10 Of The Best Songs About Minnesota: North Star State Playlist

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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Minnesota is a quiet state that doesn’t make national headlines often. It’s known for its beautiful lakes, forests, and rivers, but it’s also a hub of business and innovation. Companies like Target, Best Buy, 3M, and General Mills have their headquarters there, and Minnesota is also home to the Mayo Clinic and Mall of America.

Some household names herald from Minnesota, like Winona Ryder, Chris Pratt, and Judy Garland. Two iconic musicians, Prince and Bob Dylan are also Minnesota-born.

They’ve never forgotten the place they call home, paying homage with some of the best songs about Minnesota.

1. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)” by Prince

Prince loved his home state of Minnesota. He was born in Minneapolis and lived in the area until signing with Warner Bros. Records and moving to California at 19.

He returned to Minnesota in the mid-’80s to build Paisley Park Studios, his home, recording studio, and concert venue. It was here that he passed away in 2016 at the age of 57. Paisley Park is now open to the public as a museum.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)” was the second of three songs on Prince’s 1995 EP Gold. Prince wrote and recorded the song in response to Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead.”

Not only does Prince name-drop his birth city in the title and throughout the song, but he also mentions landmarks in Minneapolis such as Lake of the Isles and Minnehaha Creek.

2. “Walls of Red Wing” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was born in the port city of Duluth off Lake Superior and grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range. He dropped out of his first year of college to move to New York City. In 1961 he signed to Columbia Records, releasing his first album in March of the following year.

“Walls of Red Wing” is a folk song about the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing, Minnesota. It’s both a boy’s juvenile correctional facility and a men’s transitional facility.

Dylan’s song focuses on the youth within the facility and comments on the oppressive conditions inside. However, the descriptions are hyperbolic, and it’s unlikely Dylan ever saw the facility before writing the song. 

3. “Good Old Days” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have been working together since 2006 but didn’t truly become household names until the release of “Thrift Shop” in 2012. Macklemore released “Good Old Days” on his 2017 solo album GEMINI.

The song reflects on the early days of his career with the lyrics, “In a small club in Minnesota and the snow outside of First Ave.”

First Avenue is an iconic, intimate concert venue in the heart of Minneapolis. The club has been a launching pad for performers like Prince, Semisonic, and Lizzo. This includes Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who first performed at the club in 2011. Since then, they’ve landed a coveted spot on the First Avenue star wall.

4. “Big River” by Johnny Cash

Unparalleled superstar Johnny Cash released “Big River” as a single in 1958. It stayed on the Billboard country music charts for 14 weeks and peaked at number four.

In 1985 Cash re-released the song with The Highwaymen, a country supergroup that included Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Written and recorded by Johnny Cash, “Big River” is the story of a man who follows his love on a journey down the Mississippi River. Cash tells us that he met her in St. Paul and follows her down to New Orleans.

The Mississippi River is a key natural landmark in Minnesota. The river starts from Lake Itasca in north-central Minnesota and flows through Minneapolis and Saint Paul before continuing south to the Gulf of Mexico.

5. “Duluth” by Trampled By Turtles

Bluegrass folk band Trampled by Turtles named this song for their hometown. Duluth, Minnesota, is a mid-sized city on the shores of Lake Superior.

The song “Duluth” came from their 2008 album, also called Duluth. While Duluth was their fourth studio album, it was the first of their albums to chart, reaching number eight on the US Bluegrass charts.

Many of their songs mention Minnesota, but Duluth is the only Minnesota city getting a song title, not to mention an album title. The song is about a man struggling with commitment and change while reminiscing about home.

6. “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” by Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al is known for his parody songs, but “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” is an original. The song appeared on his 1989 album UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff.

When the song came out, Minnesota’s biggest ball of twine was actually the Guinness Book of World Records holder for biggest ball of twine. 

“The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” tells the story of a family embarking on a three-day road trip to see the twine ball.

Currently holding the record for “largest ball of sisal twine built by a single person,” it sits in the center of Darwin, Minnesota, a small town about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities.

7. “Say Shh” by Atmosphere

“Say Shh” is a hidden track on Atmosphere’s 2003 album “Steven’s Travels.” Atmosphere is a hip-hop duo from Minneapolis consisting of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and producer Ant (Anthony Davis).

In “Say Shh,” Slug muses over his life and upbringing in Minnesota and Minneapolis. He says that while he loves New York and California, nothing quite compares to Minnesota.

He talks about the state’s beauty but doesn’t shy away from the negatives, like too many mosquitoes. The song ends with Slug listing off midwestern cities, many of which are in Minnesota.

8. “Minnesota Girl” by Green Day

Green Day fans may be cocking their heads in confusion at the unfamiliar title. That’s because “Minnesota Girl” was never released on an album. Instead, the song was released for fans on the Green Day website, and sometimes they play the song live. 

The song describes the singer’s relationship with a girl from Minnesota. While the song isn’t specific about where it takes place, the reference to mosquito bites indicates that the singer and his girlfriend are in Minnesota at the time of the song.

The song is likely about lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong’s wife, Adrienne, who is from Minneapolis.

9. “Skyway” by The Replacements

“Skyway” was the penultimate track and fourth single on The Replacements’ 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me. A Minneapolis-based rock band with a bit of a wild reputation, they’ve broken up and gotten back together several times over the decades.

“Skyway” doesn’t mention Minneapolis by name, but the Minneapolis skyway system is the largest in the world at 11 miles.

With the popularity of the skyway in the band’s hometown, it’s not a stretch to assume this Minneapolis skyway is the one in the song.

10. “Minnesota” by Lil Yachty

“Minnesota” was originally a song on Lil Yachty’s 2015 EP Summer Songs EP. The following year he re-released it on his mixtape Lil Boat, this time extending the length and adding vocals from Quavo, Skippa da Flippa, and Young Thug.

The song’s main message is that it’s cold out on the streets, a theme he drives home by repeating, “Cold like Minnesota.” It’s not a bad analogy, as Minnesota is the third coldest state in the US, with statewide temperatures frequently below zero for a good chunk of the winter. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota was -60°F.

Summing Up Our List Of Minnesota Songs

That’s it for our list of songs written about Minnesota. We hope you enjoyed reading and listening to it.

Minnesota may not have the clout of California or New York, but it stays in the hearts of those that grow up or visit there.

Artists from Minnesota love to talk about their home state. Their genuine lyrics serve as timeless reminders of what Minnesota means to each of them and others who’ve had the chance to experience the Gopher State.

Did we miss any songs off this list that you think should be on? 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.