Ohio is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, some very underrated cities, and an amazing cultural and music scene. Some of the best bands of all time either came from this state or loved touring here. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 35 best songs about Ohio.
1. Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young
Ohio was released on Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1971 album 4 Way Street, and it’s a sad reminder of some terrible events in Ohio, but it’s worth remembering them. The song was inspired by the Kent State Shootings that saw four college students killed by the National Guard during a Vietnam War protest. Neil Young wrote the track after viewing photographs of the event and seeing it on the news. It’s one of the most poignant protest songs to come from the era and a vehement takedown of the military-industrial complex.
2. O-H-I-O – Ohio Players
O-H-I-O is one of the most iconic odes to Ohio. Released by the Ohio Players in 1977, it’s got an insane dance melody and is exactly the sort of funky music you’d want in an Ohio dance hall. While many songs on the list use an extensive vocabulary to pine over the state, this track uses only a single word: Ohio. It’s spelled out and repeated over and over again to deliver an amazing tribute to the group’s home state.
3. Cleveland Rocks – Ian Hunter
Cleveland Rocks is the unofficial song of the city. A lot of people think of Cleveland as a second-class city without much to do despite its size. The track addresses that reputation, with Ian Hunter showing just how much he loves the area thanks to the love that was showered on him and his band during their shows there. You might have heard it from The Drew Carey Show, as this one served as the opening theme song of the show.
4. Dayton, Ohio – 1903 – Randy Newman
Dayton, Ohio – 1903 is one of those perfectly nostalgic songs that will make anyone wish for the good old days. It first appeared on Randy Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away and mainly describes how polite and nice people used to be back in the day. Comparing our world now to 1903, we no longer have clean air, we don’t talk to people on the street, and nature is constantly being pushed back. Newman laments all of this and wishes for just one moment in those faraway years.
5. Carry Me Ohio – Sun Kil Moon
Carry Me Ohio is a bit out of character for Sun Kil Moon, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t nail it with the song. It describes the feelings that come along with not being able to love someone the way that they love you. Whether that be from being unwilling to show the same affection or the inability to grow those feelings for them, it ends up being a traumatic experience. At the end of the track, the narrator finally realizes his feelings, but it’s far too late.
6. My City Was Gone – The Pretenders
My City Was Gone is a call to action about environmental and social issues in the city of Akron, Ohio. The Pretenders’ lead singer Chrissie Hynde is from Akron, and this follows her on a journey as she returns to her hometown to see that everything has changed.
The city is no longer a beautiful place with nature everywhere, ‘progress’ has changed it into something she is barely able to recognize. It’s a small slice of what happens all over the world, but this one is specifically centered on the development of Ohio and several notable locations inside Akron.
7. Bloodbuzz Ohio – The National
Bloodbuzz Ohio is one of those classic songs about homesickness that extolls the virtues of one’s hometown. Singer Matt Berninger spends the entirety of the track reminiscing about all the good times he’s had in Ohio and how he still holds the place very dear to his heart despite leaving to chase his dreams. In it, he also reflects on his past self, comparing it to who he is now, and realizes that the state was the place that shaped him the most.
8. Youngstown – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s Youngstown deals with the rapid rise and fall of the city of Youngstown from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran. It’s a song that resonated with a lot of people in the state, largely thanks to the manufacturing jobs available there, as the narrator worked in a steel mill to support his family. That mill and factory went on to supply the tanks and bombs that won our wars, though how the narrator felt about that part is left a little up to the listener.
9. Look at Miss Ohio – Gillian Welch
Look At Miss Ohio is more about a beauty queen from the state than the state itself, but it comes with a freeing, yet open-ended message. Despite the way her life looks from the outside, she feels the need to break free and figure things out on her own. Miss Ohio herself doesn’t tell us how her story is, all we know is that she ran away to Atlanta and isn’t sure whether or not she will ever be coming back home.
10. Look Out Cleveland – The Band
The Band has a unique urban blues sound that few others have been able to replicate over the years. Throw in some jazz piano riffs and you end up with an awesome song like Look Out Cleveland. Released in 1969, this track covers a huge storm that hit the area that also likely included some tornados. The real point of the song was that in the face of Mother Nature, status and wealth no longer mattered because everyone was in danger.
11. Ohio is For Lovers – Hawthorne Heights
Hawthorne Heights was one of the pioneering groups of the emo-punk music movement, and they came from Dayton, Ohio. Ohio Is For Lovers first appeared on their album The Silence In Black And White and served as a love letter to the group’s girlfriends who were waiting for them in their home state. It’s a bittersweet song about wanting to return to Ohio to be with their lovers despite finding success out on the road.
12. Escape From Ohio – Electric Six
Not all of the great songs about Ohio paint the state in a positive light. Electric Six’s Escape From Ohio contains everything they hate about the state, from its disappointing rural boredom to the bleak cities and even the people. This is definitely not one for fans of the state, but it remains an awesome track about Ohio despite viewing the state poorly.
13. Boy In Ohio – Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs may not have been born in Ohio, but he sure can write a nostalgic song about it. Boy In Ohio sees him singing about memories from his childhood and reflecting on them with joy. He spent a good deal of time in Ohio as a child, and compared to everywhere else he lived, he had the most fun in the Buckeye State. This one is a classic American folk track that feels full of authentic love for the state, making it a favorite for any Ohio playlist.
14. Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio – John Denver
Saturday Night In Toledo, Ohio isn’t one of John Denver’s most famous songs, but it is vastly underrated. It’s a funny track about the city of Toledo, labeled by the singer as ‘boring’ with most of the residents being ‘less-than-attractive.’ This description stirred up some feelings in the city in 1975, but it was meant as a satirical and funny song rather than anything malevolent. So if you’re a Toledo hater, this is the track for you, and if you’re from Toledo, you might want to skip this one.
15. Ohio – The Black Keys
The Black Keys’ Ohio is another song inspired by the city of Akron, which is also the place where they were originally formed. The gist of the track is that they feel homesick for their town and that no matter where they go to play shows, they’re always wanting to go home for a little while. It’s one of the most heartfelt songs on the list and has a signature sound to it that you should not be missing out on.
16. Ohio – Modest Mouse
While Ohio definitely has some natural beauty spread throughout the state, it’s known more for boring landscapes and dreariness. And that may be unfair, but it is the style of imagery used in this Modest Mouse song. Ohio is an awesome punk rock track, seeing the narrator driving on a long flat road in Ohio and reflecting on the way they’ve handled their life. One could interpret it as being about a lost relationship, but it fits better when looked at through the lens of self-reflection and angst.
17. Ohio – Hyukoh
Ohio might be about the state, but it’s much more of a play on words in this single. It comes out as ‘oh hi oh hi’ instead, mainly showing the narrator’s nervousness after a failed relationship. They still miss the other person, wanting to be with them again, but seeing them makes them incredibly uncomfortable now that they have all of those unresolved feelings involved.
18. Ohio – Damien Jurado
Ohio first appeared on Damien Jurado’s 1999 album Rehearsals For Departure. It tells the story of a woman in a faraway big city wanting to return to her home in Ohio. It’s revealed that she has been away for quite a long time and that the narrator of the song is the woman’s lover. While he doesn’t want her to leave him, he knows she is better off going home and that she belongs in Ohio, a sad tale for him but a homecoming for her.
19. Girl From Ohio – The Outlaws
The Outlaws’ founder Henry Paul wrote Girl From Ohio about one of his high school girlfriends who moved to Ohio after graduation. He likely wasn’t ready for the relationship to end, but it’s a great song about the way young love makes you feel.
20. Four Days – Counting Crows
Long-distance relationships are hard and most people fail at them. It’s rare that two people are committed enough and willful enough to make things work, which is why moving away is such a sad day for relationships. Counting Crows’ song Four Days describes the pain of not being able to be around the person you love, with one-half of the couple in the track being located in Ohio.
21. Oh, Cincinnati – The Seedy Seeds
The Seedy Seeds were formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, and this song is an unequivocal ode to their home. It mainly describes the city’s hills and describes different locations in the city. Findlay Street markets, towers, and the charity of the town are all on full display. It really makes you want to visit Cincinnati, even if you’ve never been there before.
22. Cuyahoga – R.E.M.
The Cuyahoga River is the river Cleveland was built on, but it has not been treated well. Throughout the history of the city, it has been ridiculously polluted to the point that it has been set on fire, both accidentally and purposefully. R.E.M.’s song Cuyahoga tackles the environmental mismanagement of the river but also delves into the mistreatment of the native people in the area, reminding us of past mistakes and hoping to build a route toward better choices in the future.
23. Banks of The Ohio – Joan Baez
Joan Baez’s Banks Of The Ohio tells the story of a woman who is proposed to by her lover on the banks of the Ohio River. She, of course, refuses the proposal and is murdered by the man who wanted to marry her only a few moments before. He then regrets his actions, walking home miserable. The song has a haunting folk quality to it that is purely a Midwest staple.
24. South of Cincinnati – Dwight Yoakam
South Of Cincinnati is a soulful and sad country song about a woman’s pride not letting her tell a man how she really feels. The two obviously have a deep romantic connection, but he left Ohio at one point and traveled to Chicago. While she would take him back if he returned, she never sent the letter telling him that, even if it could change everything for the both of them.
25. In Ohio on Some Steps – Limbeck
In Ohio In Some Steps is a cute story about the singer meeting a woman named Emily. He spends most of the night trying to talk to her, eventually finding out she’s lived in a lot of places but now calls Ohio her home. While a bit hard to follow, the two have an awesome night together. You can listen to this song on Limbeck’s 2003 album Hi, Everything’s Great.
26. Somewhere in Ohio – The Jayhawks
Somewhere In Ohio tells the story of Joe, a man from Ohio who seems to be in quite a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, the line he calls for help isn’t able to do much because the bad phone reception is keeping him from telling them what’s actually going on.
27. Hoopes I Did It Again – Relient K
A parody play on the Britney Spears song, Hoopes I Did It Again deals with needing to leave the group’s hometown of Canton, Ohio, to make it big. While necessary, the members are nervous about going somewhere bigger and leaving a place they know so well.
28. Hang On Sloopy – The McCoys
Hang On Sloopy is about a girl named Sloopy from the bad part of town. The narrator is in love with her despite dealing with criticisms of his affection from everyone else. In 1985, it was adopted as the official rock song of the state of Ohio.
29. In Ohio – Joseph Arthur
In Ohio is by far the shortest song to grace our list, with a runtime of only 47 seconds. Joseph Arthur sings about a person he loves that doesn’t return his feelings, knowing that waiting on them will prove to be a fruitless endeavor, and showing his frustration in the lyrics.
30. Back Home – The Beach Boys
Back Home is a song that The Beach Boys played around with a lot, but it was inspired by the state of Ohio. It’s got all the upbeat and fun sounds that they typically put in their tracks, but instead of wanting to surf in California, it’s about wanting to return home to Ohio to spend a summer with their friends. It’s a song many fans of theirs don’t get to hear often, as it was outside of their typical surf-rock sound.
31. Sleepless in Cincinnati – Close to Home
Sleepless In Cincinnati is a song dedicated to the long-distance relationships out there. Not being with your lover can be hard and keep you awake at night worrying. Anyone who has dealt with these things will be able to relate to the singer’s feelings in this one.
32. Ohio (Come Back To Texas) – Bowling for Soup
Ohio (Come Back To Texas) is all about how the singer’s lover left him for another man in Ohio. And while he hopes she is doing well, he wants her to come back to be with him once she’s figured things out.
33. Return to the Moon – EL VY
Return To The Moon mainly deals with a breakup, but it contains plenty of other references that include a few to the Ohio area.
34. Ohioisonfire – Of Mice & Men
Ohioisonfire isn’t about the river flaring to life, it’s an argument between two people who think they know each other well but only see the bad side of things. While they may wish each other dead in the song, they still seem to come to some sort of agree-to-disagree arrangement between them by the end of it.
35. Going to Cleveland – The Mountain Goats
Going To Cleveland was a feature of The Mountain Goats’ 1993 album Transmissions To Horace. It’s an aggressive song describing lead singer John Darnielle and a romantic partner ending things. They both want to break up, but neither is willing to actually say it. Instead, he decides to head to Cleveland and visit Cuyahoga Falls.
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.