If your city were a song, you’d want it to be upbeat, symbolic, historical, enjoy a catchy melody and, yeah, sure, have it be one of Elton John’s hits.
Philadelphia hit the jackpot in 1975 when, as a favor to a friend, the popular singer-songwriter and his lyricist wrote “Philadelphia Freedom,” a song that 36 years later remains a musical love letter to the City of Brotherly Love.
TOM MIHALEK/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors tour the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, a city linked to the 1975 hit song, "Philadelphia Freedom."
“The reason it will always work so well for Philadelphia is because people hear it and they think it’s about Philadelphia’s role in so many historic struggles for freedom,” said Cara Schneider, a spokesperson for visitphilly.com. In fact, the song was written for tennis star Billie Jean King, co-founder and owner of the Philadelphia Freedoms, a tennis team that continues to play today. The song’s enduring popularity makes it as much a part of Philadelphia as Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa.
Other cities have gotten similarly lucky. Here are a few more memorable melodies:
- “Cleveland Rocks,” Ian Hunter, 1979: “They said Cleveland was uncool and L.A. and New York City were cool,” Hunter once told reporters. “I didn’t see it that way. Cleveland had a lot of heart.” Hunter, an Englishman, helped change the perception. So did Drew Carey, the star of the Cleveland-based “Drew Carey Show,” which set the show’s opening credits to Hunter’s song. The show's cast lip synched the lyrics as they danced across parts of the city. It also doesn’t hurt that Cleveland has been home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum since 1995.
- “Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis Presley, 1964: “This song will always be the best song about Las Vegas because it touches all the reasons why people love coming to Las Vegas,” says Dr. Michael Green, professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada. “Viva Las Vegas” is the title song from the movie of the same name, the one that features the sizzling on- (and off-) screen chemistry between Presley and co-star Ann-Margret. Peaking at a lackluster -- for Presley -- no. 29 on the charts, the song and the city have become inseparable. The song has been covered numerous times, including by Ann-Margret in the 2000 film “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.”
- “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Tony Bennett, 1962: As much a vivid cityscape as a song, Bennett said the tune “helped make me a world citizen.” With its wistful vignettes about little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars and foggy air chilling the city by the bay, it’s a melodic parade of postcards, a song about not being there that somehow makes everyone feel like we’ve never left.
- “Do You Know The Way to San Jose,” Dionne Warwick, 1968: Rand McNally couldn’t have done a better job of putting a single city on the map. It’s the song that helped launch a million Nor-Cal-bound conventioneers. “It’s amazing how a song can still resonate from all those years ago,” says Meghan Horrigan, spokesperson for local visitor’s bureau, Team San Jose. “It has a way of making what is the 10th largest city in America seem like a friendly small town where everyone feels like they belong.”
- “New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra, 1979: This indelible song about one distinctive East Coast city has the audacious feel of a pop culture anthem. Originally written for Liza Minnelli in the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same name, it was left to Sinatra to give it its signature swagger. As brash and robust as the city it describes, the song conveys all the excitement and electricity Manhattan means to the world.
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Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at www.EightDaysToAmish.com.