Let me clarify, this isn’t the best 5 songs ever or even imho. These aren’t my favorite 5 or even the 5 I listen to the most. I can name hundreds if not over a thousand Pittsburgh songs I love. Picking the best or even my favorite would be like picking your favorite child.
These are the 5 songs of “Pittsburgh music” that every Pittsburgher should know. If someone ever says, “oh they have good bands in Pittsburgh” – play them these 5.
In no particular order:
Cigarette by The Clarks
I mention The Clarks as they are surely the longest tenured band in Pittsburgh with the same line-up for over 30 years. That’s probably a rock-n-roll record. Their popularity has never waned through changing times and Pittsburgh demographics. Oh, and they are still going with a new record coming out this year! Cigarette evokes Western PA with its mention of the Fayette County Fair, big hair but also the vibe of the city. Since its release in 1994 it’s remained a staple of their live set that still brings down the house.
Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root
Rusted Root hit it nationwide. This song was a top 40 hit. You know this song. It was in Ice Age, Party of Five, and recently a car commercial. Rusted Root is still going strong and the various off shoots and side projects are almost constantly performing somewhere in Pittsburgh weekly.
Pumping Iron by The Iron City Houserockers
I was 11 when I saw the Iron City Houserockers on Solid Gold. Shortly thereafter my cousin Shawn played me Have a Good Time … But Get Out Alive. My life has never been the same. Over 600 person shows later for me (The band morphed into Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, and they still reunite) and the thrill isn’t gone. The band decided to write about people they knew in the late 70’s and 80’s and ended up capturing a city at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
Ah Leah by Donnie Iris
When I heard Donnie Iris on the radio and on the jukebox at roller skating, I had no idea he was from Pittsburgh. When I saw him on MTV I still didn’t know. I just knew I liked it. Later on I found out that not only was he from Pittsburgh but he never left. As a matter of fact at the tender age of 75, Donnie is still out there performing sold out shows and hitting all the high notes.
Lost in America by The Gathering Field
The Gathering Field pulled an anachronistic neat trick by using a figure from the 50’s to describe the 90’s. This song captured Pittsburgh and even the entire 90’s slackers as we “waited for a sign.” The band was signed to Atlantic records on the strength of this song. They still perform occasionally (including recently on the Gateway Clipper which sadly I had to miss) and are not to be missed.
So those are my five Pittsburgh songs. I thought of 5 more while writing this in addition to the 30 plus I considered. This is just the tip of an amazing “ice-burgh” of amazing original music. I am sooooo tempted to make an honorable mention but top five means five.