10 Essential Songs About New York City

Songs About New York City

Feature Photo: Laurentlesax / Shutterstock

Our top 10 songs about New York City peer into what made this the most exciting city on earth. One thing New York doesn’t lack is boredom. Between proud New Yorkers who’ve become big-name recording stars and the visitors who’ve done the same, whenever they’re singing something about the city they do so with pride. From time to time, an occasional recording artist would come forth with a song that criticized New York as a city but did so with such an artistic flair that they’re hard for fans to simply ignore. As great as they are, you won’t find them here. This is a top ten song list about New York that paints the city and its people on a positive note instead of a negative one.

Top 10 Essential Songs About New York City

#10 – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (performed by Simon & Garfunkel)

Released from the 1966 album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, “The 59th Street Bridge Song” became one of the many musical gems from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. It was a song about the bridge that was once upon a time referred to as the 59th Street Bridge. It was later renamed Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge. Originally, this was a short song at under two minutes. The most popular version of this song came from Harpers Bizarre in 1967. Released as a single from the album Feelin’ Groovy, it became a number thirteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The appeal of this song has inspired several recording artists from various genres and languages. The message behind the song was to slow down and enjoy the moment. It may not always seem easy to do but part of New York’s charm is taking a breather and take it all in.

#9 – Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo) (performed by Alice Cooper)

Released in 1973, Muscle of Love, was an album from Alice Cooper that featured “Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo)” as part of its tracklist. It covered New York City’s club, Hippopotamus, one of the venues Cooper’s band used to visit. Using the city’s infamous monicker Big Apple as part of the title, Cooper felt it was fitting as this was the terminology used among gamblers in the 1920s. While the song itself begins with powerful guitar riffs, it ends with a great violin solo.

As a fan, this is a great tune to share the feel of small-town rockers heading to New York City on a quest to make a name for themselves. The energy of the music keeps you going until the violin smooths it out at the end as if that dream of making it big has just been realized. As a song, not only is this a great ode to New York City but a source of inspiration to take on the challenge of turning your own dreams into a reality.

#8 – Safe in New York City (performed by AC/DC)

“Safe in New York City” was a song AC/DC performed as a group making good use of a city that never sleeps. The opportunity to party up with the city’s beautiful women was something Brian Johnson and his bandmates couldn’t pass up. It also made for easy songwriting material for Angus and Marcus Young. As a single, “Safe in New York City” was released in 2000 from the album, Stiff Upper Lip. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-one. The music video was shot inside one of the city’s busy tunnels, which was surrounded by police protection.

Technically, the song was written to mock Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his boastful belief he made New York City’s Manhattan safe again. Even though they’re from Australia, AC/DC knew New York’s spirit as a city can’t possibly be tamed. When the 9/11 terrorist attack occurred on September 11, 2001, “Safe in New York City” wound up taking on a whole new meaning as it seemed to prove AC/DC’s view on the matter was right. Threats against a city as mighty as New York aren’t always paying attention to what’s going on inside the city. It includes outside threats as well.

As tragic as the terrorist attacks were when they happened, they once again displayed what makes New York so great. That wild spirit fuels New Yorkers to form a special unity that really does make it a safe city to call home. The arrogance of political figures who think they know better is always proven wrong in the end. AC/DC made that perfectly loud and clear here.

#7 – New York Serenade (performed by Bruce Springsteen)

Released in 1973 from his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, “New York Serenade” was an incredible song performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It covered the tale of a street musician who graced New York City as one of the architects behind its rich musical culture. Although best known as a rocker, Springsteen’s second album was fueled by rich jazz overtones. Although Springsteen himself wasn’t technically a New Yorker, he did a wonderful job coming across as one. His love for New York City is obvious in his brand of music and the people from the Big Apple love him for it. That spiritual connection is really felt here.

“New York Serenade” was the closing track from Springsteen’s second studio album and is the longest song at nearly ten minutes of playtime. It is awesome as it served as a perfect closer for the entire album’s theme. The album itself includes another iconic New York-related song, “Incident on 57th Street.” These were songs Springsteen’s growth as a singer-songwriter led him to his big breakthrough album, Born to Run. Fans of Springsteen may also recognize “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” as it played right after “Incident on 57th Street” and right before “New York Serenade.” In all honesty, listen to these three songs in a row without pause if you really want to get into a special New York groove, even if you’ve never been to the city yourself.

#6 – New York Minute (performed by Don Henley)

In 1989, Don Henley released The End of the Innocence as a solo album. It was his most successful recording as it spawned many hits that further defined why this lead singer from the infamous Eagles earned the right to be called one of the greatest male vocalists of all time. “New York Minute” was one of the hits from this album as it peaked as high as number forty-eight on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as number five on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-four. The song covered how life in New York City can change within a moment’s notice. While this can be the case no matter where you live, the vibe in the Big Apple is unique, to say the least.

#5 – New York Groove (performed by Ace Frehley)

In 1978, all four members of the legendary rock group, KISS, released their own solo album simultaneously. Ace Frehley did so with his cover version of “New York Groove,” a song that was originally recorded by the British glam group, Hello. As a proud New Yorker who knows his city well, Frehley offered an upbeat tune as someone driving a Cadillac throughout the city at night with pride. Hello’s original version was released as a single in 1975 and became a number nine hit on the UK Singles Chart. Three years later, Ace Frehley released his own version, which became the popular favorite. When Frehley covered it for the first time in 1978, it was for his self-titled solo album. He was then offered to do a remake of it and release it as a single. He was reluctant at first but ultimately agreed to it. As a result, it became the most successful single released by any member of the KISS group as a solo artist.

Frehley’s “New York Groove” peaked at number thirteen on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as number twenty-four in Canada. On the Springbok Radio chart belonging to South Africa, the song peaked as high as number four. It was also a top thirty hit in the nations of Australia and New Zealand. Frehley’s version of “New York Groove” was actually inspired after he spent some time with the city’s prostitutes at its infamous Times Square during the 1970s. Hey, whatever works.

#4 – Angel of Harlem (performed by U2)

Believe it or not, one doesn’t have to be a born New Yorker to come up with a good tune about the city. Or, at the very least, a piece of its incredible history and the people who shaped it. U2 did this with “Angel of Harlem” as a single in 1988. It was one of many hits from the album, Rattle and Hum. This was a song that made reference to New York City’s landmarks, as well as its jazzy history in the music industry. U2 fully embraced what made New York City the cultural hub of civilization that many of us know and love today.

When U2 visited New York City for the first time, the boys from the UK were awestruck. For the first time in their lives, they rode in the back of a limousine. The driver was African-American, listening to a radio station that played music that inspired Bono and his bandmates. They listened to Harlem’s Billie Holiday, finding themselves unable to resist the absorption of New York culture soaking into their own soul. For U2, listening to the earliest roots of New York’s music scene felt like a spiritual experience. This was obvious in “Angel of Harlem,” as well as the majority of the music heard on Rattle and Hum.

#3 – Walk on the Wild Side (performed by Lou Reed)

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed is a 1972 classic from his album, Transformer, and is, hands down, one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded in music history. The song itself glorified the tempestuous lifestyles of celebrity New Yorkers who literally walked on its wild side. This song was designed as a counterculture anthem and became Reed’s most identifiable hit. During an era when sex, drugs, and rock and roll had to fall within certain mainstream expectations, Reed challenged that with his brand of musical psychedelia. It served as an unofficial ballad perfectly suited for people who felt like social outcasts. The song itself felt like an invitation for those outcasts to come to New York City where one no longer had to worry about sticking out like a sore thumb.

After it was released for the first time in 1972, “Walk on the Wild Side” became a number sixteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as a number eighteen hit on the Canadian Singles Chart. It also charted at number ten in the UK, number thirteen in Ireland, and number fifteen in the Netherlands. This song was released as a single again in 2013. The timelessness of this song demonstrated even forty years later, it still managed to earn charting success. On the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, it peaked as high as number fourteen. It appeared on the UK Singles Chart a second time as well, this time at number fifty-three. It was also a top forty hit among the nations of France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland.

#2 – The Boy from New York City (performed by The Ad Libs)

Okay, so “The Boy from New York City” talks more about a handsome young man than it does about the city. Performed and released in 1964 as the first single from The Ad Libs, it became a number eight hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, and a number two hit on the Canadian Singles Chart. Performed as a lovestruck young woman named “Kitty,” she shares everything she can about a love interest that stole her heart. She described him from head to toe, as well as his charming personality that won her over so easily.

Catchy and fun, “The Boy from New York City” was a song that became popular again in 1978, then again in 1981 when Manhattan Transfer believed it was still good enough to release as hit material. As it turned out, they were right. On the exact same charts, it peaked as high as number seven in the US and at number eight in Canada. It also charted within the top ten among the nations of Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the UK. Speaking as a fan, it was easy enough for me to replace “the boy” with “the soul” and sing not simply about a person from New York City. Singing about the spirit of it works just as well too.

#1 – New York State of Mind (performed by Billy Joel)

In 1976 from the album Turnstiles, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” became one of his all-time fan favorites, even though it was never officially released as a single. It became popular enough to sell enough copies to become an RIAA-certified platinum success. In October 2001, Joel played this song at The Concert for New York City, paying tribute to the brave men and women who were the first responders when the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. While surviving victims scrambled to get away from ground zero, police officers and firefighters were heading straight for it. It’s human instinct to run away the moment they sense danger. What the people in uniform did was superhuman as they sought to rescue whoever didn’t have the luxury to simply get out of harm’s way before it was too late. The definition of a hero is someone who is willing to risk their own life just to save someone else’s, even if it means the odds of success are unlikely.

What inspired Billy Joel to write “New York State of Mind” was simply the man’s appreciation for his hometown roots. He was returning to the city after spending time in Los Angeles, California. As soon as he got home, he put his piano talent and songwriting skills to work. The result speaks for itself as one of The Piano Man’s all-time classics. This is a song New Yorkers should be proud of as it’s also a great song to heighten the sense of solidarity. That’s why this song gets the top vote. On December 12, 2012, Billy Joel performed this song during a Hurricane Sandy benefit concert. The lyrics were slightly changed to accommodate the occasion but it still emphasized how proud New Yorkers should be to call this wonderful city home. In all honesty, what made America “great” and keeps it great starts in New York City. That “New York State of Mind” is more than just one of Billy Joel’s greatest songs. It’s also one of the greatest all-time classics as a song, period.

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