13 Of The Best Songs About Pennsylvania: Keystone State Playlist

Avatar photo
Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

Pennsylvania is one of America’s original colonies. The state has existed as long as the country, providing a lot of historical and personal inspiration for music. 

Themes of Pennsylvania songs are as varied as the music genres we have. It’s a mix of songs about change, love and loss, and celebrations or homage of a hometown city (usually Philadelphia).

We have several of these themes on this list, so read on to learn about 13 of the best songs about Pennsylvania.

Related: For more, check out our list of songs about America here.

1. “Allentown” By Billy Joel

The 1982 song “Allentown” is one of Billy Joel‘s most celebrated singles. It is included in his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain

After reading about the downfall of the manufacturing industry of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Joel created this song about the unemployed workers who never gave up and left the town despite the decline in the industry and its eventual closure.

People from the town criticized the song at first; however, it gained so much popularity that the Allentown mayor at the time even gave Billy Joel the key to the city upon his return.

2. “Philadelphia Freedom” By Elton John

Bernie Taupin and Elton John wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” in 1975 as an homage to tennis player Billie Jean King and her Pennsylvanian team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.

Credited to the Elton John Band, the song’s lyrics do not really mention King or any tennis teams. Yet it sounds so patriotic, particularly the line “‘Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom,” and uplifting that it’s considered a victory song.

The notable tune celebrates the Philadelphia sound, music that combines dramatic orchestration with funk and soul, and won the hearts of listeners, as it took the #3 spot on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart for all of 1975.

Related: To discover more of the best songs about Philadelphia, click here.

3. “Pennsylvania Polka” By Frankie Yankovic

“Pennsylvania Polka” was written by Lester Lee and Zeke Manners in 1942, but the most popular version was the one by musician Frankie Yankovic.

The song is a joyous beat that encourages the people to grab their partners and dance the Pennsylvania polka until dawn. It also gives a nice shout out to Scranton, a city northeast of the state.

Yankovic’s cover also featured in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. The movie’s popularity gave the song new life. Others who notably recorded the song include the Andrews Sisters, Bobby Vinton, and the Wiggles.

4. “Streets Of Philadelphia” By Bruce Springsteen

Our next song, “Streets of Philadelphia,” is a devastatingly sad song explicitly written for the 1993 Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington movie Philadelphia.

“Streets of Philadelphia” recounts the tragedy of a man who feels he’s been abandoned by society and left to fade away in the streets, reflective of the movie, which is about a lawyer with AIDS suing the law firm he works at for discrimination of his health condition.

Bruce Springsteen released the single in 1994. Despite the dark theme, the song garnered instant acclaim and ranked high on the Hot 100 charts. It won the singer an Oscar for Best Original Song as well as four Grammys and a Golden Globe.

5. “Motownphilly” By Boyz II Men

“Motownphilly” is a 1991 song by Pennsylvania’s favorite sons from Philadelphia, Boyz II Men. The track comes from their album Cooleyhighharmony.

This song of celebration takes us on the journey of how the boys have reached their dreams of becoming famous singers. Now, they’re “back again, doin’ a little East Coast fling” in Philly, ready to perform for the people.

“Motownphilly” was a huge hit, coming out at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also featured in several TV series and films, like House Party 2, Kids Incorporated, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, Full House, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

6. “Fall In Philadelphia” By Hall & Oates

Pop rock duo Hall and Oates are natives of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who formed their group in 1970. Two years after, they recorded “Fall in Philadelphia” and included it in their debut album, Whole Oats.

The rather dark song reflects the narrator’s growing desire to move out of Philly. This comes after news of street beatings (“band of youths beat up on Johnny”) and thievery (“the stolen bikes are gathering by the thousands”) going on.

Despite its pessimistic view of the city, “Fall in Philadelphia” has become an autumn mainstay of Philly radio.

7. “Harrisburg” By Josh Ritter

The album Golden Age of Radio of Josh Ritter‘s includes his 2002 song “Harrisburg.” Despite the title, the song does not talk about the capital city of Pennsylvania.

The lyrics, instead, describe a man named Romero leaving his family behind to head for Harrisburg on the railroad. But bad luck, and perhaps bad company, ensures he does not reach the city.

However, on a deeper look, the song is more about the expansion and industrialization of the city, specifically through the development of the railroad, which at that time is like a siren song for men searching for work to better themselves.

8. “Philly, Philly” By Eve

Rapper and singer-songwriter Eve Jihan Cooper—simply known as Eve—released “Philly, Philly” in 1999 on the album Let There be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady.

The song is a collaboration between the West Philly native and another Pennsylvanian rapper, Beanie Sigel. It’s laidback rap tune is a story of rags to riches.

The rather explicit lyrics of the song describe the seedy side of Philly the narrator experienced before finding fame and success as a music artist. And as the title suggests, the song also gives a proud shout out to their hometown, Philadelphia, stating “Philly where I am from!”

9. “Camptown Races” By Stephen Foster

Next up, we have a classic composition by Stephen Foster. “Camptown Races” is the most universally known song on this list—just try saying “Camptown races” without someone responding “Doo-dah, doo-dah”!

Foster published this minstrel song in his Foster’s Plantation Melodies in 1850. Born in Pittsburgh, he wrote “Camptown Races” about the race competitions in Camptown, Pennsylvania.

The rather upbeat, jaunty tune and catchy lyrics tell the story of people making bets on the races to make some quick cash.

The song’s enormous success and enduring popularity also had its hand in pop culture, like in film and television, but the most well-known is perhaps Foghorn Leghorn, a Looney Tunes character who often sang the tune to himself.

10. “Pittsburgh” By The Lemonheads

As mentioned, many Pennsylvania songs honor its many cities, and the 2006 “Pittsburgh” by the Lemonheads is no exception. In fact, the song was included in their album of the same name.

However, the lyrics to “Pittsburgh” doesn’t actually mention the city, though it was originally intended to state it in the line “You can lose a lot of innocence in Pittsburgh.” Frontman Evan Dando changed it, and “Pittsburgh” was subbed out for “the world” so it was not so restrictive.

As a song that tells the people to not take the world too seriously, Dando’s change makes sense. He left the title as is as a little homage for the city.

Related: Click here to discover more songs about Pittsburgh.

11. “30,000 Pounds Of Bananas” By Harry Chapin

Undoubtedly the most unique-named song on this list, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” is a folk rock single by singer and musician Harry Chopin. It was included in his 1974 album Verities and Balderdash.

Now at this point on the list, we’ve seen quite a bit of representations of Pennsylvania’s well-known cities, so “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” is a welcome detour.

Chapin uses a country song to tell the story of a truck driver who loses control of his rig and its banana cargo owing to mechanical difficulties. He does everything in his power to keep the rig and its fruit from hurting anyone in their path.

This is not some yarn that Chapin created, though. This accident actually happened in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1965.

12. “South Street” By The Orlons

We’ve listed songs inspired by Pennsylvania cities, especially the fave Philadelphia. The Orlons were more specific in their praise of this city in their song “South Street.” 

South Street is known and beloved by Philly residents and visitors alike, and the song establishes the street as a cool area, a place where “all the hippest meet” to dance and listen to music.

Dave Appell and Kal Man penned their ode to the celebrated avenue in 1963. The song danced its way into fans’ hearts, enabling it to climb up to #3 on the US pop charts, #4 on the R&B charts, and made #47 on Billboard‘s top songs of that year.

13. “Pittsburgh Town” By Pete Seeger

When commercial and industrial development started to boom in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh was at the heart of it all. “Pittsburgh Town” is an ode to the beginnings of the industry back at the start of the 19th century.

Penned by one of America’s most celebrated songwriters, Woody Guthrie, in 1941, Pete Seeger recorded it while both men were members of the Almanac Singers.

“Pittsburgh Town” isn’t super favorable about the city. The verses focus on two major problems the area faced due to the industrial boom: labor disputes and pollution from the steel work. Still, it is a nod to the historic value of Pittsburgh as a city and Pennsylvania as a whole.

Summing Up Our Playlist Of Pennsylvania Songs

Pennsylvania inspires songwriters. Though not every tune is joyous or celebratory, these songs all reflect a unique part of living in Pennsylvania.

The East Coast gem and its cities became the topic of ballads, folk songs, and dance numbers. Almost every great band and music artist that started in Pennsylvania has a song about their home state.

We hope you have enjoyed our playlist of Pennsylvania songs—maybe with a Philly cheesesteak! But this list is far from complete. What song have we missed? Let us know and we’ll add it.

Photo of author

Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.