10 Of The Best Songs About Arkansas: Natural State Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

While New York and California are frequent subjects, there’s a wealth of songs dedicated to the South. Though Georgia and Tennessee are well represented, you might be surprised to learn there are dozens of tunes about Arkansas, too.

As the birthplace of Johnny Cash, Beth Ditto, and Pharoh Sanders, The Natural State lays claim to many creative musical minds. It also boasts America’s only active diamond mine, an apt metaphor for its music.

The hospitality of the South is well known, but these ten best songs about Arkansas will show you more than hospitality—they’ll be your diamonds in the rough.

1. “Arkansas” by Chris Stapleton

The gritty guitar riffs and gruff vocals of Chris Stapleton have made him a critical and commercial success.

And while the country singer-songwriter was born in Kentucky, you’d never know by listening to the University of Arkansas Razorback references in his song “Arkansas.”

This track is a blast of deep-fried rock and roll that sounds like it just emerged from the Ozark Mountains.

Stapleton’s passionate vocals are the main event, but the song’s blues-tinged instrumentation takes this rollicking track over the edge. It’s swampy and fun—just like Arkansas.

2. “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

“Home” was a surprise hit for indie-folk band Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.

With its marching cadence and loving call and response duet, the song’s references to waterfalls and moats in Alabama and Arkansas immediately take the listener to the South. 

But we learn quickly that even with the magnetic pull of their families, our singers’ true home is wherever the other one is.

With the emotional stakes immediately known, the band is free to spend the next five minutes plunging deeper into their feelings. It’s as refreshing as a dip in the Mississippi.

3. “Arkansas Heat” by Gossip

While the punk-tinged bluesy rockabilly of Gossip comes courtesy of members coming from the small town of Searcy, Arkansas, the band rebels against their experience on the fiery track “Arkansas Heat.”

Religion is a tradition in Arkansas, but Gossip singer Beth Ditto didn’t find God while down South. She did find gospel music, though.

You can hear the undertones of fire and brimstone in this danceable punk track. Holding the song together is the humid feeling of a small-town Arkansas church with no air conditioning which is vividly described in the lyrics. 

4. “Mary Queen of Arkansas” by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is famously known for his ties to New Jersey, but the song “Mary Queen of Arkansas” got him his record deal.

The Boss played the track for executives at CBS Records as part of his audition, and half a year later, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. hit record store shelves.

Springsteen’s song is a character study of a drag queen from Arkansas, written in the Beat poet style of Bob Dylan.

While Springsteen would go on to find his own unique voice later in the decade, this single detailing Mary’s trials and tribulations shows the potential of his lyrical prowess.

5. “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” is less about the sights of the state than a hard-loving man from Arkansas.

It’s hard not to think that there’s some element of autobiography in the song, as Cash was born in the small town of Kingsland. 

By the time Cash cut the track, he was famously married to June Carter, but that doesn’t mean the famous country music star hadn’t seen the world a few times over.

Cash’s tale of blazing through small towns in his home state while lovin’ and leavin’ feels authentic and proudly Arkansan.

6. “Goin’ Back to Arkansas” by Big Bill Broonzy

After serving in the First World War,  Big Bill Broonzy returned to his home state of Arkansas only to be confronted by ever-escalating racism and Jim Crow laws. 

The blues singer headed north to Chicago, where it just so happened a blues scene was beginning to thrive. Here he recorded an ode to his roots, the scorching tune “Goin’ Back to Arkansas.” 

While he left Arkansas because of bigotry, his love for the region is evident in the lyrics. Over jaunty piano and lively guitar strums, Broonzy joyfully sings of returning to his family and eating good Southern cooking.

7. “Little Rock” by Hayes Carll

Hayes Carll touches on the familiar theme of returning home to Arkansas in his barn-burning country tune “Little Rock.” 

Over a rocking riff reminiscent of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the song’s rapid-fire lyrics read like a travelog. The listener finds Carll driving through the rain in Seattle and the tears in New York City only to realize that Little Rock is where he longs to be.

The theme of returning to Arkansas is central to many songs about the state, but few of them are as frenetic or rip as hard as “Little Rock.”

8. “Arkansas” by Jimmy McCracklin

Blues singer Jimmy McCracklin was born in rural Helena, and this song is a jaunty tune with lyrics that give insight into his upbringing. The narrator tells of his intent to return to Arkansas where it all began after growing tired of living in the big city.

It had been too hard of a life, and the singer declares that life in the Arkansas countryside is preferable to abject poverty in the city. After all, he won’t go hungry when he can fish and have fresh meat readily available to him.

The song’s piano instrumentation nourishes the hopeful energy of the message, with the narrator affirming a desire to find a country girl with whom he can live in a self-built home and live a happy life without paying rent.

This song will make you feel like a lightbulb just switched on in rural Arkansas.

9. “They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas” by Tony Joe White

Because of the religious nature of the South, the weight of evil warrants a consideration not always seen in other regions. This faith leads to sayings such as “the devil is alive in the South.”

For swamp-rock pioneer Tony Joe White, the Devil isn’t merely alive—he’s under arrest. In his track “They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas,”

White sings about Lucifer himself rotting in a jail cell. But not to be outdone, he gives the jailer a bribe and escapes!

10. “Arkansas” by Damien Jurado

Seattle singer-songwriter Damian Jurado has made a career of flirting with different genres and musical approaches. Though somewhat mercurial, Jurado’s songs always express a type of Americana that ties them together.

In his track “Arkansas,” the troubadour sings over twinkling, soul-influenced piano keys and eclectic percussion about love gone wrong.

He addresses his lover by the name Arkansas, giving the soulful acoustic arrangement an air of Southern warmth and a tinge of Americana.

Jurado feels torn, unsure if he will meet his lover back in Arkansas, but like many of the songs on this list, the pull of Arkansas remains a powerful force.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Arkansas Songs

From diamond mines to the mighty Mississippi River, Arkansas boasts diverse and beautiful geography hidden in plain sight. No wonder they call it The Natural State!

For the artists on this list, the wonders of Arkansas resonate strongly enough that they gave it the highest honor any musician could—they wrote songs about it.

While the tracks in our playlist vary in genre, the themes of love, kinship, and home reverberate throughout.

So whether you’re dancing the night away or drinking lemonade on a hot summer day, these songs will keep Arkansas on your mind and in your heart.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.