Make ‘Carolina in my Mind’ N.C.’s official rock song

Jim MacKenzie Photo courtesy of Jim MacKenzie


We’re often told that our state is sharply divided, yet there are many things we North Carolinians seem to agree about. And high on the list are romantic reminders of home: barbecue, sweet tea and James Taylor.

Meanwhile, we do love our music, and we can prove it. But “The Old North State” has been North Carolina’s official song since 1927. Isn’t it time we designated a more modern tune? Not throw away our existing state song, mind you, but add to the mix by giving it a rock ’n’ roll buddy.

James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind” has been called North Carolina’s “unofficial song,” with good reason. It casts a spell: You can’t hear its lyrics without being magically transported here, no matter where you are.

Dozens of famous musicians have covered the song, which continues to be lovingly sung at homecomings, football games and sundry other events in venues from the mountains to the coast. (Sometimes it’s even misappropriated by South Carolina, which makes it even more important that we finally bring it home, where it belongs.)

Our state seal bears the motto “Esse quam videri,” a Latin phrase meaning “to be, rather than to seem.” I interpret that as an imperative to be genuine — and nothing’s more authentic than this James Taylor tune.

So it’s time we came together and made “Carolina in my Mind” our state’s official rock song.

Why this song?

These days, you’re more likely to hear Taylor’s music played in the cereal aisle than on classic rock radio. But Taylor’s still a rocker through and through. In 2000, he was inducted into the both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

James Taylor is Western North Carolina’s answer to the Sasquatch. There are many legends about his having visited Asheville in the early 1970s to convalesce, staying in one of our more famous mental hospitals, but no real proof or photographs have emerged. Just stories and lore.

The original version of “Carolina in my Mind” was recorded in 1968 for the Beatles’ Apple Records. Paul McCartney and George Harrison even joined in during the studio sessions. The version you’re probably more familiar with — the stripped down, no drums, acoustic rendition we all recognize — wasn’t created until 1976.

The beauty of this song lies in its simplicity. It compares a sunset to a burning sky, while the narrator is immersed in the homesick feelings Carolinians get whenever we’re away.

The lyrics tell us that Taylor was in a dark place. Even though he was signing a big record deal in London, he missed his boyhood home in North Carolina. And when you hear that unforgettable guitar opening, you know exactly what he was writing about:

Can’t you see the sunshine?

Can’t you just feel the moonshine?

Ain’t it just like a friend of mine

To hit me from behind?

That’s because we’ve all been there; we’ve seen the way the fog sets low over the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is our home, and this is our song.

Why James Taylor?

In the early 1970s, sandwiched between mind-expanding psychedelic rock and the nose-bleeding punk bands, there was this unassuming musical movement of singer-songwriters. They were quiet, introspective, writing their own tunes and playing their own instruments. In 1971, James Taylor’s stoic face was placed on the cover of Time magazine. He was the leader of a new musical revolution.

Kids were turning to nonelectrified instruments: banjos and acoustic guitars. Music stores were puzzled. What had happened to rock ’n’ roll?

After the eruption of the 1960s sound and politics, Taylor represented a return to basics. Tall yet rugged, cerebral, he carried a new philosophy: the back-to-the-Earth sound.

Granted, “Carolina in my Mind” is not as explosive as a flaming Fender set ablaze by Jimi Hendrix. It’s just truth and emotion:

A silver tear appearing now

I’m cryin’, ain’t I?

Gone to Carolina in my mind

Take action today

In 1985, Ohio became the first state to adopt an official rock song: The McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy.” Some band members, including a young Rick Derringer, hailed from Ohio, and the group found popularity around Dayton. Later, their song became a crowd favorite when the Ohio State marching band played it during football games. That enthusiasm helped propel the tune all the way to the state’s General Assembly.

Another example is “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen, the eternal party rock anthem that’s now Oregon’s official rock song. Don’t be surprised that The Kingsmen are from Oregon.

So where is North Carolina’s official rock song? It’s staring us right in the face! This beloved tune was written and performed by a talent that was sharpened and informed by a childhood spent in North Carolina.

Who could say no to this? That old friend hitting us from behind? Isn’t it time we brought our old friend home?

Find your representatives in the N.C. House and Senate and tell them we need to make “Carolina in my Mind” our official state rock song.

Jim MacKenzie wants to know what book you’re reading, your favorite album, and to tell you he doesn’t own a cat.


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10 thoughts on “Make ‘Carolina in my Mind’ N.C.’s official rock song

  1. boatrocker

    1) Oh hell no. NC has better music than vanilla folk.

    2) James Taylor as a rock artist? Sure, If you run a hotel downtown and have to create a safe tourist Internet radio channel for out of town $.

    3) James Taylor, born in Massachusetts. You might as well make Old Crow Medicine Show’s (from NY) “Wagon Wheel” the state song. Actually
    please don’t. They get the geography of the Appalachian Mtns wrong in the song and nobody seems to care.

    4) How does Jim MacKenzie get to determine what state song is had by our fair state? What are his musical credentials?

    5) Damn there is so much soulful traditional music from artists from NC, but rock music? Maybe NC’s musical tradition does not matter to Mr. MacKenzie as music from the 70’s (cocaine, disco, over-produced pop country) really matters.

    6) NC born musicians? Where should we start?
    Link Wray- rock music if ever there was.
    Blind Boy Fuller
    Carolina Slim
    Etta Baker
    Thelonius Monk
    John Coltrane
    Nina Simone
    Charlie Poole
    Maceo Parker
    Tori Amos
    Riley Baugus
    George Clinton
    Roberta Flack
    Andy Griffith
    Unknown Hinson
    Doc Watson
    Snuffy Jenkins
    Ben E King
    Max Roach

    And many more NC born musicians contributed so much more.
    But yeah, milk the name of the safest folk musician from the 70’s to get the tourists here.

    • boatrocker

      “Carolina on My Mind” objectionable lyrics:

      “can’t you just feel the moonshine”- there go the Baptist tee totaller tourist $
      “Ain’t you just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind”- Kim Davis does not approve
      “and hey babe, the sky’s on fire”- pro climate change is going to nix tourist $
      “the signs that might be omens say” -uh oh, hippie pagan reference- so long church field trips
      “still I’m on the dark side of the moon” Pink Floyd reference? Druggie band references do not fill local out of town owned hotels.

      For real, NC. We can do better than James Taylor for our state song.

      NC alternative state songs buy non NC musicians?

      -Guns N Roses- “Mr. Brownstone”. According to the that song is about the Brown Mountain Lights.
      -“Tom Dula” aka Tom Dooley- a family style murder ballad that mentions local sightseeing opportunities.
      – Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)- the theme song for Disney Theme Parks’ “Pirates of the Carribean” tour. Like a Blackbeard mashup! The kids
      love mashups.
      -The Blue Sky Boys’ “I’m Just Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail”- pretty self explanatory
      -Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train”- it will bring the scary buskers with washboards who hop trains and scare retirees- oops maybe not
      -Lynrd Skynrd’s “All I Can Do is Write About it”- uh oh, an anti development song- “I can see the concrete slowly creepin’, Lord take me and mines
      before that comes”

      Subtitles: For real, NC can do better than James Taylor’s magnum opus for dreamy feel good 70’s schlock.

      • Craig Randolph

        How about a song dedicated to most politicians…the Steve Miller Band classic ‘Go On, Take the Money and Run’??

    • Eric

      Ditto, the last comment, and others above mentioned. I think even JT would agree.

    • James MacKenzie

      Hey Bill,

      I wrote the article above. Thanks for your suggestion. Just listened to the song on your link.
      Sadly, it doesn’t fit the criteria of an NC rock song, but I do appreciate the suggestion.
      Love me some good WNC psychedelic rock.
      If you have any more suggestions, let me know.
      Jim M.

  2. boatrocker

    I’ll post it again- take a deep breath, center yourself, focus on your spirit animal and then try to say ‘rock music’ and ‘James Taylor’ in the same sentence with a straight face for being able to Google NC’s rich musical heritage with a key swipe.

    Even cats don’t like James Taylor.

  3. Fred

    Really, who cares? Most of us who love and live in Asheville would rather see it secede from state of NC than embrace a song about it.

    Does Duke Energy have a theme song? That would be more appropriate

  4. James MacKenzie

    Boatrocker – I wrote the above article. What are my credentials musically? I’m just a music fan. I don’t get to determine anything for NC, so, you can remain calm about that. Haha. Raleigh doesn’t call me for input on policy decisions. So, I’m probably as unqualified as you or anyone else is regarding official state songs.
    Thanks for your list of NC-born musicians. That list is easily found with a quick Google search. But I do appreciate your attempt.
    I’m literally opened to your suggestions. Because I’ve thought about an NC rock song for a long time. I’d like to see our state have one. There may be a better suggestion than James Taylor. But the problem isn’t finding a rock musician born in this state, because that list is seemingly unending. It’s finding an NC rock musician who has written a quintessential song about our state.
    So, I’m curious. What song, by someone on your list, would that be?
    Thanks for your interest. Hope to hear from you soon.
    Jim M.

  5. Kathie

    Let’s update and make Wagon Wheel our song. “If I die in Raleigh at least I will die free”

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