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Philadelphia Freedom

by

Elton John



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to most of Elton John's songs, but Elton would occasionally suggest titles. Elton requested a song with the title "Philadelphia Freedom" in honor of his friend, the tennis player Billie Jean King. At the time, there was a professional tennis league in America called World Team Tennis, and in 1974 King coached a team called the "Philadelphia Freedoms," becoming one of the first women ever to coach men. Taupin had no obligation to write lyrics about King, and he didn't - the song was inspired by the Philadelphia Soul sound of groups like The O'Jays and Melvin & The Blue Notes, and also the American bicentennial; in 1976 the US celebrated 200 years of independence.
Elton John and Billie Jean King became good friends after meeting at a party. Elton tried to attend as many of her matches as he could, and he promised King a song after she gave him a customized track suit. Elton and Billie Jean King would become icons of the gay and lesbian community, but at the time, they were both still in the closet, since athletes and entertainers faced a backlash if they revealed their homosexuality. Elton was often answering questions about why he hadn't settled down with a girl, and King avoided the subject as best she could, but was forced to come out in 1981 when a former lover sued her for palimony. King was married to a man up until her outing, and Elton was married to a woman from 1984-1988.
On the single, it said this song was dedicated to "B.J.K." (Billie Jean King) and "The Soulful Sounds Of Philadelphia."
This song was a huge hit in America, following up another #1 single from Elton John, his cover of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Elton dominated the charts at this time, but it didn't always make him happy, as he felt he was being overexposed. He told Melody Maker in June, 1975: "In America I've got 'Philadelphia Freedom' going up the charts again. I wish the bloody thing would piss off. I can see why people get sick and tired of me. In America I get sick and tired of hearing myself on AM radio. It's embarrassing." (Get this full interview at Rock's Backpages.)
Running 5:21, this was one of the longest dance hits of the '70s. A few months earlier, a national radio programer declared that he would no longer play any Elton John song over 4 minutes long because they were screwing up his playlists (Program directors liked short songs because they could play more of them. Elton's opuses like "Daniel" and "Funeral For A Friend" had a way of screwing up the "14 Hits In A Row" format). Elton knew this would be a hit, and was happy to screw the programmer by making it long, knowing he would have to play it anyway.
Elton said this was "one of the only times I tried to deliberately write a hit single."
Elton often put interesting B-sides on his singles, which made them more valuable. On this, the B-side was a live duet of The Beatles hit "I Saw Her Standing There" that Elton recorded with his friend John Lennon. Elton had previously sung on Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" and also released a version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," which was written by Lennon.
In 1975, Elton become one of the first white performers to appear on the TV show Soul Train, which was an honor for him. He performed this song and "Bennie And The Jets."
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy was the first album to enter the US charts at #1. This was due to advance orders, as the album was widely anticipated.
Depending on where he was performing, Elton would sometimes alter the lyrics of the song, swapping "Philadelphia" for his present location. He would only do it if he could make it fit, so "Cincinatti Freedom" was a go, but Cleveland didn't get customized.
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Comments (17):

Whoever added the lyrics added the "misheard" lyrics - the line is NOT "Yeah gave me a piece of mama, daddy never had" it is "Yeah, gave me a peace of mind my Daddy never had - look it up - http://www.kissthisguy.com/26misheard.htm
- Dexter, Chicago, IL
On January 4th, 1975 Elton's "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" became #1 for two weeks. Then for the next 12 weeks there was 12 different songs by 12 different artists who claimed the #1 spot. On April 12th the string was broken and it was Elton who did it, his "Philadelphia Freedom" became #1 for two weeks!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
"knee-high to a man" is NOT any kind of veiled reference to anything sexual. It merely means that the proclaimed "Philadelphia Freedom" of the song was such a strong inner spirit that it sustained the singer from his years being a child (knee-high) to his adult life.
- Mike, Hastings, NE
I think the date of the CD that has this song on it should be noted in the title, along with a note that it is not on the original album, since it is not on either my Captain Fantastic LP or CD.
- Rudolf, Vancouver, Canada
The title is connected with a tennis team that Billie Jean King was on before going pro in tennis.
- Ashley, Somerset, KY
An Englishman singing and writing a song about the Bicentennial? My god, the British lost the Revolutionary War!
- Darrell, Eugene, United States
This was originally a stand-alone single and was credited to the "Elton John Band". It is now available as a "bonus" track on Captain Fantastic, and on several greatest hits CD's.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
Dusty Springfield sang backup vocals on this song. Elton was a HUGE fan of hers, and even sang at her funeral.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
Another song that takes me back to my high school days. I had just graduated and it brings back a ton of memories.
- Rafael, Pasadena, CA
"Philadelphia freedom took me knee high to a man" is a thinly-veiled reference to giving a blow job.
- Les, Joplin, MO
I caught my dad dancing to this song once when I was a kid hahaha
- Amandass, Buckley, WA
Personally I never, ONCE doubted this song to be a testimonial to his own feelings...it's just to damn perfectly written in that light to dismiss.
What an uplifting song of hope and freedom... regardless of your sexual orientation.
Elton is a legendary performer and has all the respect this heterosexual can possibly have for any figure of entertainment.
- Scott, Columbus, OH
"On the single, it said this was dedicated to "B.J.K." (Billie Jean King) and "The Soulful Sounds Of Philadelphia." Gee, and I figured it had something to do with the Declaration of Independence, the 1976 Bicentennial and all that. Just me projecting my own interpretation on the song, I guess.
- Wes, Springfield, VA
Due to this song's uncharacteristic production and the low timbre in John's voice, I heard it dozens of times before I learned it was Elton John.
- Rob, Santa Monica, CA
As I have heard it told, this was the first time Elton asked Bernie to write a set of lyrics for a specific reason.
- Celeste, Drexel Hill, PA
Couldn't this song also be about Elton admitting he is gay because Philidelphia is 'the City of BBrotherly Love"?
- Alex, New Orleans, LA
Correction: Philadelphia Freedom was only available as a single until it made a Greatest Hits Vol. 2 LP in 1978. There is one track on CFATBDC (Tell Me When The Whistle Blows) that has string arrangements very similar to those on Philadelphia Freedom.
- Charles, Charlotte, NC
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