Illinois is a state with a rich musical history that has inspired numerous artists to write songs about the cities, people, and landscapes.
Today we're looking at the best songs about Illinois, covering a variety of time periods and musical styles.
1. “Illinois” By Brett Eldredge
Song Year: 2015
This country track honors Illinois. The song celebrates the charm and authenticity of small Midwestern towns, depicting how much beauty is present in their natural surroundings.
With its bright melody and energetic rhythm, the song highlights the warmth of the state. It's a touching dedication, he showcases his appreciation for the values and traditions that define small-town America.
2. “Champaign, Illinois” By Old 97s
Song Year: 2010
The lyrics convey hopelessness and despair in life. It depicts people wasting their time dreaming and working, but, in the end, it all seems futile. The song questions the concept of heaven and suggests that those who live a painful and fearful life may not end up in a better place.
Instead, they will go to Champaign, Illinois, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for a place of mediocrity or a dead-end. The lyrics also touch upon the idea of memories and the role they play in shaping our lives.
Ultimately, the song portrays a sense of resignation and acceptance of life's inevitable end, where judgment awaits us all. Although it's a darker song, many people still enjoy it.
3. “Illinois” By The Everly Brothers
Song Year: 1968
The Everly Brothers' smooth tune brings about a sense of pride and desire to return to the state of Illinois, with Chicago being referred to as the “heart of the nation ” in the lyrics. The song describes the terrain of the land and notable landmarks in a reverential way.
Illinois has always been recognized as one of the country's most significant states due to its pivotal location. It is positioned near raw materials and markets and boasts an extensive network of transportation routes running through it. This song is great to listen to for any proud Illinoisan.
4.”The Giant of Illinois” By The Handsome Family
Song Year: 1998
“The Giant of Illinois” is a poignant and ethereal track by the American alternative country group, The Handsome Family. The song chronicles the life of Robert Wadlow, who was recognized as the tallest person in recorded history. The lyrics are poetic and passionate, portraying Wadlow's existence in a way both striking and mournful.
The instrumentation is characterized by a minimalistic and haunting sound, featuring a sorrowful guitar melody and the evocative harmonies of Brett and Rennie Sparks' vocals. The result is a captivating and moving song and a quaint tribute to a man whose life was truly remarkable.
5. “100 Chicagos” By Lupe Fiasco
Song Year: 2022
Lupe Fiasco's unique blend of socially conscious lyrics and music gets fully displayed in this song. “100 Chicagos” is a poignant track that confronts the social issues and racial disparities that have plagued Chicago for decades.
The artist challenges his listeners to take action and make a difference. Lupe Fiasco's music is a powerful tool for inspiring social change, and many people can appreciate this lyrical talent in this popular song about the tragedies that plague one of the most notable cities in Illinois.
6. “My Kind of Town” By Frank Sinatra
Song Year: 1964
This ballad is a timeless classic that pays homage to Chicago, the city where Sinatra grew up and that he loved his entire life. The song celebrates what it's like to grow up in such an iconic place, and he discusses the fun atmosphere of the city.
With its upbeat melody and Sinatra's iconic voice, the song encapsulates the essence of urban living and the sense of belonging that comes with it. “My Kind of Town” is a renowned jazz standard that continues to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for both fans of Sinatra and those who appreciate the beauty of the city.
7. “Cairo, Illinois” By Pokey LaFarge
Song Year: 2008
“Cairo, Illinois” has a rustic sound with country and blues influences. The intersecting rivers mentioned in the lyrics allude to the 30-mile expanse in Illinois where the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers converge.
Spanning from Alton, Illinois, down to the Kaskaskia River, this territory is famously known as the “American Bottom.” This area boasts a rich geographical history, making it an ideal destination for sightseeing enthusiasts. This beautiful tribute is loved by many that know the area.
8. “Sweet Home Chicago” By Eric Clapton
Song Year: 2004
“Sweet Home Chicago,” a classic blues track with roots in the Delta blues, was originally sung by the legendary Robert Johnson. The song's lyrics elicit a sense of belonging and joy for Chicago residents, as it has become an anthem for the city.
Chicago is known as the birthplace of the Chicago blues, a unique form of blues music derived from earlier forms. Listening to this timeless tune is a must for anyone heading to the Prairie State, as it will put you in a good state of mind and stir feelings of pride for those who call Chicago home.
9. “Chicago” By Sufjan Stevens
Song Year: 2005
“Chicago” has an upbeat tune with an assembly of musical instruments that work together perfectly. The song's lyrics express the singer's desire to return to a place that is both familiar and unfamiliar.
The song speaks of being impetuous and making many mistakes but somehow being alright with it because it engenders growth. This track is widely recognized as a modern classic, and its catchy melody and emotionally charged lyrics have made it a favorite among fans of indie rock and alternative music.
10. “Lake Shore Drive” By Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah
Song Year: 1971
Residents of Illinois often hail this song as a faithful sonic portrayal of downtown Chicago living. It serves as a musical postcard for the renowned lakefront highway that runs through the city. Considered by many as the most stunning drive in the Midwest, the lakefront highway is a landmark worth seeing.
If you happen to be cruising down this highway, add this track to your playlist to enhance your Illinois adventure. Whether you're a local or a tourist, this lively indie song will undoubtedly help you appreciate its beauty.
11. “Moline” By Pearl Jam
Song Year: 2014
“Moline” shares a name with the Illinois town where the band has performed in the past. The song is a tribute to the people and experiences they had in the town, discussing the communal aspect of live music.
Even if you aren't from this city, you can probably relate to the adoration that you can feel in the vocals and the melody. Like many other songs on this list, “Moline” provides insight into how much you can take pride in and love where you're from.
12. “Illinois Blues” By Skip James
Song Year: 1931
This song pays homage to Chicago's blues origins. It also showcases the artistry of Skip James, widely known as one of the genre's most influential performers. James' lyrics exude the nostalgia associated with going home to the Prairie State, making this relaxed melody a fitting inclusion in any playlist that celebrates Illinois.
Whether you're a resident or just passing through, you’ll want to take a moment to listen and admire the musical brilliance of “Illinois Blues.” This song captures the essence of Illinois.
13. “Effington” By Ben Folds
Song Year: 2008
“Effington” is a witty song that serves as a playful critique of life in suburbia and how it's somewhat tedious to live in a small town. Folds uses clever and humorous lyrics to create a vivid portrait of Effington, a fictitious place used to represent the monotony of contemporary society.
The upbeat tempo and catchy melody of “Effington” make it a classic Ben Folds tune, showcasing his signature combination of humor, intelligence, and musical talent.
14. “Dear Chicago” By Ryan Adams
Song Year: 2002
“Dear Chicago” is a heartfelt ballad expressing the feelings of being homesick and longing for a place the singer had to leave behind. The lyrics reflect the singer's memories of Chicago, highlighting the places and people he misses the most.
It creates emotional vulnerability as the singer pours his heart out in a letter-like format to the city. Overall, “Dear Chicago” is a powerful and reflective song that captures the universal human experience of yearning for a home that seems so far away.
15. “Illinois Loyalty” By Marching Illini
Song Year: 1999
“Illinois Loyalty” is a vibrant fight song specifically written for the University of Illinois in the early 1900s. Many artists have performed this song for various occasions over time, including sports events, pep rallies, and more. It's known for its upbeat tempo and cool melody.
The university's marching band, the Marching Illini, often plays the song along with other traditional songs that they use to give the crowd a boost of energy. It gets used to support the school's teams during football games, basketball games, and other events.
16. “Chicago Bound” By Jimmy Rogers
Song Year: 1970
“Chicago Bound” is a blues song that tells the story of a man leaving his hometown and heading to Chicago in search of a better life. The lyrics depict the struggles and hardships that he faces along the way, including poverty and loneliness.
The song features a traditional blues arrangement, with a driving guitar riff, harmonica solos, and Rogers' soulful vocals. “Chicago Bound” is a classic blues tune that captures the spirit of the era and the experiences of many African Americans who migrated from the South to the North in search of work and better quality of life.
17. “65th & Ingleside” By Chance the Rapper
Song Year: 2018
This song is an ode to the artist's relationship with his girlfriend and their shared experiences in Chicago. The lyrics describe the ups and downs of their union and how they support each other.
The beat features a soulful piano sample and a laid-back drum pattern, creating a relaxing and introspective mood. Overall, “65th & Ingleside” is a heartfelt and personal hip-hop track that showcases the artist's ability to create impactful and relatable music.
18. “Johnsburg, Illinois” By Tom Waits
Song Year: 1983
“Johnsburg, Illinois” is a haunting song that tells the story of a man who reflects on his love for a woman. The lyrics showcase small-town life in Illinois, exploring themes of nostalgia, pining, and love.
The artist is so smitten with the young woman that he declares that he can't live without her. Overall, “Johnsburg, Illinois” is a lovely song that many people who have been in relationships where they're head over heels in love with their significant other can relate to.
19. “The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit” By Frank Zappa
Song Year: 1978
For those who relish delving into the darker facets of history, this track is a must-listen. Zappa's inspiration for the song was drawn from the tale of Michael H. Kenyon, an infamous American criminal who was dubbed the “Illinois Enema Bandit” following his conviction for a string of armed robberies and sexual assaults over ten years.
Despite the unsettling subject matter of the lyrics, the Illinois song remains a popular choice among fans. If you're curious to learn more about the grisly side of Illinois' past, this song is worth a listen.
20. “Illinois” By Dan Fogelberg
Song Year: 1974
Dan Fogelberg sings “Illinois” in such a way that you can feel how much he misses his home. The song's lyrics skillfully illustrate the expansive, flat prairies that extend endlessly across the state's terrain.
Illinois is renowned for being the second flattest state in the US, with the Central Plains region covering most of its landmass. Fogelberg personifies Illinois' renowned landscape and tells Illinois that it'll be seeing it again in a longing way.
21. “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” By Sufjan Stevens
Song Year: 2005
The song celebrates Illinois and honors the significant historical personalities whose triumphs have enriched the state's diverse history and culture. One of these figures is George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., the mastermind behind the iconic Ferris Wheel, which debuted as a spectacle at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.
Illinois is home to many architectural marvels that showcase the “prairie” style of design. This quirky song is refreshingly different and highlights important historical milestones in Illinois history in a creative way.
22. “Lookin' Out My Back Door” By Creedence Clearwater Revival
Song Year: 1970
“Lookin' Out My Back Door” is an upbeat and whimsical song mixing country, rock, and psychedelia. The lyrics depict the songwriter's surroundings, describing a surreal and dreamlike landscape, including elephants, tambourines, and a giant doing cartwheels.
Despite its playful tone, the song reflects the cultural and political tensions of the late 60s and early 70s. Overall, “Lookin' Out My Back Door” is a catchy song that captures the spirit of its era.
23. “Take Me Back to Chicago” By Chicago
Song Year: 1977
“Take Me Back to Chicago” is a classic rock song that highlights the essence of the city's vibrant music scene. The song features a lively horn section and a driving beat, reflecting the energy and excitement of the city.
The lyrics speak to the nostalgia of leaving Chicago and the desire to return to the city's rich culture and music. The song discusses Chicago's influential role in the music industry and its reputation as a hub for jazz, blues, and rock and roll.
24. “Via Chicago” By Wilco
Song Year: 1999
“Via Chicago” is a reflective song that takes the listener down a path through memories and emotions. With its distinctive sound, the music creates a dreamy setting that perfectly matches the mood of the lyrics.
The vocals are a mix of sadness and desire as the artist reflects on past experiences and the inevitable changes that come with time. “Via Chicago” is a deeply personal song that speaks to the human experience of struggling with the passage of time, which makes it a memorable song.
25. “Ballad of the Illinois Opry” By REO Speedwagon
Song Year: 1996
This song is a rock anthem with country vibes that narrates the tale of the famous Illinois Opry, a renowned music destination in the state. The song also has classic electric guitar riffs and delightful instrumentals that give it a distinguished sound.
The lyrics showcase the ups and downs of the Illinois Opry, preserving the essence of the venue's past. This track is a tribute to Illinois' musical culture and a love for all kinds of music.
26. “Meet Me in Chicago” By Buddy Guy
Song Year: 2013
“Meet Me in Chicago” is a blues rock song that hones in on the spirit of the city's blues scene.
The lyrics describe a man homesick for Chicago, his hometown, after traveling to California. He urges his partner to return home and reminds her of the love.
The song also references his loneliness in California and how he needs to return home to feel whole again. The lyrics express a strong desire to return to the familiar comforts of home and reunite with loved ones.
27. “Made in the USA” By Lupe Fiasco
Song Year: 2017
This track is notable for its fast-paced delivery, with Fiasco's powerful lyrics aiming at various social and political problems plaguing the U.S. Fiasco calls out the nation's social and economic disparities, corruption in government, and the myth of the unattainable “American dream.”
Though the commentary is heavy, it is very relatable for many people across the country who also view the nation through the lens that Like paints with his words. All in all, “Made in the USA” is an insightful hip-hop anthem that highlights Fiasco's skillful lyricism and social awareness.
Top Songs About Illinois, Final Thoughts
These captivating songs about Illinois offer a diverse musical tribute to the state's history, culture, and people. From the blues to rock, country, and hip-hop, Illinois has inspired many musicians throughout the years.
Whether you're a proud resident of the Prairie State or simply appreciate great music, these songs are a must-listen.
They highlight the essence of life in Illinois and its many facets, from the bustling inner city to the rolling hills of the countryside. So turn up the volume, sit back, and enjoy the sounds of Illinois.