I love music, and I love that there are so many songs about New York. So I’ve doing some research into what the general population considers the “ultimate” NYC song. Here are some I enjoy.
Apparently Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” is considered by many to be that song. Sean informs me that if you go to certain bars and they play it, everyone sings along spiritedly. I am yet to have that particular experience, but I have heard it a disproportionate number of times since moving here in stores and the like, considering it came out in 2009. And Jay-Z did take his rapper name from the name of two subway lines (J/Z), then proceeded to sell-out four nights in a row at the HUGE new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, so I guess he is pretty New York. I do enjoy the shots of the city in the music video. “I think I’m goin’ where dreams are made of/There’s nothing you can’t do, now that you’re in New York…”
If you’re more of a classic ballet-flats-and-cardigans type of girl like me (or whatever the male equivalent of that is), you probably enjoy Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” We played this at our wedding reception, for fun. It seemed appropriate enough. “I want to be a part of it/New York, New York…”
As I’m really into folk music and singer-songwriters, I’ve gotta include Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ New York.” I love love LOVE the verse about how cold the winter is. And how he calls the city “New York Town.” Such a classic interpretation of a newcomer’s observations of NYC life.
And as an indie kid, I enjoy Vampire Weekend’s “M79.” How hilarious is it they have a whole song about the cross-town bus route that goes through Central Park from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side and back again? Plus, it’s upbeat and fun…which certainly beats how I usually feel on the bus (i.e., tired and crowded).
Having also been a band nerd, it would be a crime not to include George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Nothing else quite captures the nuances of the city, I think, from tranquil Central Park to bustling, chaotic Times Square. We played this a few times, just for kicks and giggles, in the top band class in high school — it was always such a blast. Also, the theater where Wicked is performed is totally and rightfully named after this composer.
The Ramones (Queens natives!) are so iconic, I can’t NOT include them. “Rockaway Beach” is about the Queens/Long Island town, aaaand it totally makes you want to be a punk rocker, don’t lie.
I know it has next to nothing to do with the city, but I’ve loved Death Cab for Cutie’s “Marching Bands of Manhattan” for years. It’s got to be included. “If I could open my arms/and span the length of the isle of Manhattan/I’d bring it to where you are/making a lake of the East River and Hudson.”
Matt & Kim’s “Block After Block” is a great music video filmed in the city. (They are based out of Brooklyn.) Such a fun couple/band!
I could go on and on and on…your “NYC song” could be completely NOT about NYC. It could be the song your cab driver played when you first drove across the bridge into Manhattan, or the song you played on repeat while you unpacked boxes in your new apartment, or the song you listened to in celebration on your iPod after getting your first NYC job, or the one the bar played when you decided “Hey, this place is alright.” Or any number of songs. And that’s the great thing. Whatever your NYC song is, it fits right into the cacophony/symphony that is this city of millions of individuals.
Speaking of songs for NY, I’ve been listening to wayyyy more electronica since moving here, because for some reason it makes more sense in this setting, like country music in Texas and Jack Johnson in Florida. I’ve been obsessing over Crystal Castles lately. You know, just trying to expand my musical repertoire. Here’s the song “Pale Flesh” from their new album that just came out: