Essential Indiana Songs, Vol. 2

Photo by Daniel Jacobson, Design by Margo Wininger

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 2 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 second installment shows off some internationally acclaimed hits as well as some lesser-known gems.

“Drive Somewhere” by The Vulgar Boatmen

Originally started as a long-distance songwriting partnership between Dale Lawrence (Bloomington, Ind.) and Robert Ray (Gainesville, Fla.), the Vulgar Boatmen released a pair of classics in the early ‘90s in You and Your Sister (1990) and Please Panic (1992). “Drive Somewhere” comes from the former of these two and serves as the perfect soundtrack for a Midwest adventure. You and Your Sister was recently re-released in 2015 by Indy-based archival label Timechange Records in celebration of the album’s 25th anniversary.

“Little Bitty Pretty One” by Thurston Harris

Although originally written by Bobby Day, this late ‘50s classic was popularized by Indianapolis native Thurston Harris. The song reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was eventually covered once more by The Jackson 5 in 1972. Harris’ rendition of “Little Bitty Pretty One” has since appeared in several movies and TV shows, with the most notable being Matilda.

“Is It Any Wonder?” by Durand Jones and the Indications

Hailing from Bloomington, Ind., this dynamic soul group burst onto the scene in 2016 with their self-titled debut, following it up in 2019 with an album (American Love Call) released by Bloomington-based label Dead Oceans. Having now made their late night television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the band shows no signs of slowing down with a fanbase that’s global.

“Sedona” by Houndmouth

Formed in 2011, this now-famous rock band comes from the humble town of New Albany, Ind. Having gained a strong national following, Houndmouth currently has three full-lengths under their belt, with 2018’s Golden Age marking the first without keyboardist/backing vocalist Katie Toupin. Although the band has since shifted from its folk sound, “Sedona” from 2015’s Little Neon Limelight still serves as their career-defining hit thus far.

“High Noon” by Mudkids

Although Indianapolis is now bursting from the seams with hip-hop talent, the city must pay its dues to the original kings of Naptown rap. Fronted by seminal emcee Rusty Redenbacher, the Mudkids toured from coast to coast in their heyday, sharing stages with everyone from The Roots to Wu Tang Clan. “High Noon” serves as the opening track from the Mudkids’ classic 2000 album Upward.

“Hang Up” by Parris LaDame

A graduate of Lawrence North High School, Parris LaDame made a big splash with this 2018 hit. In addition to getting regular airplay on local radio station Hot 96.3, “Hang Up” also made its way onto all of Finish Line’s in-store playlists throughout the U.S. While finding success on the airwaves, LaDame’s hit also inspired a viral #HangUpChallenge, with fans recording themselves singing and/or dancing to the song.

“Red Clay” by Freddie Hubbard

Indianapolis’ music past is filled with numerous jazz greats, thanks to the cultural hub that was historic Indiana Avenue. Originally born in Indy, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard cut his teeth on the Avenue before eventually going on to international stardom. The title track on a 1970 album baring the same name, “Red Clay” has been covered several times since its original release and was even sampled in a track by legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.

“Blue Trombone” by J.J. Johnson

Another Indiana Avenue legend, J.J. Johnson is best known for being one of the earliest jazz trombonists to embrace bebop. Sometimes referred to as the “Charlie Parker of the trombone,” Johnson was honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1996. Taken from a 1957 album baring the same name, “Blue Trombone” features Johnson playing with pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Max Roach.

“Naptown Blues” by Leroy Carr

Although not originally from Indianapolis, this blues legend unfortunately passed away at the young age of 30 while living in the city. An influence on such greats like Nat king Cole and Ray Charles, Leroy Carr produced a large amount of work between the years of 1928 and 1935. To date, his songs have been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton to Robert Johnson.

“The Darker Side of Me” by Otis Gibbs

A native of Wanamaker, Ind., alt-country troubadour Otis Gibbs is known for his innate knack for storytelling. In addition to writing songs, Gibbs is also highly touted for his podcast titled “Thanks for Giving a Damn,” which now has more than 160 episodes. A great example of his Midwestern outlaw sound, “The Darker Side of Me” appears on Gibbs’ 2014 album titled Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth.

“Have a Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt

A longtime fan of IndyCar racing, John Hiatt grew up in Indianapolis before eventually moving to Nashville at the age of 18. With a catalog that dates back to 1974, the Heartland rocker was honored as the third recipient of the BMI Troubadour Award in September 2019. Released in 1987, “Have a Little Faith in Me” was the first song written following Hiatt’s decision to pursue a life of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. To date, Jewel, Joe Cocker, Jon Bon Jovi and more have covered the tune.

“Come to Me” by Lily & Madeleine

Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz began singing songs together in high school, before eventually grabbing the attention of record producer and former Zero Boys frontman Paul Mahern. The duo’s sound has matured over the years, as heard on their 2019 album Canterbury Girls. Released on their 2013 self-titled album, “Come to Me” exemplifies their earlier folk-pop days. The song also has a dancier radio edit that currently has more than 39 million plays on Spotify.

“The Gathering of Spirits” by Carrie Newcomer

Currently based in Bloomington, this Grammy award winner has been described as a “prairie mystic” by the Boston Globe. Known for her dedicated activism efforts, Carrie Newcomer specializes in making contemporary folk as heard on this song from 2002. In addition to music, Newcomer has also published two books, including a 2016 collection of essays, lyrics and poems.