New York, New York. An iconic city, a city that you feel you know even when you’ve never been there. I’ve been once, in 1986, on business trip, for a few days. I’ll never forget the dazzling view of midtown as our helicopter flew in from JFK. (Didn’t fancy that copter, but glad I took it when I saw that view). I did experience that strange sense of familiarity that comes from seeing New York on TV, on film. And also from the music of New York. Music that has been central to my musical journey. Rock, soul, rap, jazz, funk, Latin, new wave, pop. As rich a variety as anywhere in the world.
So how about a Top Ten of New York songs? Could be because the band or singer is from New York, or just that the song conjures up images of the city. Or maybe I’ll go for twelve, just this time, because I just can’t bear to drop any of the tunes below…
12. Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones
The band for whom three chords was an extravagance. Dumbhead rock’n’roll. Beach Boys meets Iggy Pop meets Status Quo. Inspired punk. Actually not dumb at all. Pure pop genius.
11. Jet Boy – New York Dolls
I remember first seeing this lot on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Could only have come from New York. Too wild for anywhere else. Four blokes dressed in women’s clothes pumping out cartoon rock’n’roll. Jet Boy is the best thing they did.
10. Black Gold Of The Sun – Nuyorican Soul (ft Jocelyn Brown)
The standout track of a wonderful soulful, funky, latino compilation. The sound of a New York that I’ve never been to, but feel I know through music.
9. Venus – Television
From one of the greatest ever albums, “Marquee Moon”. Tom Verlaine on vocals and guitar. A song from the fragile heart of the city.
8. We Live In Brooklyn Baby – Roy Ayers
The jazz funk master. The title says it all… a languid masterpiece.
7. The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel
Has any other song conveyed so well what it’s like to be lost in a big, new city?
6. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
One of my favourite bands. This is from their first album, “Talking Heads 77”. New York’s an edgy city. This is a very edgy song.
5. Fight The Power – Public Enemy
The greatest ever rap band? This was the theme tune to the Spike Lee film “Do The Right Thing”. Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant **** to me….
4. Spanish Stroll – Mink de Ville
A new wave classic, where punk and Latin soul met in perfect harmony.
3. I’m Waiting For The Man – The Velvet Underground
The place where the New York white boy/girl artists got embroiled with the darkness of the city. The Velvet Underground are the ultimate rock’n’roll sound of New York. It’s seedy, dangerous but exhilarating.
2. You Said Something – PJ Harvey
Polly Jean’s finest moment for me. The girl from the west country who turned rock’n’roll inside out. Here finding a rare moment of love…
On a rooftop in Brooklyn, at one in the morning,
Watching the lights flash,
I see five bridges, the Empire State Building,
And you said something
That I’ve never forgotten…..
1. Meeting Across The River – Bruce Springsteen
There are so many Bruce songs I could have chosen, but this short piece, the prelude to the mighty “Jungleland” might be the most poignant. The small time loser, with a deal on the cards that might allow him to break free.
And when I walk through that door, I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed…
The jazzy trumpet in the background reminds me of the time I sat in a cocktail bar, with friends, looking out at Brooklyn Bridge, lit up in the night sky. An unforgettable moment. How many cross that bridge with hope in their hearts?
There are so many songs I could have picked, so many artists I’ve left out. Blondie, Madonna, any number of Bob Dylan songs. Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York” (no relation to the Sinatra wedding party favourite!). So much soul and funk and rap. And one of Bruce’s greatest ever songs, “New York City Serenade”. But the twelve I selected are real favourites, all songs that mean something to me, something about New York City.
What songs remind you of New York?
And hey, let’s leave with a bar room blues from the great man himself, Frank Sinatra. “One For My Baby”.
I guess that makes thirteen.
And er, PS… I plain forgot Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ magnificent tribute to NYC, “Empire State Of Mind”.
I actually prefer Jungleland as a Bruce Springsteen song about New York (at least I have always assumed it is about NYC maybe I’m wrong.)
As a New Yorker I am glad you are able to post on the wide variety of music we hear living here. I always think of Nas, especially living in Queens, Memory Lane’s good, NY State of Mind, If I Ruled the World, The World is Yours, all sound like NYC.
When I did my Bruce Top Ten, I cheated and made Meeting Across The River and Jungleland joint number one!. Your suggestions about Nas somehow reminded me that I’d forgotten Empire State of Mind by Jay Z and Alicia Keys. How did I do that?
good list john- I like the jet boy inclusion – produced by my hero todd rundgren. one great song i’d add is new york by the sex pistols from their first album – and the absolute bollo…
and far less cool but guilty pleasures: nights on broadway- candi staton and disco stomp (new york city !!!) by hamilton bohannon.
Excellent choices and I was immediately reminded of another disco classic: “Native New Yorker” by Odyssey!
Yes, nice work, John, and many of your favourites are mine. To pick up on dc’s point, you could make a whole Top Ten of guilty pleasures from Saturday Night Fever alone – it always feels like an archetypal NYC album to me. Particular fave has got to be The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”. Stomptastic.
What else? Well, in no order whatsoever, and for all sorts of different reasons…..how about Bruce’s beautiful “My City of Ruins”, from The Rising; and on happier notes, Ronny Jordan’s “The Jackal” (totally random selection) from 1993, Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”, Joe Jackson’s “Steppin Out” (1982 – gasp), the peerless “Across 110th Street” by the one and only Womack, and George Benson’s “On Broadway”, which always gives me such a nostalgic rush (not for New York – for Wiltshire!). And I guess “Walk on the Wild Side” – not because I love the song, but simply because it seems to catch all that wonderful seventies New York sleaze. Excellent.
Great suggestions! How did I forget Walk on the Wild Side and Night Fever? Then again, what could I have left out? A twenty is looming!
Great, great list. Couldn’t agree more with the “pure pop genius” tag given to the Ramones. Lou Reed is the quintessential NY song-writer for me because of his bluntness. Also I’ve never really been a fan of Gershwin, but Woody Allen’s usage of Rhapsody in Blue at the intro of Manhattan is another classic NY moment.
Thanks for the comment. The thing I forgot about at the time, as well as the suggestions other commenters made, was Saturday Night Fever. One of the disco classics from that would have to be there!