The opening rhythm of this 1982 song attempts to mimic the sound of a steel mill punching out beams and other metal shapes. The larger song looks at the impacts of a depressed steel industry in rust belt places such as Pennsylvania, and its Bethlehem Steel.
Economies based too much on one industry are vulnerable to the booms and busts of growth and contraction, rising and falling prices, foreign competition with cheaper labor, outsourcing and as well, as related to Bethlehem Steel – corporate mismanagement. The song makes heroes of the blue-collar workers that try to make a life in a tough industry, and tougher still, must cope with and reconcile unemployment with loyalty to their roots and hometowns in their heartland. Indeed, we are talking about the (Ronald Reagan) days when “too big to fail” and corporate “bailouts” were not on the lips of most.
Allentown has been criticized for stereotyping its hard working American subjects. Which might be curious given the place had no steel mill, but just sounded better than other town names Joel tried rhymes with when drafting the lyrics. The singer did get the key to the city.