10 Best Songs About North Dakota: Peace Garden State Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

The Peace Garden State, home to the Badlands, provides enormous swaths of open, unspoiled space. It’s not the most populous state, but its residents cherish the openness and freedom that North Dakota’s vast skies engender.

While there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of songs about the place, North Dakota has inspired a few artists along the way. And in this post, we’re going to take a look at 10 of the best songs about the Peace Garden State. Let’s get started.

1. “North Dakota” By Tigirlily

Two sisters from Hazen, North Dakota, constitute Tigirlily, an act that started on social media—no record deal, no corporate advertising or support—which knocked Olivia Rodrigo out of the top spot on iTunes’ song sales chart.

“North Dakota” is an ode, unsurprisingly, to North Dakota, and it’s somewhat in the vein (lyrically, at least) of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”

It lists off different types of guys—Southern boys, surfer boys, city boys—and avers that while they’re nice and all, none of them have anything on North Dakota.

The two sisters sing about how the state is the place for them. The Badlands will always be where the place they call home.

2. “I Gotta Gal I Love (In North And South Dakota)” By Frank Sinatra

Not so much about North Dakota, but rather a womanizing cad, this song is vintage Sinatra. While the character seems shady, the aw-shucks bad-boy persona makes him charismatic, even though he’s singing about having girls stashed in all sorts of towns.

Frank Sinatra sings about how he’s been juggling many women but has narrowed it down to two—one from each Dakota.

Remember when pop songs used vocabulary words? This song is certainly an example: Before the man finally gives up trying to decide which one to choose by opting for the girl in Texas, Sinatra rhymes “Dakota” with “iota” and “quota.”

3. “You’ve Never Been To North Dakota” By Brennen Leigh

Singer-songwriter Brennen Leigh infuses this anthem to her home state with wistful longing for the past while praising the sights and sounds of the place.

She spends time in the lyrics calling out specific species of plants and animals for which North Dakota is known before she begins referring to inflation and oil companies. 

The arrival of both has changed life for the narrator (Leigh sings at one point about having lived in North Dakota for 80 years, so she’s singing as a character), who misses the old days when it was quiet and sparsely populated.

The song’s title calls out people who aren’t real Dakotans—if you haven’t experienced these wonderful things about this state, she sings, then you’ve never really been here.

4. “Nellie Kane” By Phish

Vermont rock group Phish has been around as a jam band for a generation, and just a cursory listen to their live work explains why their group’s fan base is so dedicated.

“Nellie Kane” is a fun, upbeat song about a girl from North Dakota. The narrator meets her when she’s a single mom waiting on her man to return. She’s living in a cabin and hires him to help around the place, and soon they’re in love.

When our narrator meets Nellie Kane, he’s a rambling man, but she changes him, and he decides that North Dakota is the place for him. He settles down there and builds a life with Nellie Kane and her son.

5. “North Dakota” By Mako

While this mesmerizing song only mentions the Peace Garden State at the beginning, North Dakota stands throughout the song as a metaphor for freedom, peace, and escape from life’s troubles.

DJ Alex Seaver—better known as MAKO—sings about how places like New York and Los Angeles are just too costly, too filled with past vices, and too much of a tie to past regrets. All he wants is to go to North Dakota, where he feels he’ll be free and whole.

He’s never been to the state (he’s only read about it in a magazine), but he knows it’s the remedy for his ills.

6. “My North Dakota Home” By Lawrence Welk

Two things: Lawrence Welk’s brand of so-called champagne music is pretty cheesy. There’s also something disarmingly appealing in its unironic earnestness.

Welk’s 31-year run as host of his eponymous TV show was wholesome. There were no swiveling hips from Southern rock and rollers, no screaming girls fainting over long-haired Brits. Instead, viewers got fare best described as nice.

As North Dakota’s favorite son (sorry, Josh Duhamel—you’re handsome, but more people know who Welk is), it’s no surprise that Welk would have this ode to the 39th state on his show. 

Like so many songs with place names in their title, “My North Dakota Home” is a song of longing to get back to the place where you’re most comfortable and where your true love waits for you to come to your senses and come back home.

7. “North Dakota” By Lyle Lovett 

Texas-born singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett has a distinctive voice, look, and career. He’s the thinking man’s cowboy, writing songs of wit, poignancy, and introspection. He was also married to Julia Roberts for two years. 

“North Dakota” isn’t the type of song that state officials might one day adopt as the state song, but it is a lovely, sad piece of music. In it, Lovett compares cowboys from Texas and those from North Dakota.

Both groups have their preferred distractions (for the Texans, it’s their guns, and the Dakotans like their whiskey), but what they have in common is that they aren’t at rest when they’re home. 

Instead, if they want to find love, they must cross the border into another country—the Texan cowboys into Mexico, the Dakotans to Canada.

8. “Highway Headin’ South” By Dolly Parton

North Dakotans might take issue with this song appearing on a list of songs about North Dakota, as it doesn’t exactly extol the virtues of the place. Dolly Parton calls the state out specifically, saying that a Southern girl just can’t deal with the cold there.

However, she sings that the state got the best years of her life, and it would seem, from the lyrics, that the only thing she disliked about living there was that it was cold. 

While leaving North Dakota behind, she’s looking forward to the warmth of the South, where she presumably will wish she was back up north come August.

9. “North Dakota Hymn” By James Foley

It’s tough to leave an official state song off a list of songs about a particular state. However, “North Dakota Hymn” is a straightforward piece of music that does what it set out to do: be a song about North Dakota.

And it’s a hymn, meaning it’s written in four-part harmony and would fit right in as part of a church service. 

Poet James Foley met Teddy Roosevelt out in the Badlands, which tells you something about his adventurous nature.

Foley’s wordsmith skills were well-known in his home state, and in 1926, a school official asked him to write a state song. He gave the world a song about how great his home state is. 

10. “North Dakota Boy” By Doc Walker

Now we’ve come to the last song in our list, which is by Doc Walker—a band, not a person (or a doctor) out of Canada. In “North Dakota Boy,” the band tells the sad tale of a North Dakota kid who follows his love to Nashville as she chases fame and fortune. 

He finds himself working odd jobs he hates in a town, feeling alienated, and finally leaves—Nashville and his girl.

And no matter how much he loves her, he apparently loves North Dakota more, as he sings several times that the only way he’ll go back to Nashville is if he’s dead and someone takes his body there.

Summing Up Our Playlist Of North Dakota Songs

Listing ten songs about North Dakota when there are many more than that means we may have left off your favorite.

However, these ten represent a wide variety of styles, and most of them sing about the state with great love for the place.

Which one best encapsulates the place?

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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.