"Streets of Philadelphia" is a song written and performed by American rock musician Bruce Springsteen for the film Philadelphia (1993), an early mainstream film dealing with HIV/AIDS. Released in 1994, the song was a hit in many countries, particularly Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway, where it topped the singles charts.
In early 1993, Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme asked Springsteen to write a song for the in-progress film, and in June, after the conclusion of the "Other Band" Tour, Springsteen did so. It was recorded with Springsteen supplying almost all of the instrumentation, with bass and background vocals from "Other Band" member Tommy Sims. Additional saxophone and vocal parts by Ornette Coleman and "Little" Jimmy Scott, respectively, were recorded but never used—although those elements are used in a brief scene in the film when Tom Hanks exits Denzel Washington's office. Released in early 1994 as the main single from the film's original soundtrack, it became a huge success for Springsteen all over Europe and North America.
"Streets of Philadelphia" achieved greater popularity in Europe than in the United States. While it peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it became a number-one single in Germany, France and Austria. It peaked at number two in the United Kingdom, becoming Springsteen's highest charting hit in that country, and number four in Australia. As of 2012[update], "Streets of Philadelphia" ranks as his most recent top ten hit. The song was included on the album All Time Greatest Movie Songs, released by Sony in 1999.
The music video for the song, directed by Jonathan Demme and his nephew Ted Demme, begins by showing Springsteen walking along desolate city streets, followed by a bustling park and schoolyard, interspersed with footage from the film. After a quick shot of Rittenhouse Square, it ends with Springsteen walking along the Delaware River, with the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in the background. Tom Hanks is also visible as the lead character he plays in the film, looking on as Bruce begins the final verse.
The vocal track for the video was recorded live during the shooting, using a hidden microphone, to a pre-recorded instrumental track. This was a technique, appropriate for emotionally intense songs for which conventional video lip-syncing would seem especially false, that John Mellencamp pioneered in his 1985 "Rain on the Scarecrow" video, and that Springsteen himself had used on his 1987 "Brilliant Disguise" video. Springsteen would go on to use the same technique in his "Lonesome Day" video in 2002.
Because of the song's sterling achievements in the awards world, Springsteen played the song live in three high-visibility, prime-time awards show broadcasts: at the 66th Academy Awards in March 1994, at the MTV Video Music Awards in September 1994, and at the Grammy Awards of 1995 in March 1995. Between this, Philadelphia's strong box office performance, and the single being a Top 10 pop hit, "Streets of Philadelphia" became one of Springsteen's best-known songs to the general music audience.
Nonetheless, Springsteen went on to perform the song only sparingly in his own concerts. In solo guitar form and missing the song's trademark synthesizers-and-drums feel, it was performed semi-regularly on the solo and stark 1995-1997 Ghost of Tom Joad Tour. After that, the song became a rarity, only appearing a dozen times on the 1999-2000 E Street Band Reunion Tour, and, as of September 2006, only a couple of times across the three tours after that.
After the movie "Streets of Philadelphia" was released, many artists covered it. in 1993, 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".
In 2010, the French string quartet Quatuor Ébène recorded a version on their album Fiction, with drummer Richard Héry, sung by the quartet's violist Mathieu Herzog.