One list can’t contain all the best songs that mention Michigan! Check out our Spotify mix, and then let us know what’s good, what’s garbage, and what we forgot in the comments.
“America” by Simon & Garfunkel – This song accompanies me on every road trip I take. The second verse serves as a little reminder of home while out “look[ing] for America.”
“Detroit Rock City” by KISS – Written about a fan that died en route to a Kiss concert, the band always had a strong relationship with the city. Their breakout album, Alive!, was recorded live in Detroit, and the back cover featured a picture of fans at a concert in Cobo Hall. More recently, “Detroit Rock City” has become a staple of Detroit Tigers games, and is often played at the other major sports events in town.
“Night Moves” cover by The Drifters – My dad would kill me if Seger didn’t make this list. (Side Note: Bob Seger does not license his songs to Spotify, so The Drifters’ cover will have to do for this mix.)
“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot – A very cool song with a great (and sad) story behind it. Bonus points for making the “Top 5 Songs About Death: A Laura’s Dad Tribute List” in High Fidelity.
“Romulus” by Sufjan Stevens – You could be fooled into thinking that this is a simple song; listen closer. There are a ton of instruments on this track. It’s low-key but intricate.
“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave – I don’t think enough people know who Rogue Wave are. It sucks because their songs are in a ton of TV shows, commercials, movies, and video games. They’re there for a reason. It’s because they’re good.
“Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” by Fedde Le Grand– I don’t typically listen to techno, but in a mix about Michigan, you have to throw some in. This is far and away my favorite techno song, and after listening to it, I will often wander around for hours muttering “Put your hands up for Detroit,” much to the delight of anyone living in the same house as me.
“Pretty Girl From Michigan” by The Avett Brothers – This song has nothing to do with Michigan outside of its title; The Avett Brothers just have a habit of writing songs called Pretty Girl from (Insert Destination Here). Still, this is one of their best songs off of their new album.
“The Blue” by Jason Isbell – Even though Michigan only gets a quick mention, Jason Isbell gets props for even mentioning us. He could have easily stretched the syllables in Florida to fit, but he didn’t, and for that I’m grateful.
“Highway Patrolman” by Bruce Springsteen– Off of the sparse, spooky, and great Nebraska, “Highway Patrolman” is the tale of a cop chasing his troubled brother through Michigan. A great example of The Boss as a top-notch storyteller.
“The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell – It was in Detroit! It says so in the first line of the last song off of Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue.
“Paint’s Peeling” by Rilo Kiley– Full disclosure: I hadn’t heard this song before I started researching this article. It’s hard not to be pulled in by the opening line, though: “The paint’s peeling off the streets again/And I drive and I close my eyes in Michigan/And I feel nothing, not brave/It’s a hard day for breathing again.”
“Especially in Michigan” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – Singer Anthony Kiedis and drummer Brad Smith both have roots in Michigan (Kiedis lived in Grand Rapids until he was 12, Smith spent most of his childhood in Bloomfield Hills and often wears a University of Michigan baseball hat while drumming), so it felt like a no-brainer to include their song about the state, even if it’s not my favorite RHCP song.
“Dancing In The Street” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas– Try not to dance along, I dare you.
“Saginaw, Michigan” by Lefty Frizzell – Lefty Frizzell had a huge impact on country music, influencing some of its most important stars-to-be (think Willie, Waylon, and Merle). This song was his last hit, telling the story of a poor guy from Saginaw who falls in love with a girl, only to find out her rich dad thinks the narrator is too poor for his daughter. What follows is a trip to Alaska in search of gold and an eventual happy ending. For those counting, this song mentions Michigan far more than any other on the list.
“Sweet Payne” by The Hold Steady– Singer/lyricist Craig Finn has a stable of characters he comes back to again and again on Hold Steady albums. One of these characters is named Gideon, who has—according to this song—been living in Bay City, Michigan. One wonders though, why the characters had to get high to realize Michigan looks like a mitten.
“The Big Three Killed My Baby” by The White Stripes – In case you slept through the 2000’s, the White Stripes were a garage rock band from Detroit. The Big Three in question here are (gasp!) the Detroit automakers. Apparently this song is based on a true story.
“Kalamazoo” by Ben Folds – After I moved away to college, Ben Folds came to my hometown to play at Adrian College. I seem to remember an article afterwards where he complemented our Bob Evans, a comment which forever endeared him to me.
“Michigan” by Josh Rouse – Written as a letter from a son to his parents after he moved away to Michigan. The son/narrator is living with his aunt and uncle and working at a bar, and says Michigan is “alright” and “better than Wichita.” Not the most enthusiastic words, but a compliment is a compliment.
“The Deeper In” by Drive-by Truckers – Add this song to the list of great songs about incest! And in your face, other states—despite the many miles of running by the fugitive couple in the song, Michigan’s Finest were the ones who eventually hauled them in.
“Going to Michigan” by The Extra Glenns – To be fair, I’d complain if I knew someone who only listened to the Tubeway Army. Or the Blue Cheer comprehensive retrospective box set.
“I’ve Been Everywhere”by Johnny Cash – And that includes Kalamazoo.