10 Of The Best Songs About Portland: City Of Roses Playlist

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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Oregon is a magical place, with plenty of diverse flora and fauna for residents and visitors to enjoy. Portland, the state’s largest city, is equally attractive for its urban charms, with tourists flocking to its rose gardens—hence the nickname.

With its beauty, it is no wonder music artists sing about the City of Roses, from songs of apology to love and loss. Whether you live in Portland or it’s on your travel list, you will need a few songs about the city to keep you company.

In this list, we will go over 10 of the best songs about Portland for you to check out. Let’s get started!

1. “Portland” By The Replacements

American rock band the Replacements didn’t have a ton of mainstream success, but that didn’t stop them from becoming huge influences for the likes of Green Day, Nirvana, and other post-punk musical outfits. 

They were notorious for getting drunk and thrashing and stumbling through their setlist or, worse, playing covers of slow jams and idle country westerns just to piss off hardcore punks at their shows.

In 1987, they played at the Pine Street Theatre in Portland and delivered what would be known as their worst show ever.

The gig was received so poorly that for once in their musical career, the Replacements actually felt an apology was needed, and so they penned “Portland” as an atonement to that late December night in Oregon.

2. “Portland Rain” By Everclear 

One of many bands formed in Portland in the early 1990s, Everclear’s lead singer and founder Art Alexakis was no stranger to teen angst and the power of a good punk song.

Alexakis grew up in Los Angeles in the eighties and struggled with addiction before moving to Portland with his girlfriend to achieve sobriety.

The song “Portland Rain” is an ode to the city as much as it is about losing a partner, as the singer begs for her not to give up on him.

The song boasts Alexakis’s iconic voice partnered perfectly with Everclear’s classic snappy drum beats and bright, resonant guitars.

3. “Everyone Knows Everyone” By The Helio Sequence

While the name belies a nod to a certain bar where everyone knows your name, the Helio Sequence’s homage to Portland is more bittersweet than comforting.

Lead singer Brandon Summers offers listeners a story about wanting to break out of small-town life and into something much bigger. 

The song starts with a simple synth beat but then quickly incorporates a buzzing harmonica that makes the song quirky and idealistic.

The music video showcases the duo casually trotting around downtown, hitting up local record stores and coffee shops, adding to the small-town, cozy vibe. 

4. “Portland, Oregon” By Loretta Lynn & Jack White

While the duo of Loretta Lynn and Jack White may have seemed jarring back in 2004 when they debuted the song “Portland, Oregon,” nearly two decades later, the pairing makes a perfect cocktail of country and rock.

Critical reception deemed the melodic duet a hit despite it never charting on top Billboard lists.

Lynn wrote the music and lyrics several years before meeting White and is supposedly based on a faux love affair cooked up between the country queen and her guitarist, Cal Smith, in an effort to make her wandering-eyed husband jealous.

While we may never know if the song helped her marriage, it did charm the masses and remains a classic Portland love song.

5. “Dream Of The 90s” By Fred Armisen

This list wouldn’t be what it is without talking about the cultural revolution that is the television show Portlandia.

Fred Armisen (who is created as “Jason from LA”) leans heavily on nineties nostalgia, commenting on how Portland is the last great bastion of weirdness and being whoever you want to be. 

The chorus is backed by bopping synths and electronic drums, with a few oohs and aahs thrown in for good measure.

While it was made for a self-referential television show, this song itself is a love letter to the city and its residents, whose ambitions are to do what they want, wear whatever they want, and ride bikes to local coffee shops.

6. “Paul’s Song” By M. Ward

While you can expect most of the songs on this list to be played at your local coffee shop, M. Ward takes it up a notch with “Paul’s Song.”

The Portland native is best known for his solo folksy Americana stylings, along with being the male counterpart to Zooey Deschanel in the band She & Him.

“Paul’s Song” is a warm love letter to Portland, with the singer admitting he’s left his heart in the city.

With a little bit of bluegrass and a little bit of Ward’s soft, silky vocals, the song is best listened to on a balmy summer night in the back of a pickup truck or watching the rain trickle down outside your window.

7. “On The Bus Mall” By The Decemberists

Another Portland homegrown band, the Decemberists, is known for its eclectic brand of indie rock and distinctive vocals.

Nothing if not theatrical, the band often reenacts whimsical versions of historical events on stage, adding another element to the typical concert experience. 

The Decemberists’ take on the classic homage to Portland through their song “On the Bus Mall” takes a specific gander at the local scene by focusing on a group of people coming together at the transit station.

Colin Meloy’s reedy vocals accentuate the flowing ease of the strumming guitar as the drum kit finally comes in halfway through.  

8. “Portland Water” By Michael Hurley

A staple of the folk music scene in the sixties and seventies, Michael Hurley’s casual vibrato and plucky strings lend to an easy, laid-back sound. And this style extends to his song about the City of Roses in “Portland Water.”

As you might have noticed, rain and water seem to be the main themes throughout songs about Portland (perhaps because the city ranks third among US cities with 164 rainy days annually!), and this particular musical endeavor is no exception. 

Hurley’s vocals are bright, and his rhythm bouncy as he sings of the city and, of course, the rain there.

The lyrics are complemented by head-bobbin’, knee-slappin’ percussion, and snappy, twangy strings.

9. “Portland Life” By Cool Nutz

Portland isn’t known for its rap, so it was easy for Cool Nutz to proclaim himself the unofficial hip-hop mayor with his hit “Portland Life.”

Born and raised in the City of Roses, Cool Nutz helped create and sustain the local hip-hop scene. 

He co-founded Jus Family Records and the Portland Oregon Hip-Hop Festival in hopes of attracting more talented rappers to the Portland scene.

His staccato synthesizer and instrumental samples are hallmarks of his musical stylings, as seen in “Portland Life” and other tracks. 

10. “Portland Girl” By John Callahan

Last but not least of the Portland natives, John Callahan was initially a cartoonist before he delved into music and songwriting in 2006.

“Portland Girl,” while slow-paced, is led mainly by the powerful lyrics and unpolished vocals of Callahan.

In it, he searches and longs for a certain woman to be by his side while touring and traveling the streets of Portland, his hometown. He mourns as the shades of color in the city reminds him of his loss.

Possibly the most minimally stylized song on this list, “Portland Girl,” may well be the most gut-wrenching and soulful. Give it a listen so you can decide for yourself.

Summing Up Our List Of Songs About Portland

The City of Roses often gets lumped in with the Seattle Grunge scene or looked at as only for fans of folksy coffee house songs. 

While this isn’t a definitive list, hopefully, this list will kick-start your love for Portland and all the musical styles it offers.

Whether you’ve been to Portland many times or it’s on your bucket list of travel destinations, building the perfect playlist starts here. 

With so much music to discover in almost every genre, especially those admiring and doting on Portland, we might have missed a few.

Let us know if your favorite Portland song wasn’t included, and we’ll add it 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.