Ohio is often cast aside as a flyover state, a boring midwestern stretch of land with not much to offer. However, Ohio has inspired a myriad of famous songs. Musical artists have immortalized the beauty, strength, and uniqueness of the Buckeye State and its residents.
Whether you’re a citizen of the great state of Ohio or need an Ohio-themed playlist as you drive through, we have the songs for you. Check out the following list of the best songs about Ohio.
1. “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders
First on our list of Ohio songs 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
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.
It also addresses the thin line between achieving the American Dream and the struggle to survive.
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, particularly as it had welcomed the band with an infectious passion that stuck with them.
“Cleveland Rocks” has been covered by several bands throughout the past fifty years, most notably by 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
“Look at Miss Ohio” is the opening track on Gillian Welch’s album Soul Journey. The song tells the coming of age story of a Midwestern beauty queen breaking free from the constraints of a boring traditional life.
The listener follows along as the main character, 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.
“Look at Miss Ohio” 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
The song “Ohio” was released in 2010 by The Black Keys. It is another entry inspired by Akron, where the band formed in 2001.
“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.
“Ohio” 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
Dwight Yoakam’s “South of Cincinnati” is a heartbreaking country song full of longing and regret. It talks about the things left unsaid and true love persevering despite the mistakes and missteps one might make along the way.
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, although 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 because 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 contrasts the home he left for the gloomier life in the Windy City.
7. “Ohio” by Modest Mouse
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.
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 Band is best known for its unique urban blues sound. Their song “Look Out Cleveland” 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
“O-H-I-O” is an iconic ode to the state of Ohio. The Ohio Players, an American funk band from the 70s, are natives of Dayton.
Their song is an upbeat, funky tune full of blaring horns and an entrancing melody.
Indeed, It practically begs you to dance along. It is also unique in that the entire song is only one word, “Ohio,” repeated and occasionally spelled over and over again. Despite that, it delivers a sincere tribute to the state.
10. “Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon
Sun Kil Moon’s beloved song “Carry Me Ohio” is a slow-paced tune carried on the haunting and heavy vocals of lead singer Mark Kozelek.
Both the band and the subject matter of their songs are often about famous boxers from around the world. Kozelek is also from Massillon, Ohio.
“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 were 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
Phil Och describes an idyllic childhood in Ohio in his song “Boy in Ohio.” Despite the fact 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 during the childhood he experienced in Ohio.
12. “Youngstown” by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen tackles the rise and fall of the titular Youngstown, Ohio in his iconic, gravel-voiced style.
The song describes Youngstown’s history and downfall through the eyes of a Vietnam War veteran. Its lyrics explain how the narrator became a factory worker in the Ohio steel mills to support himself until the mill got shut down.
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. The song was written by Neil Young after the Kent State Shootings, during which four university-age students were killed by the National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War.
The song contains evocative imagery about President Nixon and tin soldiers “cutting us down.” It is both a response to the horrible event and its own form of protest against the war.
14. “Ohio is for Lovers” by Hawthorne Heights
Hawthorne Heights were leaders of the emo-punk movement, and its members hailed from Dayton, Ohio.
The song, which became one of their most recognizable releases after featuring on the album The Silence in Black and White, was a sort of love letter to their girlfriends back home in the state.
The song details the struggle of being apart from the person you love, and how hard it is for both parties to go through a separation.
“Ohio is for Lovers” is a bittersweet track, with the singer revealing their heart will always be in the state.
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.
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
Damien Jurado’s song “Ohio” tells the story of a young woman in the big city who wants to “come home.” The lyrics indicate she has been away from Ohio for a long time and longs to see her mother, to hug and kiss her.
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 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
The Seedy Seeds are an indie pop/folk band from Cincinnati. Unsurprisingly, their song “Oh, Cincinnati” is a lovely ode 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, with references to the city’s concrete, imposing towers and apparent lack of charity to the narrator.
19. “Going to Cleveland” by The Mountain Goats
Next up on our list is The Mountain Goats’ song “Going to Cleveland.” Featured in the 1983 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.
John says he’s heading to Cleveland, answering the call of the Cuyahoga Falls.
20. “Escape from Ohio” by Electric Six
Another song that Ohio residents might not enjoy is “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
“In Ohio on Some Steps” is a classic by Limbeck. The song’s simple yet meaningful lyrics and acoustic melody tell the story of a man meeting a woman named Emily.
Emily has tattoos on her arms and tells the narrator she’s from many different cities, 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
Joan Baez tells a riveting story of a love story 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 to be true when the main character Willie murders his beloved on the riverbank. He walks home after midnight lamenting his choices and his anger.
The song has the folksy, acoustic sound and Baez’s signature warbly voice. Despite its less-than-happy 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, with 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
“In Ohio” by Joseph Arthur is a short, 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.
R.E.M’s “Cuyahoga” 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 but rather a reminder that past mistakes are merely a roadmap toward better choices.
Summing Up Our Ohio Songs Playlist
Despite being the butt of many midwestern jokes, 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.