written by Ben Salmon | featured photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media
For decades, Oregon’s striking beauty and pleasant folk have been an inspiration to many musicians. With this list, we take you back through the history of songs about our great state. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a Spotify playlist of all the songs listed here.
Dolly Parton, “Eugene, Oregon”
Based on the true story of a 1972 night when Dolly was on tour but terribly homesick, “Eugene, Oregon” is a heartfelt thank you note to its namesake town from one of our greatest living songwriters. The love you gave was genuine, Dolly sings in her familiar lilt. You gave me inspiration and the strength to carry on.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “Oregon Girl”
Despite its silly name, SSLYBY is one of the world’s finest indie-pop bands, and its winsome ode to an Oregon girl is catchier than a well-stocked tackle box. When the second verse crescendos—you roll the number and I’ll buy the lumber to build a house up on an Oregon hill—you’ll get those warm, fuzzy Early Weezer vibes you miss so much.
Johnny Cash, “Lumberjack”
When country singer Leon Payne wrote “Lumberjack,” he sprinkled in some jargon (whistlepunk) and wisdom (stay out of the woods when the moisture’s low) to lend the tune some authenticity. Of course, anything sounds good when it’s delivered in The Man in Black’s familiar, canyon-deep purr.
Laura Gibson, “Caldera, Oregon”
The newest song on this list comes from Gibson’s incredible 2016 album Empire Builder, which revolves around a cross-country move and a left-behind love. Against gentle acoustic strums and lush strings, she sings, When I left, I dreamed us both as wild as sparrows. I wrote the state motto on my wrist. That motto? She Flies With Her Own Wings.
Elliott Smith, “Rose Parade”
Portland’s poet laureate for rain-soaked sad sacks wrote several songs about life in the Rose City’s shadows. None, however, juxtapose glitter and gloom quite like this piece of downcast acoustic pop. You say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing, Smith sings. It’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine. When they clean the street, I’ll be the only s—t that’s left behind.
Esperanza Spalding, “City of Roses”
On her first release after winning Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammy Awards, Portland’s breakout jazz star extols the virtues of her hometown’s city parks, wild berries and old bridges and takes comfort in the mountain hooded in snow silently watching over the city. It’s an easygoing paean to Oregon’s slice of urban heaven.
Person People, “Oregonize”
The biggest and best hip-hop crew ever to come out of Bend, Person People’s official anthem is “Oregonize,” a laid-back posse cut that features a half-dozen mountain-town MCs gettin’ busy on the mic as a drowsy piano line descends over and over and over in the background. A top-notch dose of Northwest hospitality, indeed.
The Wipers, “Doom Town”
Greg Sage never utters the words “Portland” or “Oregon” in “Doom Town,” but the seminal punk band’s music embodied the seedy side of its hometown in the early 1980s. Life’s so incomplete out on the street, Sage sings. Live in a doom town. The Wipers’ dark intensity would be a huge influence on Kurt Cobain and grunge in general.
BONUS: Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell album
Sufjan Stevens’ discography include entire recordings dedicated to Michigan and Illinois, but most people assume the acclaimed indie-folk artist has ditched his plan to do albums for the other 48 states. However, last year’s devastatingly sad Carrie & Lowell—named after Stevens’ mother and stepfather—is clearly his “Oregon album,” with references Spencer’s Butte and Emerald Park in Eugene, Sea Lion Caves, the Tillamook fires of the early 20th century, Cottage Grove, fossils in the Painted Hills, The Dalles and more. He may not have called it Oregon, but our beloved state is thoroughly intertwined with Stevens’ most heartbreakingly brilliant work.