Indiana is famous for quite a lot of things, from basketball to the Indy 500 and farms to steel mills. Indianapolis is one of the biggest cities in the Midwest as well, cementing the state’s place as one of the cornerstones of the region. Several famous musicians also called it home or fell in love with it after visiting, from Michael Jackson to John Mellencamp. In this article, we’ll dive into the 15 best songs about The Hoosier State.
1. Going Back to Indiana – The Jackson 5
Going Back To Indiana was the title track of a live soundtrack album by The Jackson 5 that was produced by Motown Records. The album itself was a soundtrack taken from a television special that featured Bill Cosby, Tommy Smothers, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, and several notable sports stars like Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor. The Jackson 5 produced several tracks for the special, and alongside selections from their homecoming concert at the Coliseum in Indianapolis, the album was born.
Like most of their songs, Michael Jackson was in the lead vocal role for this track. The Jackson family are originally from the state but spent much of their time outside of Indiana due to recording and touring schedules. But it kept calling for them to come home, and the state’s natural beauty served as all the motivation they needed to come back. Going Back To Indiana is a celebration of the state itself and the return of the legendary music group to where they got their start.
2. Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind – Bing Crosby
Indiana may be a midwestern state that many people forget about but that shouldn’t be the case at all. For a lot of people, it’s the perfect place to call home. Bing Crosby is one of the most notable names with a special affection for Indiana, evidenced by his song Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind. He describes it as a place he’d love to see, with lazy rivers and plenty of people he cares about residing there.
This one was originally written by Hoagy Carmichael and Robert de Leon in 1940, with Kate Smith being the first artist to officially record the track. Crosby’s version ended up being released that same year, something the man was a little bit notorious for if we’re honest about it. The river in question is undeniably the Wabash River in Indiana, and it seems to call to the narrator, wishing for them to come home soon.
3. On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away – Paul Dresser
On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away may be the oldest song I’ve covered that doesn’t fit into a category with classical compositions. It was one of the best-selling tracks of the 19th century—that’s the 1800s for folks who aren’t good with that kind of dating. Paul Dresser wrote and composed the song, publishing it in 1897. The bulk of the track describes his childhood home by the Wabash River in Indiana and remained a popular song for decades after it was first published. It was adopted as the official state anthem in 1913, and it eventually became the basis of a film of the same name in 1923.
Several different lyrical versions of the track appeared including an anti-war song in 1898 and a number-one hit version in Swedish. Interestingly, this was one of the earliest pieces of music to ever be recorded, as it was published when tracks first began being recorded on the phonograph. Due to early copyright laws not covering recordings properly, disputes arose over the authorship of the song and left it vulnerable to plagiarism, which surprisingly gave us our next best track about Indiana.
4. Back Home Again in Indiana – James F. Hanley
Back Home In Indiana heavily borrowed from the lines of On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away. Released in 1917, it took quite a lot of liberty with our previous entry by Paul Dresser, both in terms of lyrics and music. A dispute arose with his ownership over the song, as he had died in 1907 but that was never resolved. Among the tracks depicting the state, Back Home Again In Indiana might be the most recognizable tune out there.
This one is used every year at the Indianapolis 500, played during the pre-race ceremonies amid the release of thousands of multi-colored balloons. This has been a traditional part of the race since it debuted in 1946. In 1917, it was selected by Columbia Records to be recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, becoming a staple of the genre that would be played by all the big names in the genre from Louis Armstrong to Bobby Darin.
5. Small Town – John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp is a well-known musician who happens to hail from the great state of Indiana. Small-town life is a major feature of a lot of his music, but it’s best put on display in his single Small Town. He released the song in 1985 as part of his album Scarecrow, and it rose to number six on the US Hot 100 and number 13 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The entire song is based on his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana, taking place in his birth city of Seymour and covering his time living in Bloomington. It’s an homage to the small-town way of life and a reminder that you don’t have to live in some major city to live a full life.
6. Henrietta, Indiana – Josh Ritter
It’s rare that an artist essentially imagines a city into existence but that seems to be the case with Josh Ritter’s Henrietta, Indiana. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a city in the state that goes by that name but that shouldn’t take anything away from the way you view the song as a whole.
It describes the city as a dry mill town, and the father in the track gets a powerful thirst. Ritter released the song in 2015 as part of his album Sermon On The Rocks. While it definitely isn’t an ode to a specific small town in Indiana, it does well to capture the perspectives and beliefs of many of the little places that dot the more rural areas of the state.
7. Springtime Indiana – Sandra McCracken
There’s not really a better song about falling in love in Indiana than Sandra McCracken’s Springtime Indiana. The calm folk track was released in 2001 as part of her second independent album and describes laying in bed next to their lover while in the state. The two had apparently been on a road trip together, with Indiana being nothing more than a pit stop on the way to their final destination.
But something about the charming state and the fact that it’s where she realized she had fallen in love made both Indiana and the night the two shared feel extremely special. While the song mentions being unable to find the words to describe her emotions, she does a pretty good job of doing so and uses the state as the perfect backdrop for an adorable love story.
8. Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor
Indiana Wants Me wasn’t written by a native of the state, R. Dean Taylor was actually a Canadian singer and songwriter. The song was released under a subsidiary of the Motown record label in 1970, becoming a top-10 hit in both the US and the UK while topping the charts in Canada. The narrative of the track follows a person who has murdered another man and insulted their woman while he’s on the run from the police.
Taylor wrote the song after watching the film Bonnie And Clyde, and inspired by the movie, penned this riveting tale about being wanted by the law in Indiana. Funnily enough, there were reports of drivers pulling over on the road thanks to the police sirens that were initially included at the beginning of the track, but those were eventually removed.
9. Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Mary Jane’s Last Dance was recorded during the sessions for Tom Petty’s album Wildflowers, but it wouldn’t end up being released until his Greatest Hits album in 1993. After that release, it rose to number 14 on the Hot 100 and became his first top-20 hit of the 1990s. It was originally titled Indiana Girl, hence the “Indiana girl on an Indiana night” that shows up in the song.
The chorus used to also include lines about that, imploring her to get out of the rural Indiana landscape and see the world. Regardless of the changes, it still talks about a girl growing up in a sheltered town in the state, though calling her Mary Jane was definitely an on-the-nose reference for Marijuana.
10. Pizza King – Wussy
Not everyone is going to understand the references in this song, but that’s okay because it just tells others you aren’t from Indiana. Wussy spends most of Pizza King shouting out small towns across the state like Muncle, Terre Haute, and Valparaiso, but the truth is that the track is an ode to the state as a whole, and the namesake restaurant that gave the song its title. This one was released in 2011 on their album Strawberry.
11. Gary, Indiana – Meredith Willson
The Music Man is a musical that came with a book, music, and lyrics all written by Meredith Wilson based on one of the stories he had written. It mainly follows a con man who sells band instruments across the Midwest, promising to train the band members who purchased them but skipping town having never given a lesson.
It was a Broadway hit in 1957, taking home five Tony Awards in total and spawning a film and television adaptation in later years. Gary, Indiana, focusing on one of the towns Wilson was most familiar with, was one of three songs from the musical that became American standards. Oh, and if his name sounds familiar, you probably know him as the writer behind the track It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.
12. Back To Indiana – The Elms
Any good list of songs about states has at least a couple of bangers about coming back home. The Elms’ track Back To Indiana is exactly that, depicting a man leaving New Orleans and heading back to Indiana. His lover is there waiting for him, and he hops aboard a bus and hopes nothing slows him down on his travels.
Most of the members are from Seymour, Indiana, and with the band splitting up a year after the track was released, perhaps they took the message to heart and decided to go home again.
13. Indiana Christmas – Straight No Chaser
Straight No Chaser was originally a student group at Indiana University that got their start in 1998 with a comical version of the 12 Days Of Christmas. Indiana Christmas is a festive take on the holiday season in the state, focusing on warming up by the fire and reuniting with friends and family members.
Christmas just doesn’t feel right when you aren’t in the state, at least according to the band. And while not every member of the group originated in The Hoosier State, they all became Hoosiers when they decided to go to college there.
14. Indiana – Melissa Etheridge
Indiana is more of a song about perseverance and the power of believing in yourself than it is about the actual state. It follows a girl by that name as she grows up, struggling through life and feeling like her dreams are always out of reach. It symbolizes the big-city dreams of many people in small towns, especially in a state like Indiana, and it gives off an aura of hope and belief.
15. Dani California – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Alright, this one might be a bit of a cheat since there are several places name-dropped throughout the song. But the reference to Indiana is especially poignant. It talks about “Robbing on a bank in the state of Indiana.” But as cool a rhyme as it makes, it’s actually a reference to notorious bank robber John Dillinger, an Indiana native who performed one of the most prolific crime sprees in American history.
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.