Ohio has produced its share of famous people. Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the airplane, grew up in Dayton. Astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong are both Ohioans. The NFL was founded in Canton and is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Believe it or not, even Superman was created in Ohio.
Ohio is the birthplace of many celebrities in the entertainment world as well. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, and the Warner Brothers began film production in Ohio before moving their studio to California. But one of Ohio’s greatest contributions has been to the world of music.
Here is our list of the best songs about Ohio.
1. “Beautiful Ohio” – Henry Burr
One of the earliest recordings about Ohio was written in 1918 by Ballard MacDonald and Mary Earl and sung by Henry Burr. “Beautiful Ohio” became the state’s official song in 1969.
Originally a waltz, the song has been performed by the Ohio State University Marching Band at the inauguration parades of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In 1989, Wilbert McBride rewrote the lyrics to “Beautiful Ohio,” changing the song’s theme from two imaginary lovers to a snapshot of Ohio itself. The updated lyrics mention “golden grain,” “mighty factories,” and “cities rising high,” capturing the vitality of the Buckeye State.
2. “Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Neil Young was so moved by the iconic images in Life Magazine when four students were shot and killed at Kent State that he immediately penned the song, Ohio. With bandmates Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Graham Nash, they recorded the song in a few takes and released it just a couple of weeks after the incident in May 1970.
The song quickly became an anthem for the Vietnam anti-war movement of the time. CSNY would become the icon of the counterculture movement with Ohio. The repeating refrain of “four dead in Ohio” is a haunting reminder of the clash between the National Guard and peaceful student protesters on the Ohio campus.
2. “My City Was Gone” – The Pretenders
Born in Akron, Ohio, Chrissie Hynde founded the rock group The Pretenders in 1978. She wrote “My City Was Gone” about her birthplace. The track released on the band’s breakout album, Learning to Crawl, in 1984.
“My City Was Gone” reflects on returning to your hometown and finding that it is no longer what it used to be. With some lament, Hynde tells of all her past haunts no longer being there, the farms and countryside replaced by shopping malls, and paved parking spaces.
3. “Cleveland Rocks” – Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter wrote “Cleveland Rocks” and released the song on his 1979 album, You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. It became a popular anthem for Cleveland and was the opening theme to native Drew Carey’s sitcom.
Although Hunter wrote the song about Cleveland in response to its reputation as “uncool,” the record label deemed the song too regional to release in the US. The British-born Hunter first recorded the song as “England Rocks” before returning it to its rightful title.
Hunter was awarded the key to the city by the Mayor of Cleveland in ‘79, and the song is still used as a victory anthem for Cleveland sports teams.
4. “Youngstown” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is known for his heartland rock style of music about America’s working class. “Youngstown,” from the 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad, falls into that style of socially conscious narrative “The Boss” is famous for.
The song tells the story of Youngstown, Ohio, over the years. It covers the discovery of iron ore in 1803, and continues through to the rise and fall of the steel industry in the 1970s.
Youngstown manufactured cannon balls used in the Civil War and later tanks and bombs for World War II. The steel mill eventually shut down, leaving its residents forgotten. The lyrics are the history of Youngstown by one of rock’s best storytellers.
5. “Ohio (Come Back to Texas)” – Bowling For Soup
Bowling For Soup is a pop-punk alternative rock band based in Wichita Falls, Texas. They released ‘Ohio (Come Back to Texas) on their 2004 album, Hangover You Don’t Deserve.
The song is about a broken relationship where the singer’s girlfriend meets another man and relocates with him to Ohio. The singer wants her to come back to Texas. The lyrics drop the names of Cleveland icons Drew Carey and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Ohio (Come Back to Texas)” was used to wake up the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2011.
6. “O-H-I-O” – Ohio Players
Originally named the Ohio Untouchables, the band formed in Dayton, Ohio, in 1959. Friction between band members erupted in a fistfight in 1964, resulting in the formation of a new line-up under the name the Ohio Players. The new line-up changed formats to the more R&B-funk sound we hear in the song ‘O-H-I-O’.
Released on their 1977 album Angel, “O-H-I-O” and “Ohio” make up the extent of the lyrics to the funky tune. It is an Ohio Players concert favorite, as the crowd revels in chanting the letters O-H-I-O in unison.
If you’ve ever stayed at the “YMCA,” you know what we’re talking about.
7. “Cuyahoga” – R.E.M.
“Cuyahoga” is a song on R.E.M.’s 1986 album, Lifes Rich Pageant. It is one of the first songs by the band that raises awareness about pollution and our environment. The song references the Cuyahoga River in Ohio and the industrial pollution that caused the body of water to catch on fire on numerous occasions.
The lyrics reflect on a time past when the river was a place to swim, but now “we’ll burn the river down” instead. The lyric refers to the method of lighting the water on fire to get rid of the pollution. The Ohio River was a catalyst to help spur the American public toward the environmental movement in the early 70s.
8. “Burn On” – Randy Newman
Randy Newman’s Sail Away in 1972 includes the song “Burn On,” another song referring to the Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio, which runs through Cleveland into Lake Erie. The river was notorious for catching on fire, most notably in 1952 and 1969. Hence Newman’s refrain, “burn on, big river, burn on.”
The 1989 movie Major League was set in Cleveland and featured Newman’s song “Burn On” over the opening credits. It was the only song about Cleveland the director of the film could think of.
He should have read this list.
9. “Back Home” – The Beach Boys
From their album 15 Big Ones released in 1976, the Beach Boys serenaded Ohio with the song, “Back Home.” It was written thirteen years earlier by Brian Wilson in 1963. It is a far more pastoral take on Ohio than “My City is Gone” or “Cuyahoga.”
In the song, Brian sings about going back home to Ohio for the summer. The lyrics are happy and upbeat, looking forward to visiting the farm, waking up with the roosters, milking the cows, and feeding the horses and chickens.
10. “Ohio Is for Lovers” – Hawthorne Heights
Alternative rock band Hawthorne Heights was formed in Dayton, Ohio, in 2001. They are best known for their 2004 single, “Ohio Is for Lovers” from their debut studio album, The Silence in Black and White.
The song is about having to leave the girlfriends at home while the band hits the road. It feels like they’ve left their hearts in Ohio. The video for the song got so much airplay on MTV that the album would be certified gold.
11. “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” – Randy Newman
Randy Newman appears on the best Ohio songs list for the second time with the much lighter-themed “Dayton, Ohio – 1903.” The song released on his critically-acclaimed 1972 album, Sail Away.
Newman takes us back to a time long ago in Ohio when people still said hello to one another, the “days flowed quietly” and you were invited over for tea “on a lazy Sunday afternoon.” Newman paints Dayton, Ohio at the turn of the century in an inviting way, reminding us that “it’s a real nice place to spend the day.”
12. “Road Outside Columbus” – O.A.R.
In 1997, three friends from Maryland headed off to college at Ohio State University and formed the band O.A.R. Columbus became a second home to them, and the song “Road Outside Columbus” pays homage to a new life in Ohio.
Released on their fifth studio album, In Between Now and Then in 2003, ‘Road Outside Columbus’ is about leaving for college and being away from home for the first time. It is here where you meet new friends and build a second home. Many of O.A.R.’s songs are about their experiences at OSU, solidifying them as one of Ohio’s favorite bands.
13. “Ohio” – Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse is a rock band formed in the Pacific Northwest in 1992. From their 1996 debut album, This Is a Long Drive With Nothing To Think About, Modest Mouse released the song “Ohio,” one of the band’s most popular songs.
The lyrics suggest that Ohio is a metaphor for a broken relationship, a “place flatter than it seems.” As the singer drives a long, lonely road, there is a lament, regret, that “hearts are used up, cracked and dry.” The chorus is the word “Ohio,” repeated over and over, like the repetition of a long drive under the vast Ohio night sky.
14. “Look at Miss Ohio” – Gillian Welch
“Look at Miss Ohio” is a song recorded by Gillian Welch from her 2003 album, Soul Journey. With her partner, guitarist David Rawlings, they create a country bluegrass sound that reflects the Americana that is Ohio.
The lyrics tell the story of Miss Ohio, a pageant queen, an all-American girl who wants “to do right, but not right now.” The slow, twangy delivery of Welch’s vocals captures a certain sadness of wanting more, wanting to escape the expectations of a Midwestern upbringing. It is a beautiful song to listen to when facing a crossroads.
15. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” – The National
The National consists of five members– including two sets of brothers– who were all born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. The song “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is from the indie rock band’s fifth studio album, High Violet.
The deep, gravelly vocals in the song highlight that feeling of sorrowful reflection, a homesickness for a time and place to which you can no longer go back. It also speaks to the era, when America is no longer what it used to be. The economic crisis and hard times are perfectly summarized by the line, “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe.”
16. “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” – John Denver
John Denver is best known for his country-folk classics, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” However, he strikes a note of comedy with “Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio” from his 1975 release, An Evening with John Denver.
Lyrically it is a tongue-in-cheek look at his experience visiting Toledo, Ohio. Denver admits that some Ohioans took offense at some of the imagery of Toledo being void of nightlife, that the only entertainment is at a bakery watching buns rise, and the comparison of the women of Toledo to dogs.
Denver meant no offense, and the song always seemed to entertain crowds across America.
17. “Boy in Ohio” – Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs was an influential singer-songwriter in the 1960s and 1970s, with many of his songs supporting his political activism. His final studio album in 1970 titled, Greatest Hits, contained ten new tracks, including “Boy in Ohio.”
“Boy in Ohio” is a nostalgic look back on Ochs’ life. Playing hooky, going swimming, and picking strawberries are all happy memories for Ochs. When he became grown and found himself traveling all around the country, Ochs reflects that he never had as much fun as when he was “a boy in Ohio.”
18. “Banks of the Ohio” – Olivia Newton-John
“Banks of the Ohio” has been recorded by many artists, dating back to 1927. One of the most popular renditions was by Olivia Newton-John in 1971 for her album If Not for You. It reached number one in Australia and the top ten in the UK.
The song is a so-called murder ballad, seemingly about two lovers contemplating marriage, but ends when one kills the other. Not exactly an uplifting ditty, but the fact that in this version Newton-John is the killer and not the victim is a nod to the women’s movement emerging in the early 1970s.
19. “Cincinnati, Ohio” – Connie Stevens
The song “Cincinnati, Ohio,” written and recorded by Bill Anderson, was beautifully covered by Connie Stevens in 1967 and peaked at number 4 on the country charts. It is still played at Cincinnati Reds home games during the seventh-inning stretch.
The ballad is a love song to Cincinnati. The singer is looking forward to returning home, where her memories and friends await. When you love where you are from, you cannot wait to go back. As Connie sings, “Heaven waits for me I know, in Cincinnati, Ohio.”
20. “Escape From Ohio” – Electric Six
A negative spin on Ohio comes from the rock new-wave band Electric Six. Their song “Escape From Ohio” from the 2009 release, Kill, is all about getting stuck in a state where every city begins with the letter “C.”
When a bus heading for California breaks down, the singer claims he will never feel love until he gets out of Ohio. Asking what is so great about a buckeye, the singer states the only good thing to come out of Ohio is the Akron-born band, Devo.
21. “Hoopes, I Did It Again” – Relient K
Formed in Canton, Ohio in 1998, Relient K is a Christian rock and pop-punk band. Guitarist Matt Hoopes drove a Plymouth Reliant K car, which inspired the name of the group. They were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Rock Gospel album.
“Hoopes I Did It Again,” from their 2003 album Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…but Three Do, is a play on the Britney Spears pop hit. It is a fun song about hanging with friends in Canton and looking for something to do. There is a sense of boredom, a longing to get out of town, and the notion that by doing so, they might just make a difference. However, home is still home, and “it’s not half bad and never less than that.”
22. “Ghost of Ohio” – Andy Black
For those looking for a modern rock feel, Andy Black’s “The Ghost of Ohio” delivers a catchy, melancholy tune reflecting on where life has taken him. The lyrics imply he’s never felt quite like he belonged in his home state. Still, something about it calls to him, and a part of him wonders if there’s a way to fit in there after all.
The Ghost of Ohio is Andy Black’s second solo album and features songs that relay a similar theme of finding your own way in life.