100 best NYC songs: Nos. 80–71

Watch music videos for iconic NYC songs by Paul Simon, the Dictators, the Trammps and more.

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80. Paul Simon, "American Tune" (1973)

Using harmonies from a Bach melody, "American Tune" starts out as a generalized portrait of soul-deep weariness, but takes a subtle turn for the local when Simon makes references the difficulty of finding contentedness "so far away from home." It's not until the bridge, which details an existential vision of the "Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea," that you realize he's talking about the loneliness of the immigrant experience—and more specifically, the loneliness of a town where everyone, it seems, came from somewhere else.—Hank Shteamer

American Tune - The Essential Paul Simon

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79. 3rd Bass, "Brooklyn--Queens" (1989)

An African-American DJ, an MC from Queens and a Columbia English major made up this only-in--New York hip-hop trio. The group established itself with the barbed state-of-rap address "Pop Goes the Weasel," but the guys sounded more natural repping for their hometown on this lovably hammy ode to the gold-digging women of Kings County—or "Brooklyn queens," to the pun-inclined. A Hubert Selby, Jr. reference ("Last exit to Brooklyn I enter") foreshadows Das Racist and other impishly literate, impeccably streetwise heroes of contemporary Brooklyn rap.—Hank Shteamer

Brooklyn - Queens - The Cactus Album

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78. Bobby Short, "I Happen to Like New York" (1973)

Cole Porter's 1930 paean to the "sight and the sound and even the stink" of the city, which made its debut in Broadway musical The New Yorkers, has been sung by artists from Judy Garland to Hugh Jackman. But it has rarely been as appealing as in cabaret king Bobby Short's ebulliently sleek 1973 recording, which Woody Allen rolled over the credits of Manhattan Murder Mystery.—Adam Feldman

I Happen to Like New York - Judy Garland: The Best of the Capitol Masters - The London Sessions

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77. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York" (1987)

How did a song about a drunken, arguing couple on the verge of a Christmas breakup become a beloved holiday anthem? Because in the hands of sweet-voiced British singer Kirsty MacColl and gummy Pogues vocalist Shane MacGowan, the story really did become magical, full of string-strewn crescendos and a mighty, teary chorus: "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing 'Galway Bay'/And the bells were ringing out for Christmas day." In other words, a fairy tale, New York-style. (Note: Look for Matt Dillon in the video, arresting MacGowan.)—Sophie Harris

Fairytale of New York - The Very Best of The Pogues

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76. The Dictators, "Avenue A" (2001)

Though not a vintage slab from this seminal NYC punk outfit, but rather a track from a latter-day comeback LP (D.F.F.D.), this snappy, slightly wistful love letter to the Lower East Side still ranks. And really, you can't question the Gotham-punk bona fides of frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba, who owns and operates neighborhood bar Manitoba's, which is, alas, on Avenue B.—Steve Smith

Avenue A - D.F.F.D.

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Visit Handsome Dick Manitoba's bar



75. The Trammps, "The Night the Lights Went Out" (1977)

Having already minted "disaster disco" with titanic hit "Disco Inferno" a year earlier, Philly's Trammps cornered the market with this tuneful reminiscence on the great NYC blackout of July 1977. The foremost danger, evidently, was losing your pants in the dark: "The nation's gonna grow in nine months or so."—Steve Smith

The Night the Lights Went Out - The Trammps III



74. Dion, "King of the New York Streets" (1989)

A latter-day effort from the voice of golden oldies like "The Wanderer" and "Runaround Sue," this ballsy lead-off single from comeback LP Yo Frankie! delivered street-tough couplets that sounded lived-in: "People called me the scandalizer/The world was my appetizer/I turned gangs into fertilizer/King of the New York streets." What's more, Dion has kept it up, even now reinventing himself as an urban bluesman.—Steve Smith

King of the New York Streets (Remake) - Queen of Hearts



73. Shelley Plimpton and the Original Broadway Cast (Hair), "Frank Mills" (1968)

Lodged like a daisy within the tangle of Hair's hippie-shaking list songs and protest numbers, "Frank Mills" is an unrhymed, fetchingly simple ballad about looking for love in the city. Shelley Plimpton's lovably artless version on the Broadway cast album is definitive, but the Lemonheads' deadpan 1992 cover proved that the song remains a waif-naf treat.—Adam Feldman

Frank Mills - Hair (The Original Broadway Cast Recording)

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72. U2, "Angel of Harlem" (1988)

The world's most famous Irishmen never made a bigger bid for rock & roll authenticity than with this tribute to "angel" Billie Holiday, which seizes on as many glorious scraps of Harlem lore as can be fitted into three minutes, from John Coltrane to Birdland to Miles Davis. While the city's famous milestones are all present and correct, what rings most true to real New Yorkers is the evocation of a soggy December day, the city lit up "like a Christmas tree."—Sophie Harris

Angel of Harlem - Rattle and Hum

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71. Fear, "New York's All Right If You Like Saxophones" (1982)

Waxed by vocalist Lee Ving's snotty Angeleno hardcore outfit and played on an infamous SNL appearance brokered by John Belushi, this tuneful blurt offers an outsider's succinct litany of what our metropolis represents: "New York's alright if you wanna get pushed in front of the subway/New York's alright if you like tuberculosis/New York's alright if you like art and jazz/New York's alright if you're a homosexual." The sax playing, handled by bassist Derf Scratch, is a reasonable approximation of Gotham No Wave blurt.—Steve Smith

New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones - The Record

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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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