25 Of The Best Songs About Ohio: The Buckeye State Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Ohio is often cast aside as a flyover state, a boring midwestern stretch of land with not much to offer. But people who grew up or who have been there know better.

And musicians do, too. In fact, Ohio has inspired a myriad of famous songs, as you will see below. Musical artists have immortalized the beauty, strength, and uniqueness of the Buckeye State and its residents. That attests to the misconceptions associated with Ohio.

If you want to know more about this great state, look no further. We give you 25 of the best songs about Ohio. Enjoy reading!

1. “My City Was Gone” By The Pretenders

First on our list is the iconic “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders. It centers on Akron, Ohio, the hometown of lead singer Chrissie Hynde.

The song is both a lament and a call to action. It describes Hynde’s growing concerns about environmental and social issues.

“My City was Gone” follows the singer as she returns to her childhood home, only to find that the beautiful world she remembers in Akron has been destroyed by development.

Several Akron locations get a mention throughout the lyrics, most notably South Howard Street and Cuyahoga Falls.

2. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” By The National

Songs about a certain place usually pay tribute to it, to the wonderful memories it holds. The National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a song about lead singer Matt Berninger’s hometown of Cincinnati.

Its lyrics center on a fond, drunken memory of how, despite moving away to pursue his dreams, Ohio will always be in his blood. It is an ode to the past versions of oneself.

“Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a mixture of nostalgia and homesickness. It appropriately describes the feeling of being away from a place long held dear and the unbreakable connections one will always have to their roots.

3. “Cleveland Rocks” By Ian Hunter

Perhaps one of the most evocative songs inspired by Ohio is Ian Hunter’s “Cleveland Rocks.” The song was introduced in the late 1970s during the golden age of rock n’ roll. Since then, the city of Cleveland has embraced it as a de facto theme song.

The song addresses its unfair reputation as an “uncool” place. Hunter held great affection for Cleveland. It welcomed the band with an infectious passion that stuck with them.

“Cleveland Rocks” has been covered by several bands throughout the past fifty years. The most notable was the rock band The Presidents of the United States of America.

The Drew Carey Show, produced in Cleveland from 1995 to 2004, also used the song as its opening theme.

4. “Look At Miss Ohio” By Gillian Welch

Our next song is one that mentions “Ohio” and looks at a beauty queen’s experience. “Look at Miss Ohio” is the opening track on Gillian Welch’s album Soul Journey. The song tells the story of this woman breaking free from a boring traditional life.

The listener follows along as Miss Ohio pursues adventure outside of the regimented life she has lived. She feels suffocated by her ex-boyfriend and her mother, who has been pushing marriage on her.

The lyrics suggest Miss Ohio wants to do what is expected of her. But she needs to fulfill her need for adventure first. As a result, she runs away to Atlanta.

The song does not have a concrete ending. Instead, it is left open-ended. The listener gets to imagine what will happen to her and whether she returns home to marry her high school sweetheart or pursues a different life.

5. “Ohio” By The Black Keys

When you think of songs with “Ohio” in the title, you probably think of “Ohio,” released in 2010 by The Black Keys. It is another entry inspired by Akron, where the band formed nine years prior.

“Ohio” describes the homesickness the singer feels for the place he loves most. He sings that no matter what town he is in, he is always thinking of going home.

The song has the band’s signature bluesy feel, with a heavy bass line you feel in your chest. The lyrics are as poignant and gritty as the melody.

The song is both a testament to hometown roots and a heartfelt description of the feeling you get when you’re away from home for too long.

Although you may find happiness and joy outside of the place you’re from, home calls to you. After all, it is a refuge where you can unwind and relax.

6. “South Of Cincinnati” By Dwight Yoakam

Up next is a heartbreaking country song full of longing and regret. Dwight Yoakam’s “South of Cincinnati” talks about the things left unsaid.

In the song, a woman reads a letter she keeps hidden away in her Bible. The 14-year-old note is meant for the man she loved long ago. Her pride won’t allow her to send it to him. In the letter, she tells the man that if he ever comes back home, she will be his again.

As the song progresses, the listener discovers the man in question is an alcoholic living in Chicago. Yoakam tells us that it doesn’t matter whether he’s drunk or sober. His long-ago sweetheart won’t ever send the letter he needs to read.

The lyrics reference dogwood trees, which thrive in Ohio, and fondly contrast the home he left for the gloomier life in the Windy City.

7. “Ohio” By Modest Mouse

Next on our list is another song with “Ohio” in the lyrics. In typical Modest Mouse fashion, “Ohio” is packed with imagery. It is both a mournful lament to a lonely Ohio landscape and a danceable, jerky, punk rock anthem.

“Ohio” describes the singer or main character reflecting on choices that they’ve made while driving through the night on a flat Ohio road. At some point, the song could be about a broken relationship.

The unique, unstable indie rock sound contrasts with the haunting imagery, giving this song a unique take on the state.

8. “Look Out Cleveland” By The Band

The Canadian-American rock band The Band is best known for its unique urban blues sound. Their song “Look Out Cleveland,” released in 1969, combines this achy sound with impressive piano riffs and energetic, grungy toughness.

“Look Out Cleveland” describes a monstrous storm that rolls through the city. Its lyrics suggest the storm in question is a tornado.

The song also talks about the equality of a dangerous storm. No one is targeted, and yet no one is safe. Everyone, regardless of status or wealth, is subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

9. “O-H-I-O” By Ohio Players

Formed in Dayton, Ohio, the Ohio Players were an American funk band from the 70s. Their 1977 single, “O-H-I-O,” is an iconic ode to the state.

This song features upbeat, funky music full of blaring horns and an entrancing melody. Indeed, it practically begs you to dance along.

It is also unique in that in more than three minutes of playtime, the entire song consists of only one word, “Ohio.” This is repeated and occasionally spelled over and over again. Despite the lyrics, it delivers a sincere tribute to the state.

10. “Carry Me Ohio” By Sun Kil Moon

Both the band Sun Kil Moon and their songs are often about famous boxers from around the world. But their beloved song “Carry Me Ohio” is a departure from that.

“Carry Me Ohio” is a sad but moving song about the inability to love someone back. Its lyrics describe the singer’s youthful relationship with a girl whose affections are greater than his.

Despite his unwillingness to love her and stay in Ohio, where she grows old, he thinks about her constantly. However, it’s too late.

The song has also been interpreted as an ode to the feeling of missing or not appreciating what you had until it’s gone.

11. “Boy In Ohio” By Phil Ochs

Our next song proves that you don’t have to come from a certain place to be able to write a song about it. Phil Ochs describes an idyllic childhood in Ohio in his song “Boy in Ohio.” Though Ochs was born in Texas, his classic American folk song is filled with authentic, beautiful imagery.

The song opens with a burst of nostalgic harmonica and Och’s signature, Bob Dylan-esque warble. He sings about happy memories from childhood to when he left home as a young adult.

Indeed, it ends with a poignant line that affirms Ochs has never had as much fun as the childhood he experienced in Ohio.

12. “Youngstown” By Bruce Springsteen

Our next song by Bruce Springsteen tackles the rise and fall of Youngstown, Ohio in his iconic, gravel-voiced style. “Youngstown” describes its history and downfall through the eyes of a Vietnam War veteran.

The lyrics explain how the narrator became a factory worker in the Ohio steel mills to support himself and his family.

His father was also a soldier in his day. He related how the mills created “the tanks and bombs that won this country’s wars.”

This is a poignant song delving into what happens when the world changes and the lifeblood of an entire community gets left to flounder.

13. “Ohio” By Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Another sad, mournful song is “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Released in 1971, the song came from the band’s album 4 Way Street.

The song was written by band member Neil Young after the Kent State Shootings. Four university-age students were killed by the National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War.

A line in the song says, “We’re finally on our own,” reflecting the singer’s disappointment over the event. The song also contains evocative imagery about President Nixon and tin soldiers “cutting us down.”

“Ohio” is both a response to the horrible event and the group’s own form of protest against the war.

14. “Ohio Is For Lovers” By Hawthorne Heights

Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, Hawthorne Heights were some of the leaders of the emo-punk movement. “Ohio is for Lovers” became one of their most recognizable releases after featuring on the album The Silence in Black and White.

The song is sort of a love letter to their girlfriends back home in the state. Around this time, the band members were away from their girlfriends and families. The girls were complaining that the men were not with them in Ohio.

“Ohio is for Lovers” is a bittersweet track, with the singer revealing their heart will always be in that place.

15. “Saturday Night In Toledo, Ohio” By John Denver

Few artists have the kind, compassionate heart and supreme talent of John Denver. His song “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” is a humorous and satirical take on the town of Toledo.

The lyrics describe a boring place full of less-than-attractive people. According to the singer, he knows about the place because he spent one week in the town.

When it was released in 1975, many Toledo residents, including Mayor Harry Kessler, were not thrilled by the song’s content.

However, it remains to this day a cheerful and funny song that, when not taken too seriously, is a great listen.

16. “Ohio” By Damien Jurado

One of the things you’ll love from songs is their ability to tell a tale in such a memorable way. It’s storytelling time with Damien Jurado’s song “Ohio,” released in 1999 from his album Rehearsals for Departure.

“Ohio” tells the story of a young woman in the big city who wants to “come home.” At the start, the singer describes seeing her hailing a taxi. They strike up a conversation, during which he finds out that she has been away from Ohio for a long time. She longs to see her mother, whom she hadn’t seen “in ages.”

In the end, we find out that the narrator is the young woman’s lover who is sad to see her go. He wants her to stay, but he knows she does not belong with him. She belongs in Ohio.

17. “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” By Randy Newman

A nostalgic ode to the “good ole days,” Randy Newman’s “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” is a sweet and sentimental song. It was included in Newman’s 1972 Sail Away album.

“Dayton, Ohio – 1903” is a wistful tune reflecting on how polite and approachable people used to be. It recalls neighbors stopping by to say hello and taking lazy walks with one another on Sunday afternoons.

Besides people, Newman laments how the past had clean air and thriving nature. The song ends with the narrator expressing a desire to experience a moment back in 1903.

18. “Oh, Cincinnati” By The Seedy Seeds

Up next is another ode to one’s birthplace. The Seedy Seeds are an indie pop/folk band from Cincinnati. Unsurprisingly, their song “Oh, Cincinnati” is a lovely tribute to their hometown.

It describes the city’s hills and calls out city locations such as “the market on Findlay Street.”

Still, despite its upbeat tune, there is an underlying realism to the lyrics. The band references the hills as reinforced by concrete. The song also mentions the imposing tower that “towers over me” and cast its shadows on the streets below. Finally, the singer laments never knowing the town’s charity.

19. “Going To Cleveland” By The Mountain Goats

Next on our list is The Mountain Goats‘ song “Going to Cleveland.” Featured in the 1993 album Transmissions to Horace, this is one of the band’s archetypal songs.

An aggressive acoustic guitar carries the melody, while lead singer John Darnielle’s smooth voice paints a vivid picture for the listener.

The song describes John and his romantic partner breaking up. Both parties know they want to leave the other, and it’s only a matter of who goes first. However, the girl doesn’t want to say she wants to leave for fear of hurting him. John says he’s heading to Cleveland, answering the call of the Cuyahoga Falls.

20. “Escape From Ohio” By Electric Six

Unlike some of the songs on this list that pay homage to Ohio, here’s one that outlines things the singer hates about the state. Not surprising that Ohio residents might not enjoy “Escape from Ohio” by the rock band Electric Six. It was released in 2009 on the album Kill.

The song tells the story of a group of people traveling by bus to California. Their bus breaks down in Ohio in the middle of a rural, backcountry road next to a cow field.

The rest of the song is a lament about how they have to escape the dreary boredom of Ohio because it isn’t their scene.

21. “In Ohio On Some Steps” By Limbeck

Moving down the list is “In Ohio on Some Steps,” a classic by the American rock band Limbeck. The song’s simple yet meaningful lyrics and acoustic melody tell the story of a man meeting a woman named Emily.

In the song, the narrator describes one great night in Ohio when he’s trying to talk to Emily. This woman has tattoos on her arms and tells him she’s from many different cities. First, Virginia, and then Milwaukee. But now she considers herself from Ohio.

This quirky song speaks to an unforgettable, if chaotic, night. It was released in 2003 on Limbeck’s Hi, Everything’s Great album.

22. “Banks Of The Ohio” By Joan Baez

American singer-songwriter Joan Baez tells a riveting story of love with a violent end in “Banks of the Ohio.” The song follows a man named Willie who asks his lover to accompany him on a walk by the Ohio River.

She declines his marriage proposal, although no lyrics spell this out. Rather, the listener understands this when Willie murders his beloved on the riverbank. He walks home after midnight lamenting his decision and his anger.

The song has a folksy, acoustic sound and Baez’s signature warbly voice. Despite the sad story, it has haunting, well-written lyrics with a melody evocative of the Midwest.

23. “Back Home” By The Beach Boys

When you think of The Beach Boys, your thoughts likely don’t turn to Ohio. Yet, their 1963 track “Back Home” was inspired by the Buckeye State.

The original unreleased version of the song is typical of the Beach Boys. It had an upbeat melody and a positive sound. Its lyrics express a longing to go home to Ohio and spend a summer with friends.

Later iterations of “Back Home” have a marked shift in tone, with a raspier sound that isn’t as evocative of the surf-rock genre the band was famous for.

24. “In Ohio” By Joseph Arthur

Being the shortest song on our list, “In Ohio” by Joseph Arthur is a 47-second song. Arthur’s haunting voice soars over low, plucky guitar strings. The result is a haunting but sweet love song about waiting for the person who won’t return your affections.

This song brings a salty-sweet feeling to the back of your throat. It is partially a lovely promise that someone is waiting for you.

However, its more solemn lines reveal to the listener that they know waiting will be frustrating and fruitless. The person they love will never be with them in Ohio.

25. “Cuyahoga” By R.E.M.

Ending our list is R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga.” It is an environmental anthem written in response to both the pollution of the river and the treatment of the Native American tribes who once lived there.

Cuyahoga is the river Cleveland is built around. Throughout history, it has been so frequently polluted that it has been intentionally and unintentionally set on fire.

The song is an anthem to do better. It tackles grim and serious topics while sprinkling in notes of optimism. Yet “Cuyahoga” is not about tragedy and desperation. Rather, it is a reminder that past mistakes are merely a roadmap toward better choices.

Summing Up Our List Of Ohio Songs

Ohio may be the butt of many midwestern jokes. But just like any other state, no place is perfect.

As these songs show, Ohio is a beautiful state that many musical artists are inspired by. From social justice and environmental anthems to love songs, Ohio has been the inspiration for a rich, diverse, and lyrical sound.

If you’re an Ohio local or want to visit this state, we encourage you to listen to the songs on our list. Hopefully, they will make you fall in love with Ohio and its people.

Photo of author

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.