Wisconsin is a state with quite a large reputation. From being able to booze it up with the best of them to their world-famous dairy farms, everybody knows at least a little bit about Wisconsin. But they’re much more than Milwaukee, the Miller Brewing Company, and the Green Bay Packers. Cheeseheads across the state love their home, which has served as musical inspiration across a range of genres over the last century. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 15 best songs about Wisconsin.
1. Wisconsin – Bon Iver
Bon Iver originated in Wisconsin, so it should come as no surprise that they have a song or two that talks about their home state. Wisconsin was released as the bonus track for their debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007. Most of the album was recorded during a three-month isolation in a Wisconsin cabin, owing a debt of inspiration to the surrounding natural landscape.
In general, the state is a place full of old memories for people, no matter how far away from their original home they go. That made it the ideal place to symbolize the narrator of the song reflecting on an old relationship and the memories of their younger years.
2. My Cousin in Milwaukee – Elle Fitzgerald
My Cousin In Milwaukee was originally written by George and Ira Gershwin and was introduced in the 1933 musical Pardon My English. A few notable recordings of the song are still around, though neither the musical nor the track made a particularly big splash in the commercial market.
Perhaps the most notable recording of the song came in 1959 when Ella Fitzgerald recorded it for her album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George And Ira Gershwin Songbook. It was a fitting track for her to record, as it discusses a magnanimous cousin with a unique singing voice and male courtiers coming around by the dozen. Her version was more popular, but it didn’t ever break any records or make a big impact on the charts at the time.
3. What’s Made Milwaukee Famous – Jerry Lee Lewis
Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole are well-known for their beer brands. Among the most famous beers to call the city home is Schlitz, one of the most popular and longest-running brews around the area. This is the beer that’s mentioned in the Jerry Lee Lewis number What’s Made Milwaukee Famous.
The song itself is set at a bar, with a broken-hearted drunk man trying to win the attention of the woman he loves. She rejects his advances, but he continues to return to her and try again until she gets sick of him and leaves. Then all that’s left is for him to drink. Assumedly, he ruined the relationship because of his drunkenness but that doesn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime soon.
4. The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald was a major hit single for Gordon Lightfoot. It memorializes and recounts the tale of the SS Edmund sinking in Lake Superior and losing all 29 hands onboard thanks to a massive storm. The ship left a Wisconsin port on the lake and was headed to Lug Island off the coast of Michigan.
He takes some artistic liberties with the song, as he wrote it before the investigation of the shipwreck was even completed, though it remains fairly true to form. It first appeared on his 1976 album Summertime Dream and rose to number two on the Hot 100 and number one on the Canadian RPM charts.
5. Jump Around – House of Pain
Jump Around isn’t particularly about the state of Wisconsin, but it holds a near and dear place in the hearts of quite a lot of Wisconsinites. It serves as the traditional song played between the third and fourth quarters of football games at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In 1992, a smuggled stereo blasted it out during games to help get fans pumped up. It eventually was played at parties over the years and became an unofficial anthem of the team in 1998 when it was played at the university’s homecoming game. At one point, the tradition was actually canceled due to the building of suites in the stadium, but students launched a protest and the tradition has continued to run through this day.
6. Milwaukee, Here I Come – Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
Milwaukee, Here I Come was originally written by Lee Fykes and was first recorded by George Jones and Brenda Carter. Their original duet was a hit, making it to number 13 on Billboard’s country chart. Jones later performed the song alongside his eventual wife Tammy Wynette during some television appearances.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner covered the track and included it on their 1969 album Always, Always. The song is about heading down the highway on the way to Milwaukee and describes plenty of fun things the narrator plans to do once they get there. Each subsequent cover of the song spawned another country hit single as well, making it a gem of a duet from the era.
7. 22 (oVER s∞∞n) – Bon Iver
Coming from a more modern Bon Iver album, 22 (OVER S∞∞N) serves as a classic Wisconsin road trip song. It’s an experimental venture from them, adding layers of melancholic hope to your upcoming trip and the fun times that are assumedly going to accompany it.
It also marked a shift in the Wisconsinites’ musical style, incorporating more elements of hip hop and electronic music than fans were likely used to hearing from the band. Like some of the best tracks, it deals with the artist’s rise to fame and the new way the public as a whole perceives both the individual members and the band.
8. On, Wisconsin – William T. Purdy
Here’s another major track that embodies the state. On, Wisconsin is the fight song of the Wisconsin Badgers athletics program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was first composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy called Minnesota, Minnesota, and was meant to be entered into a competition for the new fight song at the University of Minnesota.
A friend convinced him to withdraw it last minute, and the track eventually found a home in his native state. Its lyrics were rewritten several times, with a modified version even serving as the current official state song of Wisconsin. The title was derived from Arthur MacArthur Jr.’s battle cry, said to be from the Battle of Chattanooga during the Civil War. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for that battle as well, so his cry of On, Wisconsin must have been inspiring.
9. Man From Milwaukee – Hanson
Man From Milwaukee is a powerful pop anthem from Hanson’s debut album Middle Of Nowhere. Rather than dealing with a typical day in the state, the narrator of the song describes an encounter with literal aliens from outer space. Since they aren’t getting abducted, they decide to hear out the alien and hang around them for a while.
Even in interviews, they described the track as just a funny idea that came to them one day when they broke down in New Mexico. If you’re looking for a goofy and fun song about an encounter with the third kind that apparently hails from Milwaukee, there’s not a finer track out there for you to listen to.
10. Alcohol – Brad Paisley
Alcohol was a major country hit for Brad Paisley and remains to this day one of his best-known singles. It quickly rose up Billboard’s country charts, peaking at number four and even rising to number 28 on the Hot 100 in 2005. The song eventually was nominated for two Grammy Awards and went on to be covered by a few different artists.
The lyrics of the track deal with the feeling of being intoxicated and how alcohol changes the way we view the world or the choices we make, such as fighting a guy twice your size or being able to talk to a pretty woman. The chorus is the most catchy part of the song, beginning with the day he left Milwaukee, a shout-out to the beer capital of the country.
11. River in the Pines – The Deep Dark Woods
River In The Pines was originally sung by Joan Baez and came from her Farewell, Angelina album. It’s a tragic folk song that deals with Wisconsin’s dreary climate, describing an incident where a man perished in an accident at the river and left his new wife a widow.
While the original track is meant to be sad, The Deep Dark Woods added more energy to their version of the song, essentially turning it from an almost eerie folk track to something more fun and driving. It appears the widowed wife died shortly after the man did, as the end of the sign discusses the grave of two young lovers whom travelers often stop and plant flowers around.
12. Milwaukee – The Both
Milwaukee is an ode to the inspiration the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee provide for Aimee Mann and Ted Leo which talks about when the pair first started working together.
It follows them on a walk across the city, finding inspiration at several different spots, with one of the most notable places being in front of the statue of Arthur Fonzarelli—from Happy Days. That spot is where they decided to form a band and the rest is history. You can find the song in their self-titled album from 2014, and it features the artists taking turns on the vocals.
13. Jungle Love – Steve Miller Band
Jungle Love was released in 1977 on the Steve Miller Band’s album Book Of Dreams. A fairly big commercial hit, the song peaked at number 23 on the US Billboard Hot 100. This psychedelic entry to the list was emblematic of Wisconsin in the 1970s, which makes sense as it’s the state Steve Miller hails from. Few tracks on the list are as fun to sing along with as this one too, so it’s a definite addition to any Wisconsin playlist.
14. Coming ‘Round to Get You – Farewell Milwaukee
Looking for a confusing part of the list? Farewell Milwaukee is a band that is actually from Minneapolis. Regardless of their origins though, they’re still a staple of Midwestern folk music and get plenty of credit thanks to their modern take on the folksy sound of the region. Coming ‘Round To Get You is a soothing song, perfect for watching a cold Midwestern sunset. And while it deals with leaving the fair city of Milwaukee, it carries the hope of an open road that comes with any great American road trip.
15. Can’t Believe It – T-Pain Feat. Lil’ Wayne
I’m not going to sit here and try to fool anyone into thinking this song is directly about Wisconsin because it isn’t. It does, however, contain one of the most iconic rhymes of T-Pain’s career. With a little bit of altered pronunciation, he was able to rhyme the words “mansion” and “Wisconsin”—pronounced as “Wiscansin.”
The line became one of the most memorable verses of the artist’s career and a big part of his marketing. During his Road To Wiscansin Tour, he was honored by the state with an official state holiday, making June 11th the official “T-Pain Day.”
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.