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100 best NYC songs

The 100 best songs about New York

Take a look at our favorite songs about New York, ranging from Run-DMC to Simon and Garfunkel

Edited by
Andy Kryza

Like movies and books centered around the Big Apple, the best songs about New York are by artists who understandthe things that make New York great and horrifying are one in the same. A great New York song is tapped into the rhythms of the city and well aware of the incredible wealth of human experience happening simultaneously across its expanse. They are songs of triumph and heartache, success and failure, love and loss. They celebrate that iconic skyline, but aren't afraid to descend to the gutter. 

There are thousands of songs about the New York, but only a select few are timeless. Here we collect our favorite odes to the Big Apple. You’ll find anthems by New York icons ranging from Lou Reed to Jay-Z. There are broadway showstoppers and dispatches from the birth of hip-hop. You’ll find disco, hardcore, pop, punk, jazz and folk penned by outsiders and lifers alike. And if sticking all those genres and personalities together on one list about the same city seems a bit scattershot, well, you’ve clearly never taken a rush hour subway across town.

Written by Sophie Harris, Adam Feldman, Steve Smith, Hank Shteamer, Marley Lynch, Andy Kryza, Sharon Steel and Jesse Serwer

Best songs about New York, ranked

‘Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z with Alicia Keys (2009)
Image: Roc

1. â€˜Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z with Alicia Keys (2009)

Of all the world’s glitzy capitals, New York is the one that's truly the city of dreamers. Rough-and-tumble is putting it mildly, as the city's rich musical history attests. But from its many knocks, something amazing emerges. When Jay-Z’s roll-with-the-punches verse gives way to Alicia Keys’s chorus, it’s the musical equivalent of the first time you touched down on the JFK tarmac or saw the Statue of Liberty. ‘Empire State of Mind’ is hopeful and warm – and for that reason, it’s the only song to provide a real update to ‘New York, New York.’ We’ll take it.

‘Theme from New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra (1980)
Image: Reprise

2. â€˜Theme from New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra (1980)

The city’s unofficial anthem sees New York through the wide eyes of an outsider: a small-town striver hoping that ‘If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere.’ The song breathes aspiration, and is itself a fairly recent arrival: Broadway's John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote it for Liza Minnelli to sing in 1977’s New York, New York(a film set in the ’40s), and Frank Sinatra made it immortal three years later. Even though it’s not quite ‘A-number-one, top of the list’ in our rankings, it remains the quintessential paean to ‘old New York,’ city of dreams, where brand-new New Yorkers arrive every day.

‘New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down’ by LCD Soundsystem (2007)
Image: DFA Records

3. â€˜New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down’ by LCD Soundsystem (2007)

From an album that inspired a critical love-in came a video that starred Kermit the Frog, for a song that LCD Soundsystem chose to close its (first) farewell show. Its charms are many; A downtempo, half-shrugged first verse turns into a punch-by-punch slugfest by the song’s end – the perfect equivalent to any New Yorker’s relationship with the city we love to hate and hate to love. Besides appealing to city dwellers’ nostalgia, it addresses trivial concerns (‘Take me off your mailing list’), along with some big ones (‘Our records all show you were filthy but fine’). And why is it all so infuriating? New York knows we’ll never break up with her: ‘You're still the one pool where I'd happily drown.’

‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ & ‘Hello Brooklyn’ by Beastie Boys (1986 & 1989)
Image: Def Jam

4. â€˜No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ & ‘Hello Brooklyn’ by Beastie Boys (1986 & 1989)

Basically every Beasties song could be considered a New York song, considering they’re frequently name-dropping streets, people and places. But few none have become all-out New York anthems quite like ‘No Sleep,’ a mega-hit from the MCs’ frat-rock days that demands to be screamed the minute you hit the ground in NYC. The arena-rock braggadocio of the License to Ill smash was followed up by the Paul‘s Boutique deep cut ‘Hello Brooklyn,’ whose dense wall of 808 thump announces that, indeed, after a sleepless night on the road, the boys have finally come home to roost.

‘Autumn in New York’ by Billie Holiday (1952)
Image: Verve

5. â€˜Autumn in New York’ by Billie Holiday (1952)

The bruised optimism of Vernon Duke’s much-covered 1934 jazz standard – which allows that a New York autumn is ‘often mingled with pain,’ but insists that ‘it’s good to live it again’ – found its perfect expression in Billie Holiday’s yearning version with pianist Oscar Peterson. Duke’s moody music and poetic lyrics (‘Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel’) are an invitation to fall in love.

‘Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed (1972)
Image: RCA

6. â€˜Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed (1972)

This deathless Lou Reed cut paints a wise, sympathetic portrait of the misfits, hustlers and junkies drawn like flies to New York City, where every outsider can find a sliver of acceptance, if not outright redemption. Even the track’s signature sound – tubby acoustic bass tangled with slinky, fretless electric – was a hustle: In a 2005 interview, session player Herbie Flowers (who played both instruments) claimed he was just trying to make twice the cash.

Steve Smith
‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by Leonard Bernstein with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (1959)
Image: Columbia Records

7. â€˜Rhapsody in Blue’ by Leonard Bernstein with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (1959)

Gershwin was just 25 years old when he wrote this genre-bending composition for piano and jazz orchestra in 1924. A sublime collage of melodies and rhythms, the piece conjures the throb and clang of Jazz Age urban life so evocatively that it has become an aural signifier for New York City itself. The piece was notably used in the opening montage of Woody Allen‘s Manhattan and in the Hirschfeld-inspired sequence in Disney's Fantasia 2000.

‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)
Image: Sugar Hill

8. â€˜The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)

Hip-hop existed before this breakthrough single dropped; still, with unprecedented prominence given to Grandmaster Flash’s harrowing narrative over the Furious Five’s slow groove, ‘The Message’ arguably marks the birth of rap as we know it. The clear-eyed and explicit lyrics still pack a punch; in the repeated line ‘Don’t push me/‘Cause I'm close to the edge,’ you can sense the desperation of a neighborhood, a culture and a generation.

‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ by Leonard Cohen (1974)
Image: Columbia Records

9. â€˜Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ by Leonard Cohen (1974)

Cohen‘s disarmingly tender reference to a blow job from Janis Joplin still shocks, but that’s not what makes this song such an enduring portrait of NYC bohemia. When he sings, ‘Those were the reasons/And that was New York/We were runnin’ for the money and the flesh,’ he doesn't come off as a perv so much as a sad, old poet, memorializing his own bygone wild days and the ones who didn’t make it through theirs. If the Chelsea Hotel still retains any of its heady cachet (which was later unpacked with wry brilliance by Jeffrey Lewis in ‘The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song’), we have this magical ballad to thank.

‘C.R.E.A.M.’ by Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
Image: Loud Records

10. â€˜C.R.E.A.M.’ by Wu-Tang Clan (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
‘Take the A’ Train’ by Duke Ellington Orchestra (1941)
Image: Victor

11. â€˜Take the A’ Train’ by Duke Ellington Orchestra (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.

‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ by The Velvet Underground (1967)
Image: Verve

12. â€˜I’m Waiting for the Man’ by The Velvet Underground (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.

‘On Broadway’ by George Benson (1978)
Image: RCA

13. â€˜On Broadway’ by George Benson (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
‘N.Y. State of Mind’ by Nas (1994)
Image: Columbia Records

14. â€˜N.Y. State of Mind’ by Nas (1994)

This sinister, piano-driven track introduced the world to the studied, Dickensian style of street reportage that would become Nas's trademark, all but transporting listeners to the street corners of his native Queensbridge, while offering one of the rap legend’s most famed lines: ‘I never sleep ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.’

Jesse Serwer
‘Chelsea Morning’ by Joni Mitchell (1969)
Image: Reprise

15. â€˜Chelsea Morning’ by Joni Mitchell (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
‘The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ by Simon & Garfunkel (1966)
Image: Columbia Records

16. â€˜The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’ by Simon & Garfunkel (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
‘M79’ by Vampire Weekend (2008)
Image: XL Records

17. â€˜M79’ by Vampire Weekend (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.

‘New York State of Mind’ by Billy Joel (1976)
Image: Columbia Records

18. â€˜New York State of Mind’ by Billy Joel (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.

‘Rockaway Beach’ byThe Ramones (1977)
Image: Sire Records

19. â€˜Rockaway Beach’ byThe Ramones (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
‘Subway Train’ by New York Dolls (1973)
Image: Mercury

20. â€˜Subway Train’ by New York Dolls (1973)

Country bluesmen couldn’t get their minds off the railroad; in this Stonesy glam classic, David Johansen transposes that sentiment to seedy early-'70s NYC. He’s lovesick, you see – smitten with a hooker who has to ‘get on back to Daddy’ – and he finds solace in riding the subway incessantly and aimlessly, to the point that the conductor ‘thinks [he’s] gone insane.’ Johnny Thunders‘s lead guitar blares like a train whistle, completing this quintessential ode to being bummed out in the Big Apple.

‘An Open Letter to NYC’ by Beastie Boys (2004)
Image: Capitol Records

21. â€˜An Open Letter to NYC’ by Beastie Boys (2004)

Following the playful sonic mania of Hello Nasty, the Beasties found themselves in elder-statesmen mode on To the 5 Boroughs, an old-school hip-hop throwback doubling as a takedown of the Bush administration. The centerpiece is this earnest banger, which unfolds over a gnarly Dead Boys sample as Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D chant ‘Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten, from the Battery to the top of Manhattan / Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin, Black, white, New York you make it happen.’ What follows is a hip-hop vigil and reflection on post 9/11 unity. Which is to day, this is a long way from the ‘Brass Monkey’ days.

‘Halloween Parade’ by Lou Reed (1989)
Image: Sire

22. â€˜Halloween Parade’ by Lou Reed (1989)

Ever on the lookout for another aspect of the NYC fringe to immortalize, Lou Reed hit pay dirt when he zoomed in on the West Village’s annual queer-friendly costume bonanza. In his inimitable offhand style, he delivers both vivid reportage and a lament for a generation ravaged by AIDS. Reed never names the disease; instead, he catalogs the characters he misses (’There ain’t no Hairy and no Virgin Mary/You won't hear those voices again’) and gives himself a pep talk, exhibiting the resilience cultivated by every self-respecting New Yorker.

‘Living for the City’ by Stevie Wonder (1973)
Image: Tamala

23. â€˜Living for the City’ by Stevie Wonder (1973)

Yes, Stevie Wonder hailed from Detroit; yes, the protagonist of this urgent Innervisions track is from small-town Mississippi. But listen past the first fade to the dramatic interlude at the track’s heart, and you'll hear the tale of a wide-eyed new arrival in NYC stung immediately as a drug mule and tossed in the can for a decade. The anger in Wonder’s voice is genuine, fueled by social injustice and by his collaborators, who forced take after take of the song just to piss him off for effect.

Steve Smith
‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ by Elton John (1972)
Image: Uni

24. â€˜Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ by Elton John (1972)

‘Now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City,’ sings John in the first verse of this disillusioned song from his Honky Chteau album. (Bernie Taupin’s lyric riffs on a line from Ben E. King’s ‘Spanish Harlem.’) But despite his anger at the Big Apple‘s benighted upper classes – inscrutable and crazy as the figures in the title – he soldiers on with the faith that if he goes his own way, ‘[his] own seeds shall be sown.’

‘Brooklyn Go Hard’ by Jay-Z featuring Santigold (2009)
Image: Roc-A-Fella

25. â€˜Brooklyn Go Hard’ by Jay-Z featuring Santigold (2009)

The theme song to the mostly forgotten Biggie biopic Notorious became a post ‘retirement’ hit for HOVA, and an all-time anthem for Brooklyners to unite around. It’s a return to club-banger form for the man who gave us ‘Hard Knock Life,’ and a perpetual fixture on any Brooklynite’s pre-game soundtrack.

‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ by Simon & Garfunkel (1970)
Image: Columbia Records

26. â€˜The Only Living Boy in New York’ by Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

After Art Garfunkel ditched a planned songwriting session for a trip to Mexico, Paul Simon penned this veiled sonic fuck-you to his partner. In it, he sings of a special kind of loneliness known to New Yorkers, who often wonder why it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to do in the city where the options are limitless. But the key lyric is the song title itself, which speaks to the idea of being the only one who's truly alive in a city of 8 million anonymous souls.

Sharon Steel
‘Tom’s Diner’ by Suzanne Vega (1987)
Image: Polygram

27. â€˜Tom’s Diner’ by Suzanne Vega (1987)

The original version of Suzanne Vega‘s stark, unaccompanied melody sounded like antifolk before there was antifolk; by contrast, the big-hitting version that blared out of cars and Walkman earphones for most of 1990 was remixed by DNA, refurbished with a Soul II Soul beat. Yet the essence of its story held fast – a girl sits in a diner, reads the paper, watches customers and drifts occasionally (‘I am...thinking of your voice’). Just as the song is specific but endlessly remixable (as 1991’s Tom's Album attested), so too Tom’s Restaurant, a real eatery in Morningside Heights, could be anywhere.

‘Jenny from the Block’ by Jennifer Lopez (2002)
Image: Epic

28. â€˜Jenny from the Block’ by Jennifer Lopez (2002)

In this 2002 chart-topper, J. Lo insists that even though she’s now a superstar, she hasn’t forgotten her Bronx roots. This was close to the beginning of her stardom; since then she’s racked up sales of more than 70 million albums, plus awards for acting ventures. ‘Used to have a little, now I have a lot,’ she insists. Whether she’s still Jenny from the block is questionable; the track’s catchiness is not.

‘Across 110th Street’ by Bobby Womack (1972)
Image: United Artists

29. â€˜Across 110th Street’ by Bobby Womack (1972)

The genius of this funk-soul marvel lies in the way it captures the Greek-tragedy-caliber pathos of ghetto life, portraying both the pimps and junkies and the up-and-comers desperately seeking a way out. Penned for a blaxploitation film of the same name, the song portrays Harlem as the ultimate crucible: ’You don't know what you’ll do until you're put under pressure,’ croons Womack, who grew up in Cleveland and clearly knows a thing or two about urban poverty. ‘Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.’

‘Give My Regards to Broadway’ by James Cagney (1942)

30. â€˜Give My Regards to Broadway’ by James Cagney (1942)

A master of infectious pop Americana (his other hits include ‘You're a Grand Old Flag’ and ‘The Yankee Doodle Boy’), George M. Cohan wrote this cheerful ditty for the 1904 musical Little Johnny Jones. It has been stuck deep in the country's head ever since, boosted by James Cagney's memorable celluloid turn as Cohan himself in biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. Broadway’s regard for Cohan remains clear: A statue of the seminal songwriter and entertainer has pride of place in Times Square today.

‘Manhattan’ by Ella Fitzgerald (1957)
Image: The Gramophone Co.

31. â€˜Manhattan’ by Ella Fitzgerald (1957)

The Great American Songbook team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart had its first hit with this adorably clever 1925 ode to urban staycations, which finds gentle romance amid the bustle of city life: the ‘balmy breezes’ of the subway, the ‘sweet pushcarts gently gliding by’ on Mott Street. In her 1956 account, Ella wears the song’s wit on her sleeve like a charm bracelet.

‘Down and Out in New York City’ by James Brown (1973)
Image: Polydor

32. â€˜Down and Out in New York City’ by James Brown (1973)

The immortal theme to Blaxploitation classic Black Caesar finds Brown at his most bracing, crying out ‘I was born in New York City on a Monday’ with a wounded yowl over one of his funkiest-ever beats. What follows is a wallow through the gutter in an unforgiving city, painting a grim picture of the city as a place where dreams go to blossom then wither.

‘Talkin’ New York’ by Bob Dylan (1962)
Image: Columbia Records

33. â€˜Talkin’ New York’ by Bob Dylan (1962)

If the bumpkinism the former Robert Zimmerman affects on this early-career classic was a pose, it was a thoroughly convincing one; few songs have better conveyed the shock of NYC modernity. After chronicling a ‘rockin, reelin', rollin’ subway ride, the wide-eyed hayseed from Hibbing, Minnesota, arrives at the clincher: a phonetic name check of the 'hood that would make him famous, ’Green-which Village.’

‘Downtown Train’ by Tom Waits (1985)
Image: Island Records

34. â€˜Downtown Train’ by Tom Waits (1985)

Rod Stewart’s cover version was a hit in 1989, but the throaty grit of Tom Waits’s original cut adds layers to his portrait of romantic obsession in a world of grimy anonymity. Is the contemptuous narrator a soulful dreamer? A muttering stalker? Both? You never quite know who might be hanging his or her hopes on the subway strap next to yours.

‘Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees (1977)
Image: RSO

35. â€˜Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees (1977)

Just try to imagine John Travolta’s iconic strut down the streets of Brooklyn at the start of Saturday Night Fever without hearing this disco classic thumping behind him. As Barry Gibb’s falsetto vocals alternate between cockiness (’Got the wings of heaven on my shoes’) and desperation (‘Life going nowhere, somebody help me’), the song taps into both the pride and the anxiety of urban survival.

‘New York City Cops’ by The Strokes (2001)
Image: RCA

36. â€˜New York City Cops’ by The Strokes (2001)

Julian Casablancas’s chronicle of a strange booze- and rock & roll-fueled evening spent on ‘the streets of American nights’ involves a girl named Nina, the desire to get the hell out of New York and a bunch of dumb police officers. It may not have been the most memorable flip-off from the winners of the Sonic Hipster Pageant circa 2001, but it's still one of our favorites.

Sharon Steel
‘The Rising’ by Bruce Springsteen (2002)
Image: Columbia Records

37. â€˜The Rising’ by Bruce Springsteen (2002)

That the Boss would dig deep to frame his response to the 9/11 attacks was no surprise. This song – the title track from his chart-topping 2002 LP – was the anthem that New York and the nation seemed to need. Starting from the perspective of a fireman climbing the stairs inside one of the burning towers, Springsteen waxes bardic and biblical to evoke a sense of everyman resolve and redemption. From an artist once known for bombast, the austerity of this track speaks volumes.

Steve Smith
‘I and Love and You’ by The Avett Brothers (2009)
Image: American Records

38. â€˜I and Love and You’ by The Avett Brothers (2009)

There is nothing quite as sweet as returning to New York – not least if you’ve had a rough old time of it while you were away. This song starts out plain ol’ sad: ‘Load the car and write the note,’ but finds its release at its chorus: ‘Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in! Are you aware the shape I'm in?’ Probably the best thing about New York's lived-in shabbiness is the fact that it accepts everyone, frayed edges and all.

‘Shattered’ by The Rolling Stones (1978)
Image: Rolling Stones

39. â€˜Shattered’ by The Rolling Stones (1978)

The iconic English rockers had a notorious love-hate relationship with the States, especially NYC. That ambivalence is conveyed nowhere better than in this song, which Mick Jagger reportedly wrote in the back of a yellow cab. It’s a sleazy punk track about the grime that was rife in ’70s New York: the trash, the greed, the sex, the despair. Shadoobie!

‘Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo)’ by Alice Cooper (1973)
Image: Warner Bros.

40. â€˜Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo)’ by Alice Cooper (1973)

The band known as Alice Cooper had three smash records to its name by ’73, so this song’s titular reverie feels more like a Broadway-style fantasy of hitting it big than a real-life dream. What does ring true is the track's pervasive sleaze: Vincent Furnier embodies one of a pair of (male?) prostitutes transfixed by the promise of sin dens that ‘never close.’ Few paeans better capture the city’s salacious promise than the double entendre in this refrain: ‘New York is waiting/For you and me, baby/Waiting to swallow us down.’

‘Harlem Blues’  by Nat King Cole (1958)
Image: Capitol Records

41. â€˜Harlem Blues’ by Nat King Cole (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.

‘NYC’ by Interpol (2002)
Image: Matador

42. â€˜NYC’ by Interpol (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.

‘Doin’ It’ by LL Cool J (1996)
Image: Def Jam

43. â€˜Doin’ It’ by LL Cool J (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.

‘New York, New York’ by Original studio cast (On the Town) (1960)
Image: Masterworks Broadway

44. â€˜New York, New York’ by Original studio cast (On the Town) (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.

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Bob & Earl (1963)
Image: London

45. â€˜Harlem Shuffle’ by Bob & Earl (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.

‘New York Groove’ by Ace Frehley (1978)
Image: Casablanca

46. â€˜New York Groove’ by Ace Frehley (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. UK 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
‘Funkin’ for Jamaica (N.Y.)’ by Tom Browne (1980)
Image: Arista

47. â€˜Funkin’ for Jamaica (N.Y.)’ by Tom Browne (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 neighborhood 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
‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’ by Jeffrey and Jack Lewis (2005)
Image: Rough Trade

48. â€˜Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’ by Jeffrey and Jack Lewis (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.

‘Brooklyn's Finest’ by Jay-Z with the Notorious B.I.G. (1996)

49. â€˜Brooklyn's Finest’ by Jay-Z with the Notorious B.I.G. (1996)

‘Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls, ni**a 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
‘Native New Yorker’ by Odyssey (1977)
Image: Indianapolis Press

50. â€˜Native New Yorker’ by Odyssey (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.

‘Harlem’ by Bill Withers (1971)
Image: Sussex Records

51. â€˜Harlem’ by Bill Withers (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.

‘I Love NYC’ by Andrew W.K. (2001)
Image: Island Records

52. â€˜I Love NYC’ by Andrew W.K. (2001)

Look past the fist-pumping refrain and E Street Band-goes-techno overture and what you’ve got is a pop puzzler that could have sprung only from the mind of Andrew Wilkes Krier. One listen to that guitar-synth blast, and it’s clear that W.K.'s love for his adopted hometown borders on religious zeal.

‘The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side’ by The Magnetic Fields (1999)
Image: Merge Records

53. â€˜The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side’ by The Magnetic Fields (1999)

This swinging love song by Stephin Merritt is about an ugly dude who has some fugly wheels – but hey, at least he’s got wheels. The tone is pure Magnetic Fields: sweet tempo, self-deprecation and a dash of nervy wit that is unique to Merritt. He may have left us for Los Angeles, but the attitude on this track is all Gotham.

Sharon Steel
‘The Bridge’ by MC Shan and Marley Marl (1986)
Image: Warner Bros.

54. â€˜The Bridge’ by MC Shan and Marley Marl (1986)

When MC Shan told the story of ‘how it all got started way back when,’ the Queensbridge rapper fired the opening salvo in what’s known in hip-hop lore as the ‘Bridge Wars.’ After Boogie Down Productions leader KRS-One misinterpreted the song’s sentiment as an affront to the Bronx’s hip-hop sovereignty, a years-long volley of battle raps between BDP and Shan's Juice Crew followed. But no dis track could subdue the raw power of Shan‘s distorted delivery and Marley Marl's monstrous beat.

Jesse Serwer
‘South Bronx’ by Boogie Down Productions (1986)
Image: B-Boy

55. â€˜South Bronx’ by Boogie Down Productions (1986)

MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge’ irked KRS-One so much that he made two classic responses to it on Boogie Down Productions’ debut album, Criminal Minded: ‘The Bridge Is Over’ and ‘South Bronx.’ The latter, with its unforgettable call-and-response hook (‘The South Bronx, the South-South Bronx!’), still stands as one of the borough’s signature anthems more than a quarter of a century later.

Jesse Serwer
‘New York/N.Y.’ by Nina Hagen (1983)
Image: CBS

56. â€˜New York/N.Y.’ by Nina Hagen (1983)

With her glistening sheen of new-wave war paint and her fluorescent Tesla-coil mane – not to mention that voice, which could veer from a guttural growl to a faux-Wagnerian shriek in a heartbeat – the East Germany-born Nina Hagen's ’80s output was probably a bit more pop-goth than pop-Gotham. But in 1983, this postdisco ode to NYC’s downtown nightlife (sample lyric: ‘Shaking our hair to the disco rap/AM/PM, Pyramid, Roxy, Mudd Club, Danceteria’) was close to inescapable on the city’s underground dance floors.

‘Spanish Harlem’ by Ben E King (1960)
Image: Atco

57. â€˜Spanish Harlem’ by Ben E King (1960)

The ‘Stand By Me’ crooner scored a huge hit with this Phil Spector-penned orchestral classic that makes a meal out of the metaphor of a vibrant rose growing out of a slab of concrete. The song has been revisited over the years, but with its jaunty arrangement and King‘s butter-smooth delivery, the original remains the silkiest song set in Upper Manhattan’s bustling neighborhood.

‘New York Tendaberry’ by Laura Nyro (1969)
Image: Columbia Records

58. â€˜New York Tendaberry’ by Laura Nyro (1969)

On the stark title track of Nyro’s third album, the singer-songwriter offers a dark hymn of urban self-renewal. Accompanying herself on piano, she begins in a bleak space (‘the past is a blue note inside me’), but builds to an impassioned swell: ‘Sidewalk and pigeon/You look like a city/But you feel like religion to me.’

‘New York City Serenade’ by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1973)
Image: Columbia Records

59. â€˜New York City Serenade’ by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1973)

Few of the songs the New Jersey workingman‘s bard penned about New York City are this diffuse – directness would come much, much later. But Springsteen’s cinematically epic thunder, which would flower two years later on Born to Run, is evident in this wordy, string-enriched ballad from his early Waits-ish troubadour period. ‘Serenade’ is part of an album filled with NYC nods, improbably issued on September 11.

Steve Smith
‘Streets of New York’ by Kool G Rap and DJ Polo (1990)

60. â€˜Streets of New York’ by Kool G Rap and DJ Polo (1990)

The godfather of mafioso rap, New York’s Kool G Rap can spin crime yarns with the vividness of a Scorsese film. The Corona, Queens, native details a crack-era NYC that's so gritty (‘Dope fiends are leaning for morphine/The TV screens follow the homicide scenes’), it's unrecognizable to anyone whose introduction to the city came after Giuliani.

Jesse Serwer
‘Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More’ by Steely Dan (1975)
Image: ABC Records

61. â€˜Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More’ by Steely Dan (1975)

Few songs illustrate the quicksand-like pull of the New York demimonde better than this wailing, super-polished blues-rock cut. It’s one of the few Becker-Fagen numbers to actually namecheck the city, despite their shared area upbringing. Our narrator is an incorrigible slimeball, swearing that his hustling days are behind him and betraying himself with each denial. A stripper-pole grooves throbs in the background – a reminder that for the shadily inclined, NYC’s tendency to never sleep is more curse than blessing.

‘Christmas in Hollis’ by Run-D.M.C. (1987)
Image: A&M

62. â€˜Christmas in Hollis’ by Run-D.M.C. (1987)

This track epitomizes that elusive rarity: an NYC hip-hop classic that also functions as a mood-setter. Over a horn-heavy strut that Rick Rubin lifted from Clarence Carter's suggestive ‘Back Door Santa,’ the affable old-school heroes spin a Queens-set holiday yarn featuring a rich Santa Claus, an ‘ill reindeer’ and a soul-food banquet. Local color is scarcer than you'd think, but Run-D.M.C.’s shout-out to the titular ‘hood adds the perfect shot of giddy specificity.

‘New York Is Killing Me’ by Gil Scott-Heron (2010)
Image: XL

63. â€˜New York Is Killing Me’ by Gil Scott-Heron (2010)

Lines like ‘City living ain’t all it’s cracked up to be’ snowball with sad significance when you factor in this late soul poet’s notoriously self-destructive lifestyle. But as in all great Scott-Heron odes, you can hear a crooked smile breaking through the rue – a familiar sense that no matter how much this city runs you ragged, you just can't bear to turn your back on what Nas refers to (in a remix) as ‘the sideshow where many eyes are low.’

‘Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)’ by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz (1998)
Image: Columbia Records

64. â€˜Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)’ by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz (1998)

If you still needed clarification as to where hip-hop got its start, Soundview Houses duo Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz (the father of current Young Money rapper Cory Gunz) cleared up any confusion with ‘Deja Vu (Uptown Baby).’ The summer ’98 anthem gets even more NYC points for sampling Steely Dan’s ‘Black Cow,’ a veritable treasure trove of obscure local references.

Jesse Serwer
‘Fire Island’ by Village People (1977)
Image: Casablanca

65. â€˜Fire Island’ by Village People (1977)

A nation’s stony innocence and navet notwithstanding, this colorfully hunky disco troupe boldly, bravely and tunefully drove gay pride to the top of the pop charts. Witness songs like ‘Fire Island,’ a cheery paean to Long Island’s most hedonistic queer vacation retreat. It’s hard to blame outsiders for not catching on: ‘Don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya’ sounds like a precautionary advice, doesn't it?

Steve Smith
‘New York’ by St. Vincent (2017)
Image: Loma Vista

66. â€˜New York’ by St. Vincent (2017)

‘New York isn’t New York without you, love’ the artist sometimes known as Annie Clark laments on this stirring piano ballad, which offers a bit of respite to the electronic heart beating throughout Masseduction. It’s a mournful, beautifully arranged downer that will milk the tearducts of anyone who has ever lost their connection to a person who helps define their New York experience. Or, as Clark puts it, ‘the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me.’

‘New York City Rhythm’ by Barry Manilow (1975)
Image: Arista

67. â€˜New York City Rhythm’ by Barry Manilow (1975)

Barry Manilow was pounding the streets of Williamsburg decades before it became hipster central. Anyone seeking proof of the fabled entertainer’s Gotham bona fides need look no further than this minor 1975 hit, flush with nascent disco rhythms, a Latin-funk bridge with shouts of ‘Nueva York!’ and a shopping list of urban-jungle affectations. ‘I live my life with strangers, and the danger’s always there,’ he sings, ‘But when I hit Broadway and it’s time to play, you know that I don’t care.’ Oh yes, Barry... we know.

Steve Smith
‘Englishman in New York’ by Sting (1987)
Image: A&M

68. â€˜Englishman in New York’ by Sting (1987)

Sting’s inspiration for this song was his friend, late British eccentric Quentin Crisp. A writer, raconteur and gay icon who decamped (so to speak) to live on the Bowery. While this jazzed-up ditty is full of quaint Anglicisms (‘I don't drink coffee, I take tea, my dear’) it’s also an elegant insight into Crisp's experiences as a young gay man: ‘It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile/Be yourself no matter what they say.’

‘Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)’ by Billy Joel (1976)
Image: Columbia Records

69. â€˜Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)’ by Billy Joel (1976)

Among the few good things spawned by New York’s notorious financial crises of the ’70s was this goofy dystopian fable in which Billy Joel recounts the tale of an abandoned Manhattan: its citizens evacuated to Florida, the Mafia now running Mexico. Even in its collapse, the city remains defiantly dysfunctional: Striking union workers won’t let escape boats set sail from the Battery.

Steve Smith
‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’ by The National (2005)
Image: Beggars Banquet

70. â€˜Daughters of the Soho Riots’ by The National (2005)

In his velvety baritone, the National’s Matt Berninger begs for his arms to be broken while he’s holding tight to his beloved. We think this song is more about an emotional riot of the heart than an actual violent flare-up: ‘How can anybody know how they got to be this way?’ Berninger wonders coolly. ‘You must have known I’d do this someday.’ Anyone who has ever been single and jilted in NYC has asked themselves the same thing.

Sharon Steel
‘Angel of Harlem’ by U2 (1988)
Image: Island Records

71. â€˜Angel of Harlem’ by U2 (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.’

‘Frank Mills’ by Shelley Plimpton and the Original Broadway Cast (Hair) (1968)
Image: RCA

72. â€˜Frank Mills’ by Shelley Plimpton and the Original Broadway Cast (Hair) (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-naif treat.

‘King of the New York Streets’ by Dion (1989)
Image: Arista

73. â€˜King of the New York Streets’ by Dion (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
‘The Night the Lights Went Out’ by The Trammps (1977)
Image: Atlantic Records

74. â€˜The Night the Lights Went Out’ by The Trammps (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
‘Avenue A’ by The Dictators (2001)

75. â€˜Avenue A’ by The Dictators (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 owned and operated neighborhood bar Manitoba’s, which was, alas, on Avenue B until it closed in 2019. 

Steve Smith
‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (1987)
Image: Island Records

76. â€˜Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (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.)

‘I Happen to Like New York’ by Bobby Short (1973)
Image: London

77. â€˜I Happen to Like New York’ by Bobby Short (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.

‘Brooklyn-Queens’ by 3rd Bass (1989)
Image: Def Jam

78. â€˜Brooklyn-Queens’ by 3rd Bass (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.

‘American Tune’ by Paul Simon (1973)
Image: Columbia Records

79. â€˜American Tune’ by Paul Simon (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.

‘Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman’ by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (1968)
Image: Reprise

80. â€˜Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman’ by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (1968)

‘I met him in a Greenwich Village coffee nook,’ Nancy Sinatra sings at the onset of this cut, a wily spoof of the folksy songhawkers who flooded Bleecker Street during the late ’60s. Like the neophyte Bob Dylan, she pronounces it Green-which. ‘Green-which?’ Hazlewood asks, incredulous. Trying her hardest to play it straight, Sinatra giggles, proving she’s in on the gag. It's a groovy little tune from a groovy little time, with tongue tucked firmly in cheek.

Steve Smith
‘Coney Island’ by Death Cab for Cutie (2001)
Image: Barsuk

81. â€˜Coney Island’ by Death Cab for Cutie (2001)

There’s something immediately recognizable and familiar about the staccato drum beats in this Death Cab tune, interposed with frontman Ben Gibbard’s sweet, repeated refrain that ‘Everything was closed at Coney Island/And I could not help from smiling.’ The song still sounds as good on a Brooklyn summer barbecue mix as it did back in the early aughts.

Sharon Steel
‘Dario (Can You Get Me Into Studio 54)’ by Kid Creole and the Coconuts (1979)

82. â€˜Dario (Can You Get Me Into Studio 54)’ by Kid Creole and the Coconuts (1979)

Penned by August Darnell, this slight pop tune yielded a disco hit for two different acts: Dana & Gene, and Darnell himself with his over-the-top show band, Kid Creole and the Coconuts. The multiculti entourage was inspired by Cab Calloway's zoot-suit finery long before the Swing revival arrived. The Coconuts ruled the roost when it came to conceptual dance music – not that it helped them get into Steve Rubell’s notorious celebrity nightclub.

Steve Smith
‘The Home of Hip-Hop’ by Grandmixer D.ST. (1985)

83. â€˜The Home of Hip-Hop’ by Grandmixer D.ST. (1985)

Born Derek Showard, the DJ known as Grandmixer D.ST. (for Delancey Street) did more than any other hip-hop artist to popularize turntables as a performing implement; he brought them to the public eye with his work on Herbie Hancock’s milestone single, ‘Rockit,’ and in subsequent TV appearances. Showard (currently known as DXT) was also a capable rapper; ‘Home of Hip-Hop,’ a Celluloid 12-inch, provides a succinct, forceful NYC b-boy history lesson.

Steve Smith
‘New York City (You're a Woman)’ by Al Kooper (1971)
Image: Columbia Records

84. â€˜New York City (You're a Woman)’ by Al Kooper (1971)

‘New York City, you're a woman,’ Al Kooper offers in a virile purr– and then the other shoe drops: ‘Cold-hearted bitch ought to be your name.’ Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, the itinerant bandleader and all-star session man waxed his LP New York City (You're a Woman) in Los Angeles and London, then moved to Atlanta soon after. Still, a grudging love remained: ‘Oh, you ain’t never loved nobody/Yet I'm drawn to you like a moth to flame.’

Steve Smith
‘Bleecker & MacDougal’ by Fred Neil (1965)
Image: Elektra

85. â€˜Bleecker & MacDougal’ by Fred Neil (1965)

A quintessential song-hawking pro, Fred Neil never achieved substantial success as a performer – though other stars handled his tunes with distinction (Harry Nilsson with ‘Everybody's Talkin’,’ Tim Buckley with ‘The Dolphins’). But with this song about lingering on an emblematic street corner pondering retreat to a more comfortable way of life, Neil helped to shape a burgeoning scene; that’s a young John Sebastian blowing the harmonica.

Steve Smith
‘La Vie Boheme’ by Original Broadway Cast (Rent) (1994)
Image: Dreamworks

86. â€˜La Vie Boheme’ by Original Broadway Cast (Rent) (1994)

This blowout dedicated to the bohemianism of the East Village in the late ’80s and early ’90s celebrates everything about the life of the poor artists who populate Jonathan Larson’s hit rock musical, Rent: finding cheap food and cheaper beer, living in squalor and not being able to afford it, admiring great artists and aspiring to make great art. Need we say more?

‘Uptown’ by The Crystals (1962)
Image: Philles

87. â€˜Uptown’ by The Crystals (1962)

An early hit from Phil Spector’s Crystals, this shimmering track features Barbara Alston sensually cooing about a lover over an exotic melody punctuated by castanets and flamenco guitar. On top of her romantic allusions, she muses over New York City class issues, pointing out that only in her uptown ghetto does her man really earn the respect he deserves.

‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ by Genesis (1974)
Image: Charisma

88. â€˜The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ by Genesis (1974)

Glimpsing our native city through the eyes of visitors is always enlightening – even when it's a handful of arty English boarding-school lads with a crazy concept album. Genesis's double-LP rock opera follows a Puerto Rican graffiti artist's nightmarish passage through sexual profligacy and unbridled consumerism. As endearing as it is garish and uneven, the album spawned a charming title single that snatches a riff from ‘On Broadway.’

Steve Smith
‘D Train’ by Unsane (2005)
Image: Relapse

89. â€˜D Train’ by Unsane (2005)

Other bands from the East Village noise-rock scene of the mid- to late-’90s (Helmet, Cop Shoot Cop) either outgrew that community or simply flamed out; but aside from a couple of years off, Unsane perseveres. Like all the band's best work, ‘D Train’ comes off like the Jesus Lizard-gone-Taxi Driver: rusted post-hardcore riffage married to bilious urban dystopia. ’Get on the fuckin' train!’ shrieks frontman Chris Spencer, giving voice to any New Yorker who’s ever conceived of a subway ride as a white-knuckle death trip.

‘Union Square’ by Tom Waits (1985)
Image: Island Records

90. â€˜Union Square’ by Tom Waits (1985)

‘Well you spill out of the Cinema 14 to that drag bar there on the block,’ Tom Waits howls over what might be clanking trash cans and bourbon bottles on this Rain Dogs cut. ‘Whizzin' on down in front of the East Coastâ Bank rolled up on your sock.’ The truth is, Waits’s vision of Union Square sounds a lot more enticing than the current vista of skater bois, tchotchke sellers and earnest NYU students with clipboards – especially set when the lyrics are backed by Keith Richards’s stinging guitar and Ralph Carney’s gassy sax.

Steve Smith
‘New York Crew’ by Judge (1988)
Image: Schism Records

91. â€˜New York Crew’ by Judge (1988)

When Mike ‘Judge’ Ferraro shouts out ‘old New York’ in this rough-hewn chest-thumper, he has in mind the East Village of the early ’80s, when combat-booted foot soldiers like Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front and Warzone defended the integrity of their scene with hair-trigger urban belligerence. Judge epitomizes the meta quality of NYC hardcore’s second wave, when the genre’s preferred subject was the genre itself. Specifically its supposed poseur contingent: non-violent spectators who ‘wore the right clothes’ but could never grasp what it meant to be a part of what Ferraro & Co. called ‘the New York Brotherhood.’

‘The Mermaid Parade’ by Phosphorescent (2010)
Image: Dead Oceans

92. â€˜The Mermaid Parade’ by Phosphorescent (2010)

If you haven’t been sad on a happy day in New York, you really haven’t lived here. Brooklyn-via-Alabama songman Matthew Houck situates this tale of heartbreak at Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade; he’s there, heart-in-hand, while his woman's out in LA with her ‘new older, old man.’ Houck takes in the sights and sounds – and undoubtedly the smells, thanks to Nathan’s and the grotty ocean – and wonders, ‘Were you with me today / Watching those women waltz by in the Mermaid Parade?’ She may not have been; but when the picture is painted this richly, you certainly are.

‘Lullaby of Broadway’ by Jerry Orbach and the Original Broadway Cast (42nd Street) (1980)
Image: RCA

93. â€˜Lullaby of Broadway’ by Jerry Orbach and the Original Broadway Cast (42nd Street) (1980)

The ultimate Broadway self-love song is a nod to the late-night sounds of the city that never sleeps – ‘the rumble of the subway train’ and ‘the rattle of the taxis’ going strong into the wee hours. ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ actually debuted in the movie Gold Diggers of 1935 (for which it won an Oscar for songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin). It was only years later, in the musical 42nd Street, that the song came to rousing life onstage.

‘NYC’s Like a Graveyard’ by The Moldy Peaches (2001)
Image: Rough Trade

94. â€˜NYC’s Like a Graveyard’ by The Moldy Peaches (2001)

Having built up their reputation in the proceeding two years, anti-folk stalwarts the Moldy Peaches released a self-titled debut featuring this punkish banger on September 11, 2001. Eerie coincidences aside, the song is an irreverent gem, taking caustic jabs at New York City while celebrating the classic garage-punk style to which the city gave birth. 

‘Outside of a Small Circle of Friends’ by Phil Ochs (1967)
Image: A&M

95. â€˜Outside of a Small Circle of Friends’ by Phil Ochs (1967)

This cheeky single from an iconic ’60s protest singer was inspired by one of the city’s most notorious crimes: the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, Queens, witnessed by dozens of neighbors who failed to act. ‘Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer/But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him 30 years,’ Ochs sings over Lincoln Mayorga’s woozy saloon piano, riffing on media-saturated apathy. ‘Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why/But demonstrations are a drag, besides we're much too high.’ 

Steve Smith
‘The Eyes of a New York Woman’ by The Insect Trust (1970)
Image: Collector's Choice

96. â€˜The Eyes of a New York Woman’ by The Insect Trust (1970)

Despite hailing from an LP titled Hoboken Saturday Night, this quirky obscurity could hardly be more New Yorky – right down to lyrics adapted from Thomas Pynchon's debut novel, V. Singer Nancy Jeffries later became a talent scout at several major record labels; guitarist Bill Barth was a seminal blues preservationist; and clarinetist-saxophonist Robert Palmer made his name as an influential New York Times music critic. 

Steve Smith
‘My My Metrocard’ by Le Tigre (1999)
Image: Mr. Lady

97. â€˜My My Metrocard’ by Le Tigre (1999)

Like many New York City transplants, the three rockers of Le Tigre moved here to pursue their artistic dreams. All are now stalwarts in the local arts, music and political scenes: frontwoman Kathleen Hanna and guitarist Johanna Fateman settled in Manhattan and keyboardist JD Samson resides in Williamsburg. This electroclash ode to the subway system comes from the band’s 1999 self-titled debut album. 

‘Brooklyn Girls’ by Charles Hamilton (2008)

98. â€˜Brooklyn Girls’ by Charles Hamilton (2008)

Heat-seeking Harlem MC Charles Hamilton should have been as big as his peers Kid Cudi and Drake by now, if only he knew how to play the game better (his career took a sudden nosedive almost as soon as it took off, following a much-YouTubed clip titled ‘Gets punched in face by a girl’). Of course, Hamilton’s authenticity, wit, and playfulness are exactly what make him extraordinary, as exemplified on nabe anthem ‘Brooklyn Girls’ – a cut that makes most Brooklyn ladies want to give him a smooch instead of a knuckle sandwich.

‘Statue of Liberty’ by XTC (1978)
Image: Virgin Records

99. â€˜Statue of Liberty’ by XTC (1978)

Lady Liberty might seem like the unlikeliest of sex symbols, but XTC’s Andy Partridge begged to differ on this banned-from-the-BBC power-pop classic, in which he reveals his desire to ‘sail beneath [her] skirt.’ Look beyond the prurience, and you’ll find a tender regard for our torchbearing gatekeeper: ‘Your love was so big,’ quips Partridge, ‘it made New York look small.’

‘Welcome to New York’ by Taylor Swift (2014)
Image: Big Machine

100. â€˜Welcome to New York’ by Taylor Swift (2014)

Perhaps the most unabashedly corny song on Taylor’s pop breakthrough 1989, there’s a certain doe-eyed naïveté to this boppy kickoff track that captures the essence of setting down in New York as an outsider looking to find yourself. ‘Everybody here was someone else before,’ she croons upon setting her bags on an apartment floor, and while there are some very grizzled New Yorkers who would certainly beg to differ, Swift’s innocent excitement translates nicely to anyone who’s ever viewed NY as a city of second chances.


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