Did you know Wisconsin is the birthplace of famous musicians like Steve Miller, Les Paul, and Liberace? The Badger State has also inspired multiple other lyricists and composers.
While some songs about Wisconsin fondly refer to the state as home, others use this setting to tell a story. Here are some of the best songs about Wisconsin.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
Song Year: 1976
Arguably one of the most famous songs about the Great Lakes, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” tells the story of the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. The ship sank during a storm, causing the death of 29 people.
The song is a homage to the crew and tells the story of how the ship would transfer iron ore from Wisconsin.
“Cadillac Ranch” by Bruce Springsteen
Song Year: 1980
“Cadillac Ranch” is a highly energetic rock track with a memorable saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. In spite of its upbeat rhythm, the song is surprisingly dark.
Cadillac Ranch is a metaphor for the afterlife, and the lyrics describe riding in a black Cadillac to the afterlife.
Wisconsin is briefly mentioned as the setting of this story. The singer has a loved one who lives in Wisconsin and believes she can save him from death. However, the lyrics reveal that the girl died and that a Cadillac took her away.
“What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” by Jerry Lee Lewis
Song Year: 1968
The title of this country-inspired song is a play on the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company slogan, “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.”
Milwaukee has always had a strong brewing industry, and this song refers to the singer’s alcoholism. The lyrics tell the story of how he keeps returning to the bar even though his significant other asks him to stop drinking.
Eventually, the singer finds himself alone and looks back on how alcohol has ruined his life.
“Wisconsin” by Bon Iver
Song Year: 2007
Bon Iver is a folk band from Wisconsin. With “Wisconsin,” the band composed a beautiful ballad that looks back on memories of a loved one.
The singer associates these memories with Wisconsin and sings about how he seems to take this place everywhere with him because of the memories tied to it.
“My Cousin in Milwaukee” by Ella Fitzgerald
Song Year: 1959
“My Cousin in Milwaukee” is an overlooked composition from George and Ira Gershwin for the 1932 musical Pardon My English. Ella Fitzgerald brought this song to light nearly 30 years later with her recording of this tune.
The song features humorous lyrics that explain the singer has a cousin in Milwaukee who is the inspiration behind her singing career, even though she has a squawky voice and a gawky appearance.
“That 70s Song” by Cheap Trick
Song Year: 1999
Released in 1998, That ‘70s Show was a hit sitcom that follows the lives of a group of teens in Point Place, WI.
The first season used the 1973 song “In the Streets” as a theme song. For season two, Cheap Trick recorded a cover of the song with some added lyrics. While the show doesn’t feature the entire song, Cheap Trick wrote some fun lyrics that include references to the show and having a blast in Wisconsin.
“The River in the Pines” by Joan Baez
Song Year: 1965
“The River in the Pines” is a traditional folk song. This 1965 recording from Joan Baez features beautiful guitar playing and the artist’s unique soprano voice.
The song tells the story of a young couple from Wisconsin who falls in love and gets married. However, the husband dies after riding the rapids of the Chippewa River.
The mournful song paints a beautiful picture of young love while telling a traffic story of loss and grief.
“Man From Milwaukee” by Hanson
Song Year: 1997
Hanson is a 90s pop band formed by three brothers. While most people remember Hanson for their hit “MMMBop,” “Man From Milwaukee” illustrates the brothers’ ability to compose a solid rock track and write memorable lyrics.
The song is about a strange encounter with a man who claims to be from Milwaukee. This man can talk to Mars on a walkie-talkie and use more than 10% of his brain. At the end of the song, the narrator is making similar claims and seems to believe in aliens.
“Diamonds on My Windshield” by Tom Waits
Song Year: 1974
“Diamonds on my Windshield” is a jazzy song with a strong bass line that almost feels experimental in its use of spoken words.
The diamonds on the windshield are an image that evokes rain or snow. The song is about a person who wants to get home but needs to stop due to the weather.
The driver encounters a fellow traveler from Wisconsin who misses home but can’t get home because of the winter. The traveler who misses home echoes the overall theme of loneliness that comes back throughout the song.
“A Girl From Wisconsin” by Tim Angsten
Song Year: 2016
“A Girl From Wisconsin” is a fun pop country song about traveling around the country and meeting girls. The singer describes girls from different states and finally decides to settle down for a girl from Wisconsin.
This love song is about picking someone who enjoys a simple lifestyle and who has a true heart. The song also has some fun references to Wisconsin beer, cheese curds, and cold winters.
“Can’t Believe It” by T-Pain
Song Year: 2008
“Can’t Believe It” is a love song from T-Pain with a strong RnB and hip-hop beat. In the lyrics, T-Pain describes his love for a woman and lists different locations where he could be happy with her.
The locations include Wisconsin, Toronto, Costa Rica, and more. It’s a fun song that reflects how true love can bring happiness in any circumstance.
“Around the World” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song Year: 1999
“Around the World” feels representative of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ musical style with a unique blend of rock and rap influences.
It’s a love song about wanting to travel the world with a significant other. Among the many locations mentioned, the singer refers to the woods of Wisconsin as one of the places that evoke North America.
The song is about experiencing life to the fullest and discovering new things. The mention of places like Wisconsin or California might feel familiar to the listeners and create a contrast with faraway places like Bombay.
“Highway 51 Blues” by Bob Dylan
Song Year: 1962
“Highway 51 Blues” is a classic folk song by Bob Dylan. The lyrics are simple, but Dylan’s powerful voice and signature guitar playing make the song memorable.
The song refers to Highway 51, which runs through Wisconsin and Illinois. The narrator is following this route to go visit a girl he loves, but he worries she will reject him.
The singer says he won’t follow Highway 51 anymore if the girl rejects him and that he wants to be buried next to the highway in memory of his love.
“The Gift” by the Velvet Underground
Song Year: 1968
“The Gift” is an experimental song from the Velvet Underground. It’s a short story written by Lou Reed set to a slow rock instrumental.
The story is about a long-distance relationship. The main character decides to mail himself to his girlfriend in Wisconsin as a surprise.
All doesn’t go as planned. The girlfriend struggles with opening the box and stabs it with a knife in frustration, accidentally killing her boyfriend.
In the short story, Wisconsin becomes an image that evokes the geographical and emotional distance between the lovers.
“Juanita” by Burl Ives
Song Year: 2008
“Juanita” is a relaxing pop song with lyrics that tell a story. The singer ends up in Mexico, where he meets a girl named Juanita and asks her to marry him.
He talks about his life in Wisconsin and tries to convince Juanita that she will enjoy his typical American lifestyle in the Midwest.
As the song progresses, we learn that the singer entered Mexico illegally and needs Juanita to marry him to avoid legal repercussions.
“The Ballad of Hard Luck Henry” by Hank Snow
Song Year: 1968
With “The Balled of Hard Luck Henry,” Hank Snow tells a compelling story with the use of spoken words and a slow-paced guitar track.
The song tells the story of a gold prospector called Hard Luck Henry. After looking for gold without any success, his luck finally turns, and he finds a claim and meets a woman.
The woman is from Wisconsin, and she sends him a message so he can write her. Hard Luck Henry finally goes to Wisconsin to see her again but finds that she’s been married for over a year.
“Country Money” by Miranda Lambert
Song Year: 2022
This fun country track from Miranda Lambert celebrates successful women. The song describes different characters who run farming or brewery businesses and make money away from the busy lifestyle of the city.
One of these characters has a farm in Wisconsin where she lives in a luxurious home and spends her money on spacious vehicles. The song celebrates hard work and entrepreneurship.
“Delaware” by Perry Como
Song Year: 1959
“Delaware” is a novelty song from the 1950s, but it’s also a fun song for learning the names of the states. The song mentions 15 different states and each state name is a play on words.
By changing the enunciation, Perry Como finds clever ways to make state names sound like questions and gives each line a double meaning with different answers.
“It’s Your World” by Bob Seger
Song Year: 2014
This track from Bob Seger shares a strong environmental message, and the purpose is to draw attention to climate change and endangered species.
Bob Seger also points the finger at specific industries, like mining in Wisconsin. The lyrics create a direct contrast between mining in Wisconsin and air pollution in Beijing to remind us that environmental issues are universal.
Top Songs About Wisconsin, Final Thoughts
The songs about Wisconsin mention the Badger State as a nostalgic place to call home, like in “The River in the Pines” or Bon Iver’s “Wisconsin,” but it’s also a place that can feel unfamiliar, like in “Man in Milwaukee.”
We hope you enjoyed this selection of songs about America’s Dairyland and found some new music you enjoy or rediscovered some old classics!