10 Of The Best Songs About Detroit: Motor City Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Detroit, Michigan, is a large Midwestern city that goes by many names. Some know it as “Motor City,” others refer to it as “The D” or “Murder City,” and most commonly, Detroit is known as “Motown.”

Despite its abundant nicknames, some people simply refer to the city as “home.” This is true for many musicians who write songs about their upbringing in the city. Other musicians choose to sing about Detroit because of its undeniable soul and charm.

Regardless of an artist’s history with Detroit, every decision to sing about the city has produced countless hits over the last century. And, in this post, we’re going to walk you through our playlist of the 10 best songs about Detroit to inspire you for your next trip. Let’s get started.

1. “8 Mile” by Eminem

Eminem’s song, “8 Mile,” references the 8-mile-long road between the white suburbs of Detroit and the predominantly black community.

The hit came out in the latter half of 2002 and is still one of his most well-known songs. It talks about Eminem’s upbringing in the city and his determination to make it as a famous rapper.

“8 Mile” is not just about the city of Detroit, but it has the added depth of telling the story of a young artist attempting to fulfill his dream in the city.

It shows both the human and infrastructural sides of Detroit in an emotional and impactful way.

2. “American Bad Ass” by Kid Rock

At the start of the 21st century, Kid Rock released the iconic song, “American Bad Ass.”

The lyrics tell us about how Detroit influenced the singer and how his rocking career has made Detroit visible on the map again.

The song makes sense for Kid Rock, who grew up in a town just north of Detroit before hitting it big in the music industry. So, the song captures the rock-and-roll soul of the city and the artist.

The live performances of the song are always a success, especially when he performs in the city of Detroit. 

3. “Be My Lover” by Alice Cooper

Rock musician Alice Cooper’s 1971 hit song, “Be My Lover,” is about a man who comes from Detroit City falling in love with a woman he meets that same night. Alice Cooper himself is from there, so the first-person point of view is truthful in his lyrics.

Although the song doesn’t talk about Detroit too often, listeners can be easily fooled into believing its title is “Detroit City.”

While Motor City is not the namesake, the city is still a big part of the song. Alice Cooper does, however, sing a song by the name “Detroit City” that is just as moving.

4. “Detroit City” by Alice Cooper

Given Alice Cooper’s birth and upbringing in Detroit, it makes sense that he so often sings about Motor City. It holds a special place in his heart.

Unlike “Be My Lover,” another Cooper song about Detroit, this song delves into the artist’s relationship with the city.

The end even features an insightful line about his life starting in Detroit and likely ending there.

This emphasizes Cooper’s connection to the city. It also resonates with anyone who feels just as strongly about The D.

5. “Dancing in the Street” by Martha & The Vandellas

“Dancing in the Street” is an R&B song from 1965 by Martha & The Vandellas. While the artist does sing about Detroit, it is not the only city in the song.

They talk about people spending the summer dancing and singing in the streets of cities across the United States of America.

They mention New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., and, as they say in the song, we can’t forget about Motor City!

This festive summer song makes it a point to include Detroit in the nationwide dance party about which the artist sings.

6. “Detroit” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came together in Los Angeles, California. However, the drummer, Chad Smith, is from Detroit. So, this song about the city they released in 2016 comes from a special place.

Despite the simple name of the song, it gives a few thoughtful insights into the city for the song’s listeners.

For example, the hit even references The Stooges and J Dilla, a rock band and record producer that came out of Detroit.

This is a nice dose of the city’s musical culture coming from a Detroit-born musician himself.

7. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey

“Don’t Stop Believing” is one of the most notable songs from the early 1980s and one of Journey’s most iconic hits. Very few people can resist singing along when the song comes on at a bar or karaoke. Within the first few lines, it mentions Detroit.

Though one of the lyrics references a city boy who was born and raised in South Detroit, none of the band members are from there.

They have always been very open about how they made up the location for the rhyme scheme. Still, because of this song, people everywhere sing about the city boy from South Detroit.

8. “I Care About Detroit” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

The meaning of this song is in the title. In this 1968 single, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles sing about why they care for the city of Detroit.

It is the singer’s hometown, and they seem to know the city very well. To help the city and its people, they know how much important work they need to do. They are more than willing to do this work because of their love for Motown.

This song demonstrates how important the future of Detroit is to so many of its citizens in the past and present.

9. “Panic in Detroit” by David Bowie

David Bowie’s 1973 album “Aladdin Sane” features the song “Panic in Detroit.” David Bowie is not from Detroit–In fact, he is not even from the United States of America. However, he still manages to sing a great song about the American city.

David Bowie did not conjure up images of the Detroit riots on his own. He used Iggy Pop’s affective descriptions of his experiences to write the song. 

10. “Murder City Nights” by Radio Birdman

Radio Birdman’s song “Murder City Nights” came out in 1977, endowing its listeners with a cool indie-rock tune.

Radio Birdman utilizes Detroit’s heavier nickname, “Murder City,” because of its unfortunately high rate of homicides.

The worst of the murders were in the mid-1970s. This song came out right after the killings were at their peak, adding to its historical significance.

Despite the dark nomenclature, the nickname “Murder City” does have a nice ring to it in the song. The song itself is a melody for young people looking for all sorts of action in Detroit.

Summing Up Our List Of Detroit Songs

Detroit, Michigan, holds a special place in the hearts of many. Its interesting people and rich history make it the perfect subject for songs like these.

Artists like David Bowie, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, and Kid Rock put a lot of hard work into capturing the soul of the city with their music.

People who were born in bred in Motown, those who fell in love with the city later in life, or tourists planning a visit would all benefit from listening to some of these songs written about Detroit.

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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.