It’s true that singers and songwriters are often inspired by the big city lights. New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville are the frequent subject matter of many hit singles in various genres.
But the Midwest states also inspire lyrical content for writers – especially if it’s their hometown. Nebraska has several tunes that paint it in a complimentary light by folk and country musicians as well as pop artists. Lines about sports, the serenity of nature, and the peacefulness of the prairie dominate these songs.
Read on as we take a look at 10 of the best songs about Nebraska that you may not be familiar with. After hearing them, you might be tempted to pay the Cornhusker State a visit!
1. “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen
Arguably the most famous song about the state of Nebraska, legend Bruce Springsteen leaves his typical rock sound behind in favor of folk and country roots with his song “Nebraska.”
A dark ballad that’s typical of songs from his sixth album, “Nebraska,” is all about murder in the Midwest. He released many of the songs from this album as demos, intending to eventually record with the E-Street Band, but he instead opted to release them in their sparse format as they were.
This gives the title track a solemn and more intimate feel, commensurating with the “meanness in the world,” which is the theme of this song.
2. “Beautiful Nebraska” by Jim Fras and Guy G. Miller
The official state song of Nebraska, titled “Beautiful Nebraska,” is a song that’s full of hope, gratitude, and optimism. It’s no surprise when you realize its composer, Jim Fras, was a Russian refugee who fled a life of Soviet hardship to settle on the prairie. After what he went through, the simplicity and welcoming warmth of the Midwest must have been a peaceful relief.
Like most state songs, “Beautiful Nebraska” touts the beauty of the place. Mentions of rivers, valleys, prairie, and even a rainbow illuminate the land “by the Master’s hand.” The fullness of the lyrics and accompanying chords inspire pride in all of the state’s natural offerings.
Though Fras died in 2002, this song lives on, still taught in local schools and widely sung at sporting events. It remains iconic to the statehood, with multiple recorded versions available.
3. “Omaha” by Counting Crows
Next, we have “Omaha” by Counting Crows, which is a song from the band’s 1993 debut album, August and Everything After.
The hard-driving rhythm, fiddle, and accordion combine to create a thoroughly folksy sound as the narrator sings of a rough life of farming and getting by “somewhere in middle America.” The hint of love among the fields is the only splash of hope in this otherwise bleak picture of prairie life.
4. “Nebraska Sunrise” by Buddy Knox
A rambling country ballad, “Nebraska Sunrise,” was actually written by a Texan. Buddy Knox grew up in a farming community before launching his career in early rockabilly music, with hits like “Party Doll” and “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself.”
This tune is full of all the local references a Nebraskan could want, including specific locations as well as the encroaching threat of government policies onto the stillness of the landscape.
5. “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” by Harry Pecha
If you grew up a Husker or attended any of the games, you’ve most likely heard this song “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” by Harry Pecha.
It’s the fight song of Nebraska, complete with heavy brass cheers, and clapping for a high-energy sports march.
Also called “Hail Varsity,” it’s often played after a touchdown for an extra kick of celebration towards the “men of Nebraska U.”
6. “You and I” by Lady Gaga
This song’s inclusion might be a little surprising. After all, Gaga is a huge star, more accustomed to the glamor of New York City and Hollywood than the humility of the Midwest.
However, her song “You and I” makes the list for its lyrical content. In the story, the singer tells of a “cool Nebraska guy” she fell in love with.
Her return to the town he lives in is filled with memories and associations of Midwestern life, such as muscle cars, whiskey, the guitar he played for her, and moments of sitting at his bar keeping him company in her high heels.
Off her 2011 album, Born This Way, “You and I” is a staple of the superstar’s repertoire. A departure from her early dance-pop hits, this rock-tinged tune even won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance.
7. “Omaha, Nebraska” by Groucho Marx
This lovely tune “Omaha, Nebraska” by Groucho Marx has sustained for decades, all the way since its inception in 1951.
In the lyrics, the narrator sings a hopeful message to his girlfriend about a peaceful life in Omaha, where “the best things in life are free.”
A poignant string accompaniment and vigorous barbershop quartet back up the soloist in this sweet ditty, perfect for when you want an old-fashioned tune to sing along to.
8. “Plains of Nebrasky-O” by Eric Anderson
Featuring Phil Ochs, this recording of “Plains of Nebrasky-O” by Eric Anderson is from his 1965 album Today is the Highway.
The jaunty guitar rhythm joins with country vocals and an occasional harmonica interlude for a true snapshot of musical Americana.
The lyrics are a playful ode to the Midwestern plains “where the corn stands high.” This song is equally at home as an oldies cowboy tune as an accessible open-mic choice, perfect for singing along by those who consider “Old Nebrasky-o” their home.
9. “North Platte, Nebras-katte” by Harry Partch and the Kronos Quartet
The most unusual song on our list is unique for its texture and use of historical recordings, “North Platte, Nebras-katte” is by Harry Partch and the Kronos Quartet.
Here, the contemporary classical string quartet Kronos uses the violin, viola, and cello to underscore the words of Harry Partch, describing a section of Nebraska.
The quartet recorded a series of these regional features on their 2003 album US Highball. Aside from the North Platte, it also references places in California, Salt Lake City, and Wyoming, usually with the manufactured sounds of a freight train as part of the aesthetic.
Sometimes serene and other times galloping, this quirky explosion of sound is for those with an open mind. Musically shocking and rich with a significant cultural context, it’s a staple for any Nebraskan looking for something new and unusual to represent their state.
10. “Little Nebraska Town” by Rachel Price
Our last song, “Little Nebraska Town,” returns to the mainstream pop world with a song from Rachel Price’s 2014 debut album called Dawn.
The upbeat backup band supports her vocals with electric guitar and a driving rhythm that helps the song straddle the lines between country and pop.
The lyrics discuss her upbringing as a small-town girl, going to football games on the weekend, and observing the nature of the plains surrounding her. She sings with affection for her roots, claiming that all of her favorite memories began “in a little Nebraska town.”
Summing Up Our List Of Nebraska Songs
Though it may be just a flyover state to some, Nebraska deserves its place in the musical canon for the many verses that have been written about it over the years.
Whether it is the wild and natural landscapes, warm people, or the bustling city of Omaha, there’s enough interest in the region for the music industry to take notice.
Hopefully, you learn a new song from perusing this list! We think Nebraska will continue to inspire music in various genres for many decades to come.
Have we missed any songs that you think should have been on this list? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!