There's No Place Like NoMad

August 3, 2020

The Greatest New York Songs

New York City has been lacking in its usual charm lately, because its streets are no longer full of the same bustling chaotic energy that we know and love.  One way we can still connect to the spirit of the city during quarantine is through the music that evokes New York’s indomitable spirit.

Featured in hundreds of songs, this electric and inspiring city has clearly stolen the hearts of many.  New York is a powerful inspiration for individuals with big dreams, and from Jay-Z to Billy Joel to Frank Sinatra, the spirit of New York shines through their song lyrics, melodies, vocals, and instrumentals.

Jay-Z, in collaboration with Alicia Keys, produced the song “Empire State of Mind,” which has become one of the most popular songs about New York City. The lyrics speak of Jay-Z’s upbringing in Brooklyn and the different locations within the city that he associates with his path from boyhood to the successful musician and entrepreneur he is today.

Despite the challenges he faced along the way, the song tells of the transformative power of New York City as a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” The chorus, sung by Keys, is both powerful and uplifting, with emotion clearly filling her voice. Below are a few lines from the chorus, detailing what the city means to these artists as well as many other New Yorkers:

In New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand-new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York

Listen to the full song here.

In Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” this Bronx-born artist relays his experience of returning to New York after being away for a long time. New York City often holds a strong sense of home in its inhabitants’ minds, which can follow them throughout their travels. This powerful claim followed Joel on his journey and throughout his three years living in Los Angeles.

Joel wrote “New York State of Mind” after boarding a bus to return to New York from Los Angeles. In the lyrics, he explains how he has seen and experienced much of the world’s glamour, but that for him none of it compares to the inexplicable draw of New York. The first verse of the song, below, explains these sentiments:

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood
But I’m taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind

Listen to the full song here.

Lastly, but arguably the most iconic musical tribute to New York City, is Frank Sinatra’s Theme From New York, New York.” This song has been ingrained in New York City’s most special traditions. It introduces the legendary Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown, and it bring in the new year after the ball drops in Times Square. As colorful confetti clouds the dark city skies and people slowly begin to leave the packed square, Sinatra has a place in each New Yorker’s heart as he sings about his respect, love, and pride for the city.

The clear optimism and affection for the city in Sinatra’s voice pulls at the heartstrings of listeners. Sinatra’s deep and powerful voice, coupled with the upbeat and brilliant instrumentals, gives this song a sense of awe and grandeur. Below is a sampling of the song’s inspiring lyrics:

Start spreadin’ the news
I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York…
If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York

Listen to the full song here.

As we have all presumably spent more time indoors lately rather the outside in our beloved New York streets, music is one way that we can reconnect with the spirit of the city. If there is one thing that these songs have in common, it is the grit and resilience of New Yorkers. They can help uplift us all as we face these challenging times and remind us that when this is over we have an exciting city to return to.  It is likely we’ll appreciate it even more.

More Songs About New York City to Explore

  • “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Dreams” by Alicia Keys
  • “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift
  • “Autumn in New York” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
  • “New York, New York” by Ryan Adams
  • “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys
  • “Brooklyn Baby” by Lana Del Rey
  • “New York’s in Love” by David Bowie
  • “Angel of Harlem” by U2
  • “An Open Letter To NYC” by Beastie Boys
  • “The Girl From New York City” by The Beach Boys
  • “New York City” by The Chainsmokers
  • “New York” by Ed Sheeran
  • “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  • “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem
  • “Manhattan” by Ella Fitzgerald
  • “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley
  • “On Broadway” by George Benson
  • “New York, New York” by Leonard Bernstein
  • “Give My Regards to Broadway” by George M. Cohen
  • “On the Sidewalks of New York” by Lawlor and Blake

Check out the Anthems of NYC  playlist on Spotify to hear the songs mentioned above.