Derby Days: 11 Songs About Kentucky

The Commonwealth of Kentucky.  A curious study in American affection.  Our 15th state.  Why has such a diminutive domain buried in the middle of our vast continent captured such a unique place in the American psyche?  Maybe it’s Kentucky’s distinction as a Commonwealth, one that only four states have.  (Can you name the other three without wikihelp?)  Maybe it’s the natural beauty.  Or maybe it’s just the name Kentucky whose sound hearkens a reverence for time-honored traditions and cherished heritage.  A taste of the old South without all the baggage.

Kentucky is about horse racing, bourbon, bluegrass, and college basketball.  The state even has its own genre of music.  We’ll get to that music thing in a bit.

Naturally, states like California, New York, Texas, and Florida have a distinct advantage with cities that have global cachet, offer warm winters, and beach vacations.

One thing that can be easily argued?  Kentucky definitely plays above its “flyover status” when it comes to musical adulation. Here are our Top 11 songs about (or that at least mention) Kentucky.

11. Run for the Roses – Written by: Dan Fogelberg

Performed by Dan Fogelberg

Corny by today’s standards?  Maybe to the jaded.  Somehow the masterful songwriter Fogelberg has deluded me into believe this has a deeper meaning about a boy’s coming of age.

10. Blue Kentucky Girl – Written by: Johnny Mullins

Performed by Loretta Lynn

Loretta’s voice is the thing of legends here.

9. Kentucky – Written by: Edwin McCain

Performed by Edwin McCain

A deeply soulful self-confessional by McCain.

8. Eight More Miles to Louisville – Written by:  Louis Marshall (Grandpa) Jones

Performed by Jerry Reed

I just love the 1970’s trucking culture that comes through on this.  Grandpa Jones (of Hee-Haw fame) provides the working man lyrics for Jerry Reed (Smokey and the Bandit) to sing in this version.

7. Dead Flowers – Written by:  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Performed by The Rolling Stones

It’s a bit of a reach and there are certainly songs more dedicated to Kentucky than a wayward mention, but I couldn’t resist a Stones entry on this list.

6. Bourbon in Kentucky – Written by:  Ryan Tyndell, Hillary Lindsey, and Gordie Sampson

Performed by Dierks Bentley

Bentley serves homage to the great American spirit that has never been more popular than now.

5. Bowling Green – Written by: Terry Slater and Jacqueline Ertel

Performed by The Everly Brothers

Lucky in Kentucky.  Really?

4. Blue Moon of Kentucky – Written by: Bill Monroe

Covered by Elvis

Rated as the 11th best country music song ever, it served as the B-side to Presley’s 1954 hit “That’s All Right”.

And here, by The Beatles in 1995.

3. Kentucky Woman – Written by: Neil Diamond

No list ever is complete without Neil Diamond.

2. Kentucky Rain – Written by: Eddie Rabbitt and Dick Heard

Can’t Miss Performance – Elvis Presley’s recording from 1970

Elvis returns for this favorite of ours.  Eddie Rabitt’s proclivity for co-writing about rain was better served in 1981 when “I Love a Rainy Night” reached the top of the Hot Country Singles, Billboard Hot 100, and Adult Contemporary Singles as well as the  Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.  Here in 1970, “Kentucky Rain” peaked at number 16 on the pops but is arguably a better work of art.  Recorded at American Sound Studio in Memphis, Ronnie Milsap makes sounds on the piano never heard since in a pop song.

1. My Old Kentucky Home (Good Night) – Written by: Stephen C. Foster

In some ways this song even parallels our evolution as country.  It traces its history back to pre-Civil War.  Written in 1852, its original lyrics were changed (at least for official state functions) in 1986 by Kentucky House Resolution 159 to eliminate a racially insensitive term used in the song.

It has been covered over the years (with varying levels of artistic privilege) by countless artists.  Names like Johnny Cash, Randy Newman, Nappy Roots, and a host of other pre-WWII voices.

To our knowledge, it is the only state song that has an associated state park.

Here’s more history on this tradition.

Can’t Miss Performance – University of Louisville Marching Band, annually at the Kentucky Derby

Every true blooded Kentuckian gets chills watching 165,000 people sing the state song at once against the backdrop of the Twin Spires.

Can’t Miss Performance Bonus- Happy Chandler on University of Kentucky Basketball Senior Day


2 Responses to Derby Days: 11 Songs About Kentucky

  1. Eggs. Ackley says:

    You might want to include “My Only Prayer” by Chris Knight – a western Kentucky boy who sings many songs about the State.


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