Memphis, Tennessee is known for its rich music history and has been the birthplace of many iconic musicians and genres. From blues and rock ‘n’ roll to soul and country, Memphis has influenced music culture around the world. It’s no surprise that many artists have paid homage to this city through their music, resulting in a plethora of songs about Memphis.
Whether it’s Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” or Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” songs about Memphis have been written by artists from various genres and eras.
These songs not only celebrate the city’s musical heritage but also its landmarks, people, and culture. From the iconic Beale Street to the Lorraine Motel, these songs capture the essence of Memphis in different ways.
Exploring songs about Memphis is a great way to dive into the city’s history and culture through music. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the best songs about Memphis and what makes them special.
Whether you’re a music lover or a Memphis native, these songs are sure to strike a chord and transport you to the heart of the Bluff City.
History of Memphis Music
Early Blues and Jazz
Memphis has a rich musical heritage, dating back to the early 20th century when it was a hub for blues and jazz. The city’s Beale Street was a center of African American culture and music, with legendary performers such as B.B. King, W.C. Handy, and Memphis Minnie honing their craft there.
W.C. Handy, known as the “Father of the Blues,” wrote and performed some of the earliest blues songs in Memphis in the early 1900s, including “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues.” These songs helped popularize the blues and paved the way for future blues artists.
Memphis jazz also had a significant impact on the music world, with the Memphis Jug Band and Jimmie Lunceford’s Orchestra gaining national attention in the 1920s and 1930s. Their unique blend of jazz, blues, and swing helped define the Memphis sound.
Rock and Roll
Memphis played a pivotal role in the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s, with the city’s Sun Studio becoming a hotbed for young musicians looking to make a name for themselves.
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash all recorded their early hits at Sun Studio, helping to launch their careers and define the rockabilly sound.
Other notable rock and roll artists from Memphis include Carl Perkins, who wrote and recorded the classic hit “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Roy Orbison, who got his start at Sun Studio before becoming a global superstar.
Soul and R&B
In the 1960s and 1970s, Memphis became known for its soul and R&B music, with Stax Records and Hi Records producing some of the biggest names in the genre.
Stax Records was home to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Booker T. & the M.G.’s, while Hi Records produced hits for Al Green and Ann Peebles.
Memphis soul and R&B were characterized by their deep grooves, soulful vocals, and horn sections, creating a sound that was both gritty and polished.
Overall, Memphis music has had a profound impact on the music world, influencing countless artists and genres throughout the years.
Famous Songs About Memphis
Elvis Presley, famously known as the King of Rock and Roll, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, but he spent most of his life and career in Memphis. He recorded several famous songs about the city, including “Suspicious Minds,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Mark James wrote “Suspicious Minds,” which Elvis Presley recorded in 1969. It was his final number-one hit in the United States and is considered one of his greatest songs. The lyrics depict a troubled relationship and the fear of losing someone’s love. The song’s opening line, “We’re caught in a trap,” has become iconic.
Mae Boren Axton, Tommy Durden, and Elvis Presley himself wrote “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was released in 1956. It became his first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s lyrics narrate the story of a lonely man who decides to check into a hotel called the Heartbreak Hotel, where he can be alone with his pain.
Johnny Cash, who was famously known as the Man in Black, was born in Arkansas but had a deep connection to Memphis. He recorded numerous famous songs about the city, such as “Big River,” “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“Big River” was written by Johnny Cash and released in 1958. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is traveling down the Mississippi River to Memphis, where he hopes to find his true love. The song’s catchy melody and Cash’s distinctive voice make it a classic.
“Folsom Prison Blues”
“Folsom Prison Blues” was written by Johnny Cash and released in 1955. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is stuck in Folsom Prison and dreams of being free. The song’s opening line, “I hear the train a-comin’,” is one of the most famous in music history.
Although born in Georgia, Otis Redding became a legendary figure in Memphis. He recorded numerous renowned songs about the city, such as “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” and “Respect.”
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,
Otis Redding and Steve Cropper wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” which was released in 1968, shortly after Redding’s death. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is sitting on a dock in San Francisco, but the melody and the feeling of the song are strongly associated with Memphis.
Try a Little Tenderness
Otis Redding recorded “Try a Little Tenderness” in 1966, a song that was written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry Woods. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is pleading with his lover to be more loving and tender. The song’s powerful vocals and soulful melody make it a classic.
Born in Ohio, Marc Cohn is a singer-songwriter with a profound attachment to Memphis. He is best known for his popular song “Walking in Memphis,” which is about the city.
Walking in Memphis
“Walking in Memphis” was written by Marc Cohn and released in 1991. The song’s lyrics are about a man who is walking in Memphis and experiencing its music, culture, and history. The song’s catchy melody and Cohn’s heartfelt vocals make it a classic.
Contemporary Memphis Music Scene
Hip Hop and Rap
Memphis has a thriving hip hop and rap scene, with many artists gaining national attention. One of the most well-known artists is Yo Gotti, who has been active in the industry since the late 1990s. He is known for his gritty lyrics and streetwise style, and has collaborated with many other big names in the industry.
Another notable Memphis rapper is Moneybagg Yo, who has gained a large following in recent years. His music is characterized by his unique flow and introspective lyrics. He has collaborated with many other artists, including Lil Durk and Megan Thee Stallion.
Indie Rock and Alternative
While Memphis is often associated with blues and soul music, the city also has a growing indie rock and alternative scene. One of the most prominent bands in this genre is Star & Micey, who have been active since 2008. Their music is characterized by its catchy melodies and introspective lyrics.
Another band to watch in the Memphis indie scene is Nots. This all-female group has gained a following for their experimental sound and energetic live performances. They have been active since 2011 and have released several albums to critical acclaim.
Overall, the contemporary Memphis music scene is diverse and thriving, with artists from a variety of genres gaining national attention.
Whether you’re a fan of hip hop, indie rock, or any other genre, there is something for everyone in Memphis’s vibrant music scene.
Memphis, Tennessee has been the birthplace of some of the most iconic music in American history, from blues to rock ‘n’ roll. The city has inspired countless artists to write songs about its unique culture, people, and landmarks.
From Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Memphis has been the backdrop for some of the most memorable songs in music history. Many of these songs have become classics and continue to be enjoyed by music lovers around the world.
Whether you’re a fan of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, or country music, there’s a song about Memphis that’s sure to strike a chord. The city’s rich musical heritage is celebrated in these songs, which pay tribute to the city’s vibrant culture and history.
Memphis has also been the inspiration for many contemporary artists, who continue to write songs about the city. From Justin Timberlake’s “Memphis” to Bruno Mars’ “Chunky,” Memphis continues to be a source of inspiration for musicians across genres.
Overall, the songs about Memphis are a testament to the city’s enduring legacy in American music. They capture the spirit and soul of Memphis, and continue to inspire new generations of musicians and music lovers alike.