Cincinnati or The Queen City, as it’s also known, has given us the Reds, a world-class zoo, and great food. Like many great cities, it has also inspired its share of songs in many genres. Sometimes those songs only mention the place in passing, and sometimes they’re love songs to the Ohio metropolis.
Here are ten of the best songs about Cincinnati. You may not know them all, but each one is an excellent look at (or toward, or back on) Cincinnati, Ohio.
1. “WKRP in Cincinnati” Theme Song by Steve Carlisle
Steve Carlisle didn’t make the biggest splash in the music industry, and neither did his signature performance, which only made it to number 65 on 1981’s Billboard charts.
However, the song’s namesake was an iconic sitcom about the lives of DJs and other personnel at the eponymous radio station.
The show was novel in showing real-life frustrations of the workplace and how music played different roles in the characters’ lives. “WKRP in Cincinnatti” was a modest hit, but it rose to massive success as a syndicated show after its cancellation.
Having its theme song as number one on this list seems necessary. Dr. Johnny Fever would, we believe, approve.
2. “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood sprang from an “American Idol” win to superstardom (lasting superstardom, and I’m looking at you, Scotty McCreery) in a remarkably short time, thanks mainly to “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
The song spins the tale of a beleaguered mom driving home to Cincinnati for Christmas. She hits a patch of ice and spins out. In an instant, she cries out to Jesus, who saves her and her sleeping baby from becoming traffic statistics.
The song peaked at number one on Billboard’s 2006 Hot Country Songs chart, and it earned Underwood a slew of awards.
Okay, so the car wreck happens on the way to Cincinnatti, but it’s still a pretty big hit that’s kind of about Cincinnati. You’ve probably never been to a Cincinnati Bengals football game, but you already knew this song had that name in it.
3. “Laura” by Scissor Sisters
“Laura” is one of those songs open to interpretation, and people’s takes on its meaning vary widely.
Some opine that it’s about a closeted gay man, others about real-life prom-queen turned prostitute murder victim. There are others.
The connection here is when lead singer Jake Shears, in the first verse, sings, “Won’t you tell Cincinnatti…?” Then, he goes on about how he needs the love of the object of his affection. In one verse, that’s a woman, and it’s a man in another verse.
Who knows? What’s sure is it’s a neo-glam rock hit that made it to number 12 in 2004, and in the music video, the band channels the droogs from “A Clockwork Orange.”
4. “Susie Cincinnati” by The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys weren’t exactly known for their suggestive lyrics, but “Susie Cincinnati,” about the city’s biggest sinner, skirts the line.
With references to the back seat of her car and “getting you there,” it could almost be a Prince song. Well, almost—it’s not that dirty, and it’s not about Minneapolis.
“Susie Cincinnati” lacks the dynamic diversity and achingly beautiful lyrics of Brian Wilson’s magnum opus, “God Only Knows,” but hey, it’s still a fun little song.
5. “The Cincinnati Kid” by Ray Charles
Ray Charles sang the Lalo Schifrin-penned title track from the 1965 Steve McQueen classic film of the same name.
The song has a 12/8 lilt to it that, over the minor chords, produces a sense of longing and loss, the film’s overarching theme.
While the titular kid hails from New Orleans, and the film’s action takes place there, he’s still The Cincinnati Kid, so while this song is about Cincinnati, it isn’t necessarily about the city of Cincinnati but rather about a guy with that moniker.
It’s a tense, sad film, and Steve McQueen has rarely been cooler.
6. “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” by Waylon Jennings
Outlaw country wasn’t really a thing, and then it was. The turning point? Waylon Jennings. His 1974 album “The Ramblin’ Man” gave the world “Rainy Day Woman,” “Midnight Rider,” and “I’m a Ramblin’ Man.” The song became Jennings’ second number one hit, solidifying him as a star.
The song serves as a warning against ramblin’ men like him—men who travel, live life hard and fast, and have a girl in every city.
Written and first recorded by Ray Pennington in 1967, “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” struck more of a chord with the public when Jennings sang it because you could just tell that he was singing the truth and not simply telling a story.
Jennings sings about the cities where he’s got women waiting for him, presumably unaware of other women doing the same thing, one of whom waits for him in Cincinnati by the Ohio River.
There are others in Chicago, New Orleans, Alabama, and West Virginia. Jennings’ apology for his behavior is simple. He’s a ramblin’ man.
7. “Cincinnati Star” by Ed Williams
From the appropriately named 1979 album “Who Is Ed Williams,” “Cincinnati Star” wasn’t a hit but still stands as a lovely slice of Cincinnati in the 1970s. Williams’ sing-speak style hearkens back to Ray Stevens’ work while still managing to be somewhat endearing.
He sings about his life in Cincinnati with many inside baseball references. Other than the mention of how delicious White Castle is, Williams rattles off a list of big Cincinnati names of the era, including a pre-daytime raunch host Jerry Springer and Morganna, the Kissing Bandit.
It’s a fun song. It isn’t literary, it isn’t a glimpse of musical genius, and it didn’t burn up the charts. But holy smokes, is it ABOUT Cincinnati.
8. “Cincinnati Square” by Chuck Robinson
Okay, so there’s not a place in Cincinnati called Cincinnati Square, but listening to this 1970s groovy funk fest makes you want to look for it just in case.
Odd lyrics only add to the intrigue, as Cincinnati Square is somehow like a necklace, according to Robinson. He offers this simile between driving piano riffs and an inventive guitar solo.
Robinson never made a national splash, but he was a treasured part of the Cincinnati music scene for decades, only ending his career when he died in 2021.
The song was the B-side of a forgotten single from a forgotten record label that only put out one 45rpm record—this one.
9. “South of Cincinnati” by Dwight Yoakum
Yoakum’s crooning, sometimes-cracking voice can make a sad song ten times sadder. Add the weeping steel guitar, and man, it’s heartbreaking. That’s the case with “South of Cincinnati,” a song of lost love.
Yoakum sings to a woman who seems unable to live in the South, where he feels most at home. Apparently, it was a dealbreaker, as he tells her that if she can ever leave the Queen City, he’ll gladly take her back.
Yoakum recorded the song for his 1986 smash debut album, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.,” which got him some Grammy nods and a Top Male Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music Awards.
10. “Lights of Cincinnati” by Scott Walker
Scott Walker’s musical career began as a kid with his two brothers in a band that was essentially Hanson for the 1960s. But by 1969, he was on his own as a solo artist, living and finding success mainly in England.
“Lights of Cincinnati” is another song about lost love—in this case, his great love is the city of Cincinnati.
Walker remembers the berg and its trees and admits that it will always call him back no matter what life he builds. Maybe you can go home again.
Summing Up Our List Of Songs Written About Cincinnati
Whether country, glam, folk, or pop, songs tell our stories to the world.
These ten songs tell the world about Cincinnati—some more fondly than others.
Sure, others didn’t get mentioned, but what’s the fun of a list if you don’t have something to complain about getting omitted?