It is an undeniable fact that New York is one of the most influential cities in the world.
One of the most influential things about New York is the music. There are so many songs that have been created from it, all unique and all playing a different part in making the city what it is today.
In this blog, I provide a list of New York songs that you should definitely not miss out on.
New York Songs
- “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder
The song is one of the first soul singles to address systemic racism in America so explicitly. The novel tells the story of a young boy from Mississippi who migrates to New York City. He is loved by his parents even though he lives in poverty and harsh living conditions, but in the city, it is a different story.
- “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel
The song was performed at the 2001 telethon to benefit the victims of the terrorist attacks on the US called “Tribute to Heroes.”. Joel played his piano with the helmet of one of the New York City Firefighters who died in the World Trade Center tragedy in honor of the rescue workers.
- “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra
It is a song from the perspective of an entertainer who leaves their small town and tries to make it in the big city. Instead of focusing on the difficulties, he will encounter, he embraces the challenges in anticipation of a new life in a vibrant city.
- “On Broadway” by The Drifters
According to Cynthia Weil, this was originally written for a girl group (the original version, which was originally recorded by The Crystals in 1962), and was later performed by a boy group. It was about a girl who dreams of Broadway and stardom after moving to New York. It was much more of an escape from my small town and I’m going to make it.
- “New York City Serenade” by Bruce Springsteen
The song is about New York City and ultimately, Western society life in modern times. What it’s like for people to live within it.
- “Piss Factory” by Patti Smith
The most well known NYC songs boast about how great you are for making it here or the amount of hustle/discipline you showed.
- “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
A song about Irish immigrants to America who fled the potato famine and came to New York hoping to make it as entertainers in the 19th century. However, many did not, and ended up homeless.
- “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed
It tells the story of cross-dressers who come to New York and become prostitutes. “Take a walk on the wild side” is what they say to potential customers. In each verse, a new character is introduced. Holly, Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Jackie are among them. Lou, like the characters, was a frequent visitor to the Andy Warhol Factory.
This song shows Reed’s empathy for these characters, as he struggled with his sexuality for most of his life. When he was a child, his parents even tried to cure him of his homosexuality. Reed presented a completely different view of gender roles in rock in this song.
- “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen
In the song, a New York City Fire Department firefighter climbs one of the World Trade Center towers after hijacked planes have hit them during the September 11 attacks.
- “Downtown Train” by Tom Waits
The song is about loneliness and dreaming of love you can’t have. He looks at the girl in the window and she at the bright lights of the city, both searching for the same thing in different places – the same things we all look for and find at different times in different ways.
- Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
Jay-Z’s huge single quickly became a favorite of all New Yorkers, hip-hop lovers, and not. Only one issue with the track was the overexposure of it in New York sports stadiums, radio stations, and any public event expressing NYC pride, which even left some Jay-Z fans tired of it.
Little did we know that everyone would understand because, more than New York, it represents HOPE and the possibility of tomorrow. No matter who you are or where you come from, you can follow your dreams.
- “Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan plays the harmonica and guitar in a classic folk progression on the second track of his 1962 debut album, self-titled. As he sings, he speaks of coming to New York, the cold winters, coffeehouses in Greenwich Village, and how one man said he sounded “like a hillbilly.”
Dylan’s hero, Woody Guthrie, is referred to in the line, “Now, a very great man once said that some people rob you with a fountain pen.”
- “53rd & 3rd” by The Ramones
Joey Ramone Place is located at the corner of the Bowery and East Second Street outside of the old address of CBGB, but the corner of 53rd Street and Third Avenue is immortalized on The Ramones’ self-titled debut album.
In this song, bass player Dee Dee Ramone tells the story of young male prostitutes, known as chicken hawks, who sell sexual favors to older men for cash.
- “Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King
This area of New York City is famous for its large Latino population and rich cultural heritage. In this song, the sun is always shady from the rose growing through the city’s concrete. The singer is enchanted by this beautiful flower and dreams of bringing it to his garden.
The rose represents a girl who is “soft, sweet, and dreaming.”
- “New York City Cops” by The Strokes
The b-side of the ‘Hard To Explain’ single in June 2001 was ‘New York City Cops’. When New York was attacked by terrorists on September 11th, 2001, it was deemed an inappropriate lyric to include on ‘Is This It’, and was replaced with the song ‘When It Started’. While it delayed the album’s release from September 25th to mid-October, the band felt it necessary to maintain an air of positivity throughout the crisis.
- “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” by Leonard Cohen
“I remember you well from the Chelsea Hotel,” Leonard Cohen sings over his guitar, lamenting the lost love and isolation in the infamous NYC hotel that housed countless artists, poets, and musicians.
With his signature morose poetry and longing monotone, the Canadian singer-songwriter tells us about a less-idealized New York. The Chelsea is now the Chelsea Savoy Hotel and remains a popular landmark in NYC.
- “New York City” by John Lennon
In this song, John Lennon sings the praises of his new home and tells how he and Yoko ended up in New York. Lennon’s ode to New York is a fast-paced rock song.
- “Back to Manhattan” by Norah Jones
Norah Jones sings about a split between lovers and the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, where she returns “as if nothing ever happened.” Although a jazz standard sort of song, this song fits well on her pop-inspired yet experimental album “The Fall.”
Jones, who was born and raised in Brooklyn and is still a New Yorker, has witnessed the degree of separation that can form between residents of different boroughs, lovers or not.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog about the Top New York Songs. It is awesome and exciting to see how many songs about New York are out and about. This has been an amazing city for music, there is something central to what it is that defines the sound of it. If you have any personal favorites then I’d love to know in the comments section below.
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For New York City trip ideas, visit Pinterest.