100 best NYC songs: Nos. 20–11

Watch music videos for iconic NYC songs by Simon & Garfunkel, LL Cool J, Wu-Tang Clan and more.

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20. The Ramones, "Rockaway Beach" (1977)

Penned by Dee Dee Ramone (reportedly the only beachgoing member of this pasty Queens punk band), "Rockaway Beach" not only celebrates the South Shore strand known as the "Irish Riviera," but makes the destination sound more appealing than it actually is. The highest-charting single of the Ramones' career, this bubblegum masterpiece peaked at No. 66 on Billboard's Hot 100. For locals during a hot summer, it's No. 1 with a bullet.—Steve Smith

Rockaway Beach - Rocket to Russia

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19. Billy Joel, "New York State of Mind" (1976)

"Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood"—but not Billy Joel, whose soulful neostandard extols the comforts of being home in New York, even in a somewhat melancholic mood. "It comes down to reality, and it's fine with me 'cause I've let it slide," he sings; the song's jazzy piano and saxophone lines are not carefree so much as stubbornly inured to care.—Adam Feldman

New York State of Mind - The Essential Billy Joel

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18. Vampire Weekend, "M79" (2008)

This gem from VW's breakout debut portrays a crosstown bus ride as an opportunity for bittersweet reverie, complete with string and harpsichord accompaniment that makes you feel like the star of your very own Wes Anderson flick. The song conjures the world of a bookish, self-absorbed Columbia-ite in just a few choice phrases: "I'll ride across the park/Backseat on the 79/Wasted days/You've come to pass." In keeping with its higher-educated, neopreppy provenance, the song cul-de-sacs in a series of cryptic references.—Hank Shteamer

M79 - Vampire Weekend

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17. Simon & Garfunkel, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" (1966)

Most of the time, New Yorkers operate under the assumption that feelin' groovy is best achieved by rushing through everything and subdividing their lives into a series of iPhone reminders. Here, Simon & Garfunkel tap us on the shoulder and tell us to take in the view, look for some fun and just chill. "Life, I love you," Simon croons. We're pretty sure he also means NYC.—Sharon Steel

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) - The Best of Simon & Garfunkel

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16. Joni Mitchell, "Chelsea Morning" (1969)

Mitchell's tune was eclipsed in commercial success by Judy Collins's version, but the singer's own recording, in which she happily recounts the joys of waking up in her picturesque room in the Chelsea Hotel, grips us hardest. A gray Manhattan morning is dappled in exuberant hippie-commune sunlight after Joni's through with it. Homegirl didn't need a triple shot of espresso, five cigarettes and a scroll through Facebook status updates—just some oranges in a bowl, rainbows on the wall and a sun show peeking through her yellow curtains.—Sharon Steel

Chelsea Morning - Clouds

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15. LL Cool J, "Doin' It" (1996)

As far as filth goes, "Doin' It" sounds every bit as naughty as Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"—just without the explicit lyrics. That's thanks in no small part to lady rapper LeShaun, who murmurs its restless hook ("Doin' it an' doin' it an' doin' it well"). That LL Cool J responds with a firm, manly rejoinder ("I represent Queens, she was raised out in Brooklyn") only adds fuel to the fire. Fittingly, LeShaun does not appear in the video, because she was pregnant at the time.—Sophie Harris

Doin' It - All World - Greatest Hits

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14. George Benson, "On Broadway" (1978)

It's hard to imagine that "On Broadway" wouldn't be a smash hit, given that the song was the work of not just one, but two legendary songwriting teams: Mann-Weil and Leiber-Stoller. The Drifters, for whom the final version of the track was written, had a Top 10 hit with it in 1963; myriad covers followed, and both David Bowie and Genesis quoted a lick. But it's hard to imagine a version that better captures the song's aspirational moxie—or its six-string braggadocio—than George Benson's smooth-sailing, chart-topping live take.—Steve Smith

On Broadway - The George Benson Collection

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13. The Velvet Underground, "I'm Waiting for the Man" (1967)

Like many of the Velvets' songs that focus on New York City's dark underbelly, "I'm Waiting for the Man" is supposedly based on fact. Legendary downtowner Lou Reed wrote this gritty track about scoring heroin for $26 at a Harlem brownstone—which he claims is a true story, aside from the price he paid. The song addresses the daily issues of addiction—traveling to a sketchy neighborhood, impatiently waiting for the dealer and coping with an angry girlfriend. Even the frantic drumbeat reflects a junkie's anxiety.—Marley Lynch

I'm Waiting for the Man (Stereo) - The Velvet Underground & Nico

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12. Duke Ellington Orchestra, "Take the 'A' Train" (1941)

In 1939, Duke Ellington tapped Billy Strayhorn as his new right-hand man and sent for the pianist-composer, then living in Pittsburgh. Ellington's instructions said to hop on the A, bound for Harlem, and Strayhorn was off—both creatively and careerwise. The lyrics, added later, spelled out the sentiment—"Hurry, get on now/It's coming/Listen to those rails a-thrumming"—but Strayhorn's brass-festooned original achieves the same effect: a musical depiction of a rising star getting his shot at the glitzy big time.—Hank Shteamer

Take the

Play "Take the 'A' Train" on Spotify



11. Wu-Tang Clan, "C.R.E.A.M." (1993)

More than a hot cut from a landmark debut album, this track—the title of which stands for "cash rules everything around me," chanted by Method Man in each chorus—helped to forge the Shaolin mythos at the heart of the Wu-Tang empire. Verses spat in turn by Raekwon and Inspectah Deck paint a gritty portrait of urban survival over an eerie piano-and-organ backdrop that circles endlessly and aimlessly.—Steve Smith

C.R.E.A.M. - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

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100–91 | 90–81 | 80–71 | 70–61 | 60–51 | 50–41 | 40–31 | 30–21 | 20–11 | 10–1


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