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The Midwest region of the United States has long been an inspiration for musicians, with its rolling hills, endless cornfields, and small towns offering a backdrop for many a heartwarming song. With its roots in country, bluegrass, and folk music, the Midwest has also been a crucible for rock, punk, and alternative music that emerged in the 20th century. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the top 20 songs about the midwest.
From the Dust Bowl ballads of Woody Guthrie to the punk anthems of The Replacements, the Midwest has always been a source of inspiration for musicians across genres. Some of the most iconic American songs have come from the Midwest, such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band, “Jack & Diane” by John Mellencamp, and “Purple Rain” by Prince. In addition to famous classics, we will also explore some lesser-known gems that are no less important in capturing the spirit of the Midwest. Whether you are a lifelong Midwesterner or an outsider looking to understand its culture, this list of songs will offer a rich and diverse picture of this fascinating region.
1. “Midwestern Dirt” by Dear and the Headlights
“Midwestern Dirt” by Dear and the Headlights is a melancholic indie rock song that reflects on the desolation of the Midwest. The lyrics describe the flat landscapes, the harsh weather conditions, and the isolation that characterize the region. The song captures the feeling of being trapped in a place that seems to offer little hope or escape. The lead singer’s emotive delivery of the lyrics, accompanied by the driving guitar riffs and percussion, creates a sense of urgency and intensity that echoes the frustration of many Midwesterners.
2. “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss
“Detroit Rock City” by Kiss is a classic rock anthem that celebrates the vibrant music scene of Detroit, Michigan. The song’s opening riff is instantly recognizable, and its energetic tempo and catchy chorus make it a crowd-pleaser. The lyrics tell the story of a fan driving to a Kiss concert in Detroit but meeting an untimely end on the way. Despite the tragic ending, the song remains a testament to the power of music and the influence of the Midwest on the rock genre. The song’s popularity has endured since its release in 1976, and it is often played at sporting events and concerts to this day.
3. “Hornets! Hornets!” by The Hold Steady
“Hornets! Hornets!” is a song by the American rock band The Hold Steady, released on their 2008 album “Stay Positive.” The song begins with a riff reminiscent of classic rock, and features the signature spoken-word delivery of frontman Craig Finn, with lyrics that tell the story of a night out in a Midwestern town. The song touches on themes of youth, rebellion, and the search for meaning, all set against a backdrop of dive bars and punk shows. The guitar work is energetic and propulsive, and the driving beat keeps the song moving forward. “Hornets! Hornets!” is a standout track from one of the band’s most acclaimed albums, and is an example of their ability to tell vivid stories through their music.
4. “Indiana” by Adrianne Lenker
“Indiana” by Adrianne Lenker is a poignant ballad that showcases Lenker’s emotive songwriting and vocal talents. The song’s delicate guitar melodies create a somber atmosphere that perfectly accompanies Lenker’s introspective lyrics. The song takes listeners on a journey through memories of the past, reflecting on both the beauty and the pain of those experiences. The repetition of the chorus, “There are no enemies,” gives the song a sense of hope despite the melancholic nature of the lyrics. The sparse instrumentation and Lenker’s soft, intimate vocals create an intimate and deeply personal feeling throughout the song. “Indiana” is a touching and evocative song that demonstrates Lenker’s ability to capture complex emotions and themes in a minimalist and sincere way.
5. “Dayton, Ohio, 19 Something And 5” by Guided By Voices
“Dayton, Ohio, 19 Something And 5” is a power-pop classic by Guided By Voices that highlights the band’s unique songwriting style and lo-fi production. The song’s upbeat tempo, catchy guitar riffs, and infectious hooks create a joyous, anthemic sound that is quintessentially GBV. The lyrics tell the story of a chance encounter with a girl in Dayton, Ohio, and the nostalgic memories that the experience brings. The song’s charmingly ramshackle production and frontman Robert Pollard’s distinctive vocals add to the track’s DIY aesthetic. The song captures the essence of GBV’s approach to songwriting and production, emphasizing spontaneity and raw emotion over polished performances. “Dayton, Ohio, 19 Something And 5” is a fun and infectious track that exemplifies GBV’s unique style and undeniable appeal.
6. “Way Out West in Kansas” by Billy Murray and Ed Smalle
“Way Out West in Kansas” by Billy Murray and Ed Smalle is a classic song from the early 20th century that tells the story of a cowboy who falls in love with a girl in Kansas. The song has a lighthearted melody and upbeat tempo, with a catchy chorus that is sure to get stuck in your head. The lyrics describe the beauty of the Midwestern landscape and the cowboy’s desire to settle down with the girl of his dreams. “Way Out West in Kansas” is a charming song that captures the spirit of the American West.
7. “9th and Hennepin” by Tom Waits
“9th and Hennepin” by Tom Waits is a haunting and atmospheric song that takes place on the streets of Minneapolis. The lyrics describe a cast of characters, including a sailor, a prostitute, and a drug dealer, who all converge on the intersection of 9th and Hennepin. The song is characterized by Waits’ distinctive gravelly voice, evocative imagery, and eerie instrumental backing. “9th and Hennepin” is a vivid portrait of a seedy urban environment, and Waits’ storytelling ability makes the listener feel like they are right there on the corner, watching the drama unfold.
8. “Minneapolis” by That Dog
“Minneapolis” by That Dog is a song about the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The song’s lyrics talk about different locations and landmarks in the city, such as the lakes, the downtown area, and the famous music venue, First Avenue. The song is a love letter to the city, with the singer describing how much they enjoy being there and all of the experiences they have had. The music is upbeat and poppy, with a catchy chorus that is easy to sing along to.
9. “Sweet Home Chicago” by Buddy Guy
“Sweet Home Chicago” by Buddy Guy is a classic blues song that has become a quintessential anthem for the city of Chicago, Illinois. The song’s lyrics describe the singer’s longing to return to Chicago, a city they describe as their “sweet home”. The song features iconic blues riffs and solos, with the guitar taking center stage throughout. The song has been covered by countless artists over the years and has become an enduring symbol of the blues and the city of Chicago. It has been featured in numerous movies, TV shows, and commercials and remains a staple of blues radio stations around the world.
10. “Sweet Home Chicago” by The Blues Brothers
“Sweet Home Chicago” is a classic blues song originally recorded by Robert Johnson in 1936. The song tells the story of a man leaving the southern states to travel to Chicago, which he considers his “sweet home” because it’s the place where he can find work and build a new life. The Blues Brothers, a blues and soul revivalist band from the 1980s, recorded a popular cover of the song for their 1980 movie of the same name. The song features energetic horn lines and a soulful vocal performance by lead singer John Belushi, and has become one of the band’s most recognizable hits.
11. “Can’t Stand the Midwest” by Dow Jones and the Industrials
“Can’t Stand the Midwest” is a punk rock song by Dow Jones and the Industrials, a band from West Lafayette, Indiana, active in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The song expresses the band’s disdain for the Midwest, with lyrics that criticize the monotony and bleakness of the region, and the lack of excitement and cultural diversity. The song’s rapid-fire tempo, angular guitar riffs, and raw, aggressive vocal delivery capture the spirit of the punk movement and showcase the band’s irreverent attitude towards the Midwest’s traditional values and way of life.
12. “Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon
“Carry Me Ohio” is a melancholic and reflective song by Sun Kil Moon, released in 2003. The song speaks of loneliness and isolation, and the beauty and harshness of the Ohio landscape. The lyrics reflect the feeling of being lost and the need for someone or something to hold on to. The song is marked by a quiet and meditative melody and a poetic and introspective tone, which create a feeling of deep intimacy and vulnerability.
13. “Omaha” by Counting Crows
“Omaha” by Counting Crows is a melancholic alternative rock song that captures the struggles of being a musician on the road. The song starts with an acoustic guitar riff that creates a nostalgic and contemplative mood. Adam Duritz’s distinctive voice and poetic lyrics convey the feelings of loneliness, displacement, and yearning for a home that many touring musicians experience. The chorus’s repetition of the line “Omaha, somewhere in middle America” emphasizes the longing for a place to call home. The instrumental section towards the end of the song, with its distorted guitars and pounding drums, adds a sense of urgency and desperation to the lyrics.
14. “Minneapolis” by Lucinda Williams
“Minneapolis” by Lucinda Williams is a haunting ballad that tells the story of a broken relationship. The song starts with a delicate acoustic guitar picking and Williams’ tender vocals, creating a sense of intimacy and vulnerability. The lyrics describe a couple’s painful breakup, with the protagonist lamenting the loss of her lover and the city they shared. The chorus’s repetition of the line “It don’t matter where I go, it don’t matter what I do” highlights the feeling of being stuck and unable to move on. The sparse instrumentation and Williams’ emotional delivery make the song a poignant and intimate portrayal of heartbreak and loss.
15. “Broadripple Is Burning” by Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s
“Broadripple Is Burning” by Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s is a haunting and introspective indie rock song that touches on themes of love, heartbreak, and nostalgia. The song features a minimalistic yet emotionally charged melody with soft guitar strums and mellow drums. The lyrics speak of the end of a relationship and the struggle to move on, with the burning of Broadripple, a neighborhood in Indianapolis, serving as a metaphor for the pain of heartbreak. The vocals are soft and melancholic, perfectly capturing the emotion of the song. Overall, “Broadripple Is Burning” is a beautifully crafted song that speaks to the universal human experience of heartbreak and loss.
16. “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens
“Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens is a soft and gentle indie folk song that pays tribute to the city of Chicago, Illinois. The song features delicate guitar picking and a soft melody that perfectly captures the essence of the city. The lyrics speak of the history of Chicago and its various neighborhoods and landmarks, and the vocals are soft and tender. The song builds to a triumphant and epic crescendo, with a chorus of voices singing “All things go, all things go” in unison. “Chicago” is a beautiful and emotive song that perfectly captures the spirit and essence of one of America’s greatest cities.
17. “Chicago at Night” by Spoon
“Chicago at Night” by Spoon is a song about the city of Chicago, but specifically about the experience of being in the city at night. The lyrics describe the city as “cold,” “hard,” and “mean,” but the song also captures a sense of beauty and romance in the city’s nighttime skyline. The music is sparse and atmospheric, with echoing guitar riffs and a steady beat that evoke the feeling of walking through the city streets late at night.
18. “Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun” by Kevin Morby
“Don’t Underestimate Midwest American Sun” by Kevin Morby is a more upbeat song that celebrates the joys of living in the Midwest. The lyrics describe the simple pleasures of life in small towns and rural areas, like going to the county fair, watching the sun set over the cornfields, and driving down dusty roads. The music is a mix of folk and rock influences, with jangling guitars and catchy melodies that give the song a laid-back, summery feel. Overall, the song is a tribute to the beauty and charm of the Midwest, and to the people who call it home.
19. “Midwest Midsummer” by Used Kids
“Midwest Midsummer” by Used Kids is a jangly and upbeat indie rock track with catchy guitar riffs and driving drum beats. The lyrics describe a summer day in the Midwest, with references to drinking beer and taking a dip in the river to cool off. The song perfectly captures the carefree and nostalgic feeling of summer in the Midwest, making it a great anthem for anyone who grew up in the region.
20. “Man on Fire” by Good Luck
“Man on Fire” by Good Luck is a high-energy punk rock track with rapid-fire drums and gritty guitar riffs. The song features urgent and powerful vocals that demand attention, with lyrics that express a sense of urgency and passion. The track captures the raw and rebellious spirit of punk rock, making it a perfect addition to any playlist for fans of the genre.