Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow

And we're living here in Allentown
But the restlessness was handed down
And it's getting very hard to stay
Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave

If we worked hard
If we behaved
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal

And chromium steel
And we're waiting here in Allentown
But they've taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away
Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our place

Well I'm living here in Allentown
And it's hard to keep a good man down
But I won't be getting very hard to stay
And we're living here in Allentown



Lyrics submitted by kevin, edited by kaey99, axcohn

"Allentown" as written by Billy Joel

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Allentown song meanings
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18 Comments

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  • +2
    General Comment:This is an easy song to explain. This song is a story about the ordinary folk of Allentown, Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley (Bethlehem is next to or near Allentown) and the steel mills many of them worked at. The Lehigh Valley's economy was based upon the steel mills that were there, and when they closed lots of people became unemployed.

    The first verse talks about how people of Billy Joel's parents' age typically grew up in the Lehigh Valley. "Out in Bethlehem they're killing time / Filling out forms / Standing in line" describes the mass of people applying for unemployment benefits after the layoffs. The typical man who lives around there who are Billy Joel's parents' age, the men of the Great Generation, participated in World War 2, may have met their future wife through the USO (an organization who entertains the troops when they're on duty), then were employed by the steel mills of the Valley after the war.

    The second verse talks about the assumption that good times would continue for ordinary folk and later generations of Allentown. Teachers would encourage kids to get degrees and even those who didn't get one could rely on the steel mill economy to provide for their needs, or so people assumed. But after the closings, with the layoff of union employees and the unavailability of coal in the area, young people couldn't rely on that anymore.

    The last lines of the song say that those of the Great Generation could take for granted all this economic opportunity, but younger people could not. And when the young people were drafted into the Vietnam War ("Threw an American Flag in Our Face"), it wasn't the same as with their parent's generation. Not only was the war unpopular, but many young people felt dispirited already because of the unemployment and the events of the 1960s, so for them it was an insult not an opportunity.
    The following lines describe just how the situation in the Lehigh Valley can destroy the spirit of even the best people living there:

    "Well I'm living here in Allentown / And it's hard to keep a good man down / But I won't be getting up today"

    He doesn't feel he has a good reason to get up in the morning. What's actually really ingenious about this song is just how Billy Joel can take something as ordinary, unhappy and newspaperish as unemployment in a mill city metro area and turn it into a story and flowing song which many people can relate to. Billy Joel is a great songwriter and storyteller.
    stoolhardyon March 16, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:The line "they threw an American flag in our face," I think, refers to the Reagan Administration's attempt to fix the American post-industrial problem through vigorous patriotism and renewed faith in the American Dream. Unfortunately, this new optimism did not help create any new manufacturing jobs.
    IvoKenton November 12, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I love allentown! great song, and its actually a halfway decent city i live like a half hour from there. This song really describes this city back in the 50's. it is an old steel mill town very, very blue collar town.
    LiveUrLifeon May 01, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Uuuuuumm, I think that the writer is trying to portray an era, or a phenomenon, of the eastern united-ststes. Its about more than just a town. Its a song writen about a dying way of life... Does that make sense??
    requiem_of_hopeon September 29, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:It was written when they played in Allentown in 1982 after the "Rust Belt" of the northeast U.S. went to hell.
    wpoton October 15, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:i live in allentown and we were just talking about this song in history class. it is about the economic recession and youth disallusionment of the late 1970s.
    weezerific:cutleryon April 27, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:weezerific: what school you go to? i went to ahs. i can almost guess the teacher who talks about that shit.
    emocoreon January 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:Here is a little history lesson for your history teachers: Ask your teacher to name one steel mill located in town of Allentown.

    This song was written about Bethlehem, PA. Billy Joel decided to stick with the nearby town of Allentown (about 15 minute drive west on interstate 78) because he felt that the name "Bethlehem" would conjure up images of the birth place of Christ. The “Bethlehem Steel Corporation”, the company that employed most of the people of Bethlehem as well as the neighboring towns in the Lehigh Valley (Hellertown, Easton, and yes even Allentown) is still in business today (though at a diminished capacity). bethlehempaonline.com

    Billy Joel was actually surprised when he was given the key to the city of Allentown. Some Lehigh Valley residents were irritated about this, as well as surprised. I guess the mayor of Allentown never bothered to listen to the lyrics. The song describes a very dark moment in American history (somewhat similar to the Great Depression but on a more limited scale).
    LPon April 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:There is no doubt this song is about the blue collar towns in Pa. I am from Pittsburgh and it is the same story.America shipped the steel industry out of the country. So the jobs that were passed down through the families are gone. The middle class is history!
    smokeeon April 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:very real song i think, I love the line "To get at least as far as their old man got". it almost made me ry!
    apotheosis23on July 14, 2005   Link

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