A few songs always come to mind when we talk about Philadelphia shout-outs in the music scene: Natives like Will Smith and Boyz II Men have “Summertime” and “Motownphilly.” Bruce Springsteen did “Streets of Philadelphia.”
On all the lists people use to highlight these Philly songs — and there have been many of them — one song mentioning Philadelphia has largely gone forgotten. Unlike most of the others that showcase a relaxed or gritty Philadelphia, this one is a love song and references its glitziest place. The song is Seattle native Pete Droge’s “Beautiful Girl,” featured on the soundtrack of the 1996 film “Beautiful Girls,” starring Natalie Portman, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Michael Rapaport and whole bunch of actors who disappeared come Y2K.
The opening lyric has a reference to Center City’s best-known park: “I woke up near Rittenhouse Square/There was noise in the hall; snow was flowing in the air.”
Originally, the song was supposed to be about New York. That’s how it looked when Droge saw the first draft from the song’s co-writer, Dave Stewart, best known for teaming up with Annie Lennox in the group Eurythmics.
“The demo he sent was, ‘I woke up in Central Park,’” Droge said. “For some reason I changed it. At the time we had been touring around the Northeast doing a residency tour where we played the same city for several weeks the same day of the week.”
Droge recalls it being every Wednesday at the Tin Angel for about two months in 1994. He was staying at the Barclay, which has since been converted to condos.
Droge, best known for his song “If You Don’t Love Me,” liked other parts about Philly, too. He often went to South Street when he toured here, and his wife, Elaine, was so inspired by Isaiah Zagar’s art she took up mosaics and has since worked on art pieces for people like the Tragically Hip’s drummer. The first time Droge heard one of his songs on the radio outside of his hometown of Seattle, he recalls, he was in Philadelphia.
“Waking up in Central Park feels more specific that you’re in the park,” Droge said. “[Rittenhouse] felt a little more open and truthful to me.”
And so it was: Rittenhouse Square got a shout-out in a love song.