Different parts of Pennsylvania have fascinated many Americans for centuries, so it’s not surprising that several artists have written songs about both Harrisburg in particular, and Pennsylvania in general. Here are some of the best songs about Harrisburg ever.
1. Harrisburg by Josh Ritter
Song Year: 2002
Josh Ritter was a kid from Moscow, Idaho when he first visited Harrisburg. To a small-town kid, it seemed like the biggest of big cities.
Once he became a songwriter, Ritter used the city of Harrisburg as a metaphor for a place someone strives to reach. Included in his 2002 album Golden Age of Radio , this is definitely one of the more popular tracks he’s made.
2. Clampdown by The Clash
Song Year: 1979
The Clash made some iconoclastic music when they were at their zenith, and “Clampdown” was part of that legacy. In the song, writers Joe Strummer and Mike Jones took the title from a 1970s pejorative term for authority and the establishment— “the clampdown” because the government always wanted to clamp down on protesters and troublemakers.
The song praises the blue-collar workers— the ones in this song are in Harrisburg— and demonizes their capitalist overlords. It was included on the band’s album London Calling but was only released as a single in Australia.
3. I-76 by G-Love and Special Sauce
Song Year: 1997
Sure, the bulk of this song is about Philadelphia, but I-76 goes through Harrisburg, among other cities in Pennsylvania, so it qualifies to appear on a list of songs about Harrisburg.
Plus, it’s G-Love. The song has everything you expect one of his songs to have— clever wordplay, some funky guitar work, and some nice harmonies. It’s also oddly structured in that the chorus isn’t the catchiest part. G-Love leaves that to the bridge. Weird, but a fun song.
4. Harrisburg by Midnight Oil
Song Year: 1984
In 1979, a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, just 10 miles down the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, became the worst nuclear accident in American history.
Midnight Oil, the socially and politically conscious rockers from Australia, wrote “Harrisburg” to tell the story of what happened. The bulk of the song refers to the danger the accident posed to the residents of Harrisburg and the surrounding towns, and the lyrics intimate that the powers that be didn’t do all they could have done to keep people safe.
5. Hard Luck Story by The Johnny Van Zant Band
Song Year: 1980
Stepping away from his duties as the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Van Zant recorded No More Dirty Deals in 1980, the first of several albums he would record with The Johnny Van Zant Band.
“Hard Luck Story” wasn’t Skynyrd, and honestly, it sounded more like Night Ranger than the Southern rock we expected. But there was an allusion to the Three Mile Island incident, which wasn’t even a year in the past when “Hard Luck Story” came out.
Van Zant ticks off several situations many in the working class face and often attribute to bad luck, and then he mentions Harrisburg, which the nuclear power plant put in harm’s way.
6. Allentown by Billy Joel
Song Year: 1982
Allentown, Penn. is about 70 miles east of Harrisburg, but the sentiment in the song can apply to just about any Pennsylvania city, especially in the 1980s. The steel industry was slowing down, depressing the economy and throwing blue-collar workers into hard times.
The city of Allentown is a hardscrabble place, and Harrisburg had to display some of that grit in the 80s as it clawed its way back from the Three Mile Island accident.
The song is about being strong in the face of what life throws at us.
7. Pennsylvania by Heart
Song Year: 2002
As Ann Wilson sings in “Pennsylvania,” she’s invoking the entire state and never mentions a specific city. So it could be happening in Harrisburg.
No matter where in the state of Pennsylvania the lyrics are referring to, it’s a piece of music about loss. The lyrics invoke that sensation many of us have had in the wake of loss — romantic or otherwise. It’s that belief that you keep thinking you see the one you’ve lost. Wilson spends the song returning to the fact that she thought she saw her lost love in Pennsylvania.
8. Pennsylvania Polka by Frankie Yankovic
Song Year: 1942
While the Pennsylvania Polka, according to the lyrics, started in Scranton, one can assume that it took over the entire state, which would include the lovely city of Harrisburg. And yes, these days, it’s largely associated with Pittsburgh, but polka legend Frankie Yankovic didn’t have any control over that.
The song was a hit for The Andrews Sisters, but Yankovic made it his own. It helped, too, that his version of the song featured prominently in the 1993 Bill Murray film Groundhog Day.
9. Pennsylvania Is by Everclear
Song Year: 1993
“Pennsylvania Is” probably won’t even be used in a tourism marketing campaign for Harrisburg or anywhere else in the state. Everclear frontman Art Alexakis sings about three very sad people in the song, each of them living hard lives in what he sees as a hard state.
But with a nuclear accident and the collapse of the steel industry in its past, Pennsylvania has had to be a hard place to keep it all together.
The characters in the Everclear song live in a dystopia— one is in prison, one suffers at the hands of a domestic abuser, and one is in a loveless marriage. It’s a bleak little ditty.
10. Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic
Song Year: 1996
What are the chances there would be two people named Yankovic on this list? Slim. Even slimmer when you consider that Weird Al and Frank Yankovic were not related.
At any rate, “Weird Al” Yankovic took Coolio’s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” and did what he does— made it hilarious. Well, he parodied it, and the parody is a riot.
What does this have to do with Harrisburg? Lancaster County is Amish country in Pennsylvania, and it’s a scant 45 miles southeast of the capital city. If you live in that area, you know the Amish people. If you’re in an Amish paradise, you’re close to Harrisburg.
11. You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania by New Found Glory
Song Year: 1999
New Found Glory spends the length of “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” looking back over a relationship that has fizzled out. The narrator acknowledges that he’s at least a little glad things didn’t work out, but he still misses the touch of the partner he no longer has at his side.
All that said, he maintains an affection for the lost love, and the title implies that he’ll always have a place for her in his heart.
Top Songs About Harrisburg, Final Thoughts
Harrisburg has a lot going for it. It houses the state capital, it’s a transportation hub, and it’s in a state with a long and glorious history. Songwriters recognize the good things about it and have written about the city and the state for many years. Did we forget your favorite song about Harrisburg?