HughShows welcomes back contributing music journalist Jill Berkin. A a UK-based writer and avid music enthusiast, she’s interested in shoegaze, rock, and alternative music. I couldn’t be more thrilled in highlighting her wonderful work on the blog.
Inspiration comes from many sources, and this is evident in a lot of music. Songwriters often find a muse to help them create a tune, but muses aren’t always people. Sometimes it’s a place and its distinct qualities.
Take influential rock classic California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & the Papas, for example. It exudes the yearning for a warm summer’s day in L.A. while the singer has to endure a biting winter in another city. The songwriters highlight the contrast by singing about gray skies and warm leaves, making California seem even cozier in comparison.
Along the same vein, intimate locations can also evoke such feelings as these big states. Singer-songwriter Bacon James captured the solace of being at the Sante Fe river after feelings of disillusionment in the big city with “Lost and Found (At the Sante Fe).” The song bagged first place at a local songwriting competition as it resonated with many other Floridians who felt the same.
This theme of conflicting feelings and falling in love with a place can also be seen in Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago. As Stevens conveys, some cities leave a mark so deep that you can capture its essence through song. Pittsburgh is one such city. With its tall skyscrapers and its vibrant community, it’s no wonder why so many have written about it. Here are some of the most notable.
Pittsburgh is a bustling city, alive with many characters, but this song talks about how you can still feel lonely amongst the crowd. Guy Mitchell sings about how he lost his beloved to a man much richer than he. As he approaches the pawn shop at the corner, he realizes he has nothing left to sell to regain her love. The jolly tune of the song depicts a lively Pennsylvania, despite the increasing desperation of one man who just wants his girl back.
As someone born and raised in Pennsylvania, Mac Miller often included references to his hometown in music. Frick Park Market is about Pittsburgh’s downtown market, where he usually hung out as a kid. As one of the tracks in his debut album, he uses his experiences growing up here as metaphors for his entrance into the rap genre. After Miller’s passing in 2018, fans have honored his legacy by creating a memorial here and leaving flowers around the city.
Pittsburgh is known as a rainy city, making it the ideal background for angst and sad expressions. Punk band The Outcasts uses this as the background for their frenetic track, in which a man at a subway complains about how a girl has left him broken-hearted. Although very catchy, the Texas-based band was unaware that Pittsburgh didn’t have a subway system at the time of the song’s release.
Despite this song’s massive popularity in 2018, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, many were unaware of its link to Pittsburgh. The song is about pride in the city, with black and yellow being the colors of the city’s football team. The music video also features several of Pittsburgh’s tourist attractions, including the U.S. Steel Tower and the William Penn Hotel. To honor him, the Pittsburgh City Council officially declared December 12, 2012 as Wiz Khalifa Day.
Maybe it’s the tall skyscrapers or the weather, but there’s something about Pittsburgh that elicits melancholy from singers. This song is often overlooked when talking about Bruce Springsteen, as it was an outtake in one of his albums, but it’s one of his most lyrically-rich creations. The song is about a widow mourning her soldier husband who perished in Saigon. It’s a lot to put in one song, but Springsteen weaves this tragic Pittsburgh tale beautifully with his voice that you can’t help but want to listen to it again once it’s over.
Pittsburgh is a beautiful city teeming with life, and it’s clear why so many musicians are inspired to sing about it.
Written for hughshows.com by Jill Birken