*Photo taken from the internet, likely subject to copyright
Ah, New York…
I was on a plane the other day, gliding miles above the frozen, snow covered ground, headed for yet another far away city. (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone). It’s been a grim and cold January. I had my Beats headphones on, as is my wont when on an airplane. I slap those on almost immediately upon fastening my seatbelt to avoid anybody trying to strike up a plane conversation with me… you can’t be too careful. I try to avoid those “Chatty Kathy’s” whenever possible. Plus the airlines typically seat me in the maternity section of the airplane so obviously blaring rock and roll music is preferable to the wailing and lamentations of the children. I remember when traveling was a tad more… elegant.
I wasn’t in the mood, musically speaking, for anything in particular so I just hit the “Shuffle” option. I figured, “why not,” I was probably just going to fall asleep anyway. I struggle with powerful insomnia and can barely get myself to sleep in a big, soft, restful bed in a dark, cool room. However, if you put me on a plane with a little music I’m asleep before the wheels are off the ground. Which, coincidentally also dissuades anybody from striking up a conversation with me, so there’s that bonus. As I sat there drifting off, I heard two songs, back to back, John Lennon’s “New York City” followed by AC/DC’s “Safe In New York City.” I often get my playlist ideas from random stuff that happens when I “shuffle” and I was quickly thinking about all the great songs written about New York. Perhaps I was on to something… and let’s face it, there’s no new music out right now, save for the Raconteurs, Review: The Raconteurs’ Great New Single, Jack White’s Original Side Project Delivers! so I figured I’d explore it.
When I was a kid growing up in the American Midwest, New York was like Oz, a fantasy city that only existed in movies or television. My all time favorite cop show was, of course, Kojak, and it was set in New York. Who wasn’t a fan of Kojak… “Who loves ya baby?” but I digress. The wide shots of the city always left me awe-struck. Of course, every third episode or so there was someone addicted to heroin. The frightful depictions of the addicts on that show probably kept me away from hard drugs, thankfully. The crime, the drugs, the gritty nature of the big city. I loved it all. Then there were movies like ‘The Warriors’ depicting young gangs running wild. New York was alluring and frightening all at the same time… kind of like pretty girls when you’re in junior high school. Mick Jagger and all the original cast of Saturday Night Live were all in New York hanging out at Studio 54, it seemed like the center of the “cool” universe. It was a beacon of hope to all of us misfits and people who didn’t quite fit in where we were…
As fate would have it, right after college I had the pleasure of living in Boston for a summer. I was working in a liquor store and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. One of the first weekends I was there, my roommate Matthew and I jumped in his Subaru, which always smelled like bong water, and drove into New York City. It was the first of many times I would ever visit. I still get goosebumps on my arms when I think of that first drive into NYC. We knew a woman from high school who worked for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and we crashed with her and her brother, an aspiring actor. We walked all over the city for two days. We couldn’t afford to do anything, we just walked. The highlight was riding the Staten Island Ferry, because it only cost a quarter. I spent the whole time staring up at the skyline… it’s a wonder we didn’t get rolled. We actually went to a party with the dancers from Alvin Ailey at someone’s apartment. If you don’t think two straight kids from the suburbs meeting a bunch of gay, black men who looked like they were chiseled out of marble wasn’t awkward at first… you’re wrong.
I’ve been back many times, for work and pleasure, but I’m still that wide-eyed twenty year old. Whether I’m drinking in McSorley’s with a work buddy or dining in some outrageously expensive restaurant with the Rock Chick, New York will always blow me away. I was lucky enough to see the Stones’ 50th anniversary show (in Newark, but I stayed in New York) where Springsteen, Lady Gaga, the Black Keys/Gary Clark, all jumped on stage and joined them. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over seeing Springsteen do “Tumblin’ Dice” with the Stones. Nothing like that ever happens where I live…
Because it’s so magical, I rooted through the B&V music inventory and came up with the following set of tracks celebrating the greatest city on the planet (with all due respect to Paris or London). When I first compiled this, I had over 50 songs and over 4 hours of music. I tried to trim it down to my usual 2 hour playlist. I mean, sure I love Dylan’s acoustic “Talkin’ New York” played after Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” but I didn’t want to get too sprawling. If you have suggestions or if there are any egregious omissions, please suggest the song in the “comments” section and we’ll get it added. As always the BourbonAndVinyl.net playlists can be found on Spotify. Just search on kcorsini64 if BourbonAndVinyl doesn’t work. As usual I’m all over the place stylistically, but that’s how we roll here at B&V. Enjoy!
- AC/DC, “Safe In New York City” – Does anyone feel safe anywhere any more?
- Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” – One of my all time favs by the Beasties!
- Ace Frehley, “New York Groove” – Laugh all you want at this selection, I certainly laugh every time I hear it, but there’s just something about it.
- Aerosmith, “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” – “Flatbush boy cruisin’ Sheephead’s Bay…” I don’t even know where those places are, but I love it, even though it’s a song about used condoms. With Aerosmith, the sleazier the better.
- Bruce Springsteen, “New York City Serenade” – Springsteen at his epic best. The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle will always be my favorite Springsteen album, and this is the best track there.
- The Cult, “New York City” – The Cult rockin’ out on Sonic Temple. For reasons unclear I like to quote the line “Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ” to the Rock Chick at random, typically inappropriate moments.
- Ryan Adams, “New York, New York” – “I still love you New York…” Well said Ryan, well said.
- Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind” – We turn a little mellow here, but what a great, great song from Billy’s third album.
- Leonard Cohen, “First We Take Manhattan” – I typically like my Cohen with natural instruments and this ones a little electronic for me but I like the paranoid defiance.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – Sure, I know Bruce is from Jersey, and I’m not certain that he’s talking about Amsterdam Avenue here, but it sure feels like it.
- David Bowie, “New York’s In Love” – This track is from Bowie’s much maligned Never Let Me Down. I chose the newly imagined version from last year’s box set Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988). No one likes this album, but I like the guitar on this song.
- Black Keys, “Brooklyn Bound” – Dirty blues rock from the Keys’ debut album.
- Lou Reed, “Coney Island Baby” – I feel like Lou Reed is the living embodiment of New York. He’d have gotten my vote for mayor.
- Dion With Paul Simon, “New York Is My Home” – A couple hometown boys harmonizing about their city.
- Billy Idol, “Hot In the City” – Some may argue this isn’t about New York, but if you listen, toward the end he yells, “New York!” Yes, Billy, yes.
- Frank Sinatra, “Theme From New York, New York” – The Chairman of the Board singing the greatest song about New York ever written. It’s not rock and roll but it fits, baby.
- John Lennon, “New York City” – From the maligned album Somewhere in New York City this great track was a break from the political broadsides that made up the rest of the album. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper for the gems.
- Lou Reed, “Dirty Blvd.” – New York isn’t specifically named, but there is no doubt the Dirty Blvd is in NY.
- Lenny Kravitz, “New York City” – A great, soulful track with horns and guitar from Strut.
- The Ramones, “53rd & 3rd” – You can’t have a playlist about New York without the Ramones and this infamous corner.
- Little Steven, “Down And Out In New York City” – Little Steven pulls out an epic track like his boss from his day job…
- Rolling Stones, “Shattered” – It could be argued the entire album Some Girls is about New York but this track especially… “Bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.” God, I love the Stones. Very punky.
- Steely Dan, “Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More” – “Driving like a fool out to Hackensack…”
- Norah Jones, “Back To Manhattan” – Norah’s beautiful crooning belongs on every playlist.
- Sting, “Englishman In New York” – There isn’t a guy who has disappointed in his solo career to the degree Sting has but I always loved his second album, Nothing Like the Sun.
- U2, “New York” – U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed to predict the 9/11 tragedy. This is one of the few upbeat moments on a somber album.
- Fleetwood Mac, “Empire State” – A great Lindsey Buckingham track that never got any attention.
- Steely Dan, “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” – An overlooked gem from Can’t Buy A Thrill with original lead vocalists David Palmer at the helm.
I pared it down to a mere 2 hours and I know there is much, much more that I could have added. But on a cold wintery day, listening to these tracks is a lot better than shoveling snow. Cheers and stay warm and dry out there.