21 Of The Best Songs About Memphis: Bluff City Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

When it comes to music, Memphis is a city that knows how to put on a show. From the blues and soul of Beale Street to the rock and country of Graceland, there’s something for everyone in this Tennessee city.

If you’re looking for some Memphis-inspired tunes, look no further than this playlist. From soulful ballads to upbeat classics, these 25 of the best songs about Memphis will make you feel right there in the heart of the city. So, put on your dancing shoes and get ready to groove!

Related: Check out our list of songs written about Tennessee here.

1. “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn

First, we have this song by Marc Cohn, who wrote “Walking in Memphis” after visiting Memphis in 1991. The trip was so influential to him that Cohn says the song is “100 percent autobiographical.”

He saw the statue for W.C. Handy, the Father of Blues, visited Graceland, and listened to the preaching of Reverend Al Green. He also visited Robinsonville, Mississippi, where he wrote one of the song’s most iconic lines.

“Walking in Memphis” made it to number 13 on the Billboard charts in the United States and found itself on the music charts in other countries.

Cohn won the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1992, and the song went on to spawn 21 covers by famous artists such as Cher, Lonestar, and John Tesh.

2. “Memphis, Tennessee” by Chuck Berry

Next, we look to the “Father of Rock and Roll,” Chuck Berry, who recorded “Memphis, Tennessee,” at his home in St. Louis in 1958 and later released it in 1959.

The song would reach number three in Ireland and six in the UK, with many superstar bands like the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Rivers, and The Hollies all covering “Memphis, Tennessee” too.

The song follows the narrator talking to a long-distance operator, trying to find the number of Marie.

The listener would find out later in the song that Marie is his six-year-old daughter, who he lost touch with after his marriage fell apart with her mother.

3. “Midnight Train to Memphis” by Chris Stapleton

Outlaw Country music star Chris Stapleton co-wrote “Midnight Train to Memphis” while in his old bluegrass band called the SteelDrivers. The SteelDrivers released the song in 2008 to great success.

When Chris Stapleton broke out on his own, he said he continued to play this song live, so it only made sense for him to re-record it, but this time to his vision. He did so with his album From A Room: Volume 2 in 2017.

In it, the narrator serves 40-days in jail for a fine he cannot pay. Every night, he listens to the sounds of a train, the midnight train to Memphis.

4. “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis

Michael Anderson wrote “Maybe It Was Memphis” in 1983 for Phil Seymour, but it was country music star Pam Tillis who made it famous.

Tillis originally recorded the song in the late 1980s, but the executives at Arista Records thought it was more pop than country. She would go on to re-record in 1991, which was released on her album Put Yourself in My Place.

This song, about meeting a former lover in Memphis, would be her breakout, eventually reaching number three on the Billboard charts.

The lyrics talk about what it could have been that made it so special. Was it the timing, the nature, the weather, or Maybe it was Memphis?

5. “Move to Memphis” by A-ha

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen wrote the song “Move to Memphis,| and A-ha produced it for their compilation album Headlines and Deadlines: The Hits of A-ha in 1991. It

It would reach number two on the Norway music charts and 47 in the UK. The music video was directed by Erick Ifergan and starred French actress Beatrice Dalle.

In it, the narrator talks about a girl he loves who tells him to move to Memphis. After deciding that is a good idea, he talks about the anticipation and excitement he feels about moving to Memphis for a fresh start.

6. “That’s How I Got to Memphis” by Tom T. Hall

Tom T. Hall recorded “That’s How I Got To Memphis” in 1969 for his Ballad of Forty Dollars & His Other Great Songs album.

He was a prolific songwriter, fantastic storyteller, and poet who used his songs to express himself. Many artists have covered the song, the most recent being in the show The Newsroom.

The song discusses how the narrator came to Memphis, Tennessee, to find an old love who had moved away. Whenever the love would get mad, she would always say she’d move back to Memphis, so this is where the narrator begins his search for her.

7. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” for his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. It is a seven-minute song with 13 verses that took twenty takes over a three-hour recording session.

Like other Bob Dylan songs, it is often overanalyzed and has multiple meanings based on those interpretations.

Based on interviews during the time, though, it appears it discusses his struggles with being on a tour bus for extended periods during the 1960s.

It is a polarizing song that is both loved and hated by other artists like Hunter S. Thompson and John Lennon, respectively.

8. “Graceland” by Paul Simon With Willie Nelson

“Graceland” was written by Paul Simon for the album of the same name, which was released in 1986, featuring vocals by the Everly Brothers.

At the time, “Graceland” was the lowest ever charted song to win the Record of the Year Grammy. Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs named it number 485 in 2004. 

The song discusses the narrator’s failed marriage while on a road trip to Graceland. The late actress, Carrie Fisher, mentioned in an interview that the song refers to their marriage. It also references other cultural touchstones, which is why the song is a pop culture cult classic.

9. “Memphis in the Meantime” by John Hiatt

“Memphis in the Meantime” was released by John Hiatt in 1987 for his album Bring the Family. It is equal parts autobiography and a personal statement about his music.

In it, the narrator is tired of the Nashville scene and decides he wants a new start elsewhere. He cannot find the perfect place for his new start, so he heads to Memphis in the meantime.

It also stated that he would record his music his way, regardless of the circumstances or outcomes. This is very fitting because he recorded the album in only four days without preproduction and rehearsal.

10. “Memphis Beat” by Jerry Lee Lewis

“Memphis Beat” was released by Jerry Lee Lewis for his sixth album of the same name in 1966. It marked his return to rock and roll roots since his earlier departure into country music. His backing band was one of the best he ever recorded with and is the reason for its success.

The title track was written explicitly for Lewis and this album and set the tone for the album. 

While the album stalled at 145 on the Billboard charts, it did so at a time when Lewis’ reputation had taken a huge hit. Critics liked it at the time, and it has become a cult classic with his fans today.   

11. “Big Train (From Memphis)” by John Fogerty

“Big Train (From Memphis) is a relatively unknown song from Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty. They released it on his third solo album named Centerfield in 1985.

The album itself was RIAA-certified double-platinum, and saw Fogerty overdubbing all the instruments himself and writing all the songs on the album.

The song talks about the summer days of his youth when he played on train tracks. He tells us how experiencing the sights and sounds of a big train from Memphis changed his world, forever influencing his view on the world and his dreams.

12. “Memphis Streets” by Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond released “Memphis Streets” as the fourth song on side two of his fourth studio album, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, under Geffen Records. 

The album peaked at number 22, and his most popular single, “Sweet Caroline,” added to future cuts of the album because of its success. Critically, it was one of his lowest reviewed albums because of some of the songs’ unpolished quality.

In “Memphis Streets,” he discusses cruising the streets of Memphis in a ‘59 Ford to try and get his mind off a girl. The beautiful views of Memphis aren’t even strong enough to make this happen.

13. “Memphis Soul Song” by Uncle Kracker

Uncle Kracker released “Memphis Soul Song” on his 2002 album No Stranger to Shame. It peaked at number 35 on the Adult Top 40 charts. Kid Rock produced it, and Michael Bradford mixed it.

The song had a special remix done in 2009 with added harmonies by The Jordanaires, providing that much more soul to the song.

The song discusses how a “she” moves the narrator like a Memphis soul song. Whether the song is about a real woman or the personification of the city of Memphis is left up to interpretation, but it works either way.

Memphis soul often talks about the struggles of its creators and is a discussion between the singer and the chorus.

14. “Queen of Memphis” by Confederate Railroad

The Confederate Railroad released “Queen of Memphis” on their self-titled album in 1992. The song reached number two in the United States and three in Canada. It is the band’s most successful song to date.

The song talks about the narrator’s experience with moving to Memphis as a young boy, where he meets a woman called the queen of Memphis.

Through her, he experiences the rich history of Memphis’ music scene and falls in love for the first time. This experience is when he leaves the boy from Georgia behind and becomes a man.

15. “Letter to Memphis” by The Pixies

“Letter to Memphis” was written by the Pixie’s frontman, Black Francis. The song is his take on Chuck Berry’s song, “Memphis, Tennessee.” It was released as a single for the Pixies’ 1991 album Trompe le Monde.

The song’s composition was so well received that they released an instrumental version of the song as a B-side, another one of their singles called “Alec Eiffel.” 

The song discusses the narrator’s longing for his hometown of Memphis and the return to his family, who are located there. He tells Memphis not to worry and that he will return home soon.

16. “Memphis” by Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber wrote “Memphis” while on tour in Memphis. He released it as an extra song on his album, Journals, under Island Records in 2013. 

The album deals with essential themes of relationships like forgiveness and heartbreak. It features Big Sean and Diplo and samples “Nights Off” from Siriusmo. In it, Justin talks about his love for a girl from Memphis and his struggles with their relationship.

17. “Memphis Soul Stew” by King Curtis

King Curtis was a saxophonist from Texas who specialized in rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and jazz. He often blended these styling, making for amazing yet sometimes chaotic songs.

“Memphis Soul Stew” was no different and became one of his most critically acclaimed and well-known songs.

The lyrics, which are more of an introduction to the band, blends music with the city’s rich culture, specifically its food. A pinch of organ, four tablespoons of Memphis guitar and half a teacup of bass. Bring it to a boil, and you’ve got yourself some Memphis Soul Stew.

The song became Memphis’ unofficial anthem, played at many of its events over the years.

18. “Memphis in the Rain” by Justin Townes Earle

Next up we have“Memphis in the Rain”, released in 2012 by Justin Townes Earle.

What made Justin Townes Earle so unique was his ability to create two versions of the same song, an album version, and a solo live version. His live versions use a percussive strum that gets you into the song. 

“Memphis in the Rain” discusses the narrator’s fears of stopping in Memphis and his need to find safety in other cities.

19. “Memphis in June” by Hoagy Carmichael

One of the older songs on our list, “Memphis in June,” was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster in 1945 for the Johnny Angel RKO Radio Pictures film.

The song discusses the narrator’s love for the city, its people, and the climate, stating there is nothing like it. 

Artists have covered “Memphis in June” over 40 times in various genres and formats!

20. “Memphis” by Kitten

Kitten talks about longing, love, anxiety, and nostalgia in their song “Memphis,” released in 2019 as a single. Kitten is inspired by the infectious and high-energy music of the 80s and 90s, which can be seen in “Memphis.” 

Even though it talks about more challenging themes, the song never loses that edge, making these themes easier to digest.

Chloe Chaidez, the frontwoman of Kitten, mentioned in an article that the song’s lyrics came from a stream of consciousness. This may cause the song to sound chaotic, but it fits the emotions caused by these themes very well.

21. “Memphis Pearl” by Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams released “Memphis Pearl” in 1992 on her album Sweet Old World under Chameleon Records. The album dealt with themes of death and suicide, which fit the lyrics of this song.

It was her second album to receive critical acclaim, and it played a big part in her commercial breakthrough in 1998.

The song discusses the duality of wanting to leave her hometown to achieve great things but longing for her hometown once she left. It also discusses how she amounts to nothing in the big world but how she was the pearl in everyone’s eyes back in Memphis.

Summing Up Our Memphis Songs Playlist

As you can see, Memphis has a rich history when it comes to music.

It was home to the genre called Memphis soul, based on the struggles of the African American community at the time.

Based on doo-wop, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, and Motown, it is effortless to see why it has crossed musical boundaries over many generations of musicians. 

But, this list barely scratches the surface of songs written about Memphis. Which ones did we miss? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!

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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.