Music. I think we can all agree it’s the best! It’s there when you’re sad, it’s there when you need to shake your booty, it’s there when anything at all would be preferable to silence. It’s a perfect medium for bonding, understanding, and shared experience—one of life’s great unifiers, if you will. Which, honestly, makes the idea of state songs a bit odd. They’re meant to be territorial, prideful, and rooted in identity. They’re tools of the capital-S state if we’re being really real. They’re divisive on many levels, and despite being background characters in the practice of territorial U.S. pride, they’re a bizarre force to be reckoned with.
In my research for this list, I discovered that there aren’t just state songs, but state anthems, state polkas, state cantatas, state historic songs, state marches, state bluegrass songs, state environmental songs, state ballads and more. And as with state birds, state flags, state mottos, the rules are out the window here. Everyone truly does what they want and with little regard for the rest of the pack. True to form!
Some caveats before we get to the ranking: Despite my best efforts I’ve surely missed the finer points of many of these songs like notable composers, histories, significances, and controversies. Please yell at me about those in the comments, I like hearing them! And, frankly, it was often impossible to pick good versions of these songs. Many times I found myself toggling between two YouTube links being like, “Do I go with the grating children’s choir, the first grating solo singer, or the second grating solo singer??” Please know that I tried to be fair, but at some point we as a nation need to grapple with why we insist on making patriotic songs so damn hard to sing.
Also I feel I must mention that a musician named Rick Pickren has recorded four volumes (four volumes!) of state songs if you want a control group with which to truly compare these tunes.
In general, this list is distinct from our previous state symbols rankings in that there’s basically good ones and everything else. For the most part, state songs are deeply nerdly, regularly offensive, and often lazy to the point of existential despair.
With each of these lists, I continue to believe that things cannot get any weirder, but America continues to surprise me. As always, territories have been included, hence the number of items on the list. Okay, here we go.
56. Florida: “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)” (with revised lyrics)
I’m sure you caught that “with revised lyrics” bit there and I’m sure you can imagine why. “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)” is a minstrel song romanticizing slavery that was not only written in the first person from the perspective of an African slave, it was also written in “dialect.” You can see all of the lyrics side by side here, but they include changes like: “Still longing for de old plantation” vs. “Still longing for my childhood station.” Props I guess for recognizing the need to change the lyrics, but I’d give bigger props for throwing this song in the garbage.
55. Kentucky: “My Old Kentucky Home“
This song is pretty, but it was conceived by the same songwriter who wrote “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)” and has many of the same, racist problems. Rethink this one, Kentucky!
54. New Jersey: None.
Look, aside from the two above, there are many state songs that are worse than not having one at all simply because they suck, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Also, shame on New Jersey for not making The Sopranos theme its state song already.
53. Maryland: None. (Previously: Maryland, My Maryland)
Maryland did what Florida did not and just axed its racist song! Well done.
One of these hit me as “yikes, very cheesy” and the other hit me as “cheesy, but less yikes.” Generally speaking, no thanks.
51. Nebraska: “Beautiful Nebraska“
I’ll admit I’ve never been to Nebraska, but I can guarantee that the landscape should theoretically inspire something better than this.
Neither of these songs did much for me but apparently “Arizona” was a country hit in 1981?? Both are very yeehaw.
49. South Dakota: “Hail, South Dakota!“
I’m sorry, but there’s a paint-by-numbers quality to this song. Not for me.
48. Wyoming: “Wyoming Where I Belong“
I’ll leave it at this: I do like the lyrics here.
47. Massachusetts: “All Hail to Massachusetts“
Massachusetts has a state folk song, a state ceremonial march, a state patriotic song, a state glee club song, and the list GOES ON. Based on the quality of the official state song, maybe they should consider focusing on one song and making it good. There’s a category of state songs that feels very meant-for-a-Memorial-Day-Parade and this is one of them.
46. North Carolina: “The Old North State“
Weirdly solemn! Feels like a song that’s telling you to be loyal rather than trying to inspire actual affection or loyalty.
45. Vermont: “These Green Mountains“
Also so solemn! I don’t want to feel this sad about Vermont.
44. Texas: “Texas, Our Texas“
This ranking is a reflection of expectations. I thought Texas would bring it a bit more!
43. Washington, DC: “Washington“
Okay this is a good song, but its aggressive patriotism gives me the heebies.
42. Alabama: “Alabama“
Another parade song, but a better one!
41. Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania”
Yes, this is another parade song, but I picked this version because it sounds like people singing in a bar after they’ve had a few and Pennsylvania just won some sort of sporting event and also it’s 1910 (this song did not exist then, but Pennsylvania did).
40. Iowa: “The Song of Iowa”
“The Song of Iowa” is set to the tune of “O Tannenbaum” and while it’s a great tune, it begs the question: why?
39. Michigan: “My Michigan“
Good lord, not my home state doing this to me: “My Michigan” is also set to the tune of “O Tannenbaum.” Come on!
38. Delaware: “Our Delaware”
This is totally fine!
The first of these two songs, “Carolina” is really quite lovely when it hits the refrain of “Carolina! Carolina!” but unfortunately there’s not much else that’s terribly striking about either song.
36. Montana: “Montana“
Also a perfect fine entry into the state songs catalog but I think I like the state lullaby, “Montana Lullaby,” even better
35. Oregon: “Oregon, My Oregon“
I also like this one just fine, and it’s also one of the more interesting entries in that the recorded versions online vary greatly in tone. Listen to the one above and then listen to jauntier versions. This song has range! It should also be noted that the lyrics to “Oregon, My Oregon” were changed last year to remove racist lyrics.
34. Washington: “Washington, My Home“
“Washington, My Home” is serviceable to me, but the “unofficial” state rock song is “Louie Louie” which I love, even though I don’t get it: The Kingsmen were from Oregon!
33. New Hampshire: “Old New Hampshire”
New Hampshire has EIGHT “honorary” songs, and while that is too many, I appreciate that they at least made it clear for me which was THE state song, unlike other states. This tune has nice momentum and pep!
32. American Samoa: “Amerika Samoa“
The way this song sounds is like platonic ideal of “state song” to be. It does the job and it does it well.
I might be getting tired, but I can imagine crying to this?? “Rocky Mountain High” is John Denver’s first appearance on this list, but it won’t be his last! [Foreshadowing.]
30. United States Virgin Islands: “Virgin Islands March“
Okay I can also imagine crying to this one, I’m definitely getting tired.
29. North Dakota: “North Dakota Hymn“
To me, there’s something nice about a hymn serving as a state song. Aside from the whole “god” of it all, it feels classic and restrained.
28. Puerto Rico: “La Borinqueña“
This is technically the national anthem, which is sort of an unfair comparison because it serves a different function, but this is a good one! The original lyrics were better.
27. Illinois: “Illinois“
This one has a GROOVE and I like it.
Virginia has a “traditional” state song, “Our Great Virginia,” a “popular” state song, “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” and an emeritus state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” which was retired as official song in 1998 on account of being racist.
Virginia encapsulates much of what’s going on with state songs across the board here, and I urge you to listen Sweet Virginia Breeze—it sounds like a damn sitcom theme and I mean that in a good way.
25. Nevada: “Home Means Nevada“
This feels designed in a lab for kids to scream-sing in the auditorium, but it’s sweet and fine!
24. Ohio: “Beautiful Ohio“
The state song of Ohio is great and they also have a state rock song that does indeed rock: “Hang On Sloopy“
23. Missouri: “Missouri Waltz“
This song was apparently popularized by Missourian Harry S. Truman when it was erroneously reported that it was his favorite song. When asked about it, the White House released this statement: “President’s attitude towards the song? He can take it or leave it. Is it really his favorite? No. Does he play it often? No. Is Margaret ever heard singing it? No. What is the President’s reaction to song’s adoption by Missouri as state song? See answer to first question.” Okay then!
22. Mississippi: “Go, Mississippi” (sometimes called Go Mis-sis-sip-pi)
So cheesy, but damn it’s a bop.
21. Minnesota: “Hail! Minnesota“
The versions I could find of this song were overwhelming choral performances, which I’m into! Not a groundbreaking tune, but there’s something plain and stately about it that’s nice.
20. Maine: “State of Maine”
I like the energy of this one. Corny, but endearing!
19. Northern Mariana Islands: “Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi”
Listening to this song actually caused me to nod my head and sway which is an enormous feat in the context of this list. The lyrics are also great.
18. Utah: “Utah…This Is The Place
Here we have a group of songs with incredible titles. This version is brutal, I’ll admit, but I’m obsessed with the refrain here of “Utah…this is the place.” It’s also better than the current state hymn, “Utah, We Love Thee,” which was the state song from 1937 to 2003.
17. Idaho: “Here We Have Idaho“
When I say this is an iconic title, I mean it. Seriously, major points awarded here for “Here We Have Idaho.”
16. Rhode Island: “Rhode Island, It’s for Me“
Okay, this is even more iconic. “Rhode Island, It’s for Me”? What more can you say!?!
15. Wisconsin: “On, Wisconsin!“
It might be because I went to a Big Ten school, but this song’s big football energy is all right with me!! It’s short, it’s peppy, it makes you want to clap your hands and shout!
14. Guam: “Stand Ye Guamanians” / “Fanohge CHamoru”
13. Hawaii: “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī“
This is another one that’s technically more of a national anthem. It was written in the 19th century by King David Kalākaua and I wish every anthem sounded like this.
12. New York: “I Love New York“
Every time we do these state symbols lists I get to the New York entry and say “this [flag, motto, etc] is SO New York, and this is no exception. This might as well be a show tune!! Or as editor Jack Mirkinson wrote, “lol new york has a disco state song?????? this is like the hustle but a state theme tune.” Neither of us are quite right: this gem was written by Steve Karmen, best known for commercial jingles, and is itself a jingle! It was written as part of the “I Love New York” ad campaign in the ’70s. Volume UP on this one.
11. California: “I Love You, California“
In the same vein, there is something unhinged and showy about this which feels right for California.
10. Indiana: “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away“
Beautiful! “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” was one of the best-selling songs of the 19th century, and I get why.
9. New Mexico: “O Fair New Mexico“
“O Fair New Mexico” is already a good song, but the state also has a fantastic Spanish state song, “Así Es Nuevo México” and a bilingual song, “New Mexico – Mi Lindo Nuevo México.” This trio proves once again that New Mexico is outpacing everyone else when it comes to honoring its diverse residents and history in state iconography (I mean, it goes without saying, but the bar is low). They also have a state cowboy song, “Under New Mexico Skies,” which rules.
8. West Virginia: ????
West Virginia has FOUR “official” state songs—”The West Virginia Hills,” “This Is My West Virginia,” “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home,” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads.
I could not figure out which song is THE song so I’ll just say: “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is the best one. I don’t care if that’s not the official “official” one, it’s the best one. Also John Denver was born in New Mexico and died in California but he has two state songs for other territories. Way to diversify, John.
7. Tennessee: ??????????????
Apparently, Tennessee has TEN state songs, which, fine, you are the home of Nashville, I’ll give it to you. They are: “My Homeland, Tennessee,” “When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee,” “My Tennessee,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “Rocky Top,” “Tennessee,” “The Pride of Tennessee,” A Tennessee Bicentennial Rap: 1796-1996,” “Smoky Mountain Rain” and a DIFFERENT song called “Tennessee.”
On top of all this, earlier this year Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill to make “Amazing Grace” sung by Dolly Parton another one of its state songs. I genuinely cannot make sense of this but I embrace the extreme chaotic energy.
6. Alaska: “Alaska’s Flag”
My love for Alaska’s state flag is well documented and I’m thrilled to extend that love to the state song, which is about the dang flag!! If you’re able to listen to this and get to “Alaska’s flag to Alaskans dear // The simple flag of a last frontier,” with dry eyes, well, you’re probably normal and not me.
4. Kansas: “Home on the Range“
When I said this list consisted of “good” and “the rest,” this is what I was talking about. These two put the back half of this list to shame.
2. Oklahoma: “Oklahoma”
Honestly brutal to other states, but also brilliant and frankly obligatory of Oklahoma to use the Rodgers and Hammerstein song as the state song. That official state waltz (“Oklahoma Wind”), state folk song (“Oklahoma Hills” by Woody and Jack Guthrie), and state gospel song (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot“) are also great.
1. Georgia: “Georgia on My Mind“
Sung by Ray Charles, composed by Hoagy Carmichael, and beyond comparison. This is a perfect state song. Goodnight!