The Old North State is one of the oldest in the United States, with a rich history and culture. Much of this culture has been the inspiration for countless beautiful songs in as many genres as you can name. With 10.5 million residents, there’s no shortage of musicians to distill the charm of their home onto a song!
To celebrate this great state, we’ve put together a playlist of what we think are the 21 best songs about North Carolina. Let’s get started
Related: For more, see our list of songs about the US here.
1. “Carolina In My Mind” by James Taylor
Starting strong with a classic, we have the James Taylor ballad “Carolina in My Mind.” The nostalgic track is full of a longing for a visit to the Tarheel State and is often named the unofficial state anthem of North Carolina.
Throughout the song, the narrator talks about leaving for Carolina during a daydream. Thinking about the warm sunshine and the feeling of moonshine going through them, even getting rear-ended by a friend isn’t a worry there.
As the song continues, the yearning grows stronger and stronger. By the end, the narrator states that they can feel the highway calling their name, urging them to drive to North Carolina. The omens continue until the narrator can’t fight it anymore, leaving in the night to go back home.
2. “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show
Next up, Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” is a timeless classic, though many recognize the Darius Rucker version more readily. Still, we’ve put the original on this list to pay homage to a credit that gives the strongest yearning you can imagine.
Through the song “Wagon Wheel,” a narrator talks about their long drive back home to Carolina to see the woman they’re in love with. There’s a variety of things to flee, including the cold in New England and the general ennui of life without his lover and music.
The narrator recounts his journey, from racing the sun and to a long smoke with a trucker spending his days on the road.
By the end of it, the narrator states that he doesn’t care what happens once he gets home. Even if he dies in Raleigh, he’ll at least die free.
3. “Chapel Hill” by Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth’s “Chapel Hill” isn’t the same nostalgic call for home that the first two on our list are. With a handful of references to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, there are a few venomous statements.
Much of the song critiques the city for the now-dead cultural scene. Once a hotbed of music and literature, the scene has passed on to other areas, with the Cat’s Cradle having moved elsewhere.
Though it isn’t quite a love song for the Tarheel State, it’s nice for Chapel Hill veterans to have a song that highlights some of the trademarks of the city!
4. “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” by Ryan Adams
There’s something about North Carolina that makes residents need to return. Such is the case for Ryan Adams in his homesick ballad “Oh, My Sweet Carolina.” Talking about their travels through Texas, Cleveland, and Vegas, the homesick feeling never fades.
Ryan Adams mentions that something in the Carolinas is compelling him to come back home. He’d even settle to be in nearby Kentucky so long as they can feel the winds of the South again.
5. “If the River Was Whiskey” by Charlie Poole
Country music and folksy bluegrass combine on this track for one of the most classic themes in music, alcoholism! Charlie Poole comes through with a song that’s comedic and easy to sing from your porch-front rocking chair.
Wishing the river was whiskey and the narrator was a duck, the singer talks about diving to the bottom and never coming back. They’d settle for a branch made of wine in a pinch, too!
6. “Southbound” by Doc Watson
Few songs show the incredible skill of folk music guitarists better than Doc Watson’s “Southbound.”
Thumbing his way through an intricate and catchy blues toon, Doc Watson sings on traveling back south home.
The narrator pities people who have to call the northern states home, bemoaning his loneliness. Talking about longing to see the hills and not needing riches to enjoy himself, the narrator ends the song by revving his engine and heading back to the South.
7. “Carolina Drama” by The Raconteurs
The Raconteurs come through with a sinister, twisted tale of some family drama over in the Carolinas.
The narrator tells the story of a boy named Billy watching his mother’s boyfriend, a “triple loser,” choke a pastor in his home while his mother sobs hysterically. Realizing the pastor must be his father, he goes in with a glass bottle of milk.
Through the altercation, Billy decides to smash the bottle over the boyfriend’s head, killing him. He discovers that his father has been paying his family’s bills for years, deciding to hide the boyfriend’s body somewhere and drive with his father to Tennessee, ending the drama.
8. “Carolina” by Corey Smith
A much more uplifting song is Corey Smith’s “Carolina,” a love song that takes place during a visit to the Carolinas.
Staying in a cabin outside Spartanburg, the narrator speaks about the love in his partner’s eyes as they enjoyed their vacation, from shouting “Free Bird” lyrics to stumbling home drunk while holding hands.
After blowing all their money, the pair have to starve themselves on the way home since they can’t pay for anything to eat. Thinking about the memories with a smile, the narrator decides they don’t want to let any of the memories fade.
9. “Carolina Calling” by Mipso
Many of the songs about North Carolina are a bluegrass country style, and Mipso’s “Carolina Calling” is one of the best representations of North Carolina.
“Carolina Calling” serves as a nostalgic calling for home after the calls of adulthood have left one leaving their home.
The song follows a narrator who spent the last decade growing older, moving north, and finishing college. Ruminating on the old saying, “you can’t go home again,” the narrator states he can hear a quiet voice calling him back home to Carolina.
10. “Charlotte’s in North Carolina” by Keith Whitley
Keith Whitley comes through with another love song on “Charlotte’s in North Carolina.” It isn’t a geographical mix-up as the narrator watches their lover, Charlotte, leave for North Carolina.
The heartsick song follows the narrator watching Charlotte leave, feeling somber and betrayed on the departure. Saying her last wishes of love were a lie and wallowing in his solitude, it’s a sorrowful track that ends with the narrator hoping his lover is happy wherever she ends up.
11. “Southern Sadness” by American Aquarium
Even when you hate North Carolina, you still love it! “Southern Sadness” shows a boy growing up in Piedmont, swearing he’ll make it out of the state and cursing every streetlight he passes.
As the years go on, he finds that his youth was spent hating it out of angst and nothing more. When he finally “escapes,” the narrator realizes the sadness in his heart as he leaves the place he’s always hated.
By the end, he realizes he won’t feel at home anywhere else and returns with pride.
12. “Crow Jane” by Etta Baker
Etta Baker is one of the most legendary guitarists to come out of North Carolina, and with good reason. “Crow Jane” is a bluesy, complex acoustic track featuring a pair of guitars, all but dancing with each other.
While some versions have lyrics, we’ve included a video of Baker playing the song on her porch.
Though considered a singer, Baker rarely sings on her tracks, believing that her guitar speaks for her instead.
13. “Carolina in the Morning” by Dean Martin
Dean Martin’s name is as recognizable as his soothing voice. “Carolina in the Morning” is a slow track, but far from a long one at only about a minute and a half long.
Through the song, the narrator sings about how lovely it would be to spend his morning with his lover in North Carolina.
Thinking of singing birds, the gentle sun, and all the charm the Tarheel State has for him, it’s an adorable love song in an unreplicable style.
14. “Crop Comes In” by Chatham County Line
What’s more romantic than a payday? “Crop Comes In,” features a narrator discussing his infatuation with a woman who won’t have anything to do with a poor boy and his blues.
Instead, the narrator is told to come back when the crop comes in, and he’s got wealth from the profit.
Still, she laughs at his jokes and enjoys his company, leading him to say the same back to her. Asking how loud a diamond could talk, he tells her to keep her rich girl blues to herself while he finds true love.
By the end, she’s sent off into a loveless marriage after being seduced by a nice diamond ring.
15. “Carolina Low” by The Decemberists
“Carolina Low” has a few different definitions. Some use it to refer to the low country of either Carolina, while others use it to refer only to South Carolina.
Whichever it is, The Decemberists invoke the term with a somber, almost ominous track. The narrator speaks about a deal being ruined by romantic feelings before heading off to the hilltops. Though it’s unclear, it seems that the narrator is off to start a strip mine to find his fortune.
It’s a slightly spiritual, daunting track with a low voice and a quiet guitar. While it takes a specific mood, your playlist would still benefit from this Carolina-focused blues track.
16. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is a classic bluegrass track you’ve almost definitely heard if you’ve spent much time in the South. The track focuses heavily on a fiddle and a banjo for a fast-paced, high-octane country breakdown.
Written in 1949, the track is considered one of the best songs to have introduced American bluegrass to the rest of the world and a wonderful celebration of North Carolina.
Wildly popular even to this day, it’s been covered countless times and played everywhere you can find music.
17. “Heads Carolina, Tails California” by Jo Dee Messina
Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are: you just want to be somewhere else instead. Jo Dee Messina brings this vibe to “Heads Carolina, Tails California.”
Speaking to their lover, the narrator states that they’ve got people they could live with in Boston or that they could go to Des Moines. Overall, it doesn’t matter where they go so long as they can get away from where they are and be together.
The pair decide to flip a coin to decide what side of the nation they’ll land on. All that matters is that it’s somewhere greener or warmer, mountainous or oceanside. Anywhere is better than where they’ve found themselves.
18. “Carolina Moon” by Scotty McCreery
“Carolina Moon” shows a narrator going through their years as they travel the states. Speaking on Memphis and the Gulf of Mexico, the narrator sighs in nostalgia as they think of seeing the moon back in North Carolina.
The narrator asks his friends to make sure that he’s buried in North Carolina when he dies.
He doesn’t want a tombstone, just to be left next to his mother’s grave and to let the wild honeysuckle grow over his grave.
19. “Pretty Girl from Raleigh” by The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers come through with another bluegrass folksy song that features a narrator laughing at an angsty woman from Raleigh.
Through the song, the narrator asks how the woman could’ve gotten so angry in her life, thanking her for keeping him entertained with her problems.
The woman isn’t too pleased with the selfish man, but the narrator shrugs off the critique.
After drinking for seven hours, he considers sympathy to be a waste of his buzz, letting her run off. He insists it doesn’t hurt to have earned her ire, saying he was just killing some time in the first place.
20. “Oh Carolina” by Shaggy
North Carolina isn’t all about bluesy country tracks and bluegrass instrumentation. In the early ‘90s, Shaggy dropped a funky dance tune that invokes the name of the state over and over.
Focusing on watching a woman in the club dance, the song features a catchy drum beat and a vocal style you can’t help but dance to.
It doesn’t quite capture the beauty of the Carolina mountain tops, but it has a place on your playlist to keep you moving!
21. “Traveling From North Carolina” by Paleface
The final entry on our list focuses on a narrator leaving North Carolina to return to the Big City. Heading north through the pines, the narrator watches the city climbing up on the horizon and thinks of wasted time.
The narrator struggles to decide where they want to go, unsure how the years will guide them. Wishing a friend luck as they go where they’d like, the narrator continues his travels and feels good knowing his friend is happy.
With just a crooning voice and an acoustic guitar, the song invokes a feeling of homesickness and ennui. It’s a great track to include on your playlist but might take a certain mood to fully appreciate.
Summing Up Our North Carolina Playlist
The Old North State has remained a favorite for songwriters to focus on for centuries, and so long as it’s still around, that’s unlikely to change.
Whether you’re sentimental about home or want to dance to a rhythm, our list has something focused on the Tarheel State for any mood!
Did we forget your favorite song? Do you have a favorite from our list? Be sure to let us know and we’ll add it in!