What’s the hardest part of naming the best 10 songs about New York City? The fact that there are hundreds of songs from which to choose, and this bounty of options can be frustrating.
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But someone’s got to make the cut and the 10 brilliant songs on this list provide an ideal mix of genres, representing legends, folk singers and pop stars.
Some tunes even include symphonic notes. That stated, the mission is clear: Identify the best of the best and explain why each gem made this list in the first place.
“(Theme From) New York, New York” – Frank Sinatra
Only folks living under a rock don’t know this song from the moment they hear the words “Start spreading the news” that introduce this classic. It’s iconic.
Upbeat. Beloved by everyone leaving their hearts in the Big Apple. The Lady Gaga version gets second place for myriad reasons.
“Autumn in New York” – Billie Holiday
Lady Day’s version of this haunting song is an amalgam of jazz and blues. The achingly beautiful lyrics never met a heart they couldn’t touch.
Listeners feel the lyrics down to their bones – the goal of lyricist Vernon Duke whose writing credits also include April in Paris. For Billie Holiday fans, this ballad is Nirvana.
“Welcome to New York” – Taylor Swift
Awash in peppy, signature Taylor Swift notes, “Welcome to New York” was written by Taylor Swift in concert with her collaborator Ryan Tedder.
It delivers the upbeat rhythm that keeps fans coming back to this award-winning artist for more, reason enough to earn a place on any best songs about New York list.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” – Simon and Garfunkel
Dwarfed by the album’s signature theme song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, “The Only Boy Living in New York” was classified as both pop and folk in 1970.
For folks who still can’t get enough Simon and Garfunkel, this plaintive tune has an autobiographical feel delivered by New York natives who were raised in the Borough of Queens.
“New York City Serenade” – Bruce Springsteen
A compendium of blues and classical vibes held together by the unique Springsteen touch, “New York Serenade” is The Boss at his best, leaving New Jersey just long enough to produce this tribute to the city across the river.
Capable of flooding the brain and the soul with its compelling introductory notes, by the time the lyrics kick in, listeners are hooked.
“New York State of Mind” – Billy Joel (and Bruce Springsteen)
Listen to the original version of “New York State of Mind” by a young Billy Joel to grab a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Make it a double scoop of delight by sampling the collaboration between Joel and Springsteen, recorded at the one and only Madison Square Garden. Goosebumps guaranteed for those who love the city and the legends.
“Bells of New York City” – Josh Groban
This homage to the city celebrates churches in all five boroughs in a way that only Josh Groban’s delivery and voice rage can do.
Sentimental, semi-inspirational and smooth as silk, “Bells of New York City” speaks to loneliness and longing, a mix of moods that makes this tune unique among others on this list of songs about New York.
“I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City” – Harry Nilsson
Beloved folk singer Nilsson authored this song in the 1970s and it quickly became part of this talented singer/songwriter’s legacy. This tune may make mention of the Lord but it’s hardly a hymn.
Both the song and the artist continue to generate lots of buzz despite the passage of time and the passing of this remarkable artist.
“The Girl From New York City” – The Beachboys
Call it a spunky homage to the 60s or a peppy break from immortalizing California girls, this Beachboys song’s signature beat is so distinctive, the group couldn’t be misidentified, even if recording quality left something to be desired.
Think California Dreamin’ meets the Big Apple when listening to the lyrics, representative of a time that somehow managed to become known for both turmoil and peace.
“Ever Since New York” – Harry Styles
The refrain, “Oh, tell me something I don’t already know,” became classic Harry Styles soon after it was released and the song’s lyrics are as thoughtful and inciteful as the poignant orchestration behind this tune.
Fans still celebrate Styles’ split from boy band One Direction in 2010, a move that continues to pay dividends with every piece of new music produced by this talented Brit.
“New New York” – Cranberries
This song is about trying to escape from your bad habits and wanting to start fresh. It’s a bummer that the Cranberries never started the project they were working on in New York, but at least we have this song to enjoy.
Furthermore, the song has a dreamy feel to it, which is perfect for imagining New York. Also, the music video is simple but gorgeous. It’s more than just a fantasyland for people who don’t live in Times Square.
“New York City” – The Chainsmokers
This upbeat song is all about the excitement of living in New York City. The Chainsmokers capture the energy and pulse of the city in this song. If you’re ever feeling down, just put this song on and you’ll be ready to take on the city again.
In addition, this song is perfect for reminding you to enjoy the little things in life. The world is a beautiful place and it’s important to take time out of our busy days.
Furthermore, this song will make you want to get up and dance; no matter where you go or who sees. The Chainsmokers know how to do an anthem right.
“New York at Night” – Old Dominion
This song is just an honest look at how no matter what city you’re in, there’s always something that will remind you of home. Even in the middle of a huge city like New York, there are still moments when you feel at peace.
Old Dominion perfectly captures that feeling in this song. The song also has a bit of a country twang to it, which is perfect for the lyrics. In addition, the song is about how home is always with you.
No matter where you are in the world, you can always find a piece of home.
“Empire State of Mind” – JAY-Z feat. Alicia Keys
This song is a classic, and for good reason. It’s all about the history and majesty of New York City. JAY-Z and Alicia Keys perfectly capture the feeling of being in awe of this amazing city.
Furthermore, the song has become an anthem for New Yorkers everywhere. The song features a rap verse from JAY-Z and a powerful chorus from Alicia Keys.
“6PM In New York” – Drake
This song is all about the loneliness of being in a big city. Drake captures the feeling of being surrounded by people but still feeling alone.
He also sings about how he feels like no one can truly understand him because of his fame and wealth, which is another topic that hits close to home for New Yorkers.
“Brooklyn Baby” – Lana Del Rey
This song is an epic love letter to Brooklyn. Lana Del Rey sings about how she fell in love with the city and wants to stay there forever. She talks about how her and Brooklyn are meant to be together, and that other places just aren’t the same.
If you’re ever in need of some love for your city, put this song on and you’ll feel like Brooklyn is the most special place in the world. It will also make you want to move there yourself. Furthermore, it captures the feeling of the hipster movement that is popular in Brooklyn.
“I Love New York” – Madonna
This song is all about how much Madonna loves New York. She sings about how the city has given her everything she’s ever wanted and how it’s a place where anything is possible.
She also talks about how the city never sleeps and how there’s always something to do. If you’re feeling homesick, put this song on and you’ll be singing along to it in no time.
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – The Beastie Boys
This song is all about the party scene in Brooklyn. The Beastie Boys sing about how they never sleep and always want to party.
They sing about how Brooklyn is the best place for this because there’s always someone hosting a party, no matter what time of day it is. This song is perfect for when you’re in New York and want to embrace your nightlife.
“Leaving New York” – R.E.M.
This song is about how R.E.M. is leaving New York because they feel like they’ve outgrown it. They sing about how the city has become too expensive and how they don’t feel like they fit in anymore.
This song is perfect for when you’re feeling down about your city and want to reminisce about the good times.
“New York City Cops” – The Strokes
This song is about the toughness and grittiness of New York City. The Strokes sing about how dangerous and nightmarish the city can be.
They talk about how the NYPD is always out to get them and how they’re always on the run. This song is perfect for when you’re feeling stressed about the city and want to let off some steam.