Kentucky became a state in 1792. That would have happened sooner. However, the U.S. Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation partway through the process, which forced the relevant parties to restart it to prevent potential legal issues.
Now as then, Kentucky is famous for its natural bounty. That enabled it to become an agricultural powerhouse, though it has long since expanded beyond that single role. Naturally, people have released numerous songs to express a wide range of feelings about the state.
Here is our opinion of ten of the best songs about Kentucky ever released:
10. “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight” – John Prine
“My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight” is an excellent example of how meaning can change over time. For those unfamiliar, Stephen Foster wrote it as an anti-slavery song. The narrator isn’t a random individual. Instead, he is a slave separated from his family by force, which explains much about the lyrics.
Over time, the song became popular in minstrel shows, thus causing it to be reinterpreted as an expression of longing for the era of plantations. Thanks to this, “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight” followed the same path as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which might have inspired the song in the first place. Regardless, countless individuals have released recordings. This one comes from John Prine.
9. “Ghost of Floyd Collins” – Black Stone Cherry
Kentucky is famous for its caves. For proof, look no further than Mammoth Cave National Park. Indeed, the early 20th century saw fierce competition over the incoming stream of tourists. Floyd Collins was one of the participants. He discovered Great Crystal Cave, but he was dissatisfied because it was too remote to be very profitable. As a result, Collins went looking for a more suitable candidate. Sadly, he died when he became trapped underground, though not before his name made national news because of the rescue effort. “Ghost of Floyd Collins” is one of several songs that honor the man.
8. “Run for the Roses” – Dan Fogelberg
Chances are good interested individuals will think of the Kentucky Derby as soon as they hear “Run for the Roses.” After all, the lyrics use words that suggest the narrator is singing about a foal fated to run in a race. That said, “Run for the Roses” takes on extra meaning when one remembers the context. It came out in The Innocent Age, which covered a person’s life from birth to death. As such, it is about encouraging people to come into their own as much as anything else.
7. “Old King Coal” – Sturgill Simpson
It seems safe to say that “Old King Coal” played off of “Old King Cole.” Unfortunately, its subject matter is nowhere near as cheery. For those curious, “Old King Coal” is a lament in which the narrator wonders what will happen once the coal mining industry disappears. This is a rhetorical question because the lyrics make it clear that he has a good idea of the exact consequences.
6. “Kentucky Rain” – Elvis Presley
“Kentucky Rain” sees Elvis singing about a man searching for his love. This is a common theme in music. However, “Kentucky Rain” is better at selling it than most of its counterparts. Most people don’t enjoy being drenched by the rain when they are already down and depressed. As such, the willingness to continue looking despite the weather conditions does much to make the message convincing. Of course, it helps that Elvis is the one who sang the song.
5. “Kentucky Woman” – Neil Diamond
Speaking of which, “Kentucky Woman” is another song about love. It is much happier than its counterpart. That is because the song celebrates a found love rather than longing for a missing one.
4. “It’s Got to Be Kentucky for Me” – Tom T. Hall
Meanwhile, “It’s Got to Be Kentucky for Me” is a love song directed at the state itself. The nice thing about it is that it doesn’t do so by denigrating anywhere else. If anything, it is downright complimentary of other places before emphasizing its love for Kentucky as its homeland, thus making the latter look even better through comparison.
3. “Paradise” – John Prine
Resource extraction can have a devastating effect on the landscape. John Prine’s “Paradise” is an excellent reminder of how much these processes can change a place. Its narrator longs for a paradisical place that no longer exists because people have dug up the ground before hauling away its contents. The pain is real in this song, thus providing it with an extra emotional punch.
2. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” – Patty Loveless
“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is another song about the coal mining industry. It is focused on a smaller scale than “Old King Coal,” which enables it to examine things from a more personal perspective. Still, interested individuals should listen to both because they can get a more comprehensive picture of the situation by doing so. Darrell Scott released the original song in 1997. Even so, Patty Loveless’s version from 2001 is also worth checking out.
1. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys
People might be familiar with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” because of either Elvis Presley or Paul McCartney. However, they should know Bill Monroe was the one who penned the original song. One can make a decent argument that he was the one who created the bluegrass genre, seeing as how the latter took its name from his band called the Blue Grass Boys. In turn, Monroe’s band named themselves after the bluegrass of their home state of Kentucky. In any case, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is one of the most successful songs about the state ever released. Moreover, it is more than deserving of its popularity, which isn’t always guaranteed to be the case.
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