Did you know that there have been many famous songs written about Pennsylvania? There have been.
Some of these songs are written specifically about experiences in Pennsylvania by artists from the state while others simply use the state within the song as a lyrical element. Never the less, it’s a great window into the state to listen to these songs.
Here are a few of my favorite songs about Pennsylvania, as well as a few other songs from well-known artists that feature the state.
Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John
“Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom
From the day that I was born, I’ve waved the flag
Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man, yeah
Gave me a peace of mind my daddy never had”
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John was released in 1975 and spent time at #1 on the Billboard Charts. The song was written to honor tennis star Billie Jean King and her professional tennis team, the Philadelphia Freedom, though the song doesn’t really have anything to do with tennis.
Pennsylvania Polka by Frank Yankovich
“Strike up the music the band has begun
The Pennsylvania Polka
Pick out your partner and join in the fun
The Pennsylvania Polka
It started in Scranton. It’s now number one
It’s bound to entertain ya
Everybody has the mania to do the polka from Pennsylvania”
“Pennsylvania Polka” was first released in 1942, but is most famous today for the version by Frank Yankovich released in 1959. The song is probably most well-known for being prominently featured in the film “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray about the events on Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (Definitely one of the best movies set in Pennsylvania ever made.)
Allentown by Billy Joel
“Well, we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard, if we behaved”
“Allentown” is one of Billy Joel’s most well-known songs and has become an anthem for blue-collar workers. The song tells the story of economic depression that was prominent as industry changed in the 1970s and 1980s, using the Lehigh Valley as a stand-in for many places around the country.
Pittsburgh – They Might Be Giants
“We are the guests of Mr. Smalls
He’s somewhere watching us
Through eyeholes in the walls”
Comedy-rock band They Might Be Giants recorded a song called “Pittsburgh” about Mr. Smalls Theater, a rock club in Millvale. While the song itself doesn’t mention Pittsburgh, there’s a minute-long introduction to the video by actor John Hodgman that has a humous take on the city.
Motownphilly – Boyz II Men
“Never skipped a beat, na
While cooling on South street
Jet black Benz, plenty of friends
And all the Philly steaks you could eat”
Philly’s own Boyz 2 Men debuted in 1991 with their first single, “Motownphilly,” which was, not surprisingly about their hometown. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Charts.
The video above features many famous Philly landmarks, and it’s fun to get a glimpse into what the city looked like three decades ago.
Camptown Races by Stephen Foster
“Camptown ladies sing dis song, Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
Camptown race-track five miles long, Oh, doo-dah day!
I come down dah wid my hat caved in, Doo-dah! Doo-dah!
I go back home wid a pocketful of tin, Oh, doo-dah day!”
“Camptown Races” was written by Pittsburgh-native Stephen Foster, one of the first American musical stars, in 1850. While the song doesn’t obviously mention PA, Foster wrote the song while he was living in Towanda, Pennsylvania, about the horse races in the nearby community of Camptown.
The races were restarted in the mid-20th century as a foot race due to the popularity of the song.
Pennsylvania – Heart
“You were a young man troubled hadn’t found its way
You were smiling, that’s all you had to say
I thought I saw you
If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not sure if the song “Pennsylvania” by Heart is about the state of Pennsylvania or a person named Pennsylvania. However, the song is quite nice and prominently features the state’s name in the title and lyrics, so I figured it was worth including here.
Frick Park Market by Mac Miller
“Don’t know ’bout you but all my rhymes is deadly here
Frick Park Market where we kicking out the garbage
Sick bars I’ve been a boss so stick around and watch it
Did the round, no college campus chilling writing on top of planet Earth”
Pittsburgh native Mac Miller quite often mentioned places in the city in his songs. “Frick Park Market” is an ode to a real convenience store on the northern end of Frick Park. The video was even filmed in the market and includes other Pittsburgh sites like Blue Slide Park.
Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen
“I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the Streets of Philadelphia”
“Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen was written for the film “Philadelphia” and won the Oscar for Best Original Song, as well as four Grammy Awards. The video prominently features many people and sights from around the city.
Amish Paradise by Weird Al
“We’ve been spending most our lives
Living in an Amish paradise
I’ve churned butter once or twice
Living in an Amish paradise
It’s hard work and sacrifice
Living in an Amish paradise
We sell quilts at a discount price
Living in an Amish paradise”
“Amish Paradise” is a song by comedian Weird Al Yankovich and parodies “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio. The song pokes some good-natured fun at the Amish culture of Lancaster County and the tourism that surrounds it.
In the middle of the video, you can even see a fictitious “Welcome to Lancaster” sign.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Guy Mitchell
“And I walk up and down ‘neath the clock
(By the pawnshop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
But I ain’t got a thing left to hock”
“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” by Guy Mitchell was a popular song that was released in 1952. The song follows a poor young man as he tries to impress a woman by trying to get a bit of money at a Pittsburgh pawnshop to convince her that he is rich.
While they probably could have chosen just about anywhere to set the song, since it includes Pittsburgh, I’ve put it on this list.
“Sleigh bells ring
Are you listening
In the lane
Snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We’re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland”
“Winter Wonderland” is one of the most popular Christmas songs and was most famously recorded by Johnny Mathis. Interestingly, the song was written by Honesdale, PA native Dick Smith. Smith is reported to have written the song while thinking back about his childhood in Honesdale.
So, while this song doesn’t mention PA, it’s certainly written about the state.
Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
“Back in Philly we be out in the park
A place called the Plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out hunting and girls doing likewise”
“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (better known as actor Will Smith) is an ode to summertime in Philadelphia. This is the perfect song for driving around the city, and the video for the song features many well-known spots around Philly.
Harrisburg by Josh Ritter
“It’s a long way to Heaven, it’s closer to Harrisburg
And that’s still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists its a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car”
“Harrisburg” was a 2002 song by artist Josh Ritter. Ritter, who was from Idaho, would drive with his family to visit his father’s hometown of Allentown. Along the way, they would pass through Harrisburg, and the city stuck with him enough to make it into one of his songs.
Fall in Philadelphia – Hall and Oates
“I guess I have to face the fact as real
I think I feel my back up against the wall
I’m gonna spend another Fall In Philadelphia”
Philadelphia natives Hall and Oates paid homage to their hometown in their song “Fall in Philadelphia”, though it doesn’t necessarily seem like a very optimistic song about fall in Philadelphia, which is quite lovely.
The song appeared on their debut album in 1972.
30,000 Pounds of Bananas by Henry Chapin
“It was just after dark when the truck started down
The hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Carrying thirty thousand pounds of bananas.
Carrying thirty thousand pounds of bananas.”
“30,000 Pounds of Bananas” by Henry Chapin is a folk-rock 1974 song about a real truck accident in Scranton, Pennsylvania, though some details in the song are fictionalized. The accident about which the song is based occurred in March 1965 and resulted in the death of the drive and the spillage of 30,000 pounds of bananas.
Pittsburgh Sound by Wiz Kalifa
“The place, that steel city damn
I got that Pittsburgh sound
And Imma always hold Pittsburgh down
Its Wiz Khalifa man
You cant tell by now
Pittsburgh Imma swell my town
That steel city damn”
Rapper Wiz Kalifa spent a good portion of his youth in Pittsburgh, so it should come as no surprise that the first song on his debut album, “Show and Prove,” would be about his hometown of Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh Sound” features many references to the city and offers a look at his store and perspective.
South Street by The Orlons
“Meet me, on South Street, oh yeah, hurry on down
Come on now, meet me on South Street
The hippest street in town
Well you take West Street, East Street, North Avenue
(Cause I know) South Street’s the best street”
Philadelphia group, The Orlons, had a few hits in the early 1960s. One of their biggest hits, “South Street,” was a dance/R&B song about Philly’s South Street. The song would peak at #3 on the US pop charts in 1963 and was on their album of the same name.
Interestingly, many would still say that South Street is the “hippest street in town.”
Pennsylvania Turnpike, I Love You – Homer and Jethro
“Pennsylvania Turnpike, I love you so
All the way from Jersey, to Ohio
From the beautiful mountains and the fields of grass
And the friendly road stands where we eat and get gas”
If driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike has ever made you want to sing with joy, you’ll love the song “Pennsylvania Turnpike, I love You” by Homer and Jethro.
Homer and Jethro were a country duo that was popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. While they started out as serious artists, much of their later work involved parodies and humor, of which this song seems to be a great example.
Ode to a Pittsburgh – Loudon Wainwright III
“Pennsylvania’s western daughter
With your tubes of liberty
Princess of big iron slaughter
With your boyfriend Carnegie”
Loudon Wainwright III is a popular American folk singer with a career spanning many decades (He’s also the father of current artist Rufus Wainwright). “Ode to a Pittsburgh” was on Wainwright’s debut album in 1970 and is a beautiful song that really seems to capture the city that Pittsburgh was five decades ago.
You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania – New Found Glory
“It must be something I said.
Love is another word for regret.
It must be part of my plan.
It’s never too late to understand”
In 1999, pop-punk band New Found Glory put out a song titled “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” on their album “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” While the song uses the state’s old, and probably most well known, tourism slogan, the song itself seems to have very little to do with the state. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass up including a song that used this popular saying.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Song – DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
“In West Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool
And shooting some b-ball outside of the school”
There have been many TV shows set in Pennsylvania, and while only a small part of the plot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was set in Philadelphia, the hometown of actor/rapper Will Smith, the show’s theme song prominently features the state in its backstory. In fact, there is an entire generation of people that can’t think of West Philadelphia without humming this song.
Pittsburgh – Lemonheads
“With a little bit of common sense
You can lose a lot of innocence, in this world
You can leave yourself behind”
On the Lemonheads 2006 self-titled album, there is a song called “Pittsburgh.” Interestingly, the song doesn’t even mention the city. However, according to an interview by TribLive, the song originally contained the line “You can lose a lot of innocence in Pittsburgh,” but the city’s name was changed to “the world” before the song’s release.
Nevertheless, since the song was written to be about Pittsburgh, it’s worth mentioning here.
Pennsylvania – Eddie Khoury and Ronnie Bonner
Mighty is your name,
Steeped in glory and tradition,
Object of acclaim.”
“Pennsylvania” by Eddie Khoury and Ronnie Bonner is our official state song since being adopted in 1990, and I couldn’t make a list of the best songs about Pennsylvania without including it. The lyrics to the song were written in 1955, and the music was composed a few years later in 1961.
The song is often used for official government events around the state, even though there’s a good chance you’ve never heard it.
Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler
“We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line”
“Sailing to Philadelphia” is a song by British artist Mark Knopfler, lead singer of Dire Straits, and features a duet with James Taylor. The song is sung from the perspective of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as they surveyed what’s known today as the Mason-Dixon Line. The song’s details are taken from the book “Mason & Dixon” by Thomas Pynchon.
Pennsylvania Is – Everclear
“I got a card today from a girl I know
She used to live alone in Philadelphia
She had to leave the state for a choice she made
She says she feels just like a hostage in her home
Hey hey hey hey Pennsylvania
“Pennsylvania Is” was featured on the 1993 debut album “World of Noise” by Everclear. The song is about a series of people from Pennsylvania and some of the problems that they are having. Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out if this song simply uses Pennsylvania as a convenient place to set the story or if there is a specific meaning behind the state being used here.
Philadelphia – Neil Young
“City of brotherly love
Place I call home
Don’t turn your back on me
I don’t want to be alone
Love lasts forever”
“Philadelphia” by Neil Young is the second song on this list from the movie “Philadelphia”. It also probably the saddest and most haunting song on this list. However, it’s also quite beautifully written and performed.
The song was written to bring attention to and tell the story of HIV/Aids.
The Range War – Todd Rundgren
“Back in Pittsburgh
It’s the only town east of the river I know
And I feel kinda bad, bringin’ our grief
Upon this pore old farmer’s house”
Todd Rundgren’s “The Range War” appeared on his 1971 album “Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren”. The song is about two young lovers whose fathers are in a vicious battle over land. The singer just wants to escape east to Pittsburgh with his love.
New Sensations – Lou Reed
“I rode to Pennsylvania near the Delaware Gap
sometimes I got lost and had to check the map
I stopped at a roadside diner for a burger and a coke”
“New Sensations” is a song by artist Lou Reed and could be found on his album of the same name that came out in 1984. While much of the song has nothing to do with Pennsylvania, it’s the only song I could find that mentions somewhere in the Poconos, namely the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Pittsburgh Town – Pete Seeger
“Well what did Jones and Laughlan steal? Pittsburgh
What did Jones and Laughlan steal? Pittsburgh
What did Jones and Laughlan steal?
Up an’ down the river jus’ as far as you can see
In Pittsburgh, Lord God, Pittsburgh”
“Pittsburgh Town” is a song off of the 1992 album “American Industrial Ballads” by folksinger Pete Seeger. The song talks about Pittsburgh’s steel industry and, in large part, about the negative aspects on the environment and health of the city from the many steel mills that could be found along its rivers.
Gonna Fly Now by Bill Coni
Better known as the Theme from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now” by composer Bill Conti is one of the most well-known theme songs in movie history. In Rocky II, the song is famously played as Rocky Balboa runs through the city of Philadelphia, ending at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Did you know that, if Rocky actually ran the route as shown in the film, he would have completed a run of more than 30 miles?
Do you have any favorite songs about Pennsylvania that I did (or didn’t) mention here? Let us know in the comments below.