10 Of The Best Songs About Indiana: Hoosier State Playlist

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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Tucked away in the Midwest, Indiana is a beautiful and peaceful state that has inspired countless songs across generations. Songs about it often focus on its small-town vibes or about being overjoyed to return home.

With artists ranging from Tom Petty to the Jackson 5, in this post, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best songs about Indiana. Interested? Read on!

1. “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” By Bing Crosby

Our first song is a slow, calming tune that praises the simplicity of Indiana.

“Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” was originally written by Hoagy Carmichael and Robert de Leon and recorded by Kate Smith in 1940. Bing Crosby’s version of was released the same year.

In the song, the singer expressed how much they miss Indiana’s friendly residents, the river Wabash, and a particular knitting woman. Even so far away, they could hear the river calling for him to come home.

2. “Going Back To Indiana” By Jackson 5

Released on the Jackson 5’s Third Album, “Going Back To Indiana” is an exciting song about the Hoosier State. It was written by the Corporation, who also wrote “I Want You Back” and “ABC.”

Like many Jackson 5 songs at the time, Michael Jackson led the vocals of “Going Back To Indiana” at age 11. The Jackson family had grown up in Indiana, but studio recordings and tours often kept them away from home.

Many songs centered on Indiana are about missing the state’s beautiful landscapes, rivers, and cities. “Going Back to Indiana” takes this song motif up a notch with a feeling of celebration. After all, there’s nothing quite as thrilling as finally going home to the place you love.

3. “Small Town” By John Mellencamp

One of John Mellencamp’s most recognizable roots-rock songs, “Small Town” is about growing up in a small Indiana neighborhood, as our singer was born in Seymour and lived in Vincennes and Bloomington for most of his early life. 

This song focuses on his Indiana childhood, describing his education, activities, and friends. He reflects that he was “born here, lives here, and will probably die here.”

Mellencamp wrote “Small Town” in opposition to the many songs that revolved around big cities like Los Angeles and New York City. He never related to those songs and wanted to write something that idolizes his small-town, family-centric lifestyle instead.

4. “On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away” By Paul Dresser

A slow-paced ballad, “On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away” is about the Wabash River, which runs up along the west side and across the north side of the state.

The lyrics reflect on endless memories created by the riverbed while singing about the women our singer has loved and lost in his life.

It opens by singing about the singer’s mother in Indiana before moving on to a woman named Mary. She has seemingly died by the end of the song, and the singer is too distraught to visit her burial site. 

“On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away” was one of the best-selling pieces of sheet music in the 1800s. Its prominent legacy still endures as it is the official Indiana state song.

5. “Springtime Indiana” By Sandra McCracken

If you want to hear a song about falling in love with Indiana, “Springtime Indiana” would be the one to listen. Singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken released this gentle folk track on her second independent album in 2001, only two years after graduating college. 

In the song, the singer is lying in bed next to someone in Indiana. The state only seemed to be one stop on their road trip and was never intended to be an important landmark. 

Nevertheless, by the end of the night, it has become the place she fell in love with. Those feelings came without warning or permission, and the song repeatedly mentions being unable to “find the words” to describe them.

6. “Indiana Wants Me” By R. Dean Taylor

Our sixth song takes a different perspective on the Hoosier State than most of the songs on this list.

The lyrics to “Indiana Wants Me” tell of someone who has fled from the state after killing a man for insulting his partner. He ends up in hiding far away from his family but is caught by the police by the end of the story.

Canadian-born singer and songwriter R. Dean Taylor gained inspiration for “Indiana Wants Me” after watching a long stand-off between the robbers and the police at a store break-in directly beneath a hotel he was staying at.

7. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” By Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is a heartbreaking love song about a girl from Indiana. It depicts her growing up “right” in Indiana and being unlike anyone else because of it. Both the singer and the girl have to separate, but they have one last, painful dance together.

The song was originally titled “Indiana Girl.” The repeating chorus line “last dance with Mary Jane” was originally sung as “Hey, Indiana girl.”

It’s unclear if the name Mary Jane is a drug reference or meant to resemble Jane Benyo, whom Petty was divorcing.

8. “Gary, Indiana” By Meredith Willson

The 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man was set in a small Iowa town. It followed Harold Hill, a traveling con artist salesman from Indiana. Hill sold cheap musical instruments and made-up lessons to the town’s residents before falling in love with the town.

The song “Gary, Indiana” portrayed in the musical praises the beauty of Hill’s hometown, singing of its unique small-town aesthetic being the only place he could ever call home.

Hill soon finds the love he remembered from Indiana in this Iowa town by the musical’s end. He learns that love for small-city life is not exclusive to Indiana.

9. “Back To Indiana” By The Elms

The Elm‘s “Back To Indiana” is a rock song about coming home. It depicts a man leaving New Orleans on a bus and hoping nothing gets in between him and his loved one in Indiana. He thinks of everywhere he’s been and all that he will do when he gets home, starting with buying her flowers.

Many of the Elms’ members are from Seymour, Indiana. Even though the Elms split up a year after its release, “Back To Indiana” remained one of the group’s biggest songs. In fact, it was used as the theme song for college basketball’s 2010 Big Ten Conference in Indianapolis.

10. “Indiana Christmas” By Straight No Chaser

A song list would not be complete without a holiday song, and “Indiana Christmas” fits the list. It is a calming and ethereal carol about going back home to spend the holidays in Indiana.

The song describes getting warm by a fire, reuniting with old friends, and remembering those who have passed. To the band, Indiana is the only place where Christmas always feels real.

Straight No Chasers is an a cappella group that originated at Indiana University. Though not every member grew up in the state, it holds a special place in their hearts anyway. “Indiana Christmas” was released on their first Christmas album Holiday Spirits.

Summing Up Our List Of Songs Written About Indiana

So many songs about the Hoosier State share similar themes and styles, such as folk rock and country. Some of the brilliant artists listed here, like John Mellencamp and Paul Dresser, hail from Indiana and often aren’t afraid to show it in their work.

Songs like “Going Back to Indiana” and “Indiana Christmas” sing about coming home, while “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” sings about wanting to go home but being unable.

What song about Indiana do you think best reflect the state?

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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.