Illinois is situated right in the middle of the Midwest, making it a melting pot of cultures that has developed into a distinct part of the country. From the rural grasslands to the big city of Chicago, the state and its rich history are an inspiration for artists around the world. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 31 best songs out there about Illinois.
1. My Kind of Town – Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was a lover of everything Illinois, from the lights of Chicago to the smaller towns he visited as he traveled the state. My Kind Of Town is one of his many songs lauding the state, with this one primarily focused on the culture and class of the city.
He gushes over how much he loves being there and what a special place it is for him, from the music to the landmarks around the city. It’s the perfect track for any Chicagoan to remind them of how great their city is, but it’s also a great song for anyone who wants to visit Illinois and just might need an extra nudge to do so.
2. Illinois – The Everly Brothers
While plenty of amazing songs have been written about Chicago, the state of Illinois has much more to offer. If you’re looking for a track that talks about all the great things about the state and its natural beauty, look no further than Illinois by The Everly Brothers.
The song talks about the singer’s hometown, detailing the fields and streams he loves so much, making the listener want to visit as well. Despite leaving home—presumably for his music career—the singer wants to go back, and their intricate and loving words about the state will evoke nostalgic feelings in listeners who haven’t even been there before.
3. Lake Shore Drive – Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah
Lake Shore Drive is one of the best scenic routes in all of Chicago, taking drivers along the shore of Lake Michigan and cutting through several parks. The route was so inspiring that Aliotta, Haynes, And Jeremiah wrote a song about it in 1971.
It captures the adventure and freedom that comes along with an iconic American roadway and eventually becomes something of a cult classic. Quite a few films and television shows set in the city have used this one in their soundtracks, making it one of the tracks about Illinois that just about everyone has heard at some point.
4. Sweet Home Chicago – Eric Clapton
Sweet Home Chicago is a blues standard that was first recorded by Robert Johnson in 1936. There’s some debate over whether or not he was the original writer of the song, but what remains clear is that it’s the perfect example of early Chicago blues music and has gone down as an anthem of the city. Numerous artists have recorded the track over the years, and it remains to this day a nostalgic song about the city’s music culture.
5. Illinois Blues – Skip James
Skip James’ song Illinois Blues is a blues standard recorded all the way back in 1931. The track is an incredible example of the artist’s finger-picking style, something he was a bit of a pioneer at. It’s mostly made up of his experiences in the state, from traveling around and finding work to the hardships he endured along the way. There are few better examples of early blues in Illinois than this song, making it both a timeless piece of music and an important part of the state’s history.
6. Paris Illinois – Brett Eldredge
Brett Eldredge is a fairly notable musician who grew up in Paris, Illinois. This song is an ode to his hometown, but it also came to represent the small-town Midwestern lifestyle as a whole. It’s a celebration of the beauty surrounding the rural areas of the Midwest and the close-knit communities that make up those populations. To top it off, it’s got a catchy melody that elicits the very atmosphere of small-town energy. There are very few tracks that do a better job of paying homage to a singer’s hometown than this one.
7. Johnsburg, Illinois – Tom Waits
Tom Waits deserves more widespread credit as a poet than he gets. In Johnsburg, Illinois, he compares his body and the map of Illinois to produce an incredible tribute to his wife. It’s all love in this song, talking about the tattoo of her name on his arm and likening it to the town she grew up in that’s referenced in the title of the track. He ends up writing one of the most touching love songs you’ll hear today by using cities across the state that were near and dear to his wife and how they shaped her as a person.
8. Chicago – Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was definitely a man who loved the city of Chicago, as he sang several songs extolling its greatness. Chicago is an ode to the city that comes across in a classy way only he was able to pull off. He talks about the city through its history, from Prohibition to his era, and how the people there never let their love of life be shut down. In reality, it’s mostly a track that praises the city for the way it handles itself and how great the culture has become there.
9. Chicago – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens wrote an entire album about the state of Illinois, that’s how much he loves it. Perhaps the quintessential song on the album, Chicago, tells the story of a boy as he becomes a man in the state. He travels across Illinois in search of himself, eventually seeming to fall in love with its biggest city.
But don’t let any of that fool you, Stevens makes sure to focus on the state as a whole even when he’s enshrining Chicago as the crown jewel of Illinois. It’s not just a touching tribute to the state, the song is truly a masterclass in storytelling and is something many residents of The Prairie State will resonate with.
10. Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins
Tonight, Tonight was an incredibly successful song by the Smashing Pumpkins, one of the best alternative rock bands formed in Chicago, Illinois. It—at least briefly—mentions their hometown of Chicago by talking about a city by the lake, which for them must be Chicago and Lake Michigan. Most of the lyrics focus on the themes of hope and love, and the track went on to be the band’s most commercially successful single to date.
11. 100 Chicagos – Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco is another rapper from Chicago, though he isn’t as famous as some of the other names on our list. Much of his music refers to—sometimes indirectly—the city he grew up in, but 100 Chicagos takes it head-on. Most of the lyrics for the song are a loving tribute to the city, but it does bring up important points about his troubled youth and shows a bit of the darker side of the city in the process. Regardless, it’s one of the best rap love letters to both Chicago and the state of Illinois you’re going to find.
12. 65th & Ingleside – Chance The Rapper
Plenty of famous rappers and hip hop artists have come from Chicago. Chief among them just may be Chance The Rapper. He has plenty of songs that pay homage to his hometown and talk about growing up in the city, but 65th & Ingleside is one of the most cheerful ones.
He uses the intersection where he used to spend time as a metaphor for the connection between him and his partner. Throughout his bouts of mental illness and addiction, she stayed with him and helped him through it. The title of the song is the place the two lived together early in their relationship, marking it as a place of significance for both the rapper and listeners alike.
13. All The Way – Eddie Vedder
Chicago is just as known for iconic sports franchises as it is as a cultural center in the Midwest. The Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, and Bulls are some of the most successful franchises of all time. But it’s one of their two baseball teams that gets the nod in this song.
The Cubs were known for having perhaps the longest championship drought of all time, failing to win a World Series Championship in the MLB for well over 100 years. Eddie Vedder wrote All The Way in honor of that drought, and in 2016, his dream finally became a reality as the Chicago Cubs became the world champions of baseball.
14. Effington – Ben Folds
Ben Folds released Effington in 2008 on his album Way To Normal. It mainly focuses on life in the suburbs and how monotonous the small-town lifestyles are, two things many Illinois residents are fairly familiar with. Effington is a fictional town, not a real one, but it’s come to represent the small towns of the state. In classic Ben Folds fashion, the song is full of witty lines and good-natured humor, making it an excellent option for your Illinois playlist.
15. Ballad of The Illinois Opry – REO Speedwagon
The Illinois Opry used to be one of the most prestigious and famous music venues in the state. Even today, it holds quite a bit of sway in the music world and is a testament to the rich culture and history of the state. REO Speedwagon might have penned a classic rock staple with Ballad Of The Illinois Opry, but they also were able to tell the story of the venue in the best way possible. Incorporating the sounds of the state into the song, it tells the history, both good and bad, of the venue and the people who have passed through it.
16. Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Illinois is largely thought of as a crossroads of American culture, a place where the Northeast meets the South and where the Midwest meets the West. As such, the state is a staple of Americana music and the perfect subject of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song Lookin’ Out My Backdoor.
It mentions the state twice, talking about how the narrator just got back from Illinois and again when he says he’ll be returning there soon. But everything in between is incredibly interesting, as it appears that a circus has popped up in the singer’s backyard.
17. Made in the USA – Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco is a native Chicagoan and often includes the city in his songs, so you know this one has some connections to it. Made In The USA focuses heavily on societal ills in the United States, from poverty to government corruption. It even questions the entire concept of the American Dream and wonders if it’s an attainable goal for most people. But he is looking at those countrywide issues through the lens of his hometown, making it perhaps one of the best conscious rap tracks about the city.
18. Moline – Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam may have been at their height in the 90s, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t released amazing music since then. Moline came out in 2014 and was named after the small town of Moline, Illinois. It focuses on how much of a connection the band has with the place and the people they love there. Eddie Vedder was born in the nearby town of Evansville, Illinois, making it an even more poignant reminder of home for the singer and guitarist.
19. Homecoming – Kanye West
Old-school Kanye West is the best Kanye. A lot of people pretend to forget, but the rapper was one of the best to ever do it before his personal life and problems became more widely known than his music. Going back to his album Graduation, he even made one of the best songs about Illinois.
Talking about Chicago specifically, the track is about the relationship he had with the city while he was growing up. The culture, the places he went, and how it shaped him into the person he is now are all on full display for listeners. But rather than just roll out stories, he personifies the city as a woman named Windy, giving the city more depth while also making sense of the duality of its light and dark sides.
20. 2120 South Michigan Avenue – The Rolling Stones
We finally have a song that might make listeners wonder why it’s on one of these lists. The track 2120 South Michigan Avenue has absolutely no lyrics and is entirely an instrumental track. Since it’s from The Rolling Stones, you can bet that it’s a good one, but how does it make it onto a list of the best songs about Illinois?
The title of the track is the address of the studio in Chicago where they recorded the song, which gives us a pretty decent link. But a careful listen to the track also shows the influence that the city’s blues music had on them.
21. Cairo, Illinois – Pokey LaFarge
Cairo is located near the southernmost point of Illinois, right where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet. It used to be a thriving port city but has mostly fallen off in the years since its heyday. Pokey LaFarge captures the essence of the town perfectly in this sign dedicated to Cairo, Illinois. Backed by bluesy jazz music and just a bit of swing, it serves as an ode to a forgotten Midwestern town with a story very much like many others.
22. Via Chicago – Wilco
Via Chicago is an incredible song that describes a trip to the Windy City and the memories that come up each time the trip is made. It mainly focuses on some universal themes like change being inevitable and the loss of the way things used to be, making it a haunting ballad that also serves as an ode to the city at the end of the journey.
23. Come on! Feel the Illinoise! – Sufjan Stevens
Come On! Feel The Illinoise! sounds like it should be a parody of Quiet Riot’s Cum On Feel The Noize, but it’s entirely different from the glam rock song. A sweeping symphony of sounds and orchestral instruments, it serves as a tapestry of Illinois history and culture and one of the greatest tributes to the state ever written.
24. Illinois Loyalty – Marching Illini
Illinois Loyalty is the fight song of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Written in 1906 by T.H. Guild, the track has been constantly performed at the school’s sporting events ever since. The school’s band plays it and other traditional fight songs at every sporting event the school plays, making it a rallying cry for the state and a memorable track for any residents.
25. Giant of Illinois – The Handsome Family
The tallest man in history—at least verified by the Guinness Book of World Records—was Robert Wadlow, an Illinois resident. The Handsome Family produced The Giant Of Illinois in 1998 and told the story of his life. This one is a bit of a mournful song, but it captures an interesting piece of the state’s history and beautifully weaves the tale of an incredible life.
26. Illinois – Dan Fogelberg
Dan Fogelberg was another great artist to have grown up in Illinois, so it’s no surprise that he wrote a song detailing his time there. This gentle acoustic ballad serves as a nostalgic track about his time in the state, but it’s also full of his regret for having ever left at all.
27. Long Hot Summer Days – John Hartford
Summer in Illinois is as beautiful as the winters can be brutal, but nobody captures the pure charm of it the way John Hartford is able to. His song Long Hot Summer Days was released in 1976 on his album Mark Twang, vividly describing the beautiful natural wonderland of the state in the summertime.
28. Meet Me in Chicago – Buddy Guy
We can’t do a good list of songs about states without a great one about wanting to return to your hometown. And while we have a few, Buddy Guy’s Meet Me In Chicago is another excellent option. The track describes his feelings about the city and how much it means to him. Despite having departed from there in the past, he’s more than happy to head back and pick up life where he left off.
29. The Illinois Enema Bandit – Frank Zappa
The Illinois Enema Bandit was a real criminal named Michael H. Kenyon. His “claim to fame” was a series of armed robberies that targeted females and often involved sexual assault. There’s no need to get into the details of those crimes or that name here, but his story was put to paper by Frank Zappa in the 1978 song The Illinois Enema Bandit.
30. Take Me Back to Chicago – Chicago
Take Me Back To Chicago is a classic rock song from 1976 that pays homage to the band’s namesake. They obviously love the city and everything it has to offer, writing this track with lyrics nearly pleading to be taken back to the city again soon. It shines yet another spotlight on Chicago and its unique cultural and social appeals.
31. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens has plenty of great songs about Illinois to choose from, but we thought we’d end with one of the most interesting. It details an incident in 2000 where five police officers claimed to witness an unusual object in the sky above them. I don’t know that they ever figured out exactly what it was, but this track serves as a chill background-music-style single about one of the wackiest Illinois events in recent times.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.