miller

Posted by: Don | Jul 4, 2007 10:35:03 AM

Nebraska, the album and the song. Bruce Springsteen. Also mentions Wyoming.

"From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed off .410 on my lap through to the badlands of Wyoming, I killed everything in my path."

And on that happy note . . .

Posted by: Don | Jul 4, 2007 10:47:55 AM

Lower 48 -- hey, Barry, is that an amazing coincidence or did you request it after Kevin mentioning it at dinner last night?!

Don -- congrats on getting a SECOND song that mentions Saginaw, MI (after Barry's mention of "America" -- one of my favorite travel songs). Now please put down your gun.

I am wondering which State has the most mentions in popular song (i.e., songs that become popular outside the State of mention). I'm guessing Texas. And not just because Lyle Lovett told me so.

Posted by: Phil | Jul 4, 2007 1:41:35 PM

did not request it. but the DJ played Blue Hawaii right after it, and then said he was looking for an Alaska song, so i called in and told him about Michelle Shocked.

i'd also guess Texas for most song mentions. California a close second.

Posted by: Barry | Jul 4, 2007 2:51:32 PM

I think New York and Texas may tie for sheer number of popular songs.

Christa and I did a show of (mostly) all state songs on Sunday, and I'm doing another one tonight at 6.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 4, 2007 4:24:52 PM

ps: Wisconsin song: "My Cousin in Milwaukee" by Oscar Levant, from the soundtrack to An American in Paris

Ed note: Sarah, the only lyrics I can find for this song refer to (oddly enough), "Milwaukee, USA" but not "Wisconsin". Got some alt lyrics? Or a different song?

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 4, 2007 4:29:04 PM

I must confess to having a bit of trouble admitting the goof songs dedicated to puns on state names from MY childhood (" Oh what did Io - Weigh? She weighed a Washing-ton. And what did Missis-sip? She drank a Many-a-soda" etc.) And putting in the travelogue songs is a little too easy too. But still I'll add "Stop in Nevada" by Billy Joel and South Dakota gets mention in the opening line of the Beatles Rocky Racoon.
And how many states, after Alabama and Kansas, have band names that you've ever heard of?

Posted by: Charles | Jul 4, 2007 7:35:49 PM

here's a list of 50 songs for 50 states that i just came across:

Posted by: georg | Jul 4, 2007 9:33:36 PM

Man, I love "Lower 48." My all-time favorite Gourds song.

Since Google has no lyrics love, my own transcription follows:

Florida shakes with mystery numbers,
Panhandle cooking up them roadkill wings.
Texas drinks from eleven honeyed springs,
The Cottonmouth and the Copperhead, I think,
The Cottonmouth and the Copperhead, I think, yeah.

Nebraska asks ya if you're up to the task,
Corn in the basket, what you gonna say.
California like to kill her governors
In a pool of blood on the superhighway.
Pool of blood on the superhighway, yeah. (*)

Montana's cold as titties on witches
Freeze your fine hair and your britches, too.
Minnesota is a-sorry in the summer
But Louisiana bitches just another bayou,
Louisiana bitches just another bayou, yeah.

Alabama, 'Bama, Mississipi too
Muggy in the summer and Christmas too.
Oklahoma is a-dirtier and mean,
A Native American slot machine,
A Native American slot machine, yeah.

I ate the fuzz off a Georgia peach,
In South Carolina I learned to preach.
Married my cousin up in Arkansas,
I married two more when I got to Utah.
Married two more when I got to Utah, yeah.

Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee,
Vermont, Delaware, and Miss-our-i.
Illinois, Indiana, Wyoming, Rhode Island,
Pennsylvania, Arizona, Northern Carolina.
Michigan, Maine, Maryland, Idaho,
Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ohio.
Nevada, Wisconsin, and ah-Oregon,
Kansas, Iowa, and Washington.
New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico,
North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado.

Wake up lads, it's running late,
Rockin' my rig in the lower 48.
Wake up lad, we're running late
Runnin' my rig in the lower 48,
Runnin' my rig in the lower 48.

(*) - I couldn't find any evidence that any of California's governors had ever been killed on the freeways there.

Posted by: Kevin Davis | Jul 5, 2007 7:15:29 AM

Tom Waits covers Illinois in one of my favorite short songs ever.

Johnsburg, Illinois

She's my only true love
she's all that I think of
look here in my wallet
that's her.
She grew up on a farm there
there's a place on my arm
where I've written her name
next to mine.
You see I just can't
live without her
and I'm her only boy.
And she grew up outside McHenry
in Johnsburg, Illinois

Posted by: Phil | Jul 8, 2007 11:34:58 PM

How about "Wasting Away in Margaritaville?" I mean, Margaritaville is not a state, but "wasting away" is. Honk!

Posted by: Elrond Hubbard | Jul 12, 2007 12:05:33 AM

The Bee Gee's also had New York Mining Disaster 1941 (apparently there really wasn't one that year? http://www.brothersgibb.org/history-part-4.html). Or New York State of Mind (Billy Joel). And They Might Be Giants had a song called "South Carolina". Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead) has Utah in it.

Many, many bluegrass songs have places in them...

Posted by: Gina | Jul 17, 2007 12:52:15 PM

And how many states, after Alabama and Kansas, have band names that you've ever heard of?


Posted by: Barry | Jul 21, 2007 6:40:45 PM

Ooh. Tough question.

I know about the Scottish band "Texas" which had a great single "Way What You Want" back in 1997:


For a "let someone else do the work method", you can star here at Wikipedia with their article on bands named after places.


Posted by: Phil | Jul 21, 2007 8:16:03 PM