Let’s suppose you are an emerging musician who drove nearly 20 hours to get to New York from your dusty old neighborhood in Minnesota. You’re yet to land a recording contract; for now, all you have is a bunch of worn-out clothes, your trusty guitar, and a dream bigger than The Big Apple.
New York City is the most populous city there is in the country. With 8.8 million people and 800 different spoken languages, it’s easy to get lost in translation.
And at that moment, you already felt lost. So, you step outside your hotel to try to take in as much as you can. “What have I gotten myself into?”
It is situated in one of the globe’s largest known harbors and has immense control over pop culture and international consumption. You end up thinking that it may end up having control over you as well.
The Big Apple has one of the largest subway systems in the world, has tons of endearing landmarks, and a lot of secrets swept under the rug. You make your way down to the main roads where the hustle and bustle hit you like a 16-wheeler. Everybody seems so busy. Maybe there’s a good reason why people dubbed this place the city that never sleeps.
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, maybe these 27 songs about New York can give you the crash course you need!
Top 27 Songs about New York
1. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z. feat. Alicia Keys
Imagine this: a stranger randomly approaches you while you’re out and about in the streets. He proceeds to ask you to sing a song with “New York” in its lyrics.
We’ll be starting off this list strong with the most obvious choice (how could we not). Of course, it’s no other than Alicia Key and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind!
Empire State of Mind is a single released in 2009 as part of the tracklist of Jay-Z’s 11th full-length studio album The Blue Print 3 (2009). The song puts tantamount references to New York from the title to its catchy lyrics. If you find any other listicle of songs about New York without this one in the list, consider that incomplete!
The track is known for its soaring chorus and orchestral ballad instrumentals, along with some hip-hop sections.
2. “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift
What’s a songs list without the mega pop star and genius songwriter Taylor Swift? In this list of songs about New York, Tay-tay’s Welcome to New York deserves a spot in the top three, at least.
Every track off of Swift’s fifth studio album 1989 (2014) is nothing less than pop perfection. In fact, it has an Album Of The Year award from the Recording Academy to back that up. Welcome to New York is no exemption. In fact, the song was eventually released as a promotional single for the said project.
Sonically, the track carries the synth-pop sound that 1989 was largely known for. It also interpolates some elements of disco and electropop. The song’s lyrics pertain to the excitement you get along with freedom, as imbued when she moved to New York.
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3. “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel
It’s immensely rare to find a song that is both a non-single deep cut and a cult classic. Well, you’re in luck because we found one for you!
American musician and composer Billy Joel recorded and wrote the song. It served as one of the tracks from Turnstiles, a studio album released back in 1976. It was a mainstay in almost all of Joel’s tour performances.
Unarguably, one of its most well-known performances is at The Concert for New York City. There, it gave hope as artists tried their best to gather funds for the benefit of the New York City Fire and Police Department that helped respond during the 9/11 terrorist attack.
4. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys
New York is cemented for its hustle and bustle culture, and this song is a great testament. Lyrically, it talks about a series of events during a tour and how it exhausted the singer of his energy. But still, they fought their way through, denying rest until they get back to Brooklyn.
The song was recorded by the local hip-hop group Beastie Boys. The track is considered a signature song, serving as the sixth single off of their debut full-length album License to Ill.
What makes the song extra special for fans is how it was used constantly as an encore during tours as part of the band’s tradition.
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5. “Autumn In New York” by Diana Krall
This song has a long history and is probably a reason why it took such a big space in local popular culture.
The song was composed by American songwriter Vernon Duke. It was originally performed by the American baritone J. Harrold Murray. Then, it was used as a track off of the Broadway show Thumbs Up, which opened to viewers back in 1934.
Since then, several versions and re-recordings of the song surfaced. For this list, we’d be shedding the limelight on the version by Diana Krall. For those who are unfamiliar, Krall was named by Billboard as the second greatest Jazz Artist of the Decade (2000-2009), amassing 15 million album sales.
6. “Talkin’ New York” by Bob Dylan
Growing up in a rural county, the idea of moving to New York can be exhilarating. The newfound freedom, the towering concrete buildings, and new roads to an infinite amount of possibilities.
This was the focal point of (the greatest) American songwriter Bob Dylan’s track Talkin’ New York. It was the second song off of his self-titled debut album released in 1962.
The song, in itself, was a movie —talking about Dylan’s journey as an unsigned folk singer in New York (and mind you, he came all the way from Minnesota). He divulged on the track how he found it difficult to play and get booked due to his unique sound (with people saying he sounded like a “hillbilly”).
7. “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl
This Irish folksong about New York (which in itself is already an interesting combo) has a pretty meaty history. The song was in the works back in 1985, but it took two years before it was released, thanks to a series of unfortunate events and rewritings.
Fairytale of New York is a song recorded by the English, London-based band The Pogues, incorporating vocals from British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl. The Irish folk ballad is the most played Christmas song in the 21st century in the United Kingdom.
The song divulges the story of two Irish immigrants who were spending their Christmas Eve in New York City.
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8. “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley
It comes only on rare occasions that a song would surface as a hit from two different artists New York Groove, as written by English musician Russ Ballard, achieved this exact feat. For the purpose of this list, we’ll be highlighting the more recent version by Ace Frehley.
Kiss’ lead guitarist and American singer-songwriter Ace Frehley recorded the track as part of his self-titled album. This was, in fact, his first solo full body of work, which was released in 1978.
The song was eventually released as a single. Despite being a remake, it was able to penetrate Billboard’s Hot 100 – ultimately peaking at number 13.
9. “Downtown Train” by Tom Waits
If you’re a millennial or Gen Z, you might be a bit unfamiliar with Tom Waits. Waits is an American musician and composer known for his socio-political lyricism in his songs delivered in his signature silky deep voice. Starting out as a Jazz artist, he steadily branched out to other genres.
Moving forward, Downtown Train was released as a single from Waits’ ninth studio album Rain Dogs (1985). Not only the song, but the album itself centers around the dispossession of New York City.
The song is an almost four-minute song that was entirely self-written and had a promotional video to back it up. It eventually entered the top 100 of the US Hot 100, peaking at number 95.
10.“Englishman in New York” by Sting
Based on this list, a song that delves into the perspective of an immigrant in New York is nothing new. Surely, the city and its array of possibilities act as a magnet for aspiring hearts. However, English musician and songwriter Sting was able to capture this angle amazingly.
Being released in 1987, Englishman in New York served as one of the tracks in Sting’s second full-length project …Nothing Like the Sun. The song interpolated elements of pop, jazz, and rock, with even a hint of reggaeton. Raw instruments were also prominent in its production, with a highly notable soprano saxophone.
The track was eventually released as a single, gaining modest success both in the US and UK charts. The song was heavily inspired by the English comedian and writer Quentin Crisp’s migration from London to New York.
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11.“Angel of Harlem” by U2
Is there something between Irish people and New York? U2 is a popular Irish rock band famous for their sociopolitical lyricism alongside their equally amazing live performances.
Angel of Harlem was released by U2 as one of the songs in their 1988 album Rattle and Hum. What’s interesting about this album is that its tracklist is a combination of both studio-recorded and live tracks. Nonetheless, Angel of Harlem was eventually pushed as the album’s second single. It was able to top multiple charts, and even entered the Hot 100’s top 15.
Sonically, the song has elements of Heartland rock with a pinch of soul. Lyrically, it showcased different New York landmarks.
12.“Back To Manhattan” by Norah Jones
We’ve been delving into the songs of the past. Now, we’re giving you something relatively recent with Norah Jones’ Back To Manhattan.
Selling more than 50 million records worldwide, Norah Jones is undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz artists of all time – and Billboard seems to agree after they announced Jones as the 2000’s top jazz artist. The track incorporated the elements that Jones has been known for.
Lyrically, the song talked about the fantasy of an idealized romance and the tragedy of its end. It did so by mentioning the train ways that New York has been recognized for (while mentioning Brooklyn in the process).
13.“New York City Cops” by The Strokes
“New York City cops, but they ain’t too smart.” This line is probably the most impactful of the song (with it being the refrain as well). The American rock band The Strokes is immensely loved by critics, and their socio-political awareness as displayed in this song is a great explanation of why.
New York City Cops was released by the band in 2001, and was eventually included in their debut full-length album Is This It. The song was written as a response to the murder of the Guinean student Amadou Diallo as orchestrated by plain-clothed police officers.
The three-and-a-half-minute track has elements of indie rock and garage rock revival, which is basically the band’s signature sound. It was able to penetrate the UK chart’s top 20, peaking at 16.
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14. “New York City Serenade” by Bruce Springsteen
American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen is known for incorporating characters in his song – as if the track itself is a movie. New York City Serenade is a good example of this.
The song was incorporated as one of the tracks in Springsteen’s second studio album. Lyrically, it divulged the story of life in New York through multiple, disjointed perspectives. These include a junkman, a fish lady, and Springsteen himself.
Many would describe the lyricism to this song as detached to an extent. This is not surprising, considering that Springsteen isn’t really from New York. Though, it is worth mentioning that he loved visiting the city. This was the artist’s last song with a prominent Jazz sound.
15.“Ever Since New York” by Harry Styles
Despite being an album deep cut, we made it sure to give this song (given the context of our list) the accolade it deserves!
Ever Since New York is the eighth song in Harry Style’s self-titled, debut studio album released in 2017. Hence, this song is the most recent on our list so far. The said album is stacked with a range in terms of genre, and this song adds another one as it boasts its slow folk sound.
According to Styles, the song was imbued by horrid news he received during his stay in Brooklyn in New York. This translated into the song sounding gloomy and melancholic, with Styles finding it difficult to move on from something inflicting a person who he truly cares for.
16. “Down and Out in New York City” by James Brown
Is there anything James Brown couldn’t do? The American artist is a musician, a producer, and a dancer – and all these essential profiles are well displayed in the track Down and Out in New York City.
The track was written by Barry De Vorzon and Bodie Chandler with a commendable vocal performance from Brown. The song was performed in the 1973 American crime drama film Black Ceasar. The track eventually landed on the flick’s official soundtrack.
The song is short but sweet, incorporating soul and funk elements. After gaining notable traction, it was eventually released as a single. The tune became a top 20 hit on the R&B charts and top 50 in pop.
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17. “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Tom, get your plane right on time. I know that you’ve been eager to fly now. Hey, let your honesty shine” this line from The Only Living Boy in New York can pretty much effectively summarize the gist of the track.
The folk-rock track was recorded by the duo Simon and Garfunkel for their final full-length project Bridge over Troubled Water released in 1970. It basically talks about Simon’s loneliness as he was left in New York to finish writing the remainder of the tracks in the album.
18. “Safe in New York City” by AC/DC
The Australian rock band AC/DC, thanks to their versatility, was indeed effective in creating a roster of hits; Safe in New York City is no exemption.
The song was recorded as part of their studio album Stiff Upper Lip released in 2000. It received modest commercial success, reaching the top 30 of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart.
The song incorporated hard rock elements. Lyrically, the track was described by its composers to be about New York being unpredictable.
19.“Take the ‘A’ Train” by Ella Fitzgerald
Take the “A” Train may be the oldest song in this list thus far, being composed way back in 1939.
What’s unknown to many is the rich history behind the original track. In 1940, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) increased its licensing fees. Hence, the Stayhorn composition was used as a signature tune. For the purpose of this list, we’d be highlighting the most recent version of the song by the American jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.
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20. “I Guess the Lord Must be in New York City” by Harry Nilsson
In 1969, American singer-songwriter Harry Nilson recorded this soft rock classic as part of his self-titled album. It received relatively bigger success commercially, becoming his second song to chart. It was intended to be part of the soundtrack for the American Drama Midnight Cowboy.
The track talks about the enthusiasm of chasing one’s dream; the thought is related to an aspirant traversing the city of New York, “Ain’t it wonderful to be where I’ve always wanted to be? For the first time, I’ll breathe free here in New York City.”
21. “Leaving New York” by R.E.M.
We’ve seen tons of jazz music on this list, and even some pop and rock sprinkled in there. But we really haven’t gotten representation from our alternative pals. Well, this spot’s for you.
Leaving New York is the lead single off of the alternative rock band R.E.M.’s 13th full-length album Around the Sun (2004). The commercial reception for the track was mixed, being a modest hit in the UK and non-charter in the US. Nonetheless, the quality of the song is superb.
22.“I’m Waiting for the Man” by The Velvet Underground
Unlike the majority of the songs in this list so far, I’m Waiting for the Man is relatively much more explicit, so it’s better to keep yourself braced.
The track was released as part of American rock band The Velvet Underground’s debut album released in 1967. Sonically, the song is immensely experimental with unconventional genre-bending, which includes garage rock and proto-punk.
Lyrically, it talked about the difficulty of obtaining illegal substances in Harlem.
23. “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel
The Big Apple must be an extra special place for the American duo Simon & Garfunkel as they make their second entry on our list of songs about New York.
The self-produced track was initially released as a standalone single. However, 9 months after, the duo decided to include the track in their fifth and final album Bridge over Troubled Water (1970).
Sonically, the track blends a ballad with folk rock. It talked about poverty and loneliness in the context of New York. This was imbued by a point in Simon’s life where he felt unjustly treated.
24. “Rockaway Beach” by Ramones
Despite their humble beginnings, the American punk rock band Ramones surely got the world on their palms. Being dubbed as the first true punk rock band, it is a mandate to give them proper recognition in our list.
The song was the band’s highest-charting song in the US thanks to its addicting surf-punk sound that will surely get you to listen more. The two-minute track was part of their third studio album and was of course inspired by Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York.
25. “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful
Let’s not forget to include the New York pop band The Lovin’ Spoonful in our list!
Summer in the City is irresistible to say the list, and we guess the general public can surely agree as the song clinched the top spot in the US Hot 100. The song was released as part of the studio album Hums of the Lovin’ Spoon. It became the band’s fifth top 10 hits at the time.
The contrasting hot days and cool nights in New York inspired the creation of this song.
26. “New York City Rhythm” by Barry Manilow
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the discography of American musician Barry Manilow – We mean; you do get a lot of songs in a career that spans seven decades. In this case, Manilow does not only have a song about New York, but an entire album entitled This Is My Town: Songs of New York.
The body of work was made to thank the city that gave Manilow his ambitions and sense of decency. One of the fan favorites in the album is New York City Rhythm – a four-minute track that was eventually released as a single.
27. “53rd & 3rd” by Ramones
And we will be ending this list of songs about New York with another entry from the punk rock legend Ramones—and probably the most controversial song on this list.
New York boasts a lot. This song highlights the infamous 53rd Street, 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, where a number of questionable things happen at night. And this is where the song got its inspiration from. Curious? Listen to the track to find out.
You take your earphones off and sat steadily on that worn-out park bench. After listening to some songs about New York, you suddenly feel welcome. You stare at this giant of a city one more time, but with a less empty gaze. Somehow, through these songs, you feel much more comfortable.
You still have a lot to learn, but at least you had your first baby steps. You will get there soon.
We all have our version of the great American Dream; a lot of us are willing to go past the boundaries of our hometown to get what we want. In these songs about New York, it’s apparent that this great city is not all rainbows and sunshine—but that gives the city its personality. And that’s what gives people irresistible gravitation toward visiting it.