Do you ever catch yourself for a moment, when you’re at a bar or restaurant, walking down a particular street, or maybe at a loft party or something– some song comes on, and suddenly you feel like you’re in some sort of movie about New York? Well, maybe you will NOW that I mention it. And I’m not going to include things that are over 30 years old, so save your “What about Sinatra/Billie Holliday/Tony Bennett/etc”-s. Also, I’ve probably missed about 3,000 perfectly reasonable hip hop songs that totally could’ve been in this list:
1. “Sweet Jane”, Velvet Underground
When I have my leather boots, leather jacket, and knit hat on while listening to this song on my ipod walking down the street, I can’t not feel magically transported back to the Please Kill Me days of untamed NYC in the later 70s/early 80s…or at least what my imagination chooses to believe it was like.
2.” Zero”, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I recently caught myself in a moment, dancing my ass off and having the time of my life at a loft party to a remix of this song. I thought to myself that I could never feel this excited or good if I wasn’t in Brooklyn, at this particular loft party, dancing during this particular song. Perhaps it’s the climax of the song perfectly illustrating to me the proverbial New York/coming of age struggle: “Get to know it while you’re crying, crying crying, oh oh/Can you climb, climb, climb higher?”
3.”Objects of My Affection”, Peter Bjorn and John
If “Zero” alludes to the coming of age/moving to New York struggle, “Objects of My Affection” just goes ahead and spells it out: “..and the question is, was i more alive then than i am now?/I happily have to disagree; I laugh more often now, I cry more often now/I am more me.”
4. “Empire State of Mind”, Jay Z
The reason this song is so fantastic and will probably become the most-often played song in New York this year, is because I feel like it can either be played in absolute triumph or when you’re feeling kind of down. There’s nothing like being reminded why you came here and how magical it can be to live here when you’re down in the dumps. Could a song like this EVER be written about LA? PFFT. Let’s hear it for New York.
5. “The Greatest”, Cat Power
Maybe Wong Kar-Wai drilled this association into my brain after My Blueberry Nights. But, really, I think if “Empire State of Mind” is the ultimate song of triumph, then “The Greatest” is the ultimate song of failure in your attempt to move to New York and Be Somebody. I may or may not have had a mini-nervous breakdown while listening to this song. I guess there should maybe be a warning label on this song for those who are in any way anxious or deeply unhappy with your life. Aside from that, though, it’s a gorgeous song, albeit depressing.
6. “Electric Relaxation”, A Tribe Called Quest
Three things that make this song pure NYC for me: (1) Phife’s assertion that he likes them “brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian, (2) The fact that Q-Tip rhymes “strong” with “teflon” (AMAZING!!), (3) Some random jazz on loop. The end!
7. “Anthems for A Seventeen Year Old Girl”, Broken Social Scene
This song actually reminds me of re-analyzing the ennui my adolescence through the veil of me living in New York. How’s THAT for being meta and neurotic? You can’t get more New York than that.
8. “Seventeen”, Ladytron
This is what I imagine it must have felt like to come of age during your late teens/early 20s in NYC, specifically during the Club Kids days: you’re already over before you started. “Playgirl” can be for when you’re even more jaded later in your mid-20s.
9. “DJ”, David Bowie
It’s more the video that reminds me of walking around downtown at night. But the line: “You think this is easy? Realism?” gets me chuckling to myself every time.
10. “My Blue Manhattan”, Ryan Adams
It was a tie between this and “Chelsea Nights”, both on Love Is Hell, Pt. 2. Perhaps Mr. Ryan “I’m going to die alone under a stack of comic books” Adams is on to something. But mostly, this is totally the song to listen to when you’re inside the safe cuccoon of your home, your room, or a coffee shop, perhaps with your significant other, taking a small break from the crazy outside city world. Chelsea Nights, on the other hand, is definitely more of an “I’m single and hungover walking down the street” song.