Sunday, December 9, 2012

Story Songs: Detroit City

Most of us have been homesick at some point in our lives -- perhaps in college or the military or moving to another city after getting married.

Or maybe, as Bobby Bare sings in "Detroit City," at a job away from the place we consider home. 

The tune, written by the legendary songwriter Danny Dill and Country Music Hall of Famer Mel Tillis, is about a Southerner who goes north to work at one of the automobile factories. It reached No. 6 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1963.

So often people seek fame and fortune in other places only to discover they may have lost much more in terms of personal happiness. And on the flip side, sometimes we have to leave home to find happiness -- wherever and whatever that may be.

"Detroit City" opens with the mournful:

"I wanna go home, 
I wanna go home 
Oh how I wanna go home"

The narrator then tells of falling asleep and dreaming about the home and loved ones he left behind:

"I dreamed about my mother, my dear old papa, sister and brother
I dreamed about about that girl who's been waiting for so long"

Then we learn that he's been living a lie from he's been telling the folks back home:

"Homefolks think I'm big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I'm fine
But by day I make the cars, by night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines"

Then he admits the he's been wasting time in Detroit and needs to return to where he's happy:

"So I just think I'll take my foolish pride and put it on a southbound freight and ride
And go back to the loved ones that I left waitin' so far behind"

Bare won a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording for the song in 1964. Billy Grammer, Dean Martin, and Tom Jones also charted this song on various Billboard charts.

Does the song make you think of times you've been homesick?

"Detroit City" lyrics


  1. I have always lived within 50 miles or so from the place I was born. My first husband, on the other hand, moved here from south Georgia and worked for 35 years at the General Motors plant. Very similar story to the song. He did have a lot of regrets, and he did finally buy his family farm and moved back after all of those years. I think that must be very satisfying for him.
    Another great post, thank you!

  2. Thanks, Sandie. I know a few Kentuckians who moved north to work at the factories in Ohio and Michigan. Some of them sent money back home to support their families. Now that the automobile industry has shifted toward the south, I wonder how many northerners look southward for work?