Kentucky is known for many things with horse racing, bourbon, and of course, fried chicken probably being the first things that come to mind. But, musically, the state has also been important helping to popularize bluegrass music as well as showingcasing a host of other styles.
Kentucky is a central state in the US making it a true melting pot of culture while still retaining an individual identity. So, it’s little wonder why there are tons of songs written about Kentucky.
And int his post, we’re going to take a look at some of the best songs about Kentucky to help inspire your bluegrass state playlist. Let’s get started.
1. “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley earned the nickname “King of Rock and Roll” with his prolific body of work and unique popular style. “The King” penned songs about a myriad of places throughout the United States, so it’s no wonder he popularized this one about Kentucky!
“Kentucky Rain” is actually a cover written by well-regarded songwriters of the day. That was not uncommon, but the song is a distinctly Elvis-esque number. Presley released it in 1969, and it tells the story of a man searching for love while wandering through the Kentucky Rain.
From hitchhiking to rain to cold weather and heartbreak, this song paints a picture of heartbreak. Will the subject be reunited with his lost love? Have a listen and find out!
2. “Kentucky Woman” by Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond wrote, performed, and popularized the hit “Kentucky Woman” in 1967. There has been controversy over who penned the song, but this credit goes to Diamond. The debate stems from the numerous covers of this classic tune by bands like Deep Purple and is a testament to its popularity.
These days, almost all songs are recorded in stereo to play over conventional systems or via headphones. “Kentucky Woman” was unique for being the last mono single recorded by Diamond.
Yet another love song, this one is written about a woman from Kentucky who is as discerning in taste as she is attractive and charismatic.
3. “Kentucky Straight” by Johnny Cash
Kentucky Straight is the name given to undiluted bourbon. The resulting whiskey is stronger than usual and quite popular throughout Kentucky.
The song that shares its name was a hit for Johnny Cash off of his Any Old Wind that Blows album. The singer nicknamed his wife “Kentucky Straight,” and the song is a tribute to her.
Cash released the song in 1973, but it has an even older feel to it as it describes the pleasures of a simple life in Kentucky country.
4. “Bourbon in Kentucky” by Dierks Bentley
Bourbon is one of the first things folks tend to associate with Kentucky, so it’s no wonder it pops up as a theme throughout the songs on this list! “Bourbon in Kentucky” is one of the more literal of these songs by country artist Dierks Bentley.
Bentley’s lyrics describe a brutal breakup, after which the protagonist relies on bourbon to quell his heartbreak. The song was received well in the musical community but was commercially less well-received.
Many folks thought that the subject matter was too dark to be the first track on an album. After all, the narrator speaks of whiskey raining down and lamenting that there could never be a sufficient amount in Kentucky to end his pain.
5. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is a country music legend who hails from Kentucky! Her song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was released as a single in the early 1970s and quickly became a huge hit.
The song is largely autobiographical describing Lynn’s upbringing in rural Kentucky as the daughter of a miner during the Great Depression. That lends the melody a mellow and somber quality.
The song would go on to be a huge billboard success, and since its release has been covered by multiple other musical artists.
6. “Blue Kentucky Girl” by Emmylou Harris
“Blue Kentucky Girl” is a piece composed by country music songwriter Johnny Mullins. Loretta Lynn first recorded it before the song rose to popularity again when Emmylou Harris made a version.
Harris’ version is slightly smoother and more pop-oriented than Lynn’s, but they both tell a similar melancholy story. The “Blue Kentucky Girl” described in the lyrics is lamenting a lover who has left her, and this song is her final plea to get him back.
The piece alludes to the simple beauty of the Kentucky countryside and contrasts it with the “big city lights” that have lured the songstress lover away.
7. “Kentucky Gambler” by Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton has won countless awards and accolades over her decades-long career. She was in her prime when she recorded “Kentucky Gambler” for her 1975 album The Bargain Store.
The song describes a man who leaves everything behind to pursue a lucky gambling streak in Nevada. When his luck eventually runs out, his Kentucky family has moved on, and he finds himself left alone.
The song remains an iconic Kentucky anthem and has been covered by several other artists, including country legend Merle Haggard.
8. “Dumas Walker” by The Kentucky Headhunters
The Kentucky Headhunters released “Dumas Walker” in early 1990, and it quickly became a hit. The song oozes Southern hospitality and a yearning for simpler times, describing a night of entertainment in Kentucky.
Burgers, beers, a drive-in movie, and a game of marbles are all part of the evening described by the Headhunters. The song came to fruition in several predominantly autobiographical ways, including descriptions of a restaurant the band would frequent after live shows.
If there was any doubt that this is a quintessential Kentucky song, it almost got omitted from the album it appears on for being “too regional.”
The band tried it out during live performances across the country, and the song was well-received, so it ended up on the album anyway!
9. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
Kentucky is known as a hub for the Appalachian Bluegrass musical tradition. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys were pioneers of this musical movement, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” has long been known as the official bluegrass anthem of its namesake state.
In the lyrics, the narrator is struggling with heartbreak beneath a Kentucky blue moon but still wishes his love all the best.
This iconic song has been covered by countless artists, such as Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Nat King Cole. Presley’s version was so forward that it inspired Bill Monroe and his band to change their arrangement in later years.
10. “Kentucky in the Morning” by Tom Hall
This Kentucky tribute is a less popular one than others on our list but truly brings to mind the vibes of the state. There’s a nostalgia for “Kentucky in the Morning” as the singer is poetic about the sights while just passing through.
Tom T Hall was born in rural Kentucky and brings this authenticity to all of his home-state tributes. The influential singer got popular penning multiple songs as tributes to various locations throughout the US.
His home state maintained a central place in Hall’s heart, and “Kentucky in the Morning” is a vividly sentimental tribute.
11. “It’s Got To Be Kentucky For Me” by Tom T. Hall
Kentucky legend Tom T. Hall is back on our list again. This time with another Kentucky tribute called “It’s Got to be Kentucky For Me” which was one of his more successful hits.
Hall did ample traveling throughout his lengthy career. He resided in several states, after eventually leaving his Kentucky homestead. “It’s Got to Be Kentucky For Me” describes the singer’s yearning for his home after touring and living abroad.
The late singer reflects on time spent in Tennessee, Texas, and Colorado. His conclusion? It will always be Kentucky for him.
12. “Kentucky Means Paradise” by Merle Travis
Many popular songs have a gimmick or hook based on the letters of their subject. In the case of Merle Travis’ “Kentucky Means Paradise,” he spells out the state’s name before assuring the listener that what it means is paradise.
The song has been covered several times since its 1948 release and has come to be a hit amongst proud Kentucky residents.
Travis was a guitar virtuoso, popularizing “Travis picking” which is evident in this song. The narrator thrills the listener with an effusive declaration that Kentucky might not sound much if you look at a map, but its cuisine is one reason why the state is heaven!
13. “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster
“My Old Kentucky Home” is not a pop or country classic, but it is certainly a well-known piece of music. Stephen Foster’s composition is considered the state song of Kentucky and is heralded as a masterpiece of American songwriting.
A romantic-sounding ballad composed around 1852, the song praises the beauty of the South while also striving to make the land a more inclusive place. Although some of the original language is dated, Foster was influenced by those hoping to abolish slavery.
It remains popular and has been recorded by numerous singers and instrumentalists over the past century and a half.
14. “Paradise” by John Prine
Country-inspired singer-songwriter John Prine was known for his cheeky lyrics and clever musical content. That let him address social and political issues without taking away from the charismatic sound of his music.
Prine penned “Paradise” and recorded the piece on his self-titled 1971 album. The song describes the environmental effects of mining in Kentucky and the surrounding area.
Nothing in life is simple, and Prine points out the disastrous economic effects on the state which occurred once mining slowed down.
15. “Blue Kentucky Sky” by Leftover Salmon
“Blue Kentucky Sky” by Leftover Salmon isn’t subtle in its love for the Bluegrass State. The narrator tells of how they first visited when they were a 17-year-old hitchhiker from Pittsburgh pursuing their love of bluegrass,
As the song progresses, the lyrics reveal that the singer has lived an eventful life but feels like there’s nothing that could ever compare to a cabin in Kentucky. Now, no matter where they go, they think of it always.
Summing Up Our List Of Kentucky Songs
Kentucky is a captivating state with a rich history alongside its bourbon, horse racing derbies, and rolling hills.
Captivating enough to inspire these 15 songs, and many more!
Take a listen if you want to be transported to this South in style.