Memphis is named for the capital of Egypt’s Old Kingdom. However, it has other claims to fame. For instance, Memphis has one of the most famous music scenes in the United States. It is the Home of the Blues, but it is influential in rap, rock, soul, gospel, and more. As such, Memphis is much sung about, as shown by the numerous well-known songs about the city.
Here is our opinion of the ten best songs about Memphis:
10. “Move to Memphis” – a-ha
“Move to Memphis” is rather unusual. After all, a-ha is a synth-pop band from the Norwegian capital of Oslo. Despite this, they released “Move to Memphis” as a new single on their greatest hits album in 1991. Subsequently, the song rose to the number two position on Norway’s VG-lista, though it failed to make much of an impression in the United States. Subject-wise, “Move to Memphis” focuses on the breakup of the narrator’s relationship. His significant other wanted to move to the titular city, presumably because she wanted to pursue her dreams. In contrast, he preferred staying in their small town, which he seems to regret.
9. “Memphis Pearl” – Lucinda Williams
The same place can look quite different depending on one’s perspective. Memphis was a big city compared to a small town in the previous song. Here, it’s presented as a less cosmopolitan, less sophisticated place. Still, there are some similarities. For instance, “Memphis Pearl” shares a melancholic air because it’s the story of someone who longs for the past because she’s deeply unhappy in the present.
8. “Memphis In the Meantime” – John Hiatt
Hits don’t necessarily become hits through careful consideration. Sometimes, they come from much more spontaneous processes. “Memphis in the Meantime” is an excellent example. It’s considered John Hiatt’s best song, even though the man had four days to make the relevant album. Hiatt uses the song to poke fun at Nashville’s regimented music industry while expressing a preference for Memphis’s more relaxed attitude.
7. “Honky Tonk Women” – The Rolling Stones
“Honky Tonk Women” is one of the Rolling Stones’ best-known chart-toppers. The name refers to honky-tonks, which were rough adult establishments that offered country music and less reputable forms of entertainment. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Rolling Stones took inspiration from both without being explicit, thus enabling this song to dance on the verge of what was acceptable in the late 1960s. Funny enough, the band got the idea to write “Honky Tonk Women” when they were in Brazil. That makes more sense when one realizes that the United States wasn’t the only country where the need for cattle handlers created a rural, horse-riding subculture that captured the popular imagination.
6. “Walking in Memphis” – Marc Cohn
Marc Cohn is sometimes called a one-hit-wonder. That is because “Walking in Memphis” was his only single to reach the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Regardless, it’s one of the most memorable songs of the 1990s. Moreover, Cohn has stated that he was inspired to write “Walking in Memphis” after visiting the titular city.
5. “Johnny Bye-Bye” – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is a famous Elvis fan. Supposedly, seeing the man on TV was one of the reasons he embarked on a music career. As a result, Springsteen was moved to write “Johnny Bye-Bye” because of Elvis’s death from a heart attack at a young age. The lyrics make it very clear what was its source of inspiration.
4. “Big River” – Johnny Cash
“Big River” is another well-known song from a music legend. It sees Johnny Cash singing about searching for an ex-lover down the Mississippi River. Interested individuals shouldn’t be surprised to hear Memphis mentioned in the lyrics because it’s one of the most notable cities on that body of water. In 1958, “Big River” became number four on the Billboard Hot Country Singles. Furthermore, it peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, meaning it possessed considerable crossover appeal.
3. “Memphis Beat” – Jerry Lee Lewis
Most of the 1960s weren’t a good time for Jerry Lee Lewis. His releases from the decade were commercial failures until 1968. Memphis Beat and its title track were no exceptions to this rule. Still, some remember them with fondness. This is one of the songs on this list focused on the city and its culture rather than mentioning them more tangentially.
2. “Memphis, Tennessee” – Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry is another music pioneer. He’s one of the people responsible for the emergence of rock and roll from R&B, so much so that he’s called the Father of Rock and Roll. Unsurprisingly, Memphis played a pivotal role in that process. “Memphis, Tennessee” is a sadder song than interested individuals might expect. The lyrics don’t specify the narrator’s relationship with the girl he’s looking for in the titular city at the start. As a result, it’s easy to assume that he’s looking for an ex-lover. It isn’t until the end that the lyrics reveal that the narrator is looking for his daughter, presumably because he and her mother are no longer together.
1. “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” – Bob Dylan
There is a narrative to this song. However, the verses don’t line up to produce a simple, straightforward story. Instead, they share a theme. The narrator is dissatisfied with his current situation because he desires to be elsewhere. Mobile represents the former, while Memphis represents the latter. As such, the song presents the latter in a very flattering light. Something that has been speculated to be because of its influential music scene.
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