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47 Best Songs About New York Ever Written

Best Songs About New York Ever Written

New York City is one of the most written about cities in the world. Since its beginning as a Dutch colony in 1624, the city has been featured constantly in all types of media. Songwriters are fascinated by New York, its rhythm, its sights, and its people, and they’ve immortalized it in numerous songs.

If you’re looking to add more top songs about New York to your playlist, check out these masterfully written choices that capture all the layers of the city.

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Contents

“Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys

Song year: 2009

This famous ode to New York is a must-listen for any fans of the city. It vividly captures the nature of the city, from its perils to its diversity, while keeping the focus on celebrating it. This one is for the dreamers and abounds in references that will keep any New Yorker thrilled.

Originally written by Jane't “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic and Angela Hunt when they felt homesick for New York, the song was overlooked until celebrated rapper Jay-Z heard it. Its final version was released in 2009, with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys providing the vocals.

“Theme from New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra

Song year: 1980

Initially, this song known around the world was sung by Liza Minnelli in the Scorsese film ‘New York, New York’, which came out in 1977. The most popular version, and another New York City hymn, was recorded by crooner Frank Sinatra in 1979 and then released in 1980 on his album ‘Trilogy: Past Present and Future.’

The lyrics, originally written by Fred Ebb, play a major role in the song's lasting popularity. They capture the longing for New York, the lure of the city, and its potential for reinvention in a way that has led to New Yorkers adopting the song as part of their culture and pride in their home.

“First We Take Manhattan” by Leonard Cohen

Song year: 1988

Originally written by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen for Jennifer Warnes’ album Famous Blue Raincoat, this song also appears as a powerful introduction to Cohen’s much-lauded 1988 album ‘I’m Your Man.’

By then, Cohen had lived in Manhattan for over twenty years, and the borough's presence permeates the song. Although the song's overall meaning has many interpretations, the importance of the location and the industrial atmosphere make this choice a classic for New York-focused playlists.

“Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift

Song year: 2014

This Taylor Swift song from her record-breaking album ‘1989’ has become a contemporary classic with an ‘80s-inspired sound. The lyrics focus on the familiar theme of reinvention that can be found in New York, as well as on the heartbeat of the city: its people.

Co-written by Swift and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, ‘Welcome to New York’ will make you dance along to its synth beat and long for a visit to the bright chaos of the city.

“Manhattan” by Ella Fitzgerald

Song year: 1956

This song is part of The Great American Songbook and has had many versions through the decades. The Ella Fitzgerald rendition tells the original story of a young couple in love and exploring various areas of New York City.

The couple isn’t wealthy, and it is implied that they can’t afford luxuries while they content themselves with sights that are subpar, but the enjoyment of the city permeates the lyrics. Each version of Manhattan includes particular references to the times when it was created, and each brings particular flavors to strolls through New York City.

“Angel of Harlem” by U2

Song year: 1988

‘Angel of Harlem’ was written as an ode to New York by Irish band U2 based on their first visit to the city and inspired by Billie Holiday. The song includes references to various New York City staples such as JFK Airport and WBLS Radio, mixed with mentions of other figures to jazz history likes Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

The band wrote the song during the Joshua Tree Tour of 1987, and it marks a shift in their fascination with American history, cities, and people. Locals and tourists alike will share the awed feeling of seeing New York City's sights unfold in front of them.

“New York City” by Village People

Song year: 1985

Disco sensations Village People originated in France and moved to New York in 1977, where the group expanded. On their ninth studio album, the Village People included this catchy tune about New York City that takes the listener on a trip through its multicultural streets where the most eccentric people can be found and where dreams are within reach.

“Chelsea Morning” by Joni Mitchell

Song year: 1969

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell shares a different perspective on New York City in this song depicting her morning routine in her apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea. The peaceful sweetness in this song seems almost at odds with the city's usual representation, but it showcases another layer in this complex location.

The strong sense of idyllic morning light in the song is inspired by the mobile made from colored glass shards the singer had in her room. Through that prism, the bustle of the city becomes an almost soothing background noise that doesn’t intrude on the song’s sense of calm.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed

Song year: 1972

The underground culture that shaped New York in the ‘70s is represented here by singer Lou Reed, also known as a songwriter, singer, and vocalist of The Velvet Underground. This song is a tribute to various figures present at Andy Warhol’s studio, the Factory. These include Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and more.

The song tells the stories of their journeys to the city and the ways it has influenced them. It’s a refreshing perspective into a world that was not part of the mainstream, but one that significantly impacted the city's evolution.

“Englishman in New York” by Sting

Song year: 1987

British artist Sting wrote this song based on the story of a close friend’s relocation from London to New York City in the 1970s. The perspective of an outsider arriving in the city and walking through it before becoming a naturalized citizen is timeless. The musings on how to entertain oneself after that are amusing. The chorus remains as catchy as ever, making it an excellent choice for your New York playlists.

“New York” by St Vincent

Song year: 2017

St Vincent, also known as Annie Clark, co-wrote this song with producer Jack Antonoff. Loss is at the core of it, as is mourning: for past relationships, for friends moving on, for leaving New York behind. References to Manhattan are seamlessly threaded with the minimalist guitar track that fuels this powerhouse of an ode, and the city is as present as grief.

“Coney Island” by Taylor Swift feat. The National

Song year: 2020

The entertainment-focused Brooklyn neighborhood of Coney Island takes center stage in this song co-written by Swift, her partner Joe Alwyn (credited under the pseudonym William Bowery) and The National’s Bryce and Aaron Dessner.

Nostalgia for lost love perfumes the story featured in the song, a long-separated couple alternating turns in telling the story of their Coney Island-based memories. This is a bittersweet tribute to a New York neighborhood for the romantics among you.

“New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem

Song year: 2007

LCD Soundsystem’s ode to New York has a jaded tone and accurately portrays the average New Yorker’s relationship with the city. Nostalgia and love are present, but so are cynicism and apathy, and the pervasive feeling that the city becomes inescapable once it’s become part of you because its charm outlasts all else.

“Autumn in New York” by Billie Holiday

Song year: 1952

Composed by Vernon Duke in 1934, this song has had many versions, and this is one of the most timeless. Holiday’s prowess is on full display here, singing about the glory of New York’s autumns with a longing that seems fueled by homesickness. Although this autumn is from a by-gone era, contemporary New Yorkers will recognize their city.

“Snow Is Falling in Manhattan” by Purple Mountains

Song year: 2019

Keeping with the seasonal theme, the Purple Mountains offer us a winter landscape seen through the eyes of a caretaker sheltering in his warm home from the cold. The stillness of this Manhattan winter night is a peaceful comfort in a trying time, and the song is a ballad that does this perspective on the ever-shifting nature of New York justice.

“NYC” by Interpol

Song year: 2003

There is a distinct post-9/11 atmosphere in this song by Interpol that looks at the lives of average New Yorkers, the hard-working commuters, and how they perform the roles they are given. There is an almost dark and claustrophobic nature to the lyrics, a need to change, and the co-dependent relationship that locals have with the city is once again palpable.

“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues

Song year: 1987

This Christmastime favorite is fitting of New York: a bitter, cynical take on the holiday wrapped in the beautiful notes of an Irish folk ballad. The lyrics are known worldwide, and The Pogues’ take on the New York holiday atmosphere continues to cling to music charts everywhere each winter. It is a true classic and stands against the usual saccharine of Christmas songs.

“Chelsea Hotel No. 2” by Leonard Cohen

Song year: 1974

The Chelsea Hotel has been a New York institution for centuries and achieved a great deal of notoriety in the Bohemian artist circles of the 1960s and 1970s. Leonard Cohen writes of a titillating encounter at the Chelsea. But beyond that revelation, there is a feeling of bearing witness to an era that has been lost to time and death. The song is a moment in time preserved like a photograph.

“14th Street” by Rufus Wainwright

Song year: 2003

In this Rufus Wainwright song, New York City watches, silent and monumental, as the protagonist faces heartbreak and devastation. There is a grand scale to the song in its operatic elements, but the lyrics speak of quiet desperation along a routine walk through Manhattan’s bustling 14th street.

“Downtown Train” by Tom Waits

Song year: 1985

This pop song isn’t Waits’ usual fare, but it is a great ode to New York’s subways and how they transform at night, the way loneliness and looking for love while in transit collide. The atmosphere is captivating, and this glimpse of the secret world occurring in the moonlit city is a great perspective into the city that never sleeps.

“New York Telephone Conversation” by Lou Reed

Song year: 1972

In contrast to ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ Reed takes the time to show the shallowness of New York’s society in this song. The city’s hunger for gossip and performance takes center stage here, and Reed understands and belongs to it. There is a longing to participate in the spectacle and awareness of being part of it.

“What New York Used to Be” by The Kills

Song year: 2008

As you’ve noticed from this list, New York has a love affair with the past, and nostalgia for a lost time is always present. The Kills denounce this idealization of the past while looking to focus on the present of a city that is in constant motion and can never remain the same.

“Brooklyn Bound” by The Black Keys

Song year: 2002

This succinct song by The Black Keys depicts another relationship’s end. Freedom from it can be found eastward, in Brooklyn, if the fare to get there can be found. Another example of the only long-lasting relationship for New Yorkers being with the city itself, and a masterful instrumental track.

“Brooklyn Baby” by Lana del Rey

Song year: 2014

This satirical song makes some light-hearted fun of particular elements associated with New York, particularly the rise of the hipster subculture and the gentrification that follows it. A refreshing tongue-in-cheek take from another known lover of New York.

“New York City Serenade” by Bruce Springsteen

Song year: 1973

Springsteen has written about New York many times and, in this offering, he offers a glimpse into the city’s nightlife. The serenade is turned on its head, away from the romance and into the illicit nature of what happens in the shadows between artificial lights.

“I’m Waiting for the Man” by The Velvet Underground and Nico

Song year: 1967

Written by Lou Reed, this song explores another angle of his heroin addiction, and we get to explore this wait for his dealer on the streets of the city right along with him. A gritty take on the location we are familiar with, and one considers the other elements that are part of the city’s history.

“New York City Boy” by Pet Shop Boys

“New York City Boy” by Pet Shop Boys

Song year: 1999

The pulsating electricity of New York City’s nightlife infuses this song by the British band Pet Shop Boys with fervor. The disco notes and the city's excitement are a heady mix, and a catchy one, even long after the song’s release.

“Harlem Blues” by Nat King Cole

Song year: 1958

This song was included on the soundtrack of the movie St Louis Blues, which starred jazz and blues legend, Nat King Cole. The lyrics tell the story of the aftermath of another relationship breaking down, and losing oneself in the city to forget about it. A neglected treat.

“Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan

Song year: 1962

This talking blues song shows Dylan’s experience of arriving in New York from his home state of Minnesota, and the long acclimatization process of trying to make it in the city, then leaving it behind for more welcoming shores. A great take on the perils of the city from someone walking away from it.

“East Harlem” by Beirut

Song year: 2011

Beirut’s songwriter Zach Condon based this song on his experience of living part-time in New York City as a 17-year old, but is also influenced by settling down after traveling for many years. There is a sense of familiarity and homecoming here, of longing and understanding. The city spreads in all its magnitude while the song settles into it.

“Empire State” by Fleetwood Mac

Song year: 1982

Iconic band Fleetwood Mac sings here about yearning to belong to New York City, wanting to become part of it and its constant motion different from other cities. A song from the newcomer's perspective looking to be swept away by the frantic nature of New York.

“New York’s in Love” by David Bowie

Song year: 1987

In this Bowie take on New York, the city falls under someone else’s charm for a change, and it metamorphoses from clean to burning in the throes of its love. An intriguing story full of vivid details that place the city into a different role than the norm.

“Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega

Song year: 1987

The anthem of people-watchers everywhere, this song, with its well-known chorus, was written in tribute to Tom’s Restaurant, which Suzanne Vega used to frequent in her student days. Through her, we get to observe the motion of New York City life and its citizens from a still point of view, witnessing the goings-on with intrigue from the sidelines. A great glimpse into the daily life of the city.

“Broadway” by The Clash

Song year: 1980

British band The Clash spent some time in New York, and this song was a direct result of that stay. Filled with jazz motifs, this piano-heavy tune tells the story of shattered dreams in the form of a homeless man telling his story of being a boxer wishing to become a movie star. We get a different view into New York’s streets here, and it is a sobering one.

“Harlem’s Nocturne” by Alicia Keys

Song year: 2003

In this song, Alicia Keys shows off her impressive piano skills and references a classic, Duke Ellington’s Harlem Nocturne. This is the opening to her album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, and it sets a referential and talent-filled mood. New York is present in its history, not just concerning the singer but with the generations before her.

“Good Fortune” by PJ Harvey

Song year: 2000

This song about falling in love in New York was written based on Harvey’s time in the city. The beauty of that giddiness permeates the song, and it is a dizzyingly lovely walk through New York City full of possibility and magic.

“New York, New York” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Song year: 1983

This song gives insight into an era that was defined by harsh living. There are no illusions here, no magic, just people trying to survive in a hostile environment. At the time, New York was struggling in most of its areas, which left a considerable mark on its communities. A powerful perspective into the less-discussed parts of New York’s complex history.

“On Broadway” by George Benson

Song year: 1978

This version of the song written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann reached new heights when Benson gave it a rich jazz twist and went on to win a Grammy for it. This is another song about dreams, centered on New York’s Broadway, with its lights and shadows, fueled by the power of fantasy.

If you find the sound familiar, you may have heard it during a segment in All That Jazz.

“No Sleep till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys

Song year: 1986

Beastie Boys are from Brooklyn and this influenced a big part of their work, but this ode to making it big and coming home, which also offers some gentle mockery on the rockstar lifestyle, is one of their most substantial tributes to their home borough. In this frantic lifestyle, the city, for once, is the motionless goal that the band wishes to reach.

“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel

Song year: 1969

Known as one of Paul Simon’s masterpieces, this lament dwells on a story of loneliness and poverty in New York City's bitter winters. Desperation accompanies every verse, as the city looms without offering any hope. A sorrowful and heavy perspective, and a storytelling tour de force.

“Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones

Song year: 1977

The setting of this song is where the lead singer of the band, Joey Ramone, was raised. Rockaway Beach is located in Queens, and it was one of the worst beaches in the city at the time. The band decided to do a surf-influenced hit in the style of the Beach Boys for this location, and they achieved a catchy song that can accompany even the worst experiences at the seaside.

“NY State of Mind” by Nas

Song year: 1994

This is one of the songs about New York with the longest legacy and with the starkest perspective. The storytelling is masterful, and it gives insight into lives that had been ignored. Nas was inspired by his life as a teenager, experiencing the charged dangers of the city that were his home.

An absolute must-have for fans of New York and those passionate about the craft of songwriting.

“Shattered” by The Rolling Stones

Song year: 1978

The New York City of the 1970s is once again in focus, and it was inspired by the time the Stones spent living there. The lifestyles of New York City residents are under the lens, including the way the rockstars live. The song gets into the nitty-gritty details of a city that’s losing itself at the same time as the people living in it. An intoxicating maelstrom of a song.

“Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder

Song year: 1973

This song was inspired by the civil rights era, and tells the story of a young black man leaving his home state of Mississippi with the dream of making it in New York City, looking for a better life. The city ends up shattering his illusions, and he becomes a victim of the system until he is homeless and fully aware of the cruelty at play in New York.

“I Guess the Lord Must be in New York City” by Harry Nilsson

Song year: 1969

Nilsson was born in Brooklyn and wrote this song for the movie Midnight Cowboy. The song wasn’t included on the soundtrack, but continues to be a popular choice for New York playlists. This upbeat song restores some optimism in the city's power to fulfill dreams, and stands as a beacon of freedom and hope, in stark contrast to other places.

“Tompkins Square Park” by Mumford & Sons

Song year: 2015

Tompkins Square Park in the East Village of Manhattan is the location that this British band has chosen as the setting for another deteriorating relationship. The love affair clings by a thread, and Tompkins Square Park is selected as a meeting place looking to salvage the remains. This deterioration set in a place full of artists, poets, and radicals, is a captivating one. It’s not a part of the city that usually appears in songs, making it even more compelling.

“NYC Ghosts & Flowers” by Sonic Youth

Song year: 2000

A hugely atmospheric song inspired by the Beat Generation's poetry, this Sonic Youth offering captures haunting details of the city that are sure to stick with you after you’ve finished listening. An experimental take that holds the heart of New York City within itself.

Top Songs About New York, Final Thoughts

Numerous songs about New York have been written and performed, from the jaunty to the tragic. You’ll find something for everyone here.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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