From the Beasties to Broadway, from Joni to Jay Z, our playlist of Gotham’s greatest hits is guaranteed to inspire you.
New York is major in our hearts, principal in our minds. It’s the place we call home (even if some of us commute in from the suburbs). The city’s energy feeds into us every day, and propels us to strive for and achieve great things. It’s also a huge inspiration for our ideas, because, after all, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. With that in mind, we thought we’d share a few tracks that remind us of the great and strange place we choose to make our canvas.
Our staff was asked to name their favorite New York-themed songs—other than “New York, New York” and “New York State of Mind,” because, yes, those are undeniably great but they’re also obvious. We wanted alternatives and came up with a wild assortment that’s been whittled-down to a list of 10, because what would New York be without a Top 10 List (thanks, Dave!)? It’s in no way an attempt to be definitive, rather a “collector’s choice” of tracks we’ve savored over the years that have a decidedly New York flavor. Here we go…
Combine the purity of New York transplant Joni Mitchell’s voice with a simple acoustic guitar arrangement and you have the instant feeling of something almost all of us New Yorkers feel: waking up in a town where the possibilities are endless, and the sun shines potential on our migrated selves. “Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today, and the streets are paved with passersby, and pigeons fly, and papers lie waiting to blow away…” Get up and at ’em, New York!
9. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys and “Empire State of Mind Pt. 2” by Alicia Keys
The combination of the chest-beating, bravado-announcing Jay and Alicia anthem with the introspective tribute of Alicia’s answer song gets a dual entry here. None who hear the Jay track can deny its appeal and pride for the great city. Shout outs to all the neighborhoods, classic New York tropes and a brash update on “New York, New York” make this an instant timeless NYC classic. “I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere…” Alicia brings it down to a place of reverence and moving ambition. “These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you…” These songs speak truth to power, where two sides to the story show the dichotomy of living paycheck to paycheck while living the dream.
Progressive is a term that’s thrown around often when describing people and things that don’t fit the mold of the status quo. New York is a representation of just that: we’re constantly busting down antiquated relics of society’s past and building up beautiful, new structures not dependent on old systems. A bunch of our staffers are big Genesis fans, and we identify with this song from the Gabriel era. It blasts forth some progressive truth, describing how there’s always something new waiting to brush its way past you if you’re stuck in old ways. “It’s the same old ending—time to go, get out! It seems they cannot leave their dream. There’s something moving in the sidewalk steam…”
The finest stage in the world is where you make it in New York. We’re all working toward that big dream, and here’s a little taste of what it’s like when you’re putting in the work to make it big. “I’ll stick it till I’m on a bill all over Times Square. Some day, maybe if I stick it long enough, I can get to strut my stuff…” It’s the New Yorker’s dictum: keep plugging away, and if you’re good, you’ll get there.
It’s been waiting for you! Some of our staff were a bit shy about their love for T Swift’s neo-New-Yorker anthem, but nobody should be. “Everybody here was someone else before…” Of course! Almost all of us came here from somewhere else, and if you’re here for a minute, you can’t help but start to call it your own. This place has everything, and is everything, for all of us. “It’s a new soundtrack, I can dance to this beat, forevermore…”
Hip-hop started in New York City, and has been a propulsive force for creatives since the late ’70s. The Beastie Boys, natives of Brooklyn and Manhattan, never cease to sound fresh in any era. Old school is a mentality now, and sometimes you have to draw upon the life you lived when you first heard the songs you love. No Sleep is that perfect triple MC braid, Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D interweaving their lines with rhythmic dexterity—it’s a sure-fire hype song to get your juices flowing. “My job’s ain’t a job—it’s a damn good time…”
Since most of us are transplants here in New York, we all feel like outsiders every now and then. Sting voices a more extreme version of this feeling, but it conveys the idea so well we can relate. Be you from other towns, states, countries, New York is for you, but you have to earn it. “Be yourself no matter what they say…”
Lou, the quintessential New York artist. This song is a tribute to his other artist friends, and it’s inspiring because everyone he describes is talked about with such love and respect. We wouldn’t be here, at this place, with these people, if we didn’t love and accept each other for our differences and our unique creative talents. And we’re always toeing the line between convention and the “wild side”—the right balance keeps us grounded while punching out of the box. “A hustle here and a hustle there, New York City is the place where they said, Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side…”
You should know the score by now. So much happens here, it can pass you by in a blink if you’re not careful. New York is where dreams live and die, but we know that every one that fades away is replaced by a new one with new life. “No one opens the door for a native New Yorker…” You’ve got friends who can help, but no one’s gonna make you a success, you’ve got to do it. Anything we’ve ever achieved here is because we put that singular burst of energy and creativity into it that only we can muster. The city loves you for that.
Spend a few hours away and you’re dying to get back. It’s the only place where things make sense! “Stop at Third and Forty-three, exit to the night, it’s gonna be ecstasy, this place was meant for me…” Anything you ever thought New York was going to be, it’s that, plus a whole lot more. And it never stops giving that crazy good feeling. New York is special to us, and we know it’s special to you, too. Cheers!