Bruce Springsteen

Streets of Philadelphia

Composed by Bruce Springsteen

Song Review by

What a difference a movie makes. Bruce Springsteen has demonstrated an affinity for life's downtrodden, especially on 1982's stark Nebraska, a primitively recorded album of songs about murderers and other desperate characters. He returned to this theme with a song he wrote for Philadelphia, the late-1993 film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington about a lawyer who is fired by his firm after contracting AIDS who seeks restitution. The song might have been written from the point of view of the suddenly ill and unemployed lawyer, now walking the streets. But it is also a more general statement of alienation and dispossession that is made all the more powerful by the calm, repetitive musical pattern and Springsteen's sad, resigned vocal. While it is a powerful song, it doesn't really sound like a hit record, but that's what it became in the late winter and spring of 1994, as the film became a box-office hit. "Streets of Philadelphia" was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Song in December 1993 and won in January 1994. It was nominated for the Academy Award in the same category in February. Later that month, the single entered the charts, peaking in the Top Ten in April a month after the song won the Oscar; it also went gold. That kind of exposure leads to extensive commercial success, no matter what the song is about. The Philadelphia soundtrack, which also featured newly written songs by Neil Young and Peter Gabriel, sold a million copies, and due to its movie connection, "Streets of Philadelphia" was taken up by the kind of people who don't normally cover Bruce Springsteen songs. Richard Clayderman recorded it in 1994 and Ray Conniff in 1997, and it has appeared on a series of easy listening collections of movie songs performed by faceless orchestras and choruses. Springsteen's own recording has been licensed for a number of compilations, and he included it on his Greatest Hits album in 1995. When Rhino Records assembled its box set, Academy Award Winning Songs (1934-1993), the same year, it was unable to license the Springsteen track and instead commissioned Richie Havens to record a cover version. The Havens performance also turned up on the 1997 tribute album One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Philadelphia [Original Soundtrack] 1993
Original Soundtrack
Sbme Special Mkts.
Streets of Philadelphia 1994 Columbia
1995 Grammy Nominees 1995
Various Artists
Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:52
Greatest Hits 1995 Sony BMG 3:16
Kuschelrock, Vol. 9 1995
Various Artists
Alex 3:14
Diana, Princess of Wales: Tribute 1997
Various Artists
Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:14
Diana Princess of Wales: Tribute 1998
Various Artists
V2 3:16
The  All Time Greatest Movie Songs 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Out at the Movies 1999
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande 5:34
Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:53
Kuschelrock: Movie Songs - Special Edition - Die Schönsten Aller Zeiten 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:48
Songwriter! 2002
Various Artists
Columbia / Sony/Columbia 3:17
All Time Greatest Movie Songs, Vol. 1 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:13
The Essential Bruce Springsteen 2003 Legacy / Sony Music 3:17
No Image 2003 3:15
Live on Air 2007 Northworld 7:38
Collection: 1973-2012 2013 Sony Import 3:16
1995 Radio Hour 2016 Good Ship Funke 3:31
No Image
Hamburg Night 1996 Crystal Cat 6:42
blue highlight denotes editor's pick