What Else Should Be Pittsburgh’s Theme Song?
Our first attempt to find a local anthem ended in a split decision.
As of this writing, the big winner in last week’s competition to crown a Pittsburgh theme song is … “None of the above.”
Yinz guys are opinionated n’at.
We presented six solid contenders last week, none of which passed 20% of the vote total.
The closest was Joe Grushecky’s “Pumping Iron,” at 19%, but the top vote-getter was a rejection of the field, as 40% of voters didn’t find a proper ’Burgh anthem to vote for.
So: Let’s try that again, shall we?
I received dozens of suggestions for alternate choices and have selected six more top contenders for this week’s follow-up. Their merits are presented below; another poll follows. We’ll acknowledge Grushecky’s performance by migrating “Pumping Iron” to this week’s poll as a seventh choice.
I also want to acknowledge the many odes to Pittsburgh from local musicians, across many genres, that were sent to me over the past week. A few of my favorites come from Ceann, Chip Dominick, Laura Lind, Arte Tedesco and The Zippers — plus, of course, the rollicking Steelers anthem “Drink Up, Yinz Bitches” by The Olga Watkins Band.
Now: This is it. It’s either Grushecky or one of these. Let’s take a look at the nominees.
Sister Sledge, “We Are Family”
Pros: This one comes to its Pittsburgh relationship naturally, not by design. The disco hit’s association with the championship Pirates of 1979 grew into a civic anthem that year; the undeniably positive and uplifting anthem was, I’m told, inescapable for years. Several commentators told me they already considered this the city’s theme, in fact, so the job of ingraining the tune among locals is already half complete.
Cons: The lyrics, of course, have nothing to do with the city, and Pittsburgh’s musical history is in rock and hip-hop, not disco and dance. It’s also a bit of a reminder that the last truly relevant Pirates team took the field 41 years ago. Perhaps most damningly for our purposes: The band is from Philadelphia.
Frank Black, “I’m Not Dead (I’m in Pittsburgh)”
Pros: The longtime Pixies frontman has written the perfect musical description of a flyover country phenomenon. Those of us with friends that have left town know that many expats have a tendency to forget that those of us who have remained still exist. It’s also a great little bit of bar blues.
Cons: Other than the title and a line about getting an “Allegheny smack in the face,” I’m not sure there’s much local content to be found here. I’m also not exactly sure this song is … fully kind to the city. Admittedly, we are “a place where all good sinners can get stoned,” but still.
Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Cons: As essential as Fred Rogers is to the character of the city, part of me feels that this song is for everyone, not just for us.
Michael Sembello, “Maniac”
Pros: Among the many films set in Pittsburgh, perhaps none is as delightfully cheesy as “Flashdance,” the mid-’80s love story set among the bars and, yes, industrial worksites of Pittsburgh. While the film is not (strictly speaking) very good, it’s very Pittsburgh, with local landmarks and characters well represented. “Just a Steel Town girl on a Saturday night, looking for the fight of her life” feels like the opening line of our theme song.
Cons: As much as I cannot understand this opinion, some people do not enjoy over-the-top ’80s synth music. And, as is the case with Sister Sledge, I feel that any Pittsburgh theme should probably be a rock or hip-hop song, not … what genre is “Maniac,” exactly?
Bruce Springsteen, “A Good Man is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)”
Pros: It’s by Bruce Springsteen and thus automatically appropriate for inclusion in any conversation at any time.
Cons: After the opening line of the song — “It’s cloudy out in Pittsburgh” — there’s no local content or theming here. I would argue that Springsteen’s “American Land,” which does not explicitly mention the town but refers to “the valley of red-hot steel and fire” is a more apt choice, but several commenters nominated “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” so here we are.
Pros/Cons: Fine. Here it is. I did not want to include this one. Listen: It’s indisputably cool when “Renegade” plays at Heinz Field, particularly if it immediately leads to the Steel Curtain clamping down on the opposing offense. But, while this song indisputably rocks, it’s a desperate narrative about a career criminal being brought in by a bounty hunter for an impending execution. That’s not exactly a civic theme song. There’s a difference between “a song they play here at a certain sporting event” and an anthem; the Penguins used Blur’s “Song 2” as their goal song for years, but no one mistakes that for Pittsburgh’s theme tune. So — while acknowledging that this is a mint example of ’70s album rock, a good song and a fine thing to play when you’re waiting for the Steelers to blitz Tom Brady — I do not support this choice. If it wins, I’m throwing out the whole poll and declaring The Lemonheads’ “Pittsburgh” the winner out of spite.