Memphis is a world-famous city, known for several amazing things. Bass Pro Shops built a massive glass pyramid there, the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team is on the rise, and their barbecue is some of the best in the world. But these pale in comparison to its rich music culture. It is a hub for blues and jazz, the place Elvis Presley recorded and died, and a haven for rock and roll.
No wonder Memphis, Tennessee, has quite a few great tracks written about it. Here are the 25 best songs about Memphis, from blues to country and rock to jazz.
1. Walking In Memphis – Marc Cohn
Marc Cohn’s Walking In Memphis is one of the most iconic songs about the city to ever be written and his biggest hit single. It was an incredibly personal track for him, written at one of his low points in life as he worked through some childhood trauma. While walking through Memphis, he met a piano player named Muriel, with whom he had a conversation that changed the way he looked at the world. For him, that day was a spiritual awakening, and both that and his changed outlook come through beautifully in this song.
2. Maybe It Was Memphis – Pam Tillis
I’m a bit biased when it comes to our first two songs on this list. I absolutely love both of them and grew up listening to each track from the backseat of my mother’s car. It really put a great vision of Memphis in my head and visiting the city did nothing to dissuade those images.
Pam Tillis’ Maybe It Was Memphis was one of the best female country songs of the 90s. Originally written by Michael Anderson, the track recalls an old romance through rose-tinted glasses. She doesn’t really know why, but it was the best night of her life, so she says that maybe it was because she was in Memphis.
3. Back To Memphis – Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was the original writer behind Back To Memphis, though it would end up being Johnny Rivers who made the song popular and turned it into a hit. Berry’s original version told the story of a man trying to make it to Memphis, Tennessee, to see a young girl he was in love with. It partially recounted the story of one of his friend’s real-life travels to the city, giving it an inspirational and authentic feeling.
4. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again – Bob Dylan
Mobile, Alabama, is known for country music the way Memphis, Tennessee, is known for the blues. Bob Dylan finds himself stuck in Alabama, but yearning for the blues scene of Memphis as he looks for inspiration for his songs. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again compares the two cities, with him obviously preferring the latter of the two. Its symbolism, sound, and culture resonate more with the things he wants to achieve, so it’s a bit of a sad love letter to the city of Memphis.
5. Memphis Beat – Jerry Lee Lewis
Beale Street is one of the most important musical areas in the US and the cultural hub of Memphis. Jerry Lee Lewis paid homage to the street in his song Memphis Beat, which also served as the title track for one of his albums. For him, the Memphis beat wasn’t just the blues sounds that come with the style of music played in the city, but it was also something that got deep in your soul and always pulled you back.
6. Midnight Train to Memphis – Chris Stapleton
Midnight Train To Memphis doesn’t take place in the city, but it’s a modern-day country music classic. As the singer finds himself in jail for some time, there’s no real way for him to know how long he’s been there. The only consistent thing that helps him keep track of time is the train that runs by the prison each night at midnight, headed toward Memphis, Tennessee. The song has been called reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s Folsom City Blues but remains one of the best country tracks about jail time to come out in recent years.
7. Graceland – Paul Simon
Paul Simon wrote this song after a trip to South Africa inspired him, but Graceland ended up being a placeholder word in the track as he worked out the lyrics. It ended up sticking, producing a song that featured the instruments and culture of Africa that ended up sounding similar to some of Elvis Presley’s work when he was at Sun Records. The name stuck in honor of Elvis and a legendary track about the city of Memphis was born.
8. Queen of Memphis – Confederate Railroad
Queen Of Memphis was a big hit in the 90s, rising to number two on the country charts. It’s a love story about a young man from Georgia who ends up meeting a woman from the city. They have an amazing time together, culminating in the best romantic encounter of the man’s life, leaving him mesmerized and calling her a Queen. He eventually wants to find her again, but alas, it appears to be a one-time rendezvous.
9. Memphis Soul Stew – King Curtis
One of the most iconic recording studios in Memphis was Stax Records. They were a dominant force in the 50s and 60s, attracting most of the big band artists in the world for recording sessions and producing one of the most unique sounds in the country. King Curtis dives into the legendary record label and their sound in Memphis Soul Stew, describing the elements of the Memphis sound as a recipe list of ingredients.
10. North Memphis – Project Pat
When people talk about Memphis today, they generally discuss the iconic Beale Street, the Bass Pro Shops pyramid, or their sports teams. What gets left out a lot is what everyday life for a lot of the city’s residents looks like. Project Pat gives listeners an inside look at the life of people in the poorest parts of Memphis.
Using his own experiences growing up in the city, this socially conscious song describes the challenges facing the communities that live in poverty. It takes out the simple tourist traps of the city to illustrate the real-world problems that people face, hopefully earning some attention for them going forward.
11. That’s All Right – Elvis Presley
That’s All Right was the debut single recorded and released by the legendary Elvis Presley and is one of the songs cited as being the first rock and roll record ever produced. His version came out in 1954, with Blue Moon Of Kentucky on the B-side. He recorded the track in Sun Studio, one of the most important recording labels in Memphis, Tennessee, at the time.
The song itself seemed to be a faster and more raucous version of the style of music Black musicians in Memphis were already playing, an ode to his involvement in the city’s music culture.
12. Memphis – AG Club
One of AG Club’s most popular tracks deals with the city of Memphis, Tennessee. It praises the city as a beacon of universal struggle and strength in the face of adversity, highlighting the deep history of the city and showing love to the people who call it home. It was an insanely popular song that rose to the top of the charts, giving them their most successful single and resonating with millions of people who could relate to its powerful lyrics.
13. Memphis Bells – The Prodigy
The Prodigy recorded Memphis Bells in 1994, and in turn, found their signature song. It’s more of a club classic than a huge chart success, but it’s sure to get your toes tapping at the very least. Driving beats and swooning melodies keep the track fresh, giving it a long shelf life in Memphis clubs and helping keep both the song and city relevant on a national scale.
14. Move To Memphis – a-ha
Move To Memphis ended up being a surprise song from a-ha. It was released as a new single on a greatest hits album from the band, eventually rising to number two on the Norwegian charts. The narrator of the track struggles with wanting to move to the city, seemingly unable to escape his small town because he’s too afraid to leave. Not doing so will end up costing him the woman he loves though, as she is going to leave for Memphis whether or not he decides to follow her.
15. That’s How I Got to Memphis – Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall’s That’s How I Got To Memphis is an utterly captivating song. Listeners can hear every heartache he went through on his travels as he lays out exactly how wounded his soul has become and the journey that led him to the city. The entire point of the journey is to convince the woman he loves to return his affection, but it seems that she never will. It’s a sorrowful story of unrequited love, set in the wonderful city of Memphis.
16. Honky Tonk Women – The Rolling Stones
Honky Tonk Woman was the Rolling Stones dipping their toes into the country genre, but it ended up being a jukebox classic about an ideal woman from Memphis. The song isn’t a short one, describing all the fun times the singer had with the woman from Tennessee to New York City. Overall, it’s a classic track about meeting a woman in Memphis, but it’s just an awesome song that name-drops the city.
17. Big River – Johnny Cash
Nobody tells tormented stories as well as Johnny Cash. Big River sees him falling in love with a woman in Minnesota, but she’s always on the move. He tries tracking her down, eventually making his way across the South from Memphis to Mississippi, picking up her trail in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s madly in love with her, but it appears she feels differently. By the end of the song, he still hasn’t found her, shown off in his “big river blues.”
18. Memphis & 53rd – Minus the Bear
Minus The Bear did a great job with their song Memphis & 53rd. The track revolves around teenage angst, wanderlust, and catchy guitar riffs. It’s meant to be a modern take on some of the great rock groups to have come out of the city of Memphis, calling out a location in the city that they spent quite a bit of time around.
19. Memphis in the Meantime – John Hiatt
John Hiatt may have been pressured into rushing the album Memphis In The Meantime appeared on, but his lack of time didn’t translate to a lack of quality. It served as both the opening and title track of his album, setting the tone for the story of a man exhausted with the music scene in Nashville. His only reprieve appears to come from the big band music native to Beale Street in Memphis.
20. Memphis Soul Song – Uncle Kracker
Uncle Kracker’s classic country track Memphis Soul Song is all about how his lover can calm him down. Using the stereotypical angel and devil on his shoulders, his woman is the angel, able to keep him away from his negative thoughts and actions. She’s the most powerful motivation in his life, described in the track as being able to move him the way a soul song from Memphis can.
21. Dixie Chicken – Little Feat
Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken is a funny story about several strangers in a bar meeting and finding out they had all been fooled by the same woman at one point in their lives. The setting of the story is the hotel bar in the Commodore Hotel, located in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a world-famous hotel and one of the most important ones in the state. Today, it’s recognized as a musical landmark and a historic site.
22. Big Train (From Memphis) – John Fogerty
John Fogerty’s Big Train (From Memphis) is more than it appears on the surface. The lyrics seem to be about a big train that comes through his small town pretty often, giving him the ability to head off to a bigger place whenever he so chooses. However, the song is likely more of an ode to Elvis Presley and the immense impact his music had on Fogerty’s work.
23. Letter to Memphis – Pixies
Technically, this song from the Pixies isn’t about Memphis, Tennessee. It was an early instrumental from them that eventually gained some lyrics discussing a certain love letter. However, the liner notes from the track revealed the Memphis in the song was actually the city of Memphis in Egypt. While that may be disappointing to the inhabitants of Memphis, Tennessee, many people still interpret the lover as being from their city, and regardless of which city the lover hailed from, it’s still an epic track.
24. Beale Street Blues – Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong’s Beale Street Blues was first recorded in 1954, but the original writer W. C. Handy wrote it in 1917. Many different versions of the song would be produced and recorded, all evocative of the sounds of Beale Street and the music culture therein. It was named after the famous Beale Street, a hub for jazz and blues musicians and one of the most important locations in the history of both genres.
Armstrong’s version helped shape the sound of the city and includes his iconic trumpeting, showing his love for both the city and the style of music played there. In general, it was a tribute to the city of Memphis and is one of the most important tracks in the history of the city.
25. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
Sequestered In Memphis comes from The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive album, an incredible listen if you get the chance. It tells the story of a group of friends who traveled to Memphis, Tennessee for a wedding.
While it may come off as fun or witty, the underlying theme of the song is the struggles and hardships people face as they grow older, like not being able to get together with friends as often as they’d like to. This track in particular draws on several genres to create a unique sound, from indie rock to country and even a little bit of the big band flavor of Memphis.
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.