Delaware isn’t New York or L.A. (or even Athens, Georgia or Gary, Indiana for that matter) when it comes to churning out national-level celebrities and musicians.
The oft-criticized music scene has pumped out some amazing songs and artists, especially in the last few decades or so. Just remember: Delaware became a state before it was cool.
What are the 50 best pop songs ever produced by a Delaware (* or Delaware-adjacent) artist? To find out, we sought out suggestions from a few local experts:
“Grouchy” Greg Watkins and Chuck Creekmur, founders of AllHipHop.com, Gayle Dillman, owner of Gable Music Ventures, Mark Rogers, host of “Hometown Heroes,” Delaware Public Media/91.1, Paula Wolkind, co-founder of The Delaware Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Steven Leech, publisher and editor of Dreamstreets; host of “Boptime” on WVUD/91.3.
Here, we ranked our top 50 songs by Delaware artists since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.
[Grace Vonderkuhn EP – 2015]
Wilmington’s Grace Vonderkuhn shares some lo-fi indie fuzz DNA with bands like Helium and Best Coast, and “Nowhere to Go” was her impressive debut single, dripping with suburban ennui and boredom.
[single – 1963]
Wilmington High School friends Debbi Badson, Jackie Hazzard, Valerie Robinson, Ventie Jean Williams, and Shirley Lewis were the first “girl group” from Wilmington to release a record, in 1963. “Boys” is a shining, heartbreaking doo-wop ballad full of teenage angst.
[Animals, Vegetables, and Mineral Springs – 1986]
Ever the crowd-pleaser, the late Jerry “Crabmeat” Thompson (a nickname he earned in college after accidentally soaking his clothing with crab and clam juice) looked like a substitute history teacher and cussed like George Carlin. But his odd, hilarious and passionately sung diddies earned him big crowds wherever he played. A jazzy, dorky yarn, “Night of the Vegetables” is a loony epic featuring synths, tubas, and sax.
[Beat the Meter – 1984]
Perhaps Delaware’s best entry in the ’80s new-wave genre, Newark’s Bad Sneakers were one of the state’s most prolific live acts of their era, with 200-gigs-a-year calendar between 1979 and 1986. “Caught in the Act” is a catchy, cheesy, tawdry affair that could’ve been dreamed up by Ric Ocasek.
[Twelve Stories – 2012]
Versatile Wilmington native Joe Trainor has done it all for the city’s art scene, from serving as musical director for “Hedwig the Angry Inch” to putting on Billy Joel tribute shows at the Queen. His original compositions—like the rousing “The Thing About Boats”—showcase Trainor’s manic brand of piano-fronted power pop.
[$3 Wine EP – 2016]
Led by musical force of nature Danielle “Brown Sug” Johnson, Hoochi Coochi earned attention for their fiery live shows and captivating take on bluesy soul. “Give it to Me,” perhaps their signature song, shows why they’re one of Delaware’s sexiest bands.
[Fun Guys – 2003]
If you’ve been to a local festival or gathering in the last, say, 45 years or so, you’ve likely heard the tender strumming of Sin City Band. The Scott Birney-penned “Chester County Song,” an ode to stinky mushroom soil and riding bikes up Bucktoe Hill, is a fan favorite.
[single – 2017]
Brittany Talia Hazzard, who grew up in Rehoboth Beach watching the Ruff Ryders and Nelly on BET, is today known professionally as Starrah—one of the music industry’s hottest and most sought-after hit-makers. As a behind-the-scenes songwriter and collaborator, she’s sent 14 pop singles to the top 20 on Billboard Hot 100, including two No. 1s (Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”). She’s worked with the biggest names in pop, from Rihanna to Drake to the Weeknd. The former DelState Hornet shines as a frontwoman, too, especially on “Swerve,” her slinky, autotuned collaboration with Diplo.
[single – 1963]
Led by Carmine Poppiti, the Tradewinds (the eventual 1973 “Official Band of New Castle County”) landed a steady string of hits that kept them on the Wilmington Authentic Music Survey Top 30 charts through the middle of the ’60s. These included “Wildwood Twist” and “Abba Dabba Do.” But “The Snake” is best of the group, a tom-tom and sax-led banger with some well-deployed serpentine hisses.
[The Knobs Breakup and Die – 2009]
Five years after the drunk driving death of their frontman Phil Healy, Wilmington’s The Knobs released their opus, “Dublin Sky,” an aching, hushed, tender take on indie rock that reminds of Yo La Tengo or Wilco.
[A Collection – 2011]
The fiery frontwoman behind the Gypsy Fuzz, Havrilla dials back the flames on “Daffodil,” a fan favorite from her 2011 solo album. The country-tinged rock tune speaks of pushing away dark clouds and wiping away tears in favor of brighter days and flowers yet to bloom.
[The Return of the Magnificent – 2007]
You know him as the Philadelphia-born-and-raised DJ/sideman to Will Smith’s Fresh Prince, but the hip-hop legend moved to Bear to raise his family in 2004. Since then, he’s continued to quietly produce some excellent music, letting the bright, bouncy (and, yes, jazzy) beats that made him famous shine with help from respected emcees. New York legend C.L. Smooth lends his breezy gravitas to “All I Know.”
[Gutterbawl – 2018]
Erin Silva’s growl is one of the most appealing sounds Delaware’s rock scene has produced in recent years, a perfect blend of menace and melody that hits like a triple-shot latte laced with hemlock. “Prom Queen” is her band’s rumbling Eff You to the beautiful people, and a warning to anyone who might stand in Silva’s way. Check out the scenes of Eyebawl at Firefly 2021.
[Conversational Piece – 2016]
What happened to songs with sheer honesty? Richard Raw asks in a moment of Marvin-Gaye-meets-Kendrick-Lamar contemplation, remembering an era when songs could deliver jabs of pain along moments of joy. One of Delaware’s most talented and thoughtful emcees of the last decade, Raw teaches a course at the University of Delaware on the Evolution of Hip Hop Writing and made a spoke to Tower Hill School students on Using Hip Hop Pedagogy to bring about Social Change.
“What Happened to the Soul?” delivered Raw a WSTW Homey Award for Hip Hop Song of The Year thanks in part to sparkling guest vocals by former “The Voice” singer Nadjah Nicole.
[The Sit Down – 2018]
Jea Street Jr.’s DIY 2018 album The Sit Down is the artist’s take on the struggles of being a Black man in America. “Teddy,” a highlight, is a doleful triumph about abandonment and forgiveness.
[single – 1994]
Influenced by the Stone Roses and the dreamy, dancey, ecstasy-enhanced “Madchester” U.K. scene, Schroeder emerged as an East Coast powerhouse during the ’90s. “Heavenly” is an apt title to one of their signature tunes; a buoyant, reverb-soaked anthem that’s unabashedly happy.
[2005 – Hurry Up & Wait]
Producer, songwriter, and all-around hip-hop utilityman, Hezekiah Davis III, who was raised in New Castle, found his niche among the gritty, soulful Philly sound personified by The Roots, Musiq Soulchild, and Beanie Sigel. “It Couldn’t Be Done,” featuring a guest verse from Wilmington emcee Richard Raw, shows off Davis’ unique approach to beats.
[Starting Now – 2007]
The Smyrna country hunk went from the potato farm to the national spotlight after an appearance on Fox’s “Nashville” reality show and a well-publicized romance with Julianne Hough. On “Stealing Cinderella,” his undeniable wedding season staple, Wicks sings of pillow fights and running through the sprinklers, and a weirdly earnest appreciation of daddy-daughter relationships.
[Nu Bop – 2002]
Raised in Wilmington (eventually attending UD for a year), Matthew Shipp is one of the avant-jazz world’s most respected and prolific figures. His mother was a friend of the legendary Clifford Brown, and by age six he was playing jazz piano. It’s nary impossible to pluck a single arrangement from Shipp’s dozens of recordings, but his 2002 Nu Bop is a solid glimpse into his idiosyncratic, fusion genius.
[Jesus & Jameson EP – 2017]
A little bit gospel, a little bit rock, “Jesus & Jameson” is the portrait of a conflicted bluesman and the highlight of Darnell Miller’s debut EP. “O glory, hallelujah, amen,” he starts, before conceding in the Prince-like singalong, “We all fall short sometimes.”
[Fabric Room EP – 2014]
New Sweden’s brand of beer-swigging, southern-tinged folk stomp (a la Bright Eyes or the Avett Brothers) landed the Wilmington band a spot at the Firefly Music Festival and three consecutive “Best Band in Delaware” awards from the Tri State Indie Music Awards. “Jesus Christ died for your sins/not mine,” crows William Dobies in one of the band’s most ferocious songs.
[single – 1959]
Forget about the Twist. Ban the Bop. Do you know how to do the Shag? Decades before Austin Powers, Billy Graves was America’s most shagadelic star. “The Shag” was a one-hit wonder about a new dance craze, but a (totally cool) one at that.
[Own Time – 2015]
Of the area’s crop of live acts, few are as prolific and well-loved as lower case blues. The opening track to their 2015 album, “Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” is a propulsive road trip jam without a destination in mind—but plenty of blues hooks and a few lip-puckering guitar solos.
[Drunk at the Stone Balloon – 1994]
The band that practically smells like dirty flip-flops, sunburns, and spilled Orange Crushes at the Rusty Rudder, Love Seed Mama Jump soundtracked Delaware’s party scene for the better part of three decades. Their passionate covers of goofy relics like “Solsbury Hill” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” were always Love Seed’s lifeblood, but “She Likes the Dead”—one of the band’s handful of originals—is every bit as spunky and singable. Even nine beers deep.
(Project X – 1989)
In 1989, a handful of Wilmington-area rappers and beatmakers—friends who would meet up at Price’s Park and hold rap battles—cobbled their money together to rent studio space from “Real” McCoy Troy. The resulting “Project X” compilation album changed Delaware hip-hop forever—launching careers in rap, an East Coast tour, and inspiring countless others. “Riverside Bucket 26,” a street ode to Iziah’s hood in Riverside, still gets spun in area clubs.
[Positronic Raygun – 1998]
Newark punks Zen Guerilla climbed from Main Street all the way to Sub Pop records, the legendary Seattle label that brought us Nirvana and Soundgarden. But the band’s last album on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label has some of their finest gems, like the muscular, bluesy “Empty Heart,” which rampages like a train covered in thick smoke.
[Songs from the Ancient Age – 2003]
Psychedelic weirdos Spindrift—the longtime project led by Kirpatrick Thomas—create eerie spaghetti-western soundscapes you might hear during a Quentin Tarantino film. “Red Reflection” sounds something like Jim Morrison performing on quaaludes at a dusty saloon circa 1899.
[Fiancé – 2016]
Dream-pop supergroup Fiancé gained the attention of Stereogum and the NME with slinky, effect-laden jams like “Staring at the Floor.” In a wash of guitars and echoing coos, frontman Andrew Fusca sings, “Sink into the wall.” As if we had any other choice.
[Mind Control – 2007]
Reggae royalty Stephen Marley (son of Bob and Rita Marley) was born in Wilmington and raised in Kingston, where he was part of the Melody Makers alongside older siblings Ziggy, Sharon and Cedella. The lead single from his Grammy-winning debut solo album echoes his father’s legacy: an unbeatable groove that leads with the heart.
[Love Now – 2013]
With a twinkling piano and sleigh bells, Katie Dill and Sam Nobles sink their teeth into you about four seconds into “Far Away,” a standout track from Mean Lady’s 2013 album on the Fat Possum label. It’s where the duo’s irresistibly sweet and kaleidoscopic take on indie rock shines brightest.
[Plow United – 1995]
If you don’t feel the urge to kickflip upon hearing “Spindle,” well, check your pulse (or your trucks). Brian McGee and his trio of teenaged smart-asses—gathered from around Wilmington and Delco, Pa.—were grittier than Green Day, but more melodic than most punks could dream. Their signature salvo, full of angst and light-speed drums, still soars.
[Mercury Lane – 2018]
When Jimmie Allen sings, “I’ve stuck out/I’ve been knocked down/more times than I can count,” he means it. After leaving his hometown of Milton to pursue his country music dreams in Nashville, Allen spent three months living out of his car before landing a record deal. It’s part of why “Best Shot”—which lit up national country charts upon its release—feels so triumphant and honest.
[The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer – 2009]
Folk artist Duvekot, a Philly transplant who moved to Delaware at 13 and attended UD, carved out a successful career as a folk troubadour, recording eight solo albums and landing a song, “Merry-Go-Round,” in a Bank of America ad that aired during Super Bowl XLI. “Long Way” is a towering but fragile road-trip ballad that showcases Duvekot’s brilliant lyrics and ear for melody.
[single – 1961]
In September 1961, Teddy Henry and his Continentals scored a surprise national hit with their silly dance tune “Ev’rebody Pony.” But the flip-side is the one most aficionados prefer.
[After the Eulogy – 2001]
An undeniable emo banger that landed on the soundtracks of video games about both pro wrestling and snowboarding, “Rookie” is the biggest hit from Newark punks Boysetsfire. Their breakout 2001 album, a refused-style leftist hardcore jaunt, landed the Newark band a spot on the Vans Warped Tour.
[single – 1956]
Jimmy Stayton was the most successful artist on the roster for Blue Hen Records, a small label in Harrington that produced Delaware’s first-ever rock and roll records. Today it’s a nearly forgotten chapter of Delaware music history, but, during the ’50s, Blue Hen produced and distributed records that spanned country bop to rockabilly.
Stayton’s 1956 recording of “Hot Hot Mama” was the earliest purely rock ‘n’ roll recording made in Delaware. But his follow-up, “You Gonna Treat Me Right” is even better, with a Gene Vincent meets Buddy Holly rockabilly swagger.
[Walkin’ On The Water – 1986]
With some hard-hitting honky tonk swagger and a Thorogoodian growl, UD alumni Tommy Conwell hit #1 on Billboard’s mainstream rock chart in 1988 with “I’m Not Your Man,” which also peaked at 74 on the Hot 100 singles chart.
[single – 1991]
Managed by the colorful Bert Ottaviano, the longtime owner of Bert’s record stores on Concord Pike in Wilmington and Main Street in Newark, the Smashing Orange plied in Shoegaze, the droning, reverb-y, trance-inducing flavor of rock popularized by UK bands like My Bloody Valentine. Their psychedelic breakout hit, “My Deranged Heart,” found fans in England. They even recorded a session for the legendary John Peel BBC radio show in 1992.
[Google That – 2013]
Robert Teat rapped as Bobby Dime$ about what he lived around east Wilmington: the small-town congeniality (“I’m out Delaware and I met you already,” he says on the opening line of his most famous song), but also the suffocating reality of drug abuse, police harassment and violence. Just a few chapters into a promising career, which saw “Out Delaware” go viral—Teat was gunned down in November 2016. With a hook that samples Meek Mill, and a guest verse from drug-rap veteran Peedi Crakk, it’s today considered a Delaware anthem.
[single – 1966]
Charlie Berl and Ted Munda were just two out of millions of aspiring young rock stars whose lives were altered forever by the great British Invasion of 1964. The Wilmington pair merged their bands together, donned mop-tops, and named their new band after a famous British rifle. “I’m for Things You Do” (a b-side to the Zombies-esque single “She Already Has Somebody”) is two and a half minutes of 60s garage rock perfection.
[Songs from the Red Box – 2011]
Producer and performer Angela Sheik is a looper—an artist who records chunks of musical moments in real-time and then loops them atop each other to create a one-woman symphony of sounds. Her heavenly 2011 single, “Run for Cover” won her the honor of U.S. National Loop Champion, and for good reason. It’s a triumph of swelling synths and flutes, and a testament to an artist who isn’t afraid to carve out her own musical path; “don’t be afraid of the rain,” she sings.
[single – 1966]
Thirty years before he moved to Nashville to become a blues-rock icon alongside the Allman Brothers Band and Dickey Betts, Johnny Neel was born, blind, in Wilmington. Neel went onto record eight albums, appear on countless others as a guest musician, and earned a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Grammys.
The Grammy-winning Neel started it all here in Delaware, with the joyful, sunshiny radio hit, “Talking About People,” recorded when he was just 12 years old. Fans from the era still reminisce on YouTube about sharkskin suits, transistor radios and peeling out in a ‘62 Dodge Dart. That’s pretty much exactly what “Talking About People” sounds like.
[Straight Out the Cage EP – 1989]
“The cage” was the Brookmont Farms neighborhood near Bear, a high-crime area during the ’80s where all the streets were named after birds. Residents were ecstatic to hear their own Floyd “Poochie” Backus and Mike “Mike C” Cannon pipe across Power 99 one weekend in 1989. By the time “Straight From Cage” was through, it had earned worldwide acclaim among true hip-hop heads, who regard it as a forgotten classic. Rare vinyl of the single fetch hundreds on collector websites. It’s no wonder “Straight From Cage” still absolutely crushes. Like their Golden-era peers Public Enemy, Pooch and Mike C deliver incendiary, Afrocentric jabs—imagining a black Tarzan and Jane and a half-black Abraham Lincoln—over a funkadelia hook.
[Whirligig – 1995]
An MTV buzz bin and Philly’s alt-rock Y100 radio staple, “Devil’s Diary” gave the Newark quintet its 15 minutes of national fame. It holds up surprisingly well more than 25 years later: the soaring, earworm of a chorus evokes John Lennon’s infamous “more popular than Jesus” remark, and frontman John Faye can still illicit giggles with some truly funny and memorable lines (on his metal chick groupies: “it’s never good/to be understood/by a girl named Acid Wash”).
[Nice and Nicely Done – 2005]
An ode to the band’s mythical mandolin (which was once stolen after a gig at Manchester Academy 3 in summer of 2006), “Oh Mandy” is the twinkling emo masterpiece from the shaggy sextet from Wilmington.
Nick Krill’s warbly croon pleads for a PG-13 love affair worthy of the WB network. The band’s hopeful, colorful approach to indie rock earned some national acclaim (including a glowing review in Pitchfork), but they were huge in England. They took the festival stage at Bramham Park in Leeds, England, in front of thousands of screaming Brits in 2006. That May, they performed on the legendary “Later…With Jools Holland” BBC program.
[Demon in Disguise – 1972]
David Bromberg is, by all measures, a savant. He’s mastered numerous instruments and sounds at home in practically any genre, from bluegrass to rock to Americana, and crafts his own violins. But if nothing else, “Sharon” shows off the simple, unscientific power of an incredible riff. The five-note guitar crunch that drives “Sharon” is an absolute killer. Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Keith Godchaux and Bill Kreutzmann feature on the track, which was also sampled to perfection by the Beastie Boys (“Johnny Ryall”) in 1989.
[Now That the Light Is Fading EP – 2016]
Frisson (free-sawn) is a French term that means “aesthetic chills.” Researchers use it to describe the goosebumps and waves of pleasure we feel when listening to amazing music. And it’s practically unavoidable upon hearing Maggie Rogers’ debut single for the first time—as Pharrell Williams discovered in the viral clip that introduced Rogers to the world when she was an NYU student in 2016.
Rogers’ breathy vocals seem to glide frictionlessly over metallic plinks and pops of bass. “I was walking through icy streams/That took my breath away/Moving slowly through westward water/Over glacial plains,” she sings, pulling inspiration from summertime hikes in Alaska, where she trained to be an outdoor guide before finally deciding to go full-bore into a music career.
“Alaska” is, simply, a work of art—a seamless blend of the rootsy folk music Rogers grew up on and the dance music she discovered and fell in love with abroad—and an opening stanza to a musical journey that appears limitless.
[Bad to the Bone – 1982]
It’s the riff that’s synonymous with badassery. It’s introduced us to villains and bros and bikers from “Terminator 2” to “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” It’s inescapable. It’s cheesy. It’s perfect.
We think of “Bad to the Bone” as more of a cultural touchstone than a song; It’s the Bart Simpson of rock songs. But it contains one of rock music’s all-time guitar licks—one that every kid who ever picked up a guitar since 1982 has attempted to play at some point.
George Thorogood’s 12-bar blues masterpiece didn’t become a smash until its music video (wherein George shoots pool with Bo Diddly inside a stoagie-filled bar) worked its way into the rotation at the just-launched MTV. But once it did, it burrowed its way into the pop cultural landscape and never left.
Thorogood was somewhat of an outcast growing up around Wilmington: too cool for the jocks, not quite cool enough for the rock crowd, and friends say it fueled Thorogood’s relentless devotion to music. It shows in “Bad to the Bone”—one of the tightest, most memorable blues-rock songs America’s ever known, whether they wanted to or not.
[Rastaman Vibration – 1976]
No, it doesn’t feel quite right to call Bob Marley a Delaware artist. But the reggae icon has undeniable Delaware roots. He lived in Wilmington, off and on between 1966 and 1977 after his mother, Cedella Malcolm Marley Booker, relocated there after remarrying.
In need of money to start his own record label back in Jamaica, Marley took a job driving a forklift at the Chrysler Assembly Plant in Newark, and the inspiration for “Night Shift” was born. It may not carry the cultural weight of “Redemption Song,” but “Night Shift” is a moving example of strength and determination during a trying time. And it’s a small but mighty gem among Marley’s scriptures.
[Marquee Moon – 1977]
By 1977, punk rock had gone mainstream and started to lose some of its sneer. Then a handful of guys from Delaware steered it into a different place entirely and altered the course of rock history.
Tom Verlaine (born Thomas Miller in Denville, New Jersey) moved to Wilmington at six and met future bandmate and punk icon Richard Lester Meyers, aka Richard Hell, at Sanford School before running away to New York. Wilmington drummer Billy Ficca later joined them.
After some early positive buzz, their band Television became a fixture at CBGBs in lower Manhattan, alongside acts like the Ramones, Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith.
But Television’s 1977 album Marquee Moon was nothing like the squared-off, straightforward brand of punk to which most were accustomed. Verlaine and bandmates operate more like a string quartet than a punk band, weaving together tight, jittery guitar rhythms and countermelodies that somehow connect like puzzle pieces. Today it’s hailed as a masterpiece and an important musical bridge between punk and new-wave.
The titular song is a nearly 11-minute epic that somehow gets better as it goes on. All jagged and moody, Verlaine wails about ominous darkness doubling and lightning striking itself—in between lengthy guitar interludes.
It’s a song that was so far ahead of its time, people are still trying to figure it out, much like the trendsetting state that incubated its creators.