From the early days of garage rock to the grunge explosion of the ‘90s, Washington state has had an outsized influence on the sounds of American music.
With iconic independent record labels like Sub Pop and K Records calling Washington home, it’s no surprise The Evergreen State is such fertile artistic grounds. And with so many bands and record labels calling the Pacific Northwest home, there are many songs about the state, too.
The best songs about Washington range from rock to hip-hop to country. Check out our list of highlights for the unique sounds of Washington!
1. “Aurora” by Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl began his infamous music career as the drummer for Seattle grunge legends Nirvana.
But. after the death of Kurt Cobain, Grohl formed the Foo Fighters and, against all odds, began the second half of his career as an alternative rock frontman.
Grohl’s “Aurora,” from the album There Is Nothing Left to Lose, finds the singer grappling with his past while referencing Aurora, a long stretch of highway that runs through Seattle.
The street is gritty, littered with hourly motels and people walking the sidewalk at night. Grohl uses the highway to frame his past, and it feels bittersweet.
Related: Check out our list of songs about Seattle here.
2. “Posse on Broadway” by Sir-Mix-A-Lot
Sir Mix-A-Lot is often associated with the one-hit-wonder category for his massive 1992 hit single “Baby Got Back.” But for those in Washington, he’s recognized as one of the first MCs of ‘80s hip hop to reach fame outside of New York or California.
The rapper’s 1988 single, “Posse on Broadway,” was a minor hit, reaching number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100. But for those living in Seattle, the song is a rap anthem.
Seattle references litter the lyrics as Sir Mix-A-Lot and his Posse bounce around Seattle looking for the hottest spot to party. The single remains a snapshot of pre-grunge Seattle.
3. “Hello Seattle” by Owl City
Owl City is the moniker of electro-pop singer-songwriter Adam Young. Before catapulting to fame with his single “Fireflies,” Young was recording songs on his computer in Minnesota. One of the first of these songs was “Hello Seattle.”
The lyrics are short on references to Washington, which isn’t surprising considering Young’s Midwest upbringing. But the track’s focus on nature and abstract lyricism keep the message open to interpretation, and the constant reference to Seattle is enough to make any local proud.
With Young’s intoxicating synthesizer pulses and mellow vocals, the song’s textures are as bright and beautiful as the sun shining off the Puget Sound.
4. “My Oh My” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Though the team has been long-suffering, everyone in Washington still loves their baseball team. When the Seattle Mariners lost their longtime play-by-play announcer Dave Niehaus, the entire city mourned.
Macklemore is one of the biggest modern names in Seattle music. His experiences growing up listening to the Mariners inspired him to record “My Oh My” after Niehaus’ death.
The song is a touching tribute to the broadcaster’s famous catchphrase and a nostalgic look back at childhood and sports.
Fans of the Mariners will love the actual bits of Niehaus’ play-by-play interspersed throughout the song, but everyone can appreciate the Americana of America’s pastime.
5. “This Place Is a Prison” by The Postal Service
Though singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard has been a fixture in the Washington music scene for decades through his work with alternative rockers Death Cab For Cutie, his mainstream breakthrough came courtesy of his side project, The Postal Service.
Along with electronic musician Dntel, Gibbard’s “This Place Is a Prison” uses the Cascade Range and Puget Sound of Washington to frame his story of someone caught up in an unfulfilling party scene.
It’s a telling song from Gibbard, who several years later would become sober. Within the context of the singer’s struggles with addiction, the song takes on an even more powerful and literal meaning.
6. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Nirvana
Nirvana wrote “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” as a tribute to the Seattle actress and her struggles with mental health issues. Farmer was involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals throughout her life.
Cobain saw parallels between himself and Farmer, especially in how the media treats mental health issues and celebrities. The song’s raw sound and aggressive lyrics belie the pain and suffering of Cobain at this late stage in his career.
A little over a year from the track’s release, Cobain would take his own life. Seattle and the entire world mourned the voice of a generation gone too soon.
7. “Seattle” by Perry Como
Perry Como’s cover of the theme song for Here Come the Brides, “Seattle.” While the TV show takes place in Seattle during the 19th century, the singer cracked the Top 40 in 1969 for his single.
Given the subject theme of the show, the song’s lyrics sidestep modern-day Seattle references – instead opting for celebrating the beauty of The Emerald City.
The song has become a piece of contemporary Seattle lore by serving as the song that the Seattle Sounders FC fans sing before and during halftime of soccer matches.
8. “Sunny in Seattle” by Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton uses Seattle’s notoriously gloomy weather to outline how strong his love is for his partner on the track “Sunny in Seattle.”
The country crooner sings of his loving devotion as never-fading – unless the sun shines in Seattle. It’s a romantic sentiment, just don’t tell Shelton that Seattle gets about 152 days of sun a year!
Regardless of actual weather patterns, the singer means well. For a region dominated by alternative strains of music for decades, it’s refreshing to sing along to a song about the city that features slide guitar.
9. “The Shadow of Seattle” by Marcy Playground
Though they were from the opposite side of the country, alternative rock trio Marcy Playground recorded a tongue-in-cheek salute to grunge, “The Shadow of Seattle,” on their debut album.
The band didn’t expect to become a commercial success associated with the Seattle-centric ‘90s sound when they first began writing. But now they are considered a one-hit-wonder due to the single “Sex and Candy.”
Ironically, the very conformist pop music machine the band criticizes in “Shadow of Seattle” would render their career famously one and done. Not even Marcy Playground could escape grunge in the ‘90s.
10. “Working Titles” by Damien Jurado
Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado has been influencing the indie sound of the Pacific Northwest and beyond for over two decades. His literate lyrics and musical experimentations make him a mercurial figure, and all his trademarks are present on the track “Working Titles.”
Over swells of female doo-wop vocals, the song is an opaquely lyrical view of someone that idolizes a performer, thinking they could never amount to such artistic heights.
By the end of the track, Jurado is singing the words of a letter he received from such a fan – one that asks him about life in Washington. The letters’ author is resigned to never knowing themself.
11. “Thrice All American” by Neko Case
Tacoma is the third-largest city in Washington state, though often overshadowed by nearby Seattle. While grunge put the Pacific Northwest on the map in the ‘90s, bands like The Ventures, The Sonics, and The Fabulous Wailers put rock and roll on the map thirty years earlier.
From Tacoma’s fertile soil came singer-songwriter Neko Case. Her three-decade career spans power-pop and country sounds, with her powerful singing voice enough to excite any genre.
In “Thrice All American,” Case extols the virtues of Tacoma – admitting that it might be a little run down, but the ragged edges make it a place worth singing about.
12. “Belltown Ramble” by Robyn Hitchcock
British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock sounds like a bonafide Seattle Native on his swing folk-pop song “Belltown Ramble.”
The finger-picking style plods along like a walk through town, and anyone visiting Seattle can ditch their map and follow the lyrics of this track to guide them through some of Seattle’s best landmarks and local secrets.
The plaintive piano melody and rambling lyrics are rambling and ramshackle, but with a setting as vibrant as that of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, the journey is the destination.
13. “I Love Seattle” by Tacocat
Tacocat are veterans of the modern Seattle indie-punk scene. Their feminist point of view and irreverent lyrics have made them a slacker-friendly approximation of ‘90s rock. And their bright punk sound is reminiscent of the ‘00s pop-punk bands that broke before them.
On their existential climate change track “I Love Seattle,” the band bemoans the doom of an overheating planet while extolling the virtues of the Pacific Northwest.
Even while Tacocat admits that Washington would be subject to awful effects as well, they still ironically sing of the beauty of their hometown.
14. “Talkin’ Seattle Blues” by Todd Snider
Country-folk singer-songwriter Todd Snider does his best Bob Dylan impression on the track “Talkin’ Seattle Blues.” While Snider’s reference point is set firmly in the ‘60s, the subject matter is a takedown of the way mainstream music co-opted the grunge movement.
Snider’s tale of musical opportunism takes an absurdist tone when the band that strives to become more alternative than the rest begins performing without actually playing!
The “emperor has no clothes” situation highlights the frustration many artists felt as grunge wannabes took over the airwaves and rendered other styles and artists forgotten.
15. “Waitsburg” by Bob Frank
The town of Waitsburg is the smallest on our list, and Bob Frank’s song “Waitsburg” is the least known of the bunch. That doesn’t mean this folk song doesn’t deserve its place among these renowned Washington songs.
Frank’s rambling folk tale finds his finger flying across his guitar’s fretboard like his song’s characters chase women across Washington state.
Though relatively unknown, due to songs as beautifully performed and expertly written as “Waitsburg,” Frank has become a cult figure among singer-songwriters.
Summing Up Our List Of Washington State Songs
When thinking about Washington state, many people imagine grunge, rain, and coffee.
While they’re not entirely wrong, our list of songs shows how varied and artistic The Evergreen State can be.
From vintage to modern hip hop, from garage rock to grunge, from singer-songwriters to country stars, there isn’t just one sound that defines Washington. The music that comes from the region and the music it inspires is as diverse as a state’s geography.
We hope you enjoyed our sonically inspired trip through Washington. Now grab your umbrella and a cup of coffee, and fill your playlists with the sounds of the 42nd state!