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The Best NYC Song(s)

Every artist writes about what inspires them, a sunset, a movie, a city, and that translation of life into art exemplifies one of the greater parts of humanity. Although it can be argued, New York is the most important cities of this era, a hub of culture so great that it’s a living thing itself, a creature of many faces. Many songs have been written about NYC and I think in that way it is clearly an inspiration. I can’t say that I’m a person that knows the intimacies of NYC but I did live there for nine months so I’d like to think I at least have a slight understanding. From that understanding, I would like to make the statement that there are two songs that represent NYC and they are both named “New York State Of Mind”

I think it’s fair to say that Billy Joel is about as New York as it gets. Born in New York and raised on Long Island, his songs are littered with references to the city and though I can’t say every New Yorker holds him in such esteem, I did have a coworker who told me about seeing a Billy Joel cover band at Belmont Park, so I think it’s safe to say New Yorkers love Joel. The thing about the song “New York State Of Mind” is it exemplifies the classy side of NYC, it’s the glitz and the glamor, the park, the restaurants, the East River, all in that strolling piano riff. It’s the idealistic interpretation of NYC, like it’s portrayed in Woody Allen movies with that romantic outlook, and it can be that. At it’s best, NYC is the most magical city and I really think Mr. Joel nailed it, fuck the lyrics, it’s his fingers on ivory that explain that love for New York City and the way it can make you feel on the right kind of night.

The thing about New York is those moments of magic are mostly rare, and that’s why it’s a city that can’t simply be explained by one song. Nas’ “N.Y. State Of Mind” is the hard side of NYC, it’s the grit, and not saying that I can personally relate to the narrative but it is synonymous with the everyday life in NYC, it’s the subway, the people, the streets. Much like Joel’s song, it also sonically represents the city, one that gave us hip-hop and that beat on those keys is about as classic NYC hip-hop as it gets, it’s lightning in a bottle, one of those things were just lucky that Nas captured, as it’s a visceral representation of the city.

Arguments can surely be made that there are other songs that describe the city much better, maybe you like Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind”, maybe James Murphy better describes the glamor and the grit in LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down”. For a while, I really thought the best NYC song was Elton John’s “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters” because it might be the most beautiful song about NYC. A harmony for the angels but I can’t say I’m really sure what Sir John is singing about, it seems like the morning after a long night and maybe that’s the true testament to the city, as it’s known to be one that never sleeps, but it’s only a glimpse at a moment. Maybe New York City can’t be described by one song or even three, maybe it’s a place with a texture that can only be understood in a fluent way that is captured in the moment (but let’s not get too mushy). All I can say is that it is inspiring and it probably means a different thing to everyone who’s had a relationship with it and to me it’s best described by Billy Joel and Nas.

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