I thought I’d choose today, when people tend to dwell on the negative, to send a love letter to the city that charms, delights, and embraces me, every single day. There is not one day that goes by that I don’t remember how lucky I am to live in this amazing place. So, here are my favorite songs about New York, chosen for how they represent the city, and not because I love them better musically. Although I do love them all.
(Photo is the approach shot in West Side Story)
West Side Story Cast – America
I like the island, Manhattan! This movie is so New York that when I think of it, the intro graphic of the city map always appears in my head before anything else. This particular song, which is sung on a rooftop, cleverly contrasts the positive and, er, not so positive experiences of the immigrant, all the while underlining the yearning to fit in and be successful.
(The whole scene is great but the song starts about 2:15)
Happyhead – Baby USA
Almost no one here has ever heard this song but it makes me laugh every time I hear the chorus: “Don’t shoot! I love you, Baby USA.” I always imagine the singer who has come over from England to see his love, getting greeted in stereotypical New York fashion. The song never mentions NYC, but it’s clear from the lyrics and sound effects that that’s where the lady lives. If I ever did send an actual mash note to this town, it would say: “Dear NY, Don’t shoot! I love you. xo, Becca”
No video for this, so here’s a stream. It’s the happiest song on this list, so you may want to play it twice.
Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer
So many good S&G New York songs, but this one, again, tells the story of coming to the city with hope in one’s heart, only to struggle and fall. But as the post title says, still he remains.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling the emotions of this song every time I hear it, it’s that real.
Billy Joel – Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
They blew the Bronx away! I really can’t tell you why I love this song. I think in talking about a supposed apocalyptic future for New York, it makes you appreciate what’s here now all the more. And never mind that other song; it’s become a cliche.
Rolling Stones – Miss You
The Stones aren’t from New York, but when I was young I thought they were. Forget the subject matter, the attitude of this song is pure NYC. It is elegant yet gritty, and full of swagger.
Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer in the City
Another great sound effects song. I can hear this song in the dead of winter and be brought to a 100 degree/90% humidity subway platform. But in a good way.
Interpol – NYC
More about this song tomorrow, strangely enough. But again, the theme of opportunity and difficulty intermingled are here. Plus, the subway really is a porno.
(The video to this will be in tomorrow’s post.)
U2 – New York
This is, 100%, my favorite song for representing New York. I think only people who have moved here, maybe, really get it right. It is loud. You are always surrounded by people. Those people are from a hundred different countries and ethnicities. As previously mentioned, it is hot as a hairdryer. There is always something to do. People are always wanting something from you. I used to cry when I heard this song; it came out right around 9/11 and it reminded me of all the things I loved and hoped would still exist. Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics…religious nuts, political fanatics… in the stew, living happily not like me and you.
During my orientation at Fancypants, they had teachers come to speak to us to give us advice about working there. Since many of the new people had just moved here, some of the advice was about living in New York. One teacher said something like, “people here aren’t rude, they are just… efficient. You will think they are rude but you just have to get used to the fact that they are in a rush and time is important to them. They don’t have the time to spend on you. It’s not personal.” I had never considered that before, and maybe it’s why most of the songs I picked are downers. It’s not personal, it can just be a grind to live here. But I love it beyond words, which is why I’ll never, ever let anyone make me afraid to live here.