Top Ten Songs About Indiana


Abraham Lincoln once referred to Indiana as "the most unpoetic spot on earth", but came to love his childhood home. Indiana is unique among states in that no one is neutral about it--they either love it or hate it. Some people set their feelings about Indiana to music and come up with a rather poignant tune. Here are the top ten songs about Indiana and the artists who sing and/or wrote them.

10) On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away, Paul Dresser

A song in which a jilted lover pines for his deceased girlfriend, this is the official state song. Starting off with a description of the cornfields 'round the homestead, new-mown hay and sycamores, and ending with a stroll through the church cemetery, the singer remembers his childhood lessons in "nature's school". He longs to see both his mother standing in the doorway to greet him and his love, Mary, who thought his feelings were insincere. Dresser, who wrote the song in 1897, was a Terre Haute native who dedicated the song to Mary E. South (a 14-year-old he'd never met), and the song was adopted by the state legislature in 1913--four years before the flag.

9) Back Home Again In Indiana, Ballard McDonald and James F. Hanley

Often mistaken for the official state song since it is sung at the Indianapolis 500, Back Home Again In Indiana borrows heavily from On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away, complete with sycamores and new-mown hay. It also mentions the "moonlight on the Wabash" and longing for home in Indiana. Written in 1917, it is probably the best-known song about Indiana. The song is also played by a steam clock every hour at the Indiana State Museum, and used to open the Little 500 bike race at Indiana University.

8) Indiana Wants Me, R. Dean Taylor

A song about a lover on the run from the law for murder, the singer misses Indiana and his wife. He sings about the crime with "If a man ever needed dyin', he did/ No one had the right to say what he said about you", and laments the fact that he's a fugitive. "Indiana wants me, Lord, I can't go back there" is an often-repeated refrain, and the song ends with the singer surrounded by flashing lights. He asks for forgiveness for the heartache he has put his lover through in a letter, but can only hope it gets to his love.

7) Goin' Back to Indiana, The Jackson Five

Sung by Gary natives The Jackson Five, this upbeat ballad talks about "going back to where I started from" because "that's where my baby's from." The singer talks about the emptiness of Hollywood and the pining for his girlfriend, and celebrates returning to Indiana to be with his girlfriend. The song mentions Theodore Roosevelt High School, as well as Johnny Ray, Tex, Scooter, Lorenzo and T.W. Brown. The song was sung live on the Goin' Back to Indiana TV special in 1971, which Wikipedia reports also featured Bill Cosby, Tommy Smothers, Bobby Darin, Diana Ross, Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, Ben Davidson, Bill Russel, Elgin Baylor, and Elvin Hayes.

6) Pizza King, Wussy

A song about "cruising Muncie, Terre Haute and Valparaiso" and spending time outside Pizza King, a chain of pizza restaurants located mostly in Indiana. The song is about the transient nature of relationships and reflects on summer nights in Indiana. Pizza King is a restaurant no one is neutral toward--people either love it or hate it. Pizza King serves Indianapolis-style pizza, which is St. Louis thin meets New York cheese.

5) Mary Jane's Last Dance, Tom Petty

A song about a man who falls in love with a girl who "grew up tall and she grew up right with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights." She dances with the guy and although she has feelings for him and he for her, it ends in heartbreak. After the unnamed guy's last dance with Mary Jane, she goes to a hotel overlooking the now-gone Market Square Arena, where she watches the pigeons, clad only in her underwear but about to put on a party dress. The song ends with the guy feeling the start of summer and tired of his town.

4) Indiana, The Samples

"I remember the first time I drove through Indiana", the song starts, as the traveler watches the fences fade away. He meets a pretty girl and keeps in touch with her until they both move on. As he continues to drive through Indiana, he remarks "how big this land really is". He sees the fields of grain from the highway and wonders who lives in the farmhouses that sporadically dot Indiana interstates. The refrain "I remember the first time I drove through Indiana" is frequently repeated as the singer takes in his surroundings, finally watching semis haul grain to Colorado.

3) Indiana, Rockapella

On the Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego? album, there is only one state that merits an entire song, and you guessed it--it's Indiana. With references to basketball, family farms, the Indianapolis 500, and even the town of Santa Claus, Indiana is an upbeat a capella doo-wop tune laced with nostalgia. Lyric that sums up the poignant homesickness: "But now the grass and corn and fireflies/ Are just a distant humble paradise."

2) Indianapolis, Indeed, Sandi Patty

If you were born in Indianapolis, you probably grew up listening to this song and feeling proud of every landmark mentioned. The song by former Hoosier State resident Sandi Patty is about being in love in the downtown area, listening to "the bells of St. John's Cathedral", riding a carriage in the snow, hearing "the Symphony sounds in the courtyard", and just being with the person on warm summer nights and Christmas. The chorus claims "No matter where I may go, it's Indy/ That calls me to come home/ To the sights and sounds I have known/ To the race! Union Station!/ The heart of the nation!/ The streets I used to roam!" The song is a bucket list for both visitors to the Circle City as well as residents--"Tasting our way through the Market" and "Strolling down Lockerbie Street" are both well worth doing.

1) Indianapolis, Menudo

This Spanish-language pop song is about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing--the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "33 warriors in their chariots/ Go out into the battlefield/ 33 shiny helmets/ Take command of the wheel." The song's recording features the sound of Indianapolis 500 race car engines. The chorus is "Indianapolis", repeated six times. The song ends with "500 miles to the checkered flag to show the bravery/ 500 miles to the finish line to victory."

Becky Oberg is a professional writer who has lived in Indianapolis on and off for nearly thirty years. She enjoys acting, cooking, playing video games, singing, and writing. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and on her blog, One Woman and a Laptop.

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