Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love and has inspired many songs. Some of the best tunes about the city come from high-profile artists.
Here is a list of songs that showcase why Philadelphia is such an inspiring place.
“Philly Dog” by Herbie Mann
Song Year: 1966
An upbeat instrumental tune, Philly Dog captures the atmosphere and emotion of living in Philadelphia. Mann takes the central role in music with his flute work. Still, this classic song also mixes in numerous other musicians on guitar, drums, trumpet, saxophone, and more.
These are all tied together with Rufus Thomas’ composition and Jimmy Wisner’s arrangement.
“Philly Night” by Berry Jones
Song Year: 2010
Berry Jones isn’t as well-known as some other artists on this list, but his heartfelt tune about summer nights in the city genuinely captures the spirit and emotion of Philadelphia.
Accompanying vocal work from other singers adds to the harmony of this song, which is an important trait when discussing a city so focused on its culture.
“Night Train” by James Brown
Song Year: 1961
A classic R&B hit from the start of the sixties, Night Train, is relatively sparse on lyrics and emphasizes its longer instrumental sections as it goes through a range of mentioned cities, including Philadelphia.
Somewhat unusually, this song works better, seen instead of just heard. The band members worked dance and other visual effects into their performance and wrote it to be experienced that way, so sit back and enjoy a tune that crossed the country.
“Rock’n Me” by Steve Miller Band
Song Year: 1976
This classic rock/folk song name-drops Philadelphia as part of what’s technically a love song. In it, Miller discusses the challenge of finding a job but emphasizes that the primary reason for doing it is love and creating a better life.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it promotes rock and roll throughout its lyrics (in both interpretations). The Steve Miller Band may not be at the top of the rocking world, but their range of hits through the 70s means they remain a recognized part of classic rock and entirely worth listening to.
“Kids From Philly” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers
Song Year: 1980
George Thorogood is unquestionably one of Philadelphia’s biggest fans, and that comes across by the fact that he’s got more than one song on this list.
“Kids From Philly” is a short, upbeat instrumental track featuring guitar, drums, bass, and saxophone, supported by Jorge Thoroscum’s excellent composition for the song.
“Off to Philadelphia” by John McCormack
Song Year: 1941
Widely recognized as one of Ireland’s finest singers, John McCormack’s “Off to Philadelphia” is a diner-style song recorded relatively late. It emphasized Philadelphia’s Irish-heavy population as a reason to travel there.
It’s especially poignant as a song about his own life, as he gained citizenship in the United States a few decades after his birth in Ireland.
“Off to Philadelphia” is especially good as a showcase of McCormack’s overall breath control, where he significantly outperforms even many of today’s leading singers.
“East River Drive” by Grover Washington, Jr.
Song Year: 1981
East River Drive is a jazzy tune inspired by a nine-mile stretch of the city often used for biking and walking. Although it was renamed Kelly Drive a few years after this song came out, it remains one of the most beloved destinations in the city and features some of the river’s best views.
Emotions in jazz can range widely, but “East River Drive” includes a mix of cheerful, peaceful, and optimistic sections to help bring in the experience of strolling through Philadelphia.
“Freddie Freeloader” by Miles Davis
Song Year: 1959
It takes a special kind of fan to get a song named after themselves, but according to Monty Alexander, Miles Davis named this song after a fan who constantly tried to see Davis’ music without paying for it.
At nearly ten minutes long, this modal jazz tune is significantly longer than most of today’s popular songs, making it a more distinctive experience to listen to. Unusually, the final two bars in the music change things up from the traditional styling.
“The Liberty Bell (march)” by John Sousa
Song Year: 1893
Easily one of the oldest songs on this list, initially written by Sousa for an unfinished operetta before changing to focus on the iconic Liberty Bell.
Sousa has written many patriotic marches, but this one is popular enough to see frequent use in presidential inaugurations and is played today at the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia.
“The Liberty Bell” had also seen time on television when the famous comedy group Monty Python used it for introductory content and at the end of one of their films. Some people call Philadelphia the Cradle of Freedom and songs like this show why.
“Philadelphia Lawyer” Song by Woody Guthrie
Song Year: 1937/1944/1964
This song had an unusual path to recording. Guthrie originally wrote it in 1937 after his show partner, “Lefty Lou” Crissman, showed him a news article about a lawyer from Philadelphia shot in Nevada.
Amused, Guthrie penned lyrics and set them to a tune called The Jealous Lover, playing it across California but not bothering to record it. Eventually, Rose Maddox renamed it and performed it, and Guthrie finally recorded it in 1944. However, it didn’t see widespread release until 1964.
Despite being relatively short at just two and a half minutes, the song is a cheerful retelling of the events that led to the news article, condensing an exciting story into an upbeat guitar song.
“Going Back To Philly” by Jeru The Damaja
Song Year: 2008
A parody of LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali,” this song by Jeru the Damaja was written to promote the fourth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This was a long-running sitcom about the friends running Paddy’s Pub and their usually-disastrous attempts to get involved in various social issues.
Lyrically, though, this song focuses on Jeru the Damaja’s reluctance to go back to Philadelphia, mentioning some of the darker aspects of the city.
Any place in the world has both upsides and downsides, and while most people who visit the town love it, this song is a good reminder that it’s not all sunshine and freedom.
“Nobody But Me” by George Thorogood
Song Year: 1982
George Thorogood name-drops Philadelphia several times in this song with simple, catchy lyrics. However, just reading the lyrics isn’t a good representation of the song because of Thorogood’s passion and variation throughout this bouncy song.
More than that, though, this song pushes forth Thorogood’s genuine love for the city. You don’t work a single city into both instrumental and lyrical tracks if you don’t love something about it a lot.
“Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry
Song Year: 1958
Chuck Berry name-drops Philadelphia in this pop-rock song about a girl who dreamed of music and stardom. Unlike some other singers, Berry focused much of his music on teenagers and their experiences, leading to rapid fame within the community.
His songs even helped encourage teens of different ethnicities to associate, further helping his career.
The lyrics here emphasize the universal nature of music and how teens’ desires around the country are often similar. As one of the top hits of rock’s earlier stars, “Sweet Little Sixteen” is easily worth a listen for any genre fan.
“The Heart of Rock and Roll” by The News & Huey Lewis
Song Year: 1983
Huey Lewis’ 1983 hit tours around the country as it talks about his impression of the current state of rock and roll. Genres come and go, and it’s no surprise that artists who like a particular style want to see it continue.
This song is fundamentally optimistic, though, describing how its fundamental elements are enduringly popular and unlikely to disappear anytime soon. It’s been decades since he wrote this song, and rock’s still going strong, so he was probably on to something.
(For more on why it’s popular, check out our guide to rock music.)
“Midnight in Philadelphia” by Lifehouse
Song Year: 2005
An introspective song, “Midnight in Philadelphia,” focuses on the writer’s experiences and relationships. The lyrics also deal with loss, emotion, and confusion, all wrapped up in the idea of being hidden from the world by the deep night.
Although it’s centered on Philly, the emotions in this song are universal and can play just about anywhere.
“Philadelphia” by Neil Young
Song Year: 1993
Written for a Jonathan Demme movie of the same name (starring a much younger Tom Hanks, no less), Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” is a melancholy, emotional tune to finish off the sad ending of the song.
Young was one of the first musicians that Demme sought for the film, as he wanted a modern, relevant guitarist who could write a fantastic piece about injustice.
Despite the original intentions, Demme ended up switching the song to the end of the film, where he thought it would fit better. He also contributed to some of the edits in the song, including the occasional modifications to specific notes and chords.
“Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen
Song Year: 1993
After Jonathan Demme moved Neil Young’s song to the end of the movie, he needed a new opener. To fix his problem, he turned to Bruce Springsteen, who ended up winning both a Grammy and an Oscar for his work on it.
“Streets of Philadelphia” is an impressively complex song, mixing elements of country, pop, R&B, and rock into a single tune. As one of the most-awarded songs on this list, it’s also easily one of the songs about Philadelphia most worth listening to.
“Sailing To Philadelphia” by James Taylor & Mark Knopfler
Song Year: 2000
“Sailing To Philadelphia” is a song with an unusual focus, talking about establishing the Mason-Dixon line that would denote the separation between the northern and southern parts of the United States.
Although it’s primarily Knopfler’s work, he brought James Taylor in to represent the other character in the story.
Philadelphia is the destination in this song, where Jeremiah Dixon and Charlie Mason would eventually arrive to focus on their survey work. However, it also mentions other areas and people relevant to their trip.
“Fall In Philadelphia” by Hall & Oates
Song Year: 1972
“Fall In Philadelphia” is an instrument-focused rock song with lyrics interspersed throughout. It’s a somewhat introspective song, discussing the negative aspects of a current situation and the desire to move out to Philadelphia.
Beyond the obvious point of its lyrics, however, “Fall in Philadelphia” brings in some of the seasonal aspects of the city. Philadelphia is mainly known as a bright and sunny area, but even the most promising regions can have storms.
“I’m In A Philly Mood” by Daryl Hall
Song Year: 1993
Daryl Hall’s 1993 pop song is a groovy love song featuring Philadelphia as a mood more than a city. That’s true from almost any point of view because cities tend to have personalities distinct from those who live in them, affected by their layouts, weather, and job opportunities.
With that said, associating a city with love is always a compliment, even if you aren’t entirely sure what it means when you’re listening to the song. If you think about it a little, it’s easy to remember that Philadelphia is a city of freedom, so giving and receiving love freely is undoubtedly a mood.
“Summertime” by Will Smith & DJ Jazzy Jazz
Song Year: 1991
Philadelphia has long been a popular subject in music and song, but few people brought it mainstream in quite the same way as Will Smith. While his references are most apparent in the opening to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Summertime won Smith and DJ Jazzy Jazz a Grammy for best rap performance.
The lyrics focus on summer in Philadelphia, including various activities people can enjoy. While rap is known for its fast-paced style, “Summertime” focuses on a far more relaxing experience and enjoying the season.
“Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkmen
Song Year: 1988
While you might not expect it from the title, “Punk Rock Girl” heavily emphasizes Philadelphia as its location of choice. The lyrics tell the story of a boy meeting a girl within the city. The two of them go on to have a range of dates and experiences throughout the city as they learn more about each other.
This song remains one of the band’s most popular singles and helped them achieve widespread recognition on MTV and get halfway up the Billboard charts. The band separated around 1995, but would later reunite and produce more work as an active group.
“Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men
Song Year: 1991
Motownphilly is a song that genuinely exemplifies the Boyz II Men band, focusing on their lives and experiences in the area. Throughout the lyrics, they discuss their dreams, experiences, and the local culture in Philadelphia that props up their music.
The genre of songs about Philadelphia ranges widely, but this R&B tune won the Kids’ Choice Award for its focus on youth and kids just finding success could experience. In that regard, it’s a timeless song, and Philadelphia hasn’t changed much since they released it.
(For more about boy bands and their influence, especially in pop, check out our thoughts on them.)
“Dancing In The Streets” by Martha & The Vandellas
Song Year: 1964
This classic, upbeat R&B song name-drops a range of cities, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, as it encourages dancing and music in society. Its groovy tune brought it to #2 on the Billboard charts, while its emphasis on summer makes it an almost aggressively seasonal song.
One less obvious thing is that this song was so popular in its time that multiple other artists, including Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, ended up alluding to it in their songs.
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so if you’re looking for an upbeat song that mentions Philly, this is it.
“Bandstand Boogie” by Barry Manilow
Song Year: 1975
Barry Manilow’s hit pop song focuses on song and dance, with its boogie elements making it a favorite at clubs and dance floors. Philadelphia comes in as a center point of the song, with Manilow specifically referencing the city’s style while encouraging people to get up and move.
Philadelphia always has a certain amount of energy in songs that feature it. Something about the city is inherently energetic, possibly due to its unique role in American history. This comes across as the power of its ideas works with almost every genre.
“The Sound of Philadelphia” by MSFB and The Three Degrees
Song Year: 1973
“The Sound of Philadelphia” is one of the most-recognized songs about the city. Though it’s mainly an instrumental track, the lyrics are simple. As a disco hit, it wound up winning a Grammy for the best R&B instrumental work, and it remains a popular song on the playlist in areas where disco isn’t dead.
More than that, T.S.O.P. and the other instrumental-focused songs on this list showcase that Philadelphia isn’t just a name; it’s a feeling. Something about the city inspires positivity in artists, and that comes through loud and clear.
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
Song Year: 1975
Elton John is one of the most-recognized pop singers in history, with his 1997 “Candle in the Wind” placing as the second-highest-selling physical single of all time. He recorded “Philadelphia Freedom” in 1974 as a break from work on his ninth studio album. At the time, the only song John and Bernie Taupin had intentionally written as a single.
Penned initially as an homage to tennis player Billie Jean King (one of John’s partners in philanthropy), the tune’s uplifting sound resonated with the country and the excitement for the upcoming bicentennial celebration in 1976. It hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and eventually got certified platinum.
Top Songs About Philadelphia, Final Thoughts
Songs about Philadelphia cover a wide range, from uplifting instrumentals and marches to love songs and rap. The city embraces everyone who comes to it, and they return that love in countless forms through music.