As far as states go, Iowa doesn’t get very much attention. It’s not home to any major US cities, it doesn’t have an abundance of natural wonders that draw tourists, and it is in the region that’s sometimes referred to as the flyover states.
Still, anyone who has ever visited Iowa knows it has its own unique charm. People who grew up there are fiercely proud of their state’s pioneer history, Midwestern values, and of course, their most famous export: corn.
That said, odes have been made of the state’s wonder, so let’s dive in and have a look at 10 of the best songs about Iowa.
1. “It Sure Can Get Cold In Des Moines” By Tom T. Hall
The late American country artist Tom T. Hall was known as the Storyteller for his ability to paint vivid pictures with the words of his songs. “It Sure Can Get Cold In Des Moines” is a perfect example of this talent.
In it, a musician in town for a radio show ends up having drinks in his hotel’s lounge. It’s a bitterly cold winter day, and the lounge is mostly quiet. He notices a young woman crying miserably in a corner booth, but no one else in the bar seems to notice or care.
This song uses the coldness of a Des Moines winter as a metaphor for the alienation and loneliness of the human experience.
2. “Iowa Stubborn” By The Cast Of The Music Man
This upbeat show tune is performed as a sort of welcome for the titular character Music Man—Professor Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston—upon his arrival to the great state of Iowa. The locals give him a musical description of how people in the state behave.
They describe Iowans as stubborn, self-reliant people who can come off as cold and standoffish, yet who will give you the shirt off their back if you should need it.
Throughout the song, despite their gruff self-identification, they encourage Hill to “Give Iowa a try!”
3. “Stranded In Iowa” By Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
The pop-rock, psychedelia group Manfred Mann’s Earth Band is best known for its hit “Blinded By The Light,” but they also performed this somewhat melancholy piece about—you guessed it—Iowa. This one is about being stranded in the Hawkeye State.
It’s unclear whether the British band wrote the song based on experience or if they’d ever visited Iowa at all. Still, this song does a great job of relating the anxious desperation of being stuck in a place you’re unfamiliar with and the longing to go home.
4. “Iowa Corn Song” By Percy Faith
This inspiring marching song is an ode to Iowa’s most famous product: corn! Penned in 1912 by the Iowa Shriners and later performed by Percy Faith and his orchestra, it was a rousing anthem often played at the state’s parades and fairs.
The oddest part of the song is the pronunciation of Iowa as “Ioway.” A bit of research will show that it was sometimes used as a variation of the state’s name during the early and mid-20th century, although it’s heard almost exclusively in a handful of songs.
This song is a nostalgic reminder of a time when Americans had a great deal of regional identity and a sense of pride in their local contributions to the country as a whole.
5. “Iowa Waltz” By Greg Brown
This sweet slow waltz by Greg Brown is a barebones yet beautiful love letter to the state of Iowa from one of its native sons.
The song describes the habits and values of the Midwestern farming lifestyle—people who work hard take care of their young and old family members and who enjoy the simple things in life.
Whether you’re from Iowa or have never been there in your life, the warm, cozy scenes the author paints in this tune will make you want to pack your bags and make a trip to the Hawkeye State.
6. “Iowa” By Dar Williams
Singer-songwriter Dar Williams may not be widely known in mainstream circles, but she is a beloved figure on the folk scene thanks to her angelic voice and talent for writing deep, meaningful lyrics.
“Iowa” describes the emotional struggle of a person who loves someone but has difficulty expressing or acting on their emotion.
The line “Way back where I come from, we never mean to bother; we don’t like to make out passions other people’s concern” is an excellent description of how the stoicism typical in America’s heartland can make it hard to face strong feelings.
7. “The Drycleaner From Des Moines” By Joni Mitchell
Our singer Joni Mitchel takes us to a scene that takes place in a casino. The protagonist is trying her luck at the slots and tables but loses more by the minute. She can’t help but notice a man who seems to have a genie in a bottle on his side. He’s cleaning up at every game he plays.
She makes his acquaintance to learn his secret, but all she finds out about him is that he’s a dry cleaner from Des Moines.
This song stands out because it has a surprisingly urban sound for a song about Iowa. Not to mention its fast jazz riffs and, of course, Mitchell’s legendary acrobatic vocals.
8. “The Iowa Song” By Josh Connor
Next on our list is “The Iowa Song.” This ode to the Hawkeye State is so down-home and folksy that it can come off as a bit cheesy. Josh O’Connor sings about his idyllic upbringing in the state known for its “peace, love, and corn.”
Early mornings and early nights, farming, family values, and gratitude are all brought to light in this description of Midwestern bliss.
Cheesiness aside, If you’re a Hawkeye and are looking for a feel-good, nostalgic song about your home state, you might just love this song.
9. “Update From Iowa” By Smitty Spread Love
Unlike most songs on this list, “Update From Iowa is a relatively new song, released in 2020. It also stands out for being the only rap song on this list.
In the opening lines, Smitty says that he can no longer drive Uber because of the pandemic, so he and his family get in a car and drive to Iowa, seeking something better. Unfortunately, being in the center of the country doesn’t keep him from seeing and experiencing all the chaos around the nation.
The song describes many of the struggles faced by Americans in 2020, from COVID-19 to job loss, to the struggle against police brutality.
10. “All I Owe Ioway “ By The Cast Of State Fair
The Rogers and Hammerstein musical State Fair follows an Iowa family headed to their state fair. They each have their own hopes and dreams for what the event holds in store for them.
It’s a glimpse into America’s heartland during its most celebrated era, and like the earlier “Iowa Stubborn,” the state’s name is pronounced “Ioway.”
This 1945 classic is another fun little song that uses wordplay to describe the singers’ gratitude to their home state. Its tongue-twisting catchy chorus may get stuck in your head for days. Give it a listen if you don’t believe us.
Summing Up Our List Of Iowa Songs
This list has covered only ten songs but has spanned the genres of country, rock, jazz, and rap. In some of the songs, Iowa is the main topic, while in others, the state acts as a backdrop or metaphor for universal human stories.
Depending on the lyrics, songs about Iowa can give the listener a feeling of safety, security, and happiness or of loneliness, anxiousness, and despair. Iowa is a canvas that an artist can use to paint various scenes and moods.
If you thought Iowa wouldn’t have much exciting music dedicated to it, we hope this list helped change your mind!