The “Badger State” of Wisconsin has inspired country songs, rock songs, marches, and romantic ballads for over 100 years with themes about Milwaukee booze and the interesting people you’ll meet.
Wisconsin is arguably best known for the city of Milwaukee, a.k.a. “The Beer Capital of the World,” and home to the Miller Brewing Company.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at ten of the best songs about Wisconsin for when you’re next visiting the state yourself. Let’s get started.
1. “Wisconsin” by Bon Iver
“Wisconsin” is the “secret” bonus track of Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago.
Iver recorded most of For Emma, Forever Ago during a three-month getaway at a secluded cabin in west Wisconsin. He had no intent on writing or recording any music during his trip, but the music came to him anyways.
“Wisconsin” is about love and loneliness as the singer reflects on the past and an old relationship symbolized by the state.
By the end of the song, the singer has nothing but memories of the places he’s been.
2. “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Fool Out of Me)” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Fool Out of Me)” by Jerry Lee Lewis is a slow-paced country song about being drunk and heartbroken.
The drunken “hero” of the song keeps returning to the bar his love is at until she finally has enough and leaves.
The song’s title is a nod to Schlitz beer, labeled “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.”
This meaning implies the singer ruined his relationship while intoxicated. Rod Stewart released a cover of “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous” in 1972 that was incredibly popular in Europe.
3. “On, Wisconsin” by William T. Purdy
“On, Wisconsin” is the official state song of Wisconsin and the fight song of the University of Wisconsin.
Songwriter William T. Purdy originally composed it for the state of Minnesota, but lyricist Carl Beck convinced him to make it about his home state instead.
The phrase “On, Wisconsin” was first cried out during the Battle of Chattanooga by Lt. General Arthur MacArthur Jr.
“On, Wisconsin” has been rewritten and revised for over 100 years and it is considered by legendary composer John Philip Sousa, aka the “King of Marches,” to be the “finest of college marching songs.”
4. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
One of Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest hits, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” tells the story of one of the Midwest’s most famous shipwrecks.
In 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald left a Wisconsin port and tragically sank into the depths of Lake Superior.
Nicknamed “The Pride of the American Flag,” the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes at the time.
Lightfoot was emotionally distraught over the news of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and was surprised to see how few people cared. He used every piece of news he could gather to piece together the story for his song.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s charts and was nominated for the Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards.
5. “Milwaukee, Here I Come” by George Jones and Brenda Carter
A duet for the ages, “Milwaukee, Here I Come” by George Jones and Brenda Carter is an upbeat number that soared across the country charts in 1968.
The song was written by Lee Fykes and originally recorded by George Jones and Brenda Carter, though Jones eventually ditched Carter for his wife Tammy Wynette in later performances.
The song is about hitting the highway for Milwaukee and getting excited about all the things to do in the wild city.
“Milwaukee, Here I Come” has received covers by Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, John Prine, Melba Montgomery, and Iris DeMent.
6. “My Cousin in Milwaukee” by Ella Fitzgerald
“My Cousin in Milwaukee” by Ella Fitzgerald is an upbeat musical number about a spectacular cousin who lives in Milwaukee and teaches the singer everything she’d want to know about music.
This cousin has dozens of men at her feet and a unique singing voice that’ll give you goosebumps.
The song was originally written for Ira and George Gershwin’s 1933 musical Pardon My English.
The musical took a satirical take on the US Prohibition but wasn’t very popular at the time.
Ella Fitzgerald recorded her more popular version of “My Cousin in Milwaukee” in 1959 for the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook.
7. “Man From Milwaukee” by Hanson
“Man From Milwaukee” is a power-pop song from Hanson’s debut album, Middle of Nowhere.
The song describes an alien encounter in Wisconsin. The singer questions the incident, but knowing they aren’t getting abducted, they stay next to this alien and hear what he has to say.
Interestingly, the band Hanson was signed by a Mercury Records representative after a performance at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee.
Middle of Nowhere was written, recorded, and released in the year following this incident. This is pure speculation, but it’s likely the alienlike “man from Milwaukee” may refer to their label rep.
8. “Alcohol” by Brad Paisley
Many country songs are about alcohol and other intoxicants, but Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol” takes this up a notch.
This song is told entirely from the perspective of the alcoholic beverage, bragging about all the ways it’ll make you feel and all the things it can help you do.
This specific alcoholic beverage hails from Milwaukee, the “Beer Capital of the World.”
The chorus of the song is just the word “alcohol” catchily repeated over and over again.
“Alcohol” reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and is very popular in Wisconsin bars.
9. “Milwaukee” by The Both
The musical duo Aimee Mann and Ted Leo recorded the indie rock song “Milwaukee” about how the two artists first decided to start working together.
The song follows the two singers on a walk across Milwaukee when they both feel inspiration burning within their very cells.
Leo revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that they specifically were inspired by a riverfront statue of Arthur Fonzerelli, a.k.a. “The Fonz.”
The two decided to form a band then and there to immortalize the feeling the Fonz planted inside them.
10. “Jump Around” by House of Pain
Though “Jump Around” by House of Pain was not written to be about Wisconsin, the song has developed a strong connection to the state.
According to Wisconsin folklore, the University of Wisconsin’s tight end football player had to sit a game out due to a serious injury in 1999.
The player was tasked with creating a music playlist for the game. He randomly selected “Jump Around,” which caused the stadium to erupt in cheering, dancing, and positive vibes.
“Jump Around” was used at nearly every University of Wisconsin football event after 1999 until House of Pain sent the school a cease-and-desist letter in 2022.
Though it was never the band’s intent, “Jump Around” has come to symbolize the celebratory attitude of Wisconsin for countess residents.
Summing Up Our List Of Wisconsin Songs
Ask anyone the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the state of Wisconsin, and they will likely tell you one of two things: cheese or beer.
But America’s Dairyland is a beautiful state filled with incredible people and history.
The scenery, residents, and local attractions the state of Wisconsin has to offer have inspired countless songs across all genres of music.
This list of top 10 songs written about Wisconsin embodies the wonders of this Midwest state. Close your eyes, relax, and let the music take you away.