A long, long time ago, Cincinnati didn’t have the best reputation. And so newspapers began calling it the Queen City as a move to encourage people to move into the city. The moniker came out of their desire to show that the place is a beacon of civilization.
The name stuck, and now Queen City is known for giving us the Reds, a world-class zoo, and great food.
Like many great cities, it has also inspired musicians to pen songs about this great city. Here are 10 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
Unfortunately, Steve Carlisle didn’t make the biggest splash in the music industry. Neither did his signature performance of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The song only made it to #65 on 1981’s Billboard charts.
However, the sitcom that used the song became popular. WKRP in Cincinnati was an iconic sitcom about the lives of DJs and other personnel at the eponymous radio station. The sitcom showed real-life frustrations at work and how music played different roles in the characters’ lives.
“WKRP in Cincinnatti” was a modest hit. However, it rose to massive success as a syndicated show after its cancellation. Having its theme song as #1 on this list seems necessary. Dr. Johnny Fever would, we believe, approve.
2. “Jesus Take the Wheel” By Carrie Underwood
Thanks to “Jesus Take the Wheel,” Carrie Underwood sprang from an American Idol win to superstardom in a remarkably short time.
The song spins the tale of a beleaguered mom driving home to see her parents 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.
Okay, so the car wreck doesn’t exactly happen in Cincinnati. But this is a song that mentions Cincinnati in the lyrics. Specifically, the line says, “She was driving last Friday on her way to Cincinnati on a snow-white Christmas eve.” Still, it’s a pretty big hit that references the city.
3. “Laura” By Scissor Sisters
This is just one of those songs open to interpretation, and people’s takes on its meaning vary widely. Some opine that Scissor Sister‘s “Laura” is about a closeted gay man. Others believe it’s about a real-life prom-queen-turned-prostitute murder victim.
The connection here is when lead singer Jake Shears, in the first verse, sings, “Won’t you tell Cincinnati…?” Then, he goes on about how he needs the love of the object of his affection.
In one verse, that’s a woman. In another, it’s a man. Who knows? What’s sure is that it’s a neo-glam rock hit that made it to #12 in 2004.
4. “Susie Cincinnati” By The Beach Boys
A song with “Cincinnati” in the title, you’ll almost figure out there’s a fun story behind this Beach Boys song. The band wasn’t exactly known for their suggestive lyrics. But “Susie Cincinnati,” about the city’s biggest sinner, skirts the line.
Vocalist Al Jardine penned the song, talking about Susie with her “groovy little motor car.” The song was inspired by a lady cab driver that picked up the boys from the airport in 1968. And with this song becoming popular, the band immortalized this lucky cab driver.
“Susie Cincinnati” lacks the dynamic diversity and achingly beautiful lyrics of vocalist Brian Wilson’s magnum opus, “God Only Knows.” But hey, it’s still a fun little song.
5. “The Cincinnati Kid” By Ray Charles
Up next is a song that mentions “Cincinnati” with no relation to the city itself. One can better understand this song by Ray Charles by watching 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 called The Cincinnati Kid.
So while this song is about Cincinnati, it isn’t necessarily about the place. This is about a guy with that moniker, who aims to be the best at poker.
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 “I’m a Ramblin’ Man.” The song became his second #1 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. It struck the public more when Jennings sang it because you could just tell that he was singing the truth and not simply telling a story.
In the song, Jennings talks about the cities where he’s got women waiting for him, presumably unaware of other women doing the same thing. One of them waits for him in Cincinnati by the Ohio River.
7. “Cincinnati Star” By Ed Williams
From the appropriately named 1979 album Who Is Ed Williams, “Cincinnati Star” wasn’t a hit. It was under the label Counterpart Records that released songs for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region. But it still stands as a lovely slice of Cincinnati in the 1970s.
Williams’ sing-speak style is notable and manages to make the song somewhat endearing. He sings about his life in Cincinnati using 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.
“Cincinnati Star” is 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, it is ABOUT Cincinnati.
8. “Cincinnati Square” By Chuck Robinson
First off, there’s no place in Cincinnati called Cincinnati Square. But listening to this 1970s groovy funk fest “Cincinnati Square” by Chuck Robinson makes you want to look for it just in case.
Odd lyrics only add to the intrigue. According to Robinson, Cincinnati Square is somehow like a necklace. He offers this simile between driving piano riffs and an inventive guitar solo.
Robinson never made a national splash. Still, he was a treasured part of the Cincinnati music scene for decades. His 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
American singer-songwriter Dwight 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 about a woman who seems unable to live in the South, where the guy feels most at home. Apparently, it’s a dealbreaker, as he tells her that if she can ever leave the Queen City, he’ll gladly take her back.
But pride gets in the way and ruins everything. As the lyrics say, “For fourteen years she’d write each day but keep it hidden.” Meanwhile, in Chicago, “He lies there drunk, but it don’t matter drunk or sober.” He’ll never know what she feels because she’d never sent him the letters.
10. “Lights Of Cincinnati” By Scott Walker
Could there be any song more heartbreaking than about separation? You might get emotional once you listened to Scott Walker‘s “Lights of Cincinnati.”
The first verse of the lyrics has the singer remembering when he left Cincinnati. The image of his loved one, presumably a lover, is ingrained in his mind as the plane took off. He plans to build a life somewhere, but “the lights of Cincinnati will be calling me back home.”
We find out from the next verse that he’s where he wanted to be. He imagines himself on the rocking chair back at Cincinnati, remembering her smiling at him.
Summing Up Our List Of Cincinnati Songs
Whether country, glam, folk, or pop, songs are an avenue to let the world know about our stories. In this case, we’re telling the world about Queen City—Cincinnati.
Whether you’ve lived in Cincinnati or planned to be there, these songs will help you appreciate this city more. So check out these songs and make a playlist about this beautiful place.