13 Best Songs About Pennsylvania: Keystone State Playlist

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. 

Pennsylvania songs lean towards two primary subject matters: ecstatic celebrations of a hometown city (usually Philadelphia) and deeply depressing songs reflecting the damage done and dreams killed by industrial development. 

We have several of both on this list, our 13 favorite songs about Pennsylvania.

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

1. “Allentown” by Billy Joel

“Allentown” is one of Billy Joel’s most celebrated songs. The Pennsylvania anthem’s popularity has endured since its release in 1982. Joel included the song on his album The Nylon Curtain

While the song is perfect, it almost was a very different tune. “Allentown” was initially called “Levittown,” after a Long Island town near Billy Joel’s home. Joel changed the name to “Allentown” after reading about the downfall of the Allentown steel industry. 

He originally intended the song to be inspired by Bethlehem but found the word difficult to rhyme and did not want it to be tied to Christianity.

The song was wildly successful. It peaked at #17 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks and was certified Gold.

During a Lehigh University concert, the Allentown mayor at the time, Joseph Daddona, gave Billy Joel the key to the city in 1982.

2. “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John

Bernie Taupin and Elton John wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” in 1975 as an homage to John’s close personal friend, Billie Jean King. King played tennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms tennis team.

Credited to the Elton John Band, the song celebrates the Philadelphia sound, a genre that combines dramatic orchestration with funk and soul. 

The song took the #3 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for all of 1975. It appears on the 1977 album Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II.

The Franklin Institute IMAX plays the song prior to every screening, and the lyrics are inscribed on the walls at the Philadelphia Hard Rock Cafe.

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

3. “Pennsylvania Polka” by Frank Yankovic

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

Released in 1959 on the album Frank Yankovic Plays in Person the All-Time Great Polkas, Yankovic’s version plays in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. The movie’s popularity gave the song new life.

Polka was popular in cities with large Slovenian, German, and Eastern European immigrant populations.

The song is a joyous polka beat that specifically shouts out Scranton with the line: “It started in Scranton, it’s now number one.”

Others who notably recorded the song include the Andrews Sisters (who recorded the original in 1942), Bobby Vinton, and then The Wiggles.

4. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen

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

Bruce Springsteen released the single, which peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 charts in 1994. Even more successful internationally, “Streets of Philadelphia” reached number one in Austria, France, and Germany.

The video was directed by Jonathan Demme, who also requested Springsteen write the track for the movie.

The song garnered instant acclaim. It won Springsteen an Oscar for Best Original Song as well as four Grammys and a Golden Globe.

As with many of the boss’s songs, “Streets of Philadelphia” is a story song recounting the tragedy of a man abandoned by society, reflective of the movie.

5. “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men

“Motownphilly” is a 1991 song by Philadelphia’s favorite sons, Boyz II Men. The track comes from the album Cooleyhighharmony. DJs initially struggled with determining if “Motownphilly” was the name of the band or the name of the song.

The song was a huge hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and factoring into multiple aspects of the cultural landscape.

It was also very popular in tv and film featuring in House Party 2, Full House, Kids Incorporated, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, and the popular comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

6. “Fall in Philadelphia” by Hall & Oates

Hall and Oates released “Fall in Philadelphia” in 1972. The song was never released as a single but is included on their debut album, Whole Oats

Hall and Oates formed in Philadelphia, and the song reflects their growing desire to move to New York City. The duo was desperate to leave Philly after John Oates was assaulted in the city.

Despite upbeat instrumentation, this is another song that’s a bit of a bummer. Still, despite its pessimistic view of the city, “Fall in Philadelphia” has become an autumn mainstay of Philly radio.

7. “Harrisburg” by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter included “Harrisburg” on his 2002 album Golden Age of Radio. Ritter grew up in Idaho, but his father was a Pennsylvania native.

The family passed through Harrisburg on their way to visit the ancestral stomping ground, and the capitol made an impact on young Josh.

“Harrisburg” continues Ritter’s history of rich, beautiful songwriting. The ballad tells a story of expansion and industrialization, specifically through the spread of the railroad. 

Josh Ritter is an independent artist whose gentle folk sound has consistently garnered critical acclaim. 

8. “Philly, Philly” by Eve

Eve released “Philly, Philly” in 1999 on the album Let There be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady.

The song is a collaboration between the female rapper and West Philly native Eve and fellow South Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel.

Philly’s moved many of its natives to composition, and Eve’s song is an enthusiastic ode to her hometown. 

The lyrics are more explicit than most songs on this list, so listen at your own discretion.

9. “Camptown Races” by Stephen Foster

“Camptown Races” has the problematic distinction of being the only minstrel song on this list.

That said, it is also the most universally known song on this list-just try saying “Camptown races” without someone responding “doo-dah, doo-dah.” 

Composter Stephen Foster published the song in Foster’s Plantation Melodies in 1850, but Johnny Cash has his own cover of it.

Foster was born in Pittsburgh. He wrote “Camptown Races” about the competitions in Camptown, Pennsylvania, near Towanda. The song tells the story of nomads making bets on the races to make some quick cash.

The song’s enormous success and enduring popularity inspired a renaissance of the races in the mid-1900s. The resurrected competitions were foot races instead of horse races. 

10. “Pittsburgh” by the Lemonheads

“Pittsburgh” was released in 2006 on the Lemonheads self-titled album.

The least overt song on the list, “Pittsburgh,” doesn’t actually mention the city. 

The Lemonheads’ frontman, Evan Dando, cited his appreciation for the city and its culture as the reason for bestowing the honorific to his song. 

The song initially contained the line: “You can lose a lot of innocence in Pittsburgh.” Ultimately, “Pittsburgh” was subbed out for “the world.” 

Related: Click here to discover more songs about Pittsburgh.

11. “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” by Harry Chapin

Undoubtedly the best-named song on this list, Harry Chapin included “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” on his 1974 album Verities & Balderdash.

We’ve seen quite a bit of Philadelphia representation on this list, and “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” is a welcome detour to Scranton.

Chapin uses a country song to tell a fictionalized version of actual events. A Scranton truck driver 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.

The real-world banana crash occurred in Pittsburgh in 1965. 

12. “South Street” by the Orlons

We’ve listed songs inspired by Philadelphia at large, but The Orlons were more specific in their praise of the city. 

South Street is known and beloved by Philly residents and visitors alike. Dave Appell and Kal Man penned their ode to the celebrated avenue in 1963.

The song reached #3 on the U.S. pop charts, #4 on the U.S. R&B charts, and made #47 on Billboard’s top songs of 1963.

The song establishes South Street as a cool area, a place where “all the hippest meet” to dance and listen to music.

13. “Pittsburgh Town” by Pete Seeger

“Pittsburgh Town” is a folk song penned by one of America’s most celebrated songwriters, Woody Guthrie, in 1941.

While Guthrie wrote the song, 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: labor disputes and pollution from the steel work. 

Several subsequent interpretations of the song have been modified to more favorably represent Pittsburgh. 

Summing Up Our Playlist Of Pennsylvania Songs

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

The east coast gem inspires ballads, folk songs, and dance numbers.

Almost every great band that started in Pennsylvania has a song about their home state.

Enjoy our playlist with a cheesesteak, and celebrate the Keystone State!

Photo of author
Written by Laura Macmillan
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.