Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell, Declaration of Independence, and the ever-popular Philadelphia cheesesteak. It is a city immersed in sports featuring the Flyers, Phillies, and Eagles, which has generated the most excitable sports fans famous for once throwing snowballs at Santa.
Thus, it’s no surprise that Philadelphia has been an inspiration for many musicians over the decades. In fact, there are dozens of songs that pay homage to the city, and in this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the best songs giving a nod of gratitude to the City of Brotherly Love.
1. “Bandstand Boogie” By Barry Manilow
Up first is “Bandstand Boogie,” a theme song created for the TV show American Bandstand, which would change for the entire country.
Simply known as Bandstand, the show first aired in 1957. It was produced and hosted by the talented Dick Clark. The show ran for 37 years, inspiring equality, kindness, and fantastic music for several generations, as well as other shows like Soul Train and eventually Club MTV.
“Bandstand Boogie” was originally an instrumental version by Les Elgart. In 1975, Barry Manilow recorded a cover with lyrics he had written along with Bruce Sussman, stating that Bandstand was “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
The song “Streets of Philadelphia” was written and performed by Bruce Springsteen in 1994 for the movie Philadelphia, about two lawyers suing a law firm for AIDS discrimination, featuring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.
“Streets of Philadelphia” has somber lyrics describing a man so bruised and batter, he doesn’t even recognize himself. The narrator feels himself fading away on the streets of Philadelphia.
Despite the dark theme, both film and song were a hit! The song won an Oscar and four Grammys, including Best Song Written for a Motion Picture.
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 California Bay area called Huey Lewis and the News were inspired to write “The Heart of Rock and Roll” while in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 the News credited several pivotal cities and their deep connection to the music scene—the song mentions 14 cities, including Liberty Town, which is another nickname for Philadelphia.
4. “Punk Rock Girl” By Dead Milkmen
Named after the novel Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, the Dead Milkmen formed the band in 1983 while in the dorms of Temple University. Their fourth album Beelzebubba in 1988 featured “Punk Rock Girl,” which aired on MTV.
The punk love song tells the tale of a guy adventuring with his wild punk rock girl. The story entails strolling through Philadelphia, buying records, and eating pizza at the Philly Pizza Company. It also gives a shout out to Zipperhead, a now defunct punk shop in the city.
The upbeat tempo of “Punk Rock Girl” and its simple lyrics are quite catchy and became a crossover hit, landing #11 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks. It was also covered by several other artists, like MXPX and Streetlight Manifesto.
5. “Kids From Philly” By George Thorogood & The Destroyers
An all-instrumental piece, “Kids from Philly” is the first out of three on this list to have no lyrics. This one has a boppin’ boogie-rock sound that’s sure to get your body moving to the beat.
American musician and singer-songwriter George Thorogood and his group the Destroyers grew up in Delaware. Philadelphia being a little more than an hour away from where they lived, the city was practically their backyard.
By 1970, Thorogood and his band were living in Boston, so a little homesickness probably influenced the creation of “Kids from Philly.” It was featured in their 1980 album More George Thorogood and The Destroyers.
6. “Gonna Fly Now” By Bill Conti
Most everyone probably know the classic theme song of the equally classic film starring Sylvester Stallone: Rocky. Often called the Theme from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now” was created by Bill Conti (and most of the scores from the movie, actually).
Even with barely no vocals, the strong trumpeting in the song is enough to convey the feeling that anything is possible, and considering the theme of the movie, this was probably what Conti was going for.
Labeled as a victory song, we’ve included it in our list because (1) it was written in Philadelphia and (2) the Eagles use it as their song before every opening kick-off when they have homefield advantage.
7. “Motownphilly” 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, “Motownphilly,” which reached #3 on Billboard‘s Top 100, making Philly the city on everybody’s lips.
“Motownphilly” has the storyline of how the Boyz II Men had dreams of creating music and becoming famous, and now they are “ready to roll.” The song’s music video also features famous Philly landmarks, including Geno’s Steaks, as the guys dance and drive down Philly streets.
Today, Boyz II Men is now known as a three-piece group. They’ve 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
With so little vocals, you can probably say “TSOP”—that’s the Sound of Philadelphia, just to be clear—is basically almost all instrumental.
It was created by MFSB (Mother Sister Father Brother), 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 1970s, providing that soulful Philly sound.
“TSOP” was initially created as the theme song to Soul Train. Released in 1974, it quickly became a disco hit on the Billboard charts.
9. “Philadelphia Freedom” By Elton John
In 1974, Elton John decided to honor tennis player Billie Jean King and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms, by creating “Philadelphia Freedom.”
Though collaborating lyricist Bernie Taupin insisted the song was not about the team or the tennis player, “Philadelphia Freedom” still became a massive patriotic hit. Considering that the lyrics state “I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom,” it’s not hard to see why.
The song shot right up to #1 while invigorating the world’s strong inner spirit. It 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
Founded in 1957 during the reign of Detroit Motown, the female trio Martha and the Vandellas 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, the Vandellas call out to the world, asking if people are “ready for a brand-new beat.” They give a special shoutout to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with a couple of other cool cities.
“Dancing in the Streets” gained a resurgence in popularity in 1985 when Mick Jagger and David Bowie decided to cover the song while giving it their own flare to raise money for the Live Aid concert.
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. Just a little over a decade later, in 1976, they released “Rock’n Me.”
The song is based on a man’s storyline as he travels the States looking for a job. He stays optimistic and cheerful throughout his travels, crediting his “baby” (maybe his sweetheart) for rock’n him on.
Philadelphia is one of the cities mentioned among places the narrator has traveled. And the bluesy rock sound would help the song to become a long-lasting classic.
12. “Sweet Little Sixteen” By Chuck Berry
With a song like “Sweet Little Sixteen,” it’s no wonder Chuck Berry is nicknamed Father of Rock and Roll. The single, released in 1958, rocked all the way up to #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list.
“Sweet Little Sixteen” can be considered an informal theme song for every young woman coming of age. In it, Berry references several things that would point to an ideal 16-year-old’s life, including mentioning American Bandstand in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1986, Chuck Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted. He also ranked fifth on Rolling Stone‘s list of Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time twice—in 2004 and 2011.
13. “Summertime” By DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
The song describes everything summertime should be—the hot weather, hanging out at the mall to escape the heat, kids outside playing, parties and barbecues, and so much more.
In the music video, Smith and Jazzy raps around major landmarks of Philly, making every viewer wish they were at the summer party. “Summertime” became the nationwide anthem for summer and continued to hold its reign decades after its release.
14. “Sailing To Philadelphia” By Mark Knopfler & James Taylor
Beautiful things can happen when the lead singer of the rock band Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, and James Taylor come together and make music. In 2000, they sang “Sailing to Philadelphia” for Mark Knopfler’s album of the same name.
The lyrics speak of how English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon created the line we now know today as the Mason-Dixon Line—the symbolic boundary between Northern and Southern United States.
The song was inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s book Mason & Dixon. In it, Knopfler sings the part of Dixon, while Taylor is Mason.
15. “Philadelphia” By Neil Young
Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young has always had a truly resonating voice, so he was the perfect person to deliver “Philadelphia,” an emotional song for the movie of the same name (mentioned earlier).
The song is played at the end of the movie and is intended for viewers to listen to it as though it were the words of the lead character Andrew Beckett, played by Tom Hanks.
As Beckett pleads for his fellow men not to turn their backs on him as his health fails, cue Young’s voice to bring chills and tears to the cinema population.
Young was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Philadelphia.” Even though he didn’t win (he lost to Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”), Young did win a Juno in 1995 for Male Vocalist of the Year.
Summing Up Our Philadelphia Songs Playlist
First, Philadelphia became a place to inspire freedom. Then, it inspired great sound, thus it’s no surprise the City of Brotherly Love has been able to influence so many incredible artists to write songs about it.
So whether it’s summertime or you’re looking for the heart of rock and roll, if you can find yourself in Philadelphia, take a moment to listen to the music and maybe even dance in the streets.
Have we missed a song about Philadelphia that should be on this list? Let us know, and we’ll add it for you!