Kentucky is famous for quite a few things that people love. Horse racing, their native bluegrass, bourbon, and the Colonel’s Kentucky Fried Chicken are some of the most notable ones. But the state was also integral to popularizing the bluegrass music genre and has remained an interesting melting pot of cultures throughout its existence. In this article, we’ll look at the 25 best songs about The Bluegrass State that you should definitely be listening to.
1. My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night! – Stephen Foster
My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night! was composed in 1952 and was at least partially inspired by the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The track has been interpreted in many ways, but it remains to this day an ode to the beauty of the state and a wish for it to be inclusive to all the people who live there. Since the early 1900s, it has been the official state song of Kentucky and is famously played before the start of the Kentucky Derby each year.
2. Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is a Kentucky native, and her first and biggest hit came when she sang Coal Miner’s Daughter. It’s a song she wrote about her experiences growing up in rural Kentucky, watching her father work himself half to death in coal mines during the Great Depression. It was a major success for her, and since it was released in the 1970s, numerous other country artists have covered it.
3. Kentucky Gambler – Dolly Parton
Kentucky Gambler first appeared on Dolly Parton’s 1975 album Bargain Store. The protagonist of the song is a man from the state, who heads off to Nevada—and presumably Las Vegas—to try to win big in gambling. After losing everything, he returns home but finds no help from the family he left behind. It’s one of the most legendary tracks about Kentucky and several major country artists have covered it since she first recorded it.
4. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Bill Monroe
You can’t write a list of songs about Kentucky without including a few legendary bluegrass tracks. Bill Monroe was one of the pioneers who helped lead the charge in the Appalachian Bluegrass movement, and their song Blue Moon Of Kentucky has become an unofficial anthem of the state and bluegrass as a whole. Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and Paul McCartney are just a few notable names to add their own style to the song over the years, and Monroe even changed the arrangement of his song at some points because of how great the covers turned out to be.
5. Paradise – John Prine
John Prine was known for taking on complex social and political issues, using his wit as a shield that helped him develop clever music in his signature way. His song Paradise describes Kentucky a bit satirically, as it really focuses on the effects of mining—especially coal mines—on both the environment and the resident’s health.
He thinks it used to be paradise but that was dragged away from the state on the back of coal trains. It also points out how once the mining slowed down, it left disastrous economic effects on Kentucky, making it a complex issue that couldn’t be solved in a simple way.
6. Dumas Walker – The Kentucky Headhunters
Dumas Walker might be one of the most accurate portrayals of life in Kentucky during the era it was released. Full of Southern charm and a perfect blend of country and Southern rock, the song talks about the great parts of a simple night out. From small games to drive-in movies, the track is one of the best regional songs describing life in the state for younger folks.
7. You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive – Patty Loveless
Harlan County is located in Kentucky and is the subject of an incredible song from Patty Loveless. It was said to be inspired by a visit to a graveyard in the county where she saw a tombstone with the title on it. You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive mainly focuses on the lives of coal miners in Kentucky and the negative health effects that come with the job.
8. Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was no stranger to traveling around the country, and he used his experiences to write songs about a lot of different places he spent time in. Kentucky Rain was a cover of a track that he released in 1969, telling the story of a man searching for love while wandering the hillsides of Kentucky in the rain.
It’s not a positive song though, as the man is turned down or fails to find the person he’s looking for time and time again. It’s rather heartbreaking, but it is an excellent song about The Bluegrass State.
9. Ghost of Floyd Collins – Black Stone Cherry
Ghost Of Floyd Collins is a fun and spooky song from Black Stone Cherry that talks about a man who became trapped in one of Kentucky’s many cave systems. His ghost waits for someone to use his story for personal gain before seeking revenge on them, serving as a cautionary tale and a great addition to a Halloween playlist.
10. Old King Coal – Sturgill Simpson
Old King Coal is another song that focuses on the vast coal mines of Kentucky and the miners who pull it out of the ground. Mining became a generational job for many families, with it being one of the only jobs around and a way of life for many people. It sadly takes its toll on workers, which is a highlight of the lyrics. But it also talks about the activists who fought back against terrible working conditions in the state and the rights of laborers, which is still a hot-button issue in Kentucky’s culture today.
11. Run for the Roses – Dan Fogelberg
Run For The Roses is a song about the famous Kentucky Derby, an annual horse race where the winner is crowned with a wreath of roses. Dan Fogelberg wrote the track using the race as a metaphor for life, describing it as exhilarating and dangerous, coming to an end before you’re ready for it. But he uses those facts to tell listeners to chase their dreams and try to win because you never know what might happen.
12. Bowling Green – The Everly Brothers
Bowling Green is a beautiful town in Kentucky, but the Everly Brothers were evidently infatuated with the girls who lived there. Their song about the city talks about how nice the people there are, how much privacy they give others, and how great the weather is in the area.
13. Blue Kentucky Girl – Emmylou Harris
Blue Kentucky Girl was originally written by Johnny Mullins, and Loretta Lynn was the first artist to record it, but Emmylou Harris was the one who earned the most popular version of it. The girl in the song is from Kentucky and is grieving over the fact that her man has left her high and dry, with the track serving as her final plea to convince him to come back home. It also talks about the beauty of the state’s rural landscape and compares it to the big cities that have seemingly lured away her lover.
14. It’s Got To Be Kentucky For Me – Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall was born in Kentucky and made his name writing about places he visited across the United States. His birthplace held a special place in his heart though, as the state became the subject of several of his most devoted songs. It’s Got To Be Kentucky For Me was a successful hit for him and talks about his desire to leave touring behind and go back home to The Bluegrass State. No matter where else he went, Kentucky was the only place that felt right.
15. Kentucky in the Morning – Tom T. Hall
Our second entry from Tom T. Hall, Kentucky In The Morning is a nostalgic song about the singer’s home state that will have listeners yearning to visit, even if they haven’t been there before. He waxes poetically over the countryside and the feelings Kentucky instills in you when you’re there, making it sound irresistible in the process.
16. Blue Kentucky Sky – Leftover Salmon
Blue Kentucky Sky is a bit of a true story. It talks about how the singer visited the state in their teens to pursue their love of bluegrass music and fell in love with Kentucky as a whole. His life moved on, and he went all over the place in pursuit of his music dreams, but nowhere could compare to a cabin in the state for the singer. Leftover Salmon sure does love The Bluegrass State, and it’s on full display in this song.
17. Kentucky Straight – Johnny Cash
Bourbon made in Kentucky that hasn’t been diluted yet is referred to as “Kentucky Straight.” It’s a powerful alcoholic beverage favored by many and is widely popular throughout the state. Using the nickname as the title of one of his songs, Johnny Cash found a hit with Kentucky Straight, a track that was a tribute to his wife whom he had nicknamed the title of the song before writing it. It talks about a simple life in rural Kentucky and has an old-timey feel to it despite being released in 1973.
18. Long Hard Road – Tyler Childers
Tyler Childers knows a thing or two about what it’s like growing up in rural Kentucky today. His song Long Hard Road focuses on what it’s like struggling to make it in those rural communities and how hard it is to make it out of small towns like that. In the end, the effort is worth it. The track was released in 2011 on his album Bottles And Bibles and has become a bit of a modern Kentucky classic since then.
19. Kentucky Means Paradise – Merle Travis
While John Prine describes Kentucky as paradise in a satirical way, Merle Travis thinks of it differently. He takes the time to spell out the state in this song, but he tells the listener that what the word actually means is “paradise.” He released the song in 1948 as a wonderful tribute to the state and its residents, playing up the food you’ll be eating while you’re there along the way.
20. Bourbon in Kentucky – Dierks Bentley
Bourbon is a go-to liquor for many, especially when they’re dealing with heartbreak or are down on their luck. It became the subject of Dierks Bentley’s song Bourbon In Kentucky as well. A big hit among critics, it’s a classic country track about a man drowning his sorrows after losing a woman, telling listeners that there’s no way the state has enough bourbon to effectively stop his pain.
21. Mountain Parkway – Sundy Best
Mountain Parkway was a toll road that cut across five counties in Kentucky and was opened in 1963. Though it’s now closed, many residents still have memories of driving across it and stopping at all the sights along the way. Those ended up being the subject of Sundy Best’s song Mountain Parkway, a tribute to the now-defunct route.
22. Nothin’ But The Taillights – Clint Black
Nothin’ But The Taillights is a piece of classic country music by Clint Black. The story in the song is set in rural Kentucky, where the protagonist is unluckily left on the side of the road trying to figure out what he did wrong.
23. Get Your Shine On – Florida Georgia Line
You can’t separate Kentucky from moonshine, an illicit (ish) alcoholic beverage made famous by the state. It’s the drink of choice for many Southerners, but especially the Florida Georgia Line boys.
24. Kentucky Woman – Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond was the one who popularized Kentucky Woman in 1967, though there’s been a heated debate over whether or not he was actually the artist who wrote the song. It was the very last song he recorded in the mono format, making it a bit of a relic in time for that alone. But the song discusses a woman from Kentucky who is stunningly gorgeous and charismatic and knows exactly what she wants in life.
25. Kentucky Dirty – Laura Bell Bundy
Whelp, not every song about Kentucky is a particularly nice one. Kentucky Dirty is a song by Laura Bell Bundy that focuses on the party scene of the state and the nightlife that may not be as positive as one might think. She released it on her 2015 album Another Piece Of Me.
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.