15 Of The Best Songs About Michigan: Great Lakes State Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Michigan is one of the most recognizable states in the United States. There’s just something about this place that inspires musicians to write songs about it. Could it be the stunning scenery, the friendly people, the Great Lakes, or the factories of Detroit?

With roughly 10 million people, it’s no surprise to learn that there are a plethora of songs written about the state. Whether you call it the Great Lakes State, Wolverine State, or Mitten State, there’s a song applauding it.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the best songs about Michigan. Let’s get started!

1. “Especially In Michigan” By Red Hot Chili Peppers

When one thinks of Red Hot Chili Peppers, California is usually the first place to come to mind. The band, based in the Golden State, has a discography that heavily features the state. But “Especially in Michigan” pays tribute to the birthplace of vocalist Anthony Kiedis.

“Especially in Michigan” is a song that embraces the Great Lakes State in every possible way. The lyrics mention Huckleberry Finn, fishing, and the local Detroit Lions and Tigers sports teams.

With an amazing guitar solo, exciting vocals, and touching lyrics, it’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike.

2. “Lake Michigan” By Rogue Wave

When talking about a song that mentions “Michigan,” Rogue Wave‘s “Lake Michigan” might come to mind. The song has a deep focus on the state but primarily highlights the lake. It also brings attention to the lack of pollution in Lake Michigan and how lovely the nature there truly is.

When you first listen to it, the lyrics might not make sense. But the song was written as a critique of common stigmas against the Great Lakes.

Many that haven’t visited assume the water is dirty and filled with runoff from the cities that border it. In truth, Lake Michigan is mostly unpolluted and even protected by many laws.

3. “Michigan And Again” By The Accidentals

What better way to memorialize a beautiful place than through a love song? “Michigan and Again” by The Accidentals is a lovely, heartfelt tune dedicated to the natural beauty of this state.

In the lyrics, the band brings attention to the stunning scenery, from the green grass, sand dunes, and rolling fields. When the singer asks, “Great state, what state am I in?” the answer is, “Michigan and again and again and again and again.”

When she comes home to Michigan, the lake is one of the first places she goes to. She finds it difficult to leave her home, as when she does, even the “conifers lining the driver” tell him to “stay, stay, stay…”

4. “Detroit Rock City” By Kiss

Despite the upbeat sound of Kiss‘ “Detroit Rock City,” there’s something dark behind the lyrics. This song looks into a tragedy that involved one of their fans.

Though the band’s reputation is known for party songs and showmanship, “Detroit Rock City” was inspired by the fan’s death. The lyrics reference a head-on collision, starting from ten o’clock when the fan hits the road to make it to Kiss’ midnight concert.

Near the end of the song, we find out what happens to the fan. A truck’s lights blind him/her and there’s “no time to turn.”

Related: Check out our list of songs about Detroit here.

5. “Roll Me Away” By Bob Seger

Being no stranger to life on the road, Bob Seger penned “Roll Me Away” about a trip on a “big two-wheeler.” The song references a handful of places in Michigan such as Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island to the Great Divide.

During his stop at a bar, he meets a woman who implores him to take her on the road trip. However, the girl is only with him after a few miles. “The air began to turn cold” and she tells him she misses her home. This reflects the theme of Seger’s album where the song comes from: relationships that don’t last.

“Roll Me Away” brings feelings of restlessness and indecisiveness to the mix. Rather than focusing solely on the state, Seger looks at how the wilderness helps soothe sorrows away.

6. “Panic In Detroit” By David Bowie

English singer-songwriter David Bowie brings attention to one of the darker times in modern U.S. history in “Panic in Detroit.” Inspired by the Detroit 1967 Riots, much of the track comes from stories told to Bowie by his friend Iggy Pop.

For five days, the Detroit riots caused an enormous amount of destruction and damage. With thousands of destroyed buildings, over 7,000 arrests, and 43 deaths, Bowie seeks to capture this tragedy in his song.

The opening riff is intense, full of 70s rock elements, and will make you want to play this song on repeat.

7. “Going To Michigan” By The Extra Lens

The American band The Extra Lens (formerly The Extra Glenns) doesn’t focus on Michigan quite as heavily as most of the songs on this list do. Instead, “Going to Michigan” centers mostly on a trip to the state.

The song with “Michigan” in the lyrics is far from friendly. In fact, it looks at a gripe between the narrator and an unknown partner. Both find things to dislike about each other, particularly the choice of the radio station to listen to. This could actually be a metaphor for a dying relationship. Even the little things become a big deal.

But then again, there seems to be some level of care and understanding between them. A touch of the fingers turns to a buzzing in the brain, though it’s difficult to tell if it’s a positive sensation.

8. “The Big Three Killed My Baby” By The White Stripes

Coming from Detroit, it won’t be a surprise if the band The White Stripes know firsthand what goes on in the city. They put their observations into catchy songs that often dip into the political realm. “The Big Three Killed My Baby” fits the shoe perfectly.

The big three in question refer to Chrysler, GM, and Ford. These are the largest automobile manufacturers in the nation. All three are also based in Detroit.

The year this song was released, there were more than 1,200 automobile-related deaths in Michigan. The entire song is a strong critique of the automotive industry, corporations, and the chokehold that manufacturing has on the city of Detroit.

9. “Michicant” By Bon Iver

The 2011 single “Michicant” by Bon Iver doesn’t paint Michigan in the nicest light either. The song focuses on the nostalgic innocence of tender youth, looking at ignorance and love.

The lyrics are dominantly esoteric and strange. It makes it difficult to know what precisely Iver is trying to convey. The music carries a feeling of loss and longing. But Iver specifically states that the song refers to things one can no longer do anymore.

As one of Bon Iver’s best-known songs, the soothing sound puts the listener in a reflective mood.

10. “Detroit ‘67” By Sam Roberts

Heading back to Detroit, Sam Roberts focuses on the city with “Detroit ‘67.” The song is a nostalgic look back on life in the 60s with a classic rock vibe.

“Detroit ‘67” looks at the man-made beauty of the city rather than the area’s natural beauty. The singer even feels “strange and disheveled” as he walks to the side streets.

It’s worth noting that the title is likely a nod to the aforementioned Detroit 1967 riots. Though the track is positive and nostalgic, hinting at the tragedies that occurred there still gives an underlining sullenness.

11. “Half Acre” By Hem

Our next song continues that note of nostalgia into bittersweet happiness, but happiness nonetheless. Hem‘s “Half Acre” refers to a torn piece of a map of Michigan that makes up a half-acre of land, presumably of the narrator’s hometown.

Much of the song focuses on homesickness and how we carry these memories. No matter how far you are from your hometown, Hem’s “Half Acre” is sure to make you want to head home for a visit again.

The vocals inspire an ethereal sound that’s gentle but impactful. The soft melodies perfectly complement this magical sound.

12. “America” By Simon & Garfunkel

The American rock duo Simon & Garfunkel are two of the most well-known songwriters of their generation. Their song “America” helps drive that reputation home. It focuses on a road trip between Simon and his girlfriend at the time, Kathy.

Throughout the road trip, the pair searches for something undefined. Simon proclaims to Kathy that he’s unsure about a dream he’s chasing.

No matter what you take from the song, it’s a haunting and touching picture of the nation. With Michigan taking center stage as the place where this dream formed, it’s a heartfelt testament to the Great Lakes State.

13. “Mona And Emmy” By Frontier Ruckus

Up next is a song from Frontier Ruckus that looks back at childhood, told in a folky tune that almost borders onto bluegrass at times. This Michigan-based band’s “Mona and Emmy” tells the story of a few Michigan natives and how their adulthoods have changed them.

Speaking on baptisms and long work hours, it’s a nostalgic and heartfelt look at how life can change us. It changes our perspectives on things. Eventually, we long “to hold to something longer, something meaner, something stronger.”

As the narrator speaks about knowing every road, it’s hard not to think of one’s own home and the memories there.

14. “Michigan Left” By Arkells

Nearing the end of our list is a song with Michigan in the title. “Michigan Left” by Arkells brings another mention of the 1967 riots. It speaks about how the riots took over the streets of the city.

Past that, most of the song is much more uplifting, especially when combined with the soaring instrumentals and bright singing. Looking into childhood neighbors, friends, and ideas of revolution, it’s a song of childlike wonder and beauty.

This may not be as well-known as other songs on this list. But the energetic sound, fast tempo, and catchy lyrics make “Michigan Left” a serious contender.

15. “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” By Gordon Lightfoot

The final song on our list is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. It tells the story of another tragedy. However, it seems as though only a few people outside of Michigan know about it.

The song looks at the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes freighter that sank in Lake Superior on November 10th, 1975. In the sinking, all 29 crew members lost their lives.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Lakes at the time and remains the largest ship to have slipped beneath the waves there.

Summing Up Our List Of Michigan Songs

Michigan is full of deep history, incredible beauty, and historic events that no one could forget. It’s especially a great place for people who grew up here or had memories to keep.

Whether you are a native, a visitor, or someone who hasn’t reached the place yet, Michigan deserves the spotlight. We suggest that you include it in one of your must-visit places.

In the meantime, have fun listening to our compilation above. Did we forget your favorite song about Michigan? We hope not.

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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.