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Essential Indiana Songs, Vol. 1

The first in a series of volumes that examines songs by Hoosiers.

From afar, Indiana’s musical imprint may seem rather meager. Take a deeper dive into the state’s song-filled past, however, and you’ll find a wealth of impressive offerings, from jazz to rock to hip-hop.

For Volume 1 of this Essential Indiana Songs playlist, we’ve selected a handful of tunes that every Hoosier should know. Spanning the course of several decades, the initial installment shows off some internationally acclaimed hits as well as some lesser-known gems.

Note: Every act on this list was either born in Indiana or formed in Indiana. Acts with only one or two members from Indiana (e.g. Blind Melon, Guns N’ Roses, etc.) were not included.

“Jack & Diane” by John Mellencamp

Known as a staple of the heartland-rock sound, John Mellencamp grew up in the small town of Seymour, Indiana, before going on to become the music legend he is today. Now with decades of albums to his name, Mellencamp is still best known for this chart-topping little ditty, which recently inspired the conception of a staged musical.

“The Midwest Can Be Allright” by The Gizmos

Founded in the dawn of punk rock, this Bloomington band set the scene for countless Hoosier weirdos. Between 1976 and 1978, The Gizmos released four EPs, with this song enduring as a relic of their short-lived reign.

“Civilization’s Dying” by the Zero Boys

Taken from the Zero Boys’ legendary 1982 album Vicious Circle, this song epitomizes the punk band and all of its Midwest angst. “Civilization’s dying, and no one’s realizing the position of hate stuck inside the gun,” sings a teenage Paul Mahern. Still celebrated throughout the rock ’n’ roll world today, the Zero Boys were given the ultimate shout-out in March 2019, when Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo of Metallica covered a pair of Vicious Circle songs while playing a show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys

This song may now be associated with Ohio State University, but it was first made famous by The McCoys — a ’60s garage-rock group hailing from Union City, Indiana. The McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy” topped the Billboard singles chart in October 1965. The Rick Derringer–fronted band also found success with covers of “Fever” and “Come On, Let’s Go.”

“I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5

One of pop music’s greatest groups of all time, the Jackson 5 humbly started out in Gary, Indiana, before reaching international acclaim. Brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael scored four consecutive No. 1 hits, beginning with this song. Subsequent chart-toppers included “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There.”

“Broadripple is Burning” by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s

With its own storied conception, this hit song from Indianapolis indie-rock band Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s eventually came to define a specific era of Indianapolis life. Known for mentioning Indy’s Broad Ripple and Fountain Square neighborhoods, “Broadripple is Burning” is now much more than an “Indianapolis song,” having even appeared in a Season 15 audition of American Idol.

“Something for Nothing” by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

This Brown County group brings all the grit and then some, as heard on this standout song from 2012’s Between the Ditches. Known for its extensive touring schedule, the three-piece blues band is characterized by Reverend Peyton’s masterful guitar work and Breezy Peyton’s washboard excellence.

“Ridaz” by Preny Mo

You may ask yourself, Who the best ridaz? Well, old-school Indianapolis rapper Preny Mo is here to answer that question: it’s Naptown Ridaz. Featured on a 2001 album bearing the same name, “Ridaz” is a perfect rap time capsule from early-2000s Nap.

“Every Time I Close My Eyes” by Babyface (feat. Mariah Carey)

A graduate of North Central High School, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds has cemented himself as an all-time R&B great. Released in 1997, this song features backing vocals from Mariah Carey and saxophone contributions from Kenny G. “Every Time I Close My Eyes” was nominated for a Grammy and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Road Song” by Wes Montgomery

Indy’s historic Indiana Avenue served as an incubator for many internationally acclaimed jazz legends during its mid-20th-century heyday. Guitarist Wes Montgomery tops the list of Indiana jazz greats, which also features names like Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, and more. While many Montgomery songs have stood the test of time, “Road Song” is one you’ll still hear played often at Indianapolis jazz clubs today.

“Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael

One of the most-recorded songs of the 20th century, “Stardust” stands as a testament to Hoagy Carmichael’s songwriting brilliance. The inspiration for “Stardust” came to the IU graduate while he was on the campus of his alma mater. Carmichael then recorded the tune in 1927 at Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana.

“Night and Day” by Cole Porter

Born in Peru, Indiana, Cole Porter contributed several songs to the Great American Songbook, with this one being his most popular. The song has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to U2 over the years, reaching countless ears all over the world.

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.
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