Democracy’s Dozen: 12 songs ‘about’ Nebraska

We asked: What are the "best" songs that mention Nebraska? Here's what Nebraskans shared (along with a couple of our own picks).

Happy Statehood Day! To celebrate March 1, the anniversary of Nebraska’s 1867 entry to the Union, we asked you to share some of the “best” songs that make mention of Nebraska – and as usual, you came through. While we picked a dozen tunes for this space, we also assembled all 24 of the suggestions into a playlist on Spotify. Enjoy! 

1. “Yoü And I,” Lady Gaga

Gaga wrote this song about her then-boyfriend, a native of Nebraska. But, she also said, it’s “about going back to anyone or anything in your life that means something to you. Nebraska is the center of it all.” We agree.

2. “Calamity Song,” The Decemberists

We’ve always wanted to be in a tune about the end of the world. Our fair state appears in Colin Meloy’s refrain … and the Andalusian tribes, setting the lay of Nebraska alight … in reference to an apocalyptic dream. The song imagines the American heartland being sacked and falling to the same fate as Rome. So uplifting!

3. “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967,” John Prine

Prine attributes the birth of this song to a story from John Earl, a guitar tech for the Everly Brothers who grew up in Norfolk in the 1940s and 1950s: “He told me that on Thursday nights, he and his buddies used to go to the roller rink and the egg farmers would come in from the country and they’d drop their daughters off, go sell their eggs, and then these big city guys would make time with the farmer’s daughters.” The weekly event was known as Egg and Daughter Night. “I just thought the title of it was so good.”

4. “Get Out of Denver,” Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Seger’s band was playing a six-night stint in a Colorado club with an exorbitant cover charge PLUS a two-drink minimum. That thinned the crowd down to a couple of dozen people. So after the fourth night, they hit the road. Our ’60 Cadillac was roarin’ through Nebraska whinin’ / doin’ 120 man the fields was bendin’ over … just evokes an image on the interstate just west of Ogallala, doesn’t it?

5. “Omaha,” Damien Jurado

So many songs that mention Nebraska are about roads and journeys. One of the most haunting is from Jurado, an urban folk singer/songwriter from Seattle, who describes a lonely journey with no clear route. The family – a father, three children – are traveling together but alone in silence, with only the Nebraska landscape to keep them company.

6. “Nebraska,” moe.

Another jam-band traveling song. This one was even written in a van. Though we’re the titular state of this road anthem, the link is tenuous. The the story from moe.’s Rob Derhak: “I wrote the vocals for the verses on the Nebraska page of our road atlas, which was the only available paper at the time. I believe we were somewhere in Wyoming driving to Colorado in the old yellow van. I actually wrote the melody in my head, and it stayed there for about a year before I played it on my acoustic. I thought, if I can remember a song for that long that doesn’t even exist yet, it’s gotta be a catchy tune.” Catchy enough to make our list, anyway.

7. “Settle Down,” Kimbra

The New Zealander wrote this when she was just 16. In it, she envisions having a daughter named Nebraska Jones. This would be a cool name for the heroine in a 21st-century reboot of a 1980s film franchise featuring a swashbuckling and globetrotting female archeologist who battles the evil agents of authoritarian regimes, wouldn’t it? And maybe “Settle Down” could be adapted by John Williams into the franchise’s theme song.

8. “Nebraska,” Bruce Springsteen

No explanation necessary.
Oh, that haunting harmonica.

9. “My Guardian Angel,” Pistoleros

The Pistoleros hail from Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, so it’s understandable that our state’s reference in this late-’90s mix of pop, southwestern sound, and a child’s prayer is about … Nebraska’s winter temperatures. That quibble aside, it’s a gorgeous song.

10. “Colder Weather,” Zac Brown Band

Speaking of the weather. Wyatt Durrette said “Colder Weather” was a product of the grind of touring and trying to balance a long-distance relationship. “It holds a spot because of what we do and being away and all those things. For those guys, I think that song rings on missing their family. That’s the beauty of art: Everybody has their own take on what the song can mean. As for me, it’s a story of impossible love, where geography or timing gets in the way of it, and it’s just not possible.”

11. “Nebraska,” The Cash Brothers

Being from Toronto, these folk rockers aren’t as concerned with our state’s atmospheric conditions as some of our American friends. But they do find themselves pining for something else in this melancholy breakup song. I’ve got nothing on my mind, I got nothing to do / I’m just driving around listening to Nebraska. Wonder what that sounds like, exactly?

12. “Tarkio Road,” Brewer & Shipley

We come to the end of this long, strange trip with an underrated 1970 classic from Grateful Dead-adjacent folk rockers Brewer & Shipley. “Tarkio Road” is another term for U.S. Highway 59, which runs through Tarkio, Missouri – and for the not-quite-accurate purposes of this rambling ditty, through Crete, Nebraska. Listen closely and you can hear The Dead’s Jerry Garcia on the pedal steel guitar. 
Happy Birthday, Nebraska – just keep truckin’ on!

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