22 Songs Only True New Yorkers Will Understand
Anyone who has lived in New York knows that there is a certain art to simultaneously loving and hating this city that every New Yorker must master. To effectively live here, you must both bemoan living here while romanticizing the fact that life here is so hard. It's a struggle.
It can be especially hard for people from other parts of the country (where they simply either love or hate where they live) to understand. But here are 22 songs that only a true New Yorker can understand — songs that, even when they rag on the city, clearly love it just the same.
1. "New York, New York" by Ryan Adams
This is the song for any recent college graduate with a studio apartment in Alphabet City. It's the feeling of your first year in New York, when you realize that it isn't the city the movies promised, but it's still pretty damn great.
From the rooftop summer parties, to watching a Christmas concert at an Upper West Side church, this southern boy gets the city better than anyone: "Hell, I still love you New York."
2. "Brooklyn" by Mos Def
This song is a gritty, truthful anthem to Brooklyn and how the relationship between a New Yorker and his or her borough is inviolable. Mos Def doesn't gloss over the "crack babies tryin' to find where they mama's at," but his love for his city and his borough comes through: "It's real yo but still yo, it's love here / And it's felt by anybody that come here."
This is basically a way better version of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." It's real, it's raw, it's New York — good and bad.
3. "Obvious Bicycle" by Vampire Weekend
This song off Modern Vampires of the City perfects the classic New York hipster angst about life, love and careers (especially). It perfectly captures that time in your 20s when it seems you're just one more indistinct person among a city of aspiring artists. Plus, the song title is "Obvious Bicycle," which just screams Wiliamsburg — or Paul Simon.
4. "53rd & 3rd" by The Ramones
It's New York City in the '70s, amidst war protests, drugs, crime and the heyday of CBGB. Tough, unvarnished and full of anger, this song is the ultimate "fuck you" to the police, the Manhattan glitterati and even the "city of dreams" itself. There's no harsher reality than NYC when you hit bottom.
But even on 53rd and 3rd, when you're down and out, there's some love for the city to be found.
5. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" by Death Cab for Cutie
This Death Cab for Cutie track is the ultimate in emo, forlorn love. When you're in love Manhattan is an endless gift of wonderful views, restaurants and moments of serendipitous intimacy.
When you're in unrequited love, this place is the pits. Ben Gibbard gets that.
6. "NYC" by Interpol
I don't know if the subway "is a porno," as Interpol claims in this song, but I think every New Yorker can relate to hauling home on the subway and feeling a bit lonely after a night out. Plus, nothing can be more maddening than seeing "New York Cares" posters all over the city after you've just had an argument with a taxi driver on why routing through Brooklyn is the quickest way to get to Harlem.
7. "Skyline" by The Spring Standards
This song by awesome Brooklyn folk-rock band, The Spring Standards, perfectly nails the uniquely New York experience of feeling like whole parts of the city are off limits because of a breakup.
This band really knows their stuff, too. Back in the day, one of their band members was none other than John Gallagher, Jr. the Broadway (Spring Awakening and American Idiot) and television star (The Newsroom). So their roots run deep.
8. "N.Y. State of Mind" by Nas
Unlike Jay-Z's similarly titled "Empire State of Mind," Nas raps with a bit more honesty on this killer track: "I think of crime when I'm in a New York state of mind."
9. "New York City Cops" by The Strokes
This song should have been the anthem of the Occupy movement a couple years ago. The "Nina" in the song who declares, "New York City Cops / They ain't too smart" is a stand-in for any misguided, rebellious hipster.
10. "Summertime Clothes" by Animal Collective
This screams NYC summer loving when there's an unpaid intern subletting your kitchen and the AC is out: "Sweet summer night and I'm stripped to my sheets / Forehead is leaking, my AC squeaks / And a voice from the clock says, 'You're not gonna get tired' / My bed is a pool and the walls are on fire."
11. "NYC's Like a Graveyard" by Moldy Peaches
On some nights, in some light, the Empire State Building does look like a tombstone. The song is a compendium of NYC types, from the "yuppies getting married" to the "hippies hangin out at a bar." It's like a catalogue of lost dreams in New York.
12. "Central Park" by Mr. Hudson
Long-distance relationships suck pretty much wherever you are. If you're stuck in New York and they're in London (or Queens), it's no wonder you're feeling sad walking around couples kingdom, also known as Central Park. But Mr. Hudson's upbeat music captures that classic confused New York romance.
13. "My My Metrocard" by Le Tigre
There's nothing that can ruin a day or a date faster than when your Metrocard doesn't work.
But this is also a song about express trains — "Think I'll go a little but then I go far." That would be the A train on the weekends. There's a reason why no one leaves their borough after Friday, and it's because the G train is typically 3 hours late and then intent on running express to the end of the line.
14. "New York City's Killing Me" by Ray LaMontagne
After a while (or, really, no time at all in NYC), it's nice to go somewhere where people look you in the eye, away from the concrete and the noise.
Unlike the other songs on this list, there's pretty much no love for New York on this track.
15. "A Letter to the New York Post" by Public Enemy
But their headlines are impossible to ignore. How do you not read the article under "Osama Bin Wankin'!"?
16. "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" by LCD Soundsystem
I think every 20-something who has lived in New York can relate to this song.
It perfectly sums up that love-hate relationship, especially when it comes to getting spam from people you met once in your UCB Theatre improv class: "Take me off your mailing list / For kids that still think it still exists." Also, the line "Your mild billionaire mayor's / Now convinced he's a king" is a spot on description of Bloomberg.
17. "Hard Times in New York Town" by Bob Dylan
This song is classic folk, classic Dylan and classic New York.
From the easily singable melody to the down-to-earth delivery and lyrics, its subversiveness is hard to spot among the simplicity, but it's there. "Well, it's up in the mornin' tryin' to find a job of work / Stand in one place till your feet begin to hurt / If you got a lot o' money you can make yourself merry / You only got a nickel, it's the Staten Island Ferry/ And it's hard times from the country, livin' down in New York town."
Of course, the Staten Island Ferry is a seriously underrated source of free entertainment.
18. "Streets of New York" by Kool G Rap and DJ Polo
This song paints a cold, unflinching picture of a city where you can easily see the income disparity that plagues all of America. It's visible in the 10 blocks from 96th street to 116th on the East Side of Manhattan.
19. "NYC Bitche$" by Awkwafina
"New York City bitch / That's where I come from / Not where I moved to on Mom and Dad's trust fund." Awakfina's anti-hipster, anti-New York newbie song won't appeal to you if you just moved here, but if you've lived in this city long enough to get pulled for jury duty, you'll relate to pretty much every line in this song.
20. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega
The titular diner is Tom's Restaurant in NYC, which was used as Seinfeld's fictionalized Monk's Cafe. With its slightly melancholy feeling and subject matter of people-watching in an NYC diner, this song is a New York moment encapsulated.
The song points to an even bigger New York trend — there's no easier place when it comes to collecting dramatic life moments. Even when you're just sitting in a diner, they're all around you.
21. "Lua" by Bright Eyes
"It's complicated" are the two words that seem to typify most New York relationships. This mopey Bright Eyes classic is a fair portrait of one such relationship. From the "party at some actor's West Side loft" to sharing a flask on the train this is a classic New York relationship.
And, of course, the opening line is one every New Yorker can currently relate to: "I know that it's freezing but I think we have to walk / I keep waving at the taxis; they keep turning their lights off."
22. "The Only Living Boy In New York" by Simon & Garfunkel
When you're aimlessly wandering the streets alone with nothing but time, this is the song for you.