By Maureen Hart
I don’t know if any of you play the old children’s travel game of license plates (you count license plates to see how many states you can find during a road trip), but I do it all the time as a diversion on the interstates. I am constantly amazed at how many cross country travelers I can find on a two or three hour drive – I aim to spot at least half of them, and usually end up with about 35
I recently traveled to Amherst, Mass., and not only found myself noting the various states I saw, but at one point I started humming the song “Carolina in the Morning” when I saw a South Carolina plate. I guess that song (“Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning”) could count for either North or South Carolina, but a bit later, I decided to give the song to North Carolina, and to switch South Carolina to the flapper favorite “Charleston.”
That tune stuck with me until I noticed a New York plate which brought on my hearty rendition of “New York New York” (thankfully, there was nobody else in the car with me!).
Soon, I was obsessed trying to think of a song that matched up with the other states I spotted. So, I’ve decided to share what I came up with. Maybe somebody else can fill in the voids where I could not think of an appropriate tune.
For Alabama, I thought of “Stars Fell on Alabama,” a jazz standard from the 1930s sung by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, with lyrics starting: “We lived our little drama/We kissed in a field of white/And stars fell on Alabama last night.”
Not all states were quite that easy. I came up blank on songs for Maine and Connecticut until I got lucky with West Virginia –easy, John Denver’s “Country Roads”—(Country roads, take me home, To the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain momma ….) and Florida which recalls “Moon Over Miami.” Stumped with Rhode Island, I got back into the New England swing with “Moonlight in Vermont” (Pennies in a stream/Falling leaves of a sycamore, Moonlight in Vermont), which was also sung by Holliday, Fitzgerald and Sinatra. I did not, however, think of anything for New Hampshire or my destination state, Massachusetts.
I counted license plates that were easy: “Deep in the Heart of Texas” (The stars at night are big and bright…), The “Tennessee Waltz” AND “Rocky Top,” “Georgia on My Mind”, “California Dreamin’,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” for Louisiana, and “St. Louis Blues” for Missouri, along with “The Missouri Waltz”.)
Oklahoma was the easiest ever (the title song to the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical), and “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Carry Me Back To Old Virginia” were also pretty simple calls.
I was stumped for a minute on Illinois until I thought of “Chicago, Chicago,” and “Back Home Again in Indiana” sufficed for that Midwestern state. I couldn’t find anything for Minnesota, although when I looked it up later I found a song called “Rock ‘n Roll Is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)” by the late Prince.
Now my favorite Michigan song, ironically, is the fight song of my beloved Nittany Lions rival. the University of Michigan (Hail! To the victors valiant, Hail! To the conqu’ring heroes, Hail! Hail! To Michigan…). Even though I’m rooting against the Wolverines, once I hear this in a stadium I can’t get the tune out of my head. However, I imagine the rest of you who are not lovers of college fight songs would probably pick something from Motown!
Similarly, the song I associate with another Big Ten university is “On, Wisconsin!”/On, Wisconsin! Plunge right through that line!/Run the ball clear down the field/A touchdown sure this time…”
Bruce Springsteen gave us a song in 1982 called simply “Nebraska,” which is helpful, and The Boss has given us tons of songs out of New Jersey, but I’m going with a very old tune called “Jersey Bounce” (They call it that Jersey bounce/A rhythm that really counts…) sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald.
John Denver also immortalized another state with his classic “Rocky Mountain High” (But the Colorado rocky mountain high/I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky…). Of the farthest-flung states, it was actually easy. There is an old song called “North to Alaska,” a title song to a 1960 movie sung by the late Johnny Horton, and the lovely “Hawaiian Wedding Song” made so famous by Elvis Presley in the movie “Blue Hawaii.”
Believe it or not, the song with the most controversy for a state is that of generally peaceful Maryland, whose state song, “Maryland My Maryland” is sung to the tune of “O Christmas Tree” and is a Southern Civil War anthem which includes lyrics descripting a tyrant who is actually Abraham Lincoln, and referring to “Northern scum,” meaning the Union and its army. Amazingly, despite past efforts to change these lyrics, the song remains the official state song in its original form!
A state with an “unofficial” state rock song is Washington, and in an even stranger twist, it is “Louie, Louie,” a song about a Jamaican sailor which has its origins in the soggy Northwest, however, and is played at the seventh inning stretch at all Seattle Mariner games.
There are countless songs about “Mississippi,” but I’ll just pick the one by Bob Dylan. There are also lots of songs about Ohio, including one by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but most people also think of “Youngstown” by Springsteen. Ohio is the only state to have an official rock song, and it is “Hang on Sloopy” a hit song for The McCoys (natives of Dayton) in 1965.
And, finally the songs I associate the most with our own fair state are oldies like “The Pennsylvania Polka” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but we are blessed with many others, including “Allentown” by Billy Joel; “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John; “Streets of Philadelphia” by Springsteen; “Pittsburgh” by “The Lemonheads” and even “Harrisburg” by Josh Ritter. For Scranton, I guess we have to go with “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” a 1974 song by Harry Chapin about a truck accident on Moosic Street. For Dunmore, let’s just settle on the DHS alma mater!
Other states I could not identify with a song have included: Iowa, Delaware, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Kansas, and North and South Dakota. In the absence of specific songs for these wonderful states, I’ll suggest “America the Beautiful.”