30 songs that absolutely define 30 cities

These songs define some towns.
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The Midwest

"DETROIT ROCK CITY" by Kiss (1976)

Written and sung by Paul Stanley, with Ace Frehley adding a couple of classic guitar runs. It wasn’t a hit initially, but when its B-side, “Beth” unexpectedly took off, the grinding tribute to the Motor City took off as well. “You gotta lose your mind in Detroit – Rock City.”

"MARY JANE’S LAST DANCE" by Tom Petty (1993)

“She grew up in an Indiana town – Had a good lookin’ mama who was never around – But she grew up tall and she grew up right – With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night.” It’s never clear if Mary Jane’s last dance takes place in Indianapolis. There are “market squares” in other towns as well, and you can indeed see pigeons in some of them. Then again, Petty always remained cryptic about the meaning of his greatest song, and TBH, there aren’t a lot of great Indianapolis songs. (Though the Bottle Rockets do a great one.) I figure if you can claim a song as good as this for your own – depressing meaning notwithstanding – you should do it.


O.A.R. is made up of guys from Rockville, Maryland. I know this because Wooton High School, where most of them met, is about five miles from me. But they all went on to Ohio State, where they added a sax player from Ohio. And that’s how they came to write a song about Columbus … where they “found (they) have a second home.”

"LOUISVILLE, KY" by Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra (1940)

Written by Sonny Skylar, and performed by the 23-year-old Ella Fitzgerald and her band. She had taken control after the death of bandleader Chick Webb in 1939. A fabulous jazz arrangement accompanies Ella’s perfect vocals. “Take me back to Louisville, take me ‘neath that southern sky – Long to hear the whippoorwill, comin’ home, Louisville.”

"MY KIND OF TOWN" by Frank Sinatra (1964)

If you prefer “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” you can have that one. Sinatra had hits with both Chicago tributes. I think the Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Kahn is a little better, but I’m not gonna argue. “My Kind of Town” was in the Rat Pack movie Robin and the 7 Hoods and was nominated for an Oscar. Some of the songs on this list have been tributes. Others have been takedowns. None has been as unabashedly sentimental – “Chicago is my kind of town – Chicago is my kind of people too – People who smile at you – And each time I roam – Chicago is calling me home.”