Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New York City Songs

by Dick Mac

At my old website I had lists of favorite songs and albums. One list was my top ten favorite songs about New York City. I don't remember the order, but the standard fare was listed: "Shattered" and "Boy From New York City" and "Slow Boat To New York" and "Manhattan"; all the songs that we know about New York City.

Currently, my favorite song about New York City is "Empire State of Mind, Pt. II: Broken Down," by Alicia Keys. Since Liza Minelli's very famous "New York, New York," there has been no other song that captures the soul and sensibility of Manhattan.

The older song was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb for the movie of the same name. It was also recorded by Frank Sinatra and that version is played at the end of sporting events in New York City.

The lyric "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. It's up to you, New York, New York" is now quintessentially New York. It seemed that no song would ever capture the sentiment and sensibility of New York City the way the Minelli/Sinatra song has.

Today's New York City is a different New York City than that of the 1930s or the 1980s; and scores (hundreds?) of songs have been written about it since.

At the end of Red Bull New York matches, the Alicia Keys song is played.

In it she uses the same line as an homage, not a rip-off: "They say if I can make it here I can make it anywhere." Then she offers lyrics that capture the sense and sensibility of today's Manhattan:

"Sirens all around and the streets are mean."

"I've got a pocketful of dreams, baby, I'm from New York."

"These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you."

I know the version of "Empire State of Mind" that is most popular is the mash-up with Jay-Z; but, it fails to impress me as much as the Keys version alone. I like Jay-Z and think he deserves the success he enjoys. He became the keeper of the gate for urban music, for rap music, and I expected him to take it to new places. He hasn't. His work is brilliant and inspiring, and I will always buy his records; but, he has not taken the genre to new heights, he has conquered it and sits atop it on a hard-earned throne.

His version includes some perfect New York lines, too. Notably: "Shit, I made the Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee can." His version also pays homage to other New York City boroughs and many of its other stars, including (impressively) Afrika Bambaataa.

Together Keys and Jay-Z have redefined New York in song. If you don't have them, I recommend both Keys' "Elements of Freedom" and Jay-z's "The Blueprint 3."

Here is the original "New York, New York" from the movie:

TimeOut magazine recently released their Top 100 songs about New York City. Is your favorite listed?

100 best NYC songs

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