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100 best NYC songs: Nos. 50–41

Watch music videos for iconic NYC songs by Nat King Cole, Bill Withers, Ace Frehley and more.

50. Bill Withers, "Harlem" (1971)

Withers was an unlikely troubadour who sang about daily life, and "Harlem"—though overshadowed by hits like "Lean on Me"—is a mellow, groovy, heartfelt R&B gem. Complete with acoustic guitar riffs, insistent percussion and a wizened voice imparting urban poetry, it's an ideally heavy soundtrack to summer in NYC.—Marley Lynch

Harlem - The Best of Bill Withers - Lean on Me

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49. Odyssey, "Native New Yorker" (1977)

Sure, punk and No Wave might have the mythos; but really, the sound of New York's clubland in the late '70s was disco. And there are few songs more disco than the lush "Native New Yorker," a cut that pairs Odyssey's singing Lopez sisters with a swarm of swing-band horns and what just might be the biggest string section in the genre's history. Lyrically, the song is almost trite—it's about acting on your dreams before you lose them—but when that chorus kicks in to remind you that you're from the greatest city in the world, it's goose-bump time.—Bruce Tantum

Native New Yorker (Radio Edit) - Native New Yorker - EP

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48. Jay-Z with the Notorious B.I.G., "Brooklyn's Finest" (1996)

"Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls, nigga shit your drawers." The chemistry was always thick whenever former George Westinghouse High School students Jay-Z and Biggie teamed up. With its roll call of Brooklyn neighborhoods (if yours made the cut, it had street cred back in '96), this track from Jigga's Reasonable Doubt stands as their definitive collaboration.—Jesse Serwer

Brooklyn's Finest - The .357 Magnum

Play "Brooklyn's Finest" on Spotify

47. Jeffrey and Jack Lewis, "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror" (2005)

In this track, local antifolk hero Jeffrey Lewis uses a Bonnie "Prince" Billy sighting on the L train as an excuse to obsessively dissect the petty insecurity that plagues aspirants in the Grand Prix of Brooklyn cool. If you can't relate even a wee bit to a characterization like "Hapless in our hipness/Crowded five to an apartment," consider yourself very, very lucky.—Hank Shteamer

Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror - Art Star Sounds Compilation

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46. Tom Browne, "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)" (1980)

Though rarely celebrated, Jamaica, Queens, has been one of the city's black-music hotbeds since jazz greats like Fats Waller and Count Basie bought houses in the area in the '30s and '40s. Trumpeter Tom Browne finally gave the 'hood its theme song with this 1980 tribute, which boasts contributions from fellow "Jamaica Kats" such as bass legend Marcus Miller and keyboardist Bernard Wright.—Jesse Serwer

Funkin' for Jamaica - Funkin' for Jamaica

Critic Vince Aletti sums up the disco era
Check out Jay-Z's memoir Decoded
Video: Watch Jeffrey Lewis singing, talking, drawing

45. Ace Frehley, "New York Groove" (1978)

The sole breakout hit from the matched set of Kiss solo albums unleashed in 1978, this Ace Frehley single didn't sound like the tunes the Spaceman had previously penned for the band. And for good reason: He didn't write it. U.K. keyboardist Russ Ballard wrote "New York Groove" in 1975, when it provided a minor hit for English glam band Hello. Frehley's take was allegedly inspired by Times Square hookers, which sheds light on drummer Anton Fig's crunching-footsteps beat.—Steve Smith

New York Groove - The Very Best of Kiss

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44. Bob & Earl, "Harlem Shuffle" (1963)

One of the most brilliant soul 45s of all time, this dance-floor mainstay hit the airwaves in 1963. The song animated the still-segregated black clubs and the radios of white America alike, pulling in listeners intrigued by this so-called race music. Though it was covered by a little band called the Rolling Stones in '86 and sampled in House of Pain's party-starting anthem "Jump Around," the cut remains rooted in the hip- and shoulder-shaking that emerged in Harlem Renaissance ballrooms.—Marley Lynch

Harlem Shuffle - Sweet Soul Music

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43. Original studio cast (On the Town), "New York, New York" (1960)

Written for the 1944 musical On the Town, this zippy bolt of tourist elation was sung by a trio of sailors on shore leave in a "helluva town" (lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green had to change that to "wonderful town" in the 1949 film). Fresh off the boat and goosed by the fanfares of Leonard Bernstein's brass, they're literally leaping at the chance to explore it.—Adam Feldman

New York, New York (From

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42. Interpol, "NYC" (2002)

In 2002, Interpol offered the soundtrack to the mopey side of New York. A dark counterbalance to the buoyant energy of the Strokes, Interpol wore smart suits and disaffected expressions. The band played melancholy hooks as singer Paul Banks sighed lines like, "The subway is a porno." We've all had days like that, Paul.—Sophie Harris

NYC - Turn On the Bright Lights

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41. Nat King Cole, "Harlem Blues" (1958)

Leave it to this urbane crooner to make a lovelorn lament sound like a sepia-tinted tour through old Harlem. There's a breezy postcard quality to Cole's nostalgic urban sketch—"Since my sweetie left me, Harlem ain't the same old place/Though a thousand flappers smile right in my face"—more emblematic of hoary clichs about '20s uptown life than of how anyone actually lived. But that's part of the point: Nelson Riddle's swaggering arrangement is a reminder that over the years, romantic notions of NYC have come to feel as vivid as the place itself.—Hank Shteamer

Harlem Blues - Ultra-Lounge: Big Apple Martini!

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Interview: Ace Frehley
Moby picks "New York Groove" as one of his top ten NYC songs
Live photos: Interpol at Terminal 5

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

See the full list of 100 best NYC songs

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