Michigan is known for its incredible natural beauty and vast freshwater coastline along the Great Lakes of North America. It’s also the mecca of automakers, freshwater fishing, and Midwestern forestry. But it is its music scene that concerns us here today, with notable artists coming from all over the state in droves. In this article, we’ll look at several of those artists to bring you a list of the 21 best songs about The Great Lake State out there.
1. Especially in Michigan – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is from Michigan, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that his home state and references from it make an appearance in several of their songs. Especially In Michigan is chief among them, including lines that talk about the Detroit Lions football team and Detroit Tigers baseball team.
It embraces the state and everything great about it, from fishing and The Great Lakes to Detroit and Huckleberry Finn. While a lot of their tracks deal with California, this one paid homage to Kiedis’ home state and contains one of the best guitar solos in their entire discography.
2. Michigan – The Milk Carton Kids
Michigan is often thought of as being full of natural beauty. From its rugged and pristine woodlands to its lakes and rivers, exploring the outdoors of the state is an utter treat. Those things are captured beautifully in The Milk Carton Kids’ Michigan, a nostalgic ode to the beauty of the state that sums up the simple lifestyle many hold onto it. It also helps that the song itself is beautifully composed and contains some incredible vocal harmonies, but that’s the cherry on top of their ability to summarize the essence of a place within a track.
3. Michigan And Again – The Accidentals
Speaking of Michigan’s natural beauty, it’s also famous for its cherry trees and unique culture within the Midwest. The Accidentals are able to help you familiarize yourself with both the culture and landscape of the state in their folk song Michigan And Again. Acoustic harmonies back the track, giving it a nostalgic and emotionally warm feeling that speaks to the love they have for the state. Any time they return, the first place they go is the lake, and there’s always a voice in their mind telling them to stay in such a wonderful place.
4. Michicant – Bon Iver
Michicant isn’t particularly the easiest Bon Iver song to get a real grasp on, nor is it a track that paints Michigan in the best of lights. However, it has become one of their best-known songs and a major fan favorite. Most of the track is devoted to the innocence of youth, though the somber tone of the music makes one feel as though it’s about loss and longing. Regardless of the intended meaning of the song, the tune places any listener in a reflective mood.
5. Detroit ‘67 – Sam Roberts
Here we come to our first song to tackle the Detroit Riots of 1967. While Sam Robert’s track Detroit ‘67 is a nostalgic look back at living in the city during that era, its hints of underlying sadness and pain are a nod to that tragedy. The song is also unique in that it discusses the man-made nature of the city as beautiful, rather than going into the wilderness of Michigan to describe natural beauty.
It’s a track wrapped in duality, as it looks back at the past with fondness. It also acknowledges the pain of many and the undercurrent of sadness that eventually bubbled up into major events.
6. Kalamazoo – Ben Folds
Kalamazoo might be the most fun city in Michigan to say out loud. This song serves as an ode to Ben Folds’ hometown and captures the spirit of the town the way the singer remembers it. Nights out with friends provide some of his fondest memories and paint the town as fun and cheery. The track is playful and energetic as well, much like the people he describes in the song.
7. Detroit Rock City – Kiss
Detroit Rock City is one of the most-played songs of all time in Detroit sporting venues, as any time a team plays in the city this banger is sure to be blasted over the loudspeakers. It first appeared on Kiss’s 1976 album Destroyer and eventually became one of their most popular songs and a staple of the classic rock genre as a whole.
The guitar duet between Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley is sublimely unique, and despite relatively low sales numbers as a single, it still managed to become a fan-favorite and one of the legendary band’s best tracks.
8. The Big Three Killed My Baby – The White Stripes
The White Stripes are one of the most influential names in Detroit music thanks to their reinvention of garage rock. In 1999, The Big Three Killed My Baby was released as a 7” single, though it would later appear on their eponymous debut album. The “Big Three” in the song refers to the three major automakers during the 1950s and 1960s that were based in Detroit: Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.
The track is an attack on those companies, largely going after their plans for automated factories that would put thousands out of jobs. It was one of the few political songs to come from them, using passionate imagery to go after one of the major problems the band saw happening in their home city.
9. Panic in Detroit – David Bowie
Panic In Detroit was written for David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane. It was based on descriptions he was told by Iggy Pop about revolutionaries Pop had known in Michigan and mainly dealt with the 1967 Detroit Riots. The riots lasted for five days and saw thousands of buildings destroyed and over 7,000 people arrested. It was a major tragedy for the city, and Bowie was able to masterfully capture the elements of it in this song.
10. Going to Michigan – The Extra Glenns
Going To Michigan focuses more on the singer’s trip to the state than spending any amount of time there. Rather than devoting lyrics to the natural beauty of Michigan, it follows a road trip between two arguing partners on their way to the state. Small differences between them become blowups, with even the radio station in the car causing problems for the pair. It seems to describe the death throes of a dying relationship, though it does appear to be one that used to have a lot of love and care shared between the two partners.
11. Miss Michigan – Mustard Plug
Miss Michigan is a punk-ska song from Mustard Plug, another band hailing from the state of Michigan. It mostly deals with the feelings the narrator developed for a woman in the state and how badly he wants to see her again. Popular destinations in the state play an important role in setting the scene, from Mackinac Island to Grand Haven. But their energetic and fun style has made this track a regional favorite and an anthem of Michiganders for years.
12. Roll Me Away – Bob Seger
Roll Me Away continued a trend for Bob Seger that saw him writing songs about relationships that don’t last. The track first appeared on the album The Distance, and it served as the opening song of his 2006-2007 Face The Promise Tour.
It follows him on a long motorcycle road trip across several notable places in Michigan. At a bar, he meets a woman who convinces him to take her with him, though after a few miles, she decides that she wants to return home. Many called it one of his best singles, though despite being about places in Michigan, it was inspired by one of his road trips in Wyoming.
13. All Summer Long – Kid Rock
Detroit-native Kid Rock borrowed a lot when he produced All Summer Long, including portions of Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves Of London. But the song quickly took off and became the anthem of the summer of 2008 across much of the country. A perfect blend of southern rock and his signature style, it quickly became one of the most popular tracks and biggest crossover hits of the year. The song mainly describes summertime in Michigan, albeit in a universal and catchy way.
14. America – Simon & Garfunkel
The Midwest as a region is often considered the cultural heartland of the United States. In America, Michigan takes center stage. It represents the place where a dream was born for Paul Simon. But the song focuses on a road trip he took with his girlfriend at the time. They’re both searching for something but are unsure of what they’re looking for. While in the state, Simon finally decides what he wants to go after. It first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends.
15. Highway Patrolman – Bruce Springsteen
Highway Patrolman was written for Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album and tells the story of Joe Roberts and his brother. Set in the 1960s, the song sees the brother go to war in Vietnam and eventually return home to rural Michigan, causing all kinds of problems for the two brothers.
16. Half Acre – Hem
Hem’s debut album Rabbit Songs was released in 2002 with DreamWorks Records and was a feature of NPR’s All Songs Considered program. The track Half Acre was a highlight of the album and earned a place in a Liberty Mutual commercial. The title refers to a piece of a map in Michigan that likely once illustrated the singer’s hometown. It mainly focuses on the feeling of being homesick and how even a small place the size of half an acre can be vitally important to your life.
17. Mona And Emmy – Frontier Ruckus
Frontier Ruckus is another Michigan-based band to make our list. Their song Mona And Emmy tells the story of a couple of Michigan natives and how their lives turned out. Themes of faith and hard work are core to both the track and the culture of the state, with the story in the song painting a nostalgic picture of what it means to live in The Great Lake State.
18. Saginaw, Michigan – Johnny Cash
Saginaw, Michigan became a country classic for Johnny Cash after it was released in 1964. Written and performed by the Man In Black, it was a top-three hit on the country charts. He eloquently tells the story of a man who had to leave his lover behind in Saginaw when he was forced to go work in another state, capturing the heartache and sadness of the man in the song.
19. I Want to Go Back to Michigan – Irving Berlin
I Want To Go Back To Michigan was composed in 1914 by Irving Berlin and eventually became a staple piece of vaudeville. Several versions of the song became minor hits, but the most famous performance was done by Judy Garland in the film Easter Parade from 1948.
20. Michigan Left – Arkells
Michigan Left paints a different picture of the 1967 Detroit Riots than the other songs on this list. While tragic, it takes a more uplifting stance on them. It describes the revolution as something people dream of, a glimmering chance at hope and change. Rather than the sameness of other tracks or keeping the darker tones that might accompany a song about a topic like this, it instead uses soaring instrumentals and lyrics to produce a much happier track.
21. Lake Michigan – Rogue Wave
Lake Michigan appeared on Rogue Wave’s 2005 album Descended Like Vultures and was featured in the film The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. It mainly deals with the narrator’s wish to be able to escape their fate and start over in life, driving away and leaving their past in the dust. But it also describes the beauty of Lake Michigan and how the gently rolling waves and vastness of the Great Lake are the perfect visual of the potential for a fresh start.
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.