From homegrown talent like Prince and The Replacements to superstars like The Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash, the joys of Minnesota have long been set to song. A comprehensive listing is nigh impossible, but here are a few of the most significant (and varied) pieces of Minnesota culture put into song in the past half century.
Rolling Stones: 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'
Its veracity is dubious, but legend has it this Stones classic features a verse in reference to a chance encounter with Excelsior local legend “Mister Jimmy” after the band played the now-demolished Excelsior Amusement Park in 1964. Fact or fiction, it captures Excelsior’s charm: a small town on the shore of Lake Minnetonka where anything can happen.
Boasting the full gamut of lake activities and weekend nightlife, it features its own craft brewery (Excelsior Brewing), a streetcar museum, crafts and antiques, B&Bs, and a Fourth of July celebration each year with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Odds are that Mick Jagger was referencing his producer, Jimmy Miller, but the summertime streets of Excelsior feature all walks of life intermingling around the lake, so we may never truly know.
Funky and guitar-driven, it’s classic Prince and classic Minnesota. The song is set to his adventures on the streets of Uptown, the fabled Minneapolis neighborhood where creatives gathered in the 1980s. The dive bars and artist lofts have been replaced with more upscale venues, but the neighborhood on the banks of Bde Maka Ska remains a picturesque part of the Twin Cities, offering culture beyond the big boxes and chains. It includes popular eateries like Chino Latino and Barbette, an active bar scene, and some of the busiest sidewalks in the state.
“Everybody’s going,” Prince calls out in song, his endorsement no doubt helping the cause to this day
Johnny Cash: 'Big River'
The Mississippi River is the longest river in North America, and fourth in the world. Like most big things in life, it starts inconspicuously, then weaves and winds through dramatic valleys, before ending with a big finish at the Gulf of Mexico. Visitors can cross the headwaters in Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park, which also features camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and more. As the river traverses the state, it cuts through the named-in-song capital and then through the scenic valleys of southeastern Minnesota, creating some of the state’s most stunning vistas.
The Replacements: 'Skyway'
Minnesotans love the outdoors. Skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing are all a part of the state’s identity. But sometimes it’s nice to leave the coat in the car. The Replacements’ forlorn love story captures that divide between interior and exterior. Inside the climate-controlled arteries of downtown Minneapolis, everything is connected: Timberwolves and Lynx games at Target Center, access to nearby Nicollet Mall, and a prime vantage point for people watching during big events.
Buy skyways aren’t exclusive to Minneapolis: St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth all have their own weather-resistant walkways in the sky.
Weird Al Yankovic: 'The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota'
Modeled after Harry Chapin’s “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” parodist Weird Al Yankovic gives the land up north a special nod in a road-tripping tale of a family en route to “The World’s Largest Ball of Twine,” a roadside attraction built by Francis A. Johnson of Darwin, Minn. The 17,400-pound ball of sisal twine was rolled from 1950-1979 and held a Guinness Book of World Records title until 1994. The curiosity is a unique a mark of human achievement, kept in a weatherproof gazebo and celebrated with Twine Ball Day each August.
As Yankovic melodizes between his drawn-out “Minnnn-e-sota” refrains, “There's still one thing we gotta see.” The ball of twine is one of many roadside attractions to be found throughout the state.
Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.
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