Pennsylvania is one of America’s original colonies, existing long before the United States of America was even an idea. The state has a long and storied history, serving as a dividing line in American conflicts and an integral factor in how the country has evolved over its 250-plus-year lifespan.
But it’s also a melting pot of American cultures, full of people from all sorts of backgrounds. And the music of the state is just as diverse as its population, spanning genres and centuries with ease. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 35 best songs written about or inspired by the state of Pennsylvania.
1. Allentown – Billy Joel
Billy Joel released Allentown on his 1982 album The Nylon Curtain. The city of Allentown, Pennsylvania, went through major economic issues when its manufacturing industry shut down, leading to layoffs and a big downturn. He wrote the song as an ode to the town and the resilience of the people who lived there, never giving up in the face of adversity and eventually becoming an anthem for the city.
2. Harrisburg – Josh Ritter
Harrisburg is the capital city of Pennsylvania, and this song sees the narrator head in that direction. Unfortunately, the protagonist doesn’t ever make it to the city, as a combination of bad luck ensures he never arrives at his destination. Harrisburg was released on Josh Ritter’s 2002 album Golden Age Of Radio and expands on themes of industrialization, automation, and the expansive railroad network of the state.
3. Philadelphia Freedom – Elton John
Philadelphia is often labeled as the birthplace of the US, so there’s no surprise when the city’s reputation is tied to the ideals of freedom and liberty. Another great composition by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Philadelphia Freedom celebrates the city and a particularly famous tennis team. A great story unto itself, Billie Jean King and her team the Philadelphia Freedoms serve as the inspiration for the song. It was a major hit for John, peaking at number one on the Hot 100 in 1975.
4. Pennsylvania Polka – Frankie Yankovic
There are a few different versions of the Pennsylvania Polka out there, but the most famous version we know of today came in 1993 in the film Groundhog Day. Shoutouts to small towns in the state are found in the song, but the main reason to put it on is that it’s such a great dance number. State-specific dances are pretty rare on these lists, so it’s also a nice refreshing change for one of our entries.
5. 30,000 Pounds of Bananas – Harry Chapin
The song 30,000 Pounds Of Bananas is probably the most unique title we can possibly include on this list. Harry Chapin released the track in 1974 on his album Verities And Balderdash, detailing the harrowing tale of a truck driver who loses control of their rig. Unable to stop or steer, the driver does everything possible to avoid other drivers and come to a safe stop. The premise might seem to be out of left field, but it actually recounts the true story of an accident that occurred in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1965.
6. Pennsylvania – Cabinet
Cabinet’s song Pennsylvania is the perfect track for anyone who has left the state and feels a bit homesick. Most of the runtime is spent lauding Pennsylvania and talking about how beautiful it is, hearkening back to the glory days and instilling a sense of nostalgia in people who haven’t even been to the state before.
7. You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania – New Found Glory
You’ve Got A Friend In Pennsylvania oddly doesn’t mention the state at all in the lyrics, but it is derived from one of Pennsylvania’s most famous slogans. It’s more of a reflective song than anything else, focusing primarily on a relationship in the protagonist’s life and how it has changed over time. No matter what has happened between them, the track reminds listeners that they have a friend in the state waiting for them.
8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Guy Mitchell
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania tells the tale of a man who wants to impress a woman but feels like he’s too poor to do so. He goes to a pawn shop in the city to get money and trick her into thinking he’s rich, but it doesn’t quite work out the way he plans. There are several different versions of the song, but the most famous one was recorded by Guy Mitchell in 1952.
9. Pittsburgh – They Might Be Giants
Pittsburgh by They Might Be Giants is dedicated to one of the most important music venues in the state of Pennsylvania. Located in Pittsburgh, the Mr. Smalls Music Venue has been the place where national acts have performed in the city for decades, with numerous big names stopping by on their way through the state.
Despite its fame, the venue is actually small, as it’s a converted church building with a capacity of about 1,000 people. Since 2002, every big name in Pennsylvania’s music scene has passed through the building, making it the effective mecca of the state.
10. Motownphilly – Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men were formed in Philadelphia, and an ode to their home city ended up being one of the first songs that brought them to international fame. Motownphilly was the first single released from their debut album and instantly became a success. It drew on the group’s Motown and soul roots, eventually peaking at number three on the Hot 100 in 1991.
The accompanying music video for the track was filmed at several member’s favorite spots around the city and a couple of other notable local groups are shouted out in the lyrics as well.
11. Streets of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen
Streets Of Philadelphia is likely the saddest song to make our list. The lyrics follow a man who feels like he’s been left out by society, eventually left to his fate of dying in the streets of the city with nobody to call on. It was written for the 1993 film Philadelphia, which followed the story of a lawyer who had AIDS suing the firm he worked at for discrimination. Bruce Springsteen released the song in 1994 and earned a surprising hit single with it.
12. Fall in Philadelphia – Hall & Oates
Hall & Oates is another massive musical group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but they came along 20 years earlier. Fall In Philadelphia was included on their debut album Whole Oats, but it doesn’t particularly paint a great picture of the town.
The main theme of the song is wanting to leave the city, motivated by news reports of gang violence and thefts happening during the era. But despite being a track that doesn’t have a positive outlook about the city, it became incredibly popular there and still appears on the radio stations of Philly during the autumn season.
13. Philly, Philly – Eve
Eve was born in Philadelphia, and her partner for the song is another native Pennsylvania rapper, Beanie Sigel. Released on her 1992 album Let There Be Eve… Ruff Ryders’ First Lady, Philly, Philly is a glimpse behind the curtain of the darker side of the city.
It uses her experiences growing up there to highlight some shady things about Philly that she went through before rising as a prominent artist. But even while it talks about some issues with the city, there’s no doubt that she is proud to be from there, shouting out the city as her hometown.
14. I-76 – G. Love and Special Sauce
I-76 is one of the busiest roadways in Pennsylvania and goes right through Philadelphia. G. Love wrote I-76 as an ode to the city and the highway, focusing on the section of it in Northwest Philly that takes fans to the sports arenas and stadiums the city is famous for. It serves as an ode to the people of Philadelphia and their connection to their sports teams, but it does mention how bad traffic can get on the route.
15. Clampdown – The Clash
Any song from The Clash’s London Calling album is going to be a good one. Clampdown was one of the best tracks on the album and focused on freedom, repression, and the way capitalism has largely failed working-class people across the country. Near the end of the song, a line talks about working hard in Harrisburg, a connection to the state of Pennsylvania in a track that many people in the area are going to relate to.
16. South Street – The Orlons
South Street is one of the most famous places in Philadelphia and is known for its vast array of shops, bars, and restaurants. When it comes to tourist attractions in the city, this is one of the most beloved places to go in Philadelphia. So there’s no surprise that The Orlons would write a song singing its praises. South Street was released in 1963 and celebrated the club atmosphere of the street, eventually rising to number three on the Hot 100 and number four on the R&B charts that year.
17. I’m in a Philly Mood – Daryl Hall
There might not be a more fitting description of Philadelphia than to call it fast, fun, and happy. Daryl Hall personifies the city as a mood, using it to describe when he’s feeling his best and everything is going smoothly. This one was released in 1993 and captures the essence of Philadelphia dramatically and wonderfully.
18. Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler
Sailing To Philadelphia was the title track of Mark Knopfler’s 2000 album and features some additional vocals from James Taylor. The inspiration for the song was the book Mason And Dixon by Tyler Pynchon and sung from the perspective of the two protagonists in the book.
The pair were surveyors in the 1760s who helped establish the borders of Pennsylvania, with the separation between Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia commonly being referred to as the Mason-Dixon Line. This line is also the border between the Northern and Southern states that distinctly separates the regions.
19. Frick Park Market – Mac Miller
Mac Miller grew up in Pittsburgh, and his song Frick Park Market is a tribute to the grocery store he worked in while he was in the city. It was released on his album Blue Slide Park in 2011, which is another reference to Pittsburgh as it’s one of the best-known playgrounds near the grocery store.
20. Camptown Races – Stephen Foster
Camptown Races is one of those songs that just about everyone has heard at some point, and it’s impossible to avoid greeting the chorus stuck in your head after reading the title. Even kids born well after this classic composition was published ended up hearing it in some other form of media, like myself hearing it on old Looney Tunes cartoons. It was first published by Stephen Foster in 1950 as part of Plantation Melodies. The subject of the song is the races the city of Camptown, Pennsylvania, is known for.
21. Bristol Stomp – The Dovells
Bristol Stomp was written in 1961 and recorded by the Philly-based doo-wop group The Dovells that same year. The lyrics detail a new dance craze teenagers were involved in during the 1960s called “The Stomp,” centered on dances at Good Will Hose Company in Bristol, Pennsylvania.
22. Philadelphia – Neil Young
Neil Young wrote Philadelphia as the title track of a Tom Hanks movie that has already come up once in this article. Where Streets Of Philadelphia served as the opening song of the film, this served as the closing track. And like its counterpart, Philadelphia is a somber tune that went through several iterations. It shifted over the creative process from a calm ode to the city into a dark tune that better fit the movie it was representing.
23. Pittsburgh – The Lemonheads
The Lemonheads’ song Pittsburgh was actually edited to be less of a regional tune and more inclusive to listeners around the country. It originally featured a line about losing your innocence in the city but that was changed to “the world” to try to help push the track to national audiences. The title of the song remained however, eventually becoming a famous track in Pennsylvania and a perfect little tune about not taking things too seriously.
24. Pittsburgh Town – Pete Seeger
Pittsburgh is one of the most important cities in the state of Pennsylvania. It was the epicenter of the state’s industrial and manufacturing capabilities, becoming a powerhouse in the 1800s and continuing to be a needle-mover through today.
Pete Seeger recorded Pittsburgh Town in 1941, a song that takes a hard look at the labor disputes and pollution that cropped up during the industrial boom the city experienced. But even though it doesn’t see the city in an incredibly favorable light, it still shines a spotlight on one of Pennsylvania’s most important cities.
25. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Will Smith is one of the most famous people to ever come from Philly and recent antics aside, played a major role in many people’s childhoods. The family-friendly rapper rose to stardom on the back of the show The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and the titular theme song for the series.
It focuses on his youth in Philly, eventually discussing his being sent away by his mother to avoid violence and to get a better education. Few songs are as catchy as this one, and just about everyone in my age range is going to be able to recite this one from the heart.
26. Pennsylvania – Heart
Heart’s Pennsylvania is a song that focuses on the sights and sounds of the state to personify them as a person. The real meaning of the lyrics seems to draw on the way Pennsylvania makes the singer feel, pulling them back there and creating a mood that they keep seeing everywhere they go.
27. Midnight in Philadelphia – Lifehouse
Midnight In Philadelphia is a song set in the city that deals with someone trying to deal with a loss. Several interpretations of the track hold some water, with some thinking it’s about finding their way back to God and others believing it serves as a prayer for help dealing with losing a loved one. No matter which translation you subscribe to, it’s a beautiful hymn set in Philadelphia that captures the city’s quieter moments.
28. Pittsburgh Sound – Wiz Khalifa
Wiz Khalifa was born in the city of Pittsburgh and spent most of his childhood in the city. His song Pittsburgh Sound is a tribute to the place he grew up and an encapsulation of the music he listened to as he grew up. You’ll find plenty of references to places around the city and more than enough Pittsburgh pride to make this an anthem of the city and its residents.
29. New Sensations – Lou Reed
New Sensation was the title track of Lou Reed’s 1984 album. It talks about a road trip through the state of Pennsylvania, focusing largely on the area around the Delaware Water Gap. That entire area is a national park and one of the most serene and beautiful areas of the state, making the song an ode to the natural beauty of the state and the perfect invitation for visitors to come and see the best of Pennsylvania.
30. Punk Rock Girl – The Dead Milkmen
Punk Rock Girl is The Dead Milkmen’s most popular and notable single, serving as a tribute to punk culture in the 1980s. The protagonist of the song goes on an adventure with a stereotypical punk girl across Philly, having a bit of fun and raging against the systems that keep them down. One of the coolest references in the track is to Zipperhead, a punk clothing store on Philly’s prominent South Street.
31. Ode to a Pittsburgh – Loudon Wainwright III
There’s no better snapshot of Pittsburgh in the 1970s than Loudon Wainwright III’s Ode To Pittsburgh. The song is exactly what you expect from the title, serving as a loving tribute to the city, its inhabitants, and the beauty of the surrounding areas.
32. Pennsylvania Is… – Everclear
Pennsylvania Is… was released by Everclear on their debut album World Of Noise in 1993. It spends most of its time talking about problems the people in the state faced at the time, with abortion rights taking center stage. The beginning of the song discusses a girl who became pregnant but was left alone after her baby’s father beat her and was sent to prison. It isn’t a track for the faint of heart, but it deals with real-world social problems in the state.
33. Amish Paradise – “Weird Al” Yankovic
Amish Paradise is a wacky tribute to Amish culture across several different states rather than focusing primarily on Pennsylvania. But the state is home to the highest population of Amish people in the world, centering on Lancaster County. Part parody, part tribute, this “Weird Al” Yankovic song is as funny as it is clever. The music video even features a sign that says “Welcome to Lancaster” in it, cementing the link between the track and the state.
34. The Range War – Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren released The Range War in 1971 on his album Runt. The song details the story of two lovers in Pennsylvania whose fathers are fighting with each other over land. Rather than become part of the feud and hurt each other, the singer offers for him and his lover to move to Pittsburgh and escape the fighting.
35. Gonna Fly Now – Bill Conti
If you thought we forgot about one of the biggest pop culture pieces in Philly history, we didn’t. The Rocky film franchise centers on Sylvester Stalone’s titular character and his boxing career, from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to becoming a world-renowned fighter.
The theme song of the movie is one of the most recognizable Philly tunes in history, being released in 1976 alongside the film and becoming an integral part of the state and American pop culture for decades to come.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.