Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and the ever-popular Philadelphia Cheesesteak. Philly is a town immersed in sports with the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, which has generated the most exciting sports fans who are famous for once throwing snowballs at Santa.
It’s no surprise that Philadelphia has been an inspiration for many musicians over the decades. There are dozens of songs that pay homage to Philadelphia, and in this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the best songs about Philadelphia giving a nod of gratitude to the city of Brotherly Love.
1. “Bandstand Boogie” (Theme from American Bandstand) by Barry Manilow
Up first is Bandstand Boogie, a theme song created for a tv show that would make a change for the entire country.
American Bandstand first aired in 1957, produced and hosted by the talented Dick Clark. It inspired other shows like Soul Train and eventually Club MTV. Bandstand ran for 37 years, inspiring equality, kindness, and fantastic music for several generations.
Bandstand Boogie was an instrumental version written by Les Elgart. In 1975, Manilow recorded a version with lyrics that he had written along with Bruce Sussman, stating that Bandstand is the Philadelphia way. It was a hit!
By the mid-eighties, Manilow’s version was used as the theme song until David Russo created an updated instrumental version.
Related: Check out our list of the best songs about Pittsburgh here.
2. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is a well-known New Jerseyite but had spent many years playing in the neighboring city of Philadelphia at the Spectrum. The Boss had played 41 times at the legendary arena before closing it down in 2009.
The song “Streets of Philadelphia” was written and performed by Springsteen in 1994 for the movie Philadelphia, featuring Tom Hanks and the battle of HIV.
The film and song were both a hit! The song won an Oscar as well as four Grammys, including Best Song Written for a Motion Picture.
Bruce Springsteen has won around 27 awards throughout his incredible career. In 2009, Springsteen won another Golden Globe for The Wrestler, which was another soundtrack title for the award-winning movie The Wrestler.
3. “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis & The News
Known more as a jazz-funk ensemble, a bunch of guys from the CA Bay area were inspired to write a song while in Cleveland, OH. The piece centered on the sound of music is still beating strong in certain parts of the country.
The Heart of Rock and Roll was on their third album, Sports. Huey and his band of News credited several pivotal cities and their deep connection to the music scene. The song mentions 14 cities, including Liberty Town, which is short for Philadelphia.
Other cities might have tried to take credit for the song being vague, but Philadelphia is the birth town of liberty and the original Philly Soul and funk.
4. “Punk Rock Girl” by Dead Milkmen
The Dead Milkmen, who named themselves after the novel Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, formed the band in 1983 while in the dorms of Temple University. The quad-piece band hit the punk scene hard, getting picked up by radio stations by 1985.
In 1988, their fourth album Beelzebubba was released, featuring Punk Rock Girl, which aired on MTV. The punk-love song tells the tale of a shy guy dreaming of a wild girl. The story entails strolling through Philadelphia, buying records, and eating pizza at the Philly Pizza Company.
The Dead Milkmen took a break from one another in 1995. They went off to do other things and suffered the loss of Dave Schulthise before eventually returning to the stage again in the mid-10s, but all the while, they stayed committed to that Philadelphia pizza.
5. “Kids from Philly” by George Thorogood
George Thorogood was a neighbor to Philly as he grew up in Delaware. By 1970, Thorogood and The Destroyers were living in Boston. However, a little homesickness probably influenced Kids From Philly to be born.
Keeping up with the traditional Destroyers sound, the Kids From Philly doesn’t disappoint. But, of course, that’s also the case with most people from Philadelphia. It’s a city full of history, culture, and Brotherly Love.
Although Thorogood loves to show off his roots, when Bad To The Bone came out the following year, even Philly forgot about the Kid’s From Philly.
6. “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Contni
Everyone knows this theme song in two notes as the charge of the instruments invigorates the soul. Anything is possible when Gonna Fly Now is playing. Bill Conti has created several famous scores for soundtracks, but the Rocky theme song is the most inspiring.
It only has 30 words in the entire song, but Gonna Fly Now is played at such a pinnacle time in Rocky’s climb to the top; It says more than any words could muster. It shows that with persistence, we can achieve and surpass greatness.
The song is labeled as such a victory song. The Philadelphia Eagles use it as their song before every opening kick-off when they have home-field advantage.
7. “Motown Philly” by Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men were four guys from Philly who could do a mean a cappella act. They hit it big in 1991 with a song about their hometown. Motown Philly became number three on Billboards Top 100, making Philly the city on everybody’s lips.
Motown Philly was the storyline of how Boys II Men were discovered by Michael Bivens of Bel Biv Devo and featured Bivens in the song. The video features famous Philly landmarks, including Genos Cheese Steaks. The Boys, who proliferated into Men, also paid homage to Motown music as they performed in matching outfits and maintained a classy demeanor, winning over the hearts of millions.
Today, Boys II Men is now known as a three-piece. The group has done plenty of good work with their fame for charities and their hometown. Philadelphia has even renamed part of Broad Street Boyz II Men Boulevard.
8. TSOP by MFSB
Mother Sister Father Brother, also known as MFSB, is a group of around 30 session musicians that are part of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios. They were the house band for the Philadelphia International Records label, backing up many artists in the 70s, providing that soulful Philly sound.
TSOP is better known as The Sound Of Philly; go figure. The song was initially created as the theme song to Soul Train and quickly became a disco hit on the Billboard Charts.
TSOP was released in 1974. The group disbanded in 1985. However, compilations of their hits continued to be released, with the latest being in 2018.
9. “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
Elton John had been in his career for over a decade already when he and collaborating lyricist, Bernie Taupin, decided to create a song about the former number one tennis player in the world, Billie Jean King. King’s team was the Philadelphia Freedoms, who still play today.
In 1975, Philadelphia Freedom became a massive patriotic hit as everyone lived and breathed it. The song shot right up to number one while invigorating the world’s strong inner spirit and making Elton John the most patriotic Englishman.
Philadelphia Freedom is still used all over the US during the Fourth of July firework celebrations, but you will undoubtedly hear it ring out during the grand finale in Philadelphia.
10. “Dancing In The Streets” by Martha & The Vandellas
Martha & The Vandellas was a female trio founded in 1957 during the reign of Detroit Motown. They had great success with many of their songs, like Heatwave and Jimmy Mack, but nothing compared to Dancing In The Streets, initially created by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter.
In the song Dancing In The Streets, The Vandellas call out worldwide, asking if they are ready for a brand new beat. They give a special shoutout to Philadelphia, PA, along with a couple of other cool cities.
The song gained infinite popularity in 1985 when Mick Jager and David Bowie decided to cover the song while giving it their own flare to raise money for Live Aid. The hit video was on heavy rotation on MTV.
11. “Rock N’ Me” by Steve Miller Band
In 1965 Steve Miller wanted to play the Blues. So he formed a band that would come to be known as the Steve Miller Band. The Bluesy rock sound would help them become long-lasting classic rock legends.
In 1976, Steve Miller Band released Rock N’ me, based on a well-traveled man’s storyline. The moral of the story is the man stays optimistic and cheerful throughout his travels. Philadelphia is one of the cities mentioned among a list of other cities.
Rock N’ Me was said to have sounded like a modern-day Beach-Boys-sound when it was released, making it a popular song on the album, Fly Like An Eagle.
12. “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was nicknamed the Father of Rock n’ Roll. He had numerous hits like Roll Over Beethoven and Johnny B. Goode. By 1950, Berry was an established and honored artist. In 1958, he released Sweet Little Sixteen.
Sweet Little Sixteen was the informal theme song for every young woman becoming of age. Berry references several things that would point to an ideal 16-year-old’s life, including mentioning American Bandstand in Philadelphia, Pa.
Chuck Berry was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Berry is also known as being one of the Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
13. “Summertime” by Will Smith
Born and raised in West Philadelphia, as we all know, Will Smith paid homage to summers in the City of Brotherly Love with his 1991 hit Summertime.
In the music video, Smith raps around major landmarks of Philly, making every viewer wish they were at the party. Summertime became the nationwide anthem for summer and continued to hold its reign decades after the fact.
Summertime reminds us all that even though we’ve got sneakers; it’s summertime, so we should get a new pair for the barbeque.
14. “Sailing To Philadelphia” by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor
Beautiful things can happen when the lead singer of the Dire Straits and James Taylor come together and make music. In 2000, they did a duet for Mark Knopfler’s solo album October Road, which was released in 2002.
Sailing to Philadelphia was inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s book, Mason & Dixon. The lyrics speak of how Mason and Dixon drew that line as we know today as the Mason-Dixon Line.
Knopfler is known as one of the top musicians and producers. He has an estimated net worth of over $115 million, and it seems like the great city of Philadelphia can take a little credit for that success.
15. “Philadelphia” by Neil Young
Neil Young has always had a truly resonating voice, so he was the perfect person to deliver such an emotional song for the movie Philadelphia, featuring Tom Hanks. The film made a lot of noise, bringing awareness to the HIV epidemic.
As Hanks pleads for his fellow men not to turn their backs on him, cue Neil Young’s voice to bring chills and tears to the cinema population.
Neil Young was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song Philadelphia. Even though he didn’t win, Young did win a Juno in 1995 for Male Vocalist of the Year.
Summing Up Our Philidelphia Songs Playlist
First, Philadelphia had been a place to inspire freedom. Then, it inspired great sound.
It’s no surprise Philly has been able to inspire so many incredible artists to write songs about this great city.
So whether it’s summertime or you’re looking for the heart of rock and roll, if you find yourself in Philadelphia, take a moment to dance in the streets, but watch out for traffic.