Forget Taylor Swift: What’s actually your New York City anthem?

Photo by Tim Donnelly

Salute your city. Photo by Tim Donnelly

The New York media varsity internet outrage squad was in full effect this week declaring the new Taylor Swift song “Welcome to New York” as alternately the gentrification anthem no one asked for and the wispy blonde straw that finally made loving New York “basic.” But for us, arguing that a song by a 20-something white pop lady ruins a city of 8 million diverse people seems about as useful as declaring that Disney’s Frozen has slandered the Norwegian blue collar labor market beyond repair. It’s an empty, pretty thing by a lady who makes empty, pretty songs.

So this is not going to be your New York City anthem, unless maybe you’re a 22-year-old college grad whose visions of moving to the city are all frozen yogurt shops and Chop’t salad lines. But it brings up a good point: we all do have a New York City or Brooklyn anthem of some kind. Whether you grew up here or moved here to do the dream-chasing thing, everyone’s got a song they cue up on the iPod for that tracking shot while your plane is pulling back in over the city skyline after a particularly torturous family or business visit in some Other State, the song’s refrains drilling into your head the question with no good answer: “why did you ever leave in the first place?” So what’s your anthem? [UPDATE: Check out the Spotify playlist playlist here!]

There are, of course, obvious choices here: your Beasties Boy, your Simons Garfunkel, your Jays Z. And even the most cynical among us can recount a winter day, some five years ago, walking through Manhattan after ice skating at Bryant Park, arm in arm with old friends, slightly tipsy and no specific destination in mind other than New York, when we broke out into Sinatra’s “Theme from New York,” all smiles and cheese and tipped fedoras.

As for me: I’ve got to go with the 2010 song “Meet Me in the City” from Brooklyn’s The Babies. Its frenetic pace captures the eager antsy-ness I felt back then, when things finally started to click for me and I went from sideline observer of New York City life to catching the stride and joining the pack. “Hey pretty girl you are awful hard to meet/make me weak right in my knees,” the band sings, directly to the city itself in my mind. [That song replaced the white boy standard “New York, New York” by Ryan Adams for me, a fine song but one that is drenched in the post-9/11 glow of a different era].

What’s yours? This is a judgement-free zone — every anthem is personal, and the songs don’t have to be about New York City, or written in New York City, they just have to capture the spirit for you in some way. So share your best NYC/Brooklyn anthems in the comments; we’ll add them to a Spotify playlist and share it with you, just in time for whatever awful leaving-New York Thanksgiving travel may be in store.

Team Brokelyn and friends share theirs too:

Dave:
Titus Andronicus –In a Big City,” 


“It’s the transplant’s anthem. It’s all about how you’re more or less insignificant here and the best you can do is just live here and not much else.”

Bobby Hankinson:
Azealia Banks – “Jumanji”


“It”s tempting to go with Azealia Banks’ ‘212’ as an NYC anthem, but the self-assured swagger of ‘Jumanji’ is a breezier celebration of not giving a single fuck.

Camille:
Lou Monte- “Lazy Mary”


“Since they always play it at Mets games, and the Mets could use the support. Gotta give a shoutout to the bits of Italian heritage non-Italian NYers like me will always claim.”

Meghan Stephens:
Catey Shaw – “Brooklyn Girls”

“I choose the song everyone hates. How’s this for my reasoning? Fact: Brooklyn Girls do rule the world. The end.”

Faye:
Leonard Bernstein – “Come Up to My Place”

“I like Come up to My Place because it’s sung by a female cab driver who wants to take her sailor passenger home instead of taking him to see sights. (When he asks to see the Hippodrome, she says: ‘I may not have 5,000 seats but the one I have is a honey! Come up to my place.’) It’s spirited and saucy and Brokelyn loves female cab drivers. Also, it’s a love letter to bygone New York places like Cleopatra’s Needle, Wanamaker’s, Lindy’s, Luchow’s and the Hippodrome itself. And it reminds me of Mr. Brokelyn, who got me to love musicals.”

Caroline:
Queen Latifah – 
U.N.I.T.Y.


“It’s important to have a couple empowering songs in my back pocket for the countless missed opportunities to tell harassers off.”

Kate:
Clare and the Reasons – Alphabet City

“This song is beautiful and haunting in that makes-you-want-to-kill-yourself-in-the- best-way-kind-of-way. I listen to it when I’m sad about a boy and wanting to really feel my youth. Even though I have no Alphabet City memories, listening to this song imbues me with a nostalgia for an older New York that I wasn’t around for, in a sweet, longing way, not in an overdone, 8,000 think pieces about the ‘bad old days’ kind of way. ‘I loved you when I was a waitress/and I remember when the clock ticked/3 AM in Alphabet City/A B C D just you and me.’ KILLS ME”

Oriana Leckert (founder of Brooklyn Spaces):
LCD Soundsystem – “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”

“I know the song is kind of a bummer, but it’s definitely the best depiction of my relationship with this crazy city. I spend a lot of my time writing about underground / cultural / DIY spaces—and saying goodbye to them as they close one after the other after the other. But then, on one of the greatest nights of my New York life, I went to a wild dance party in an abandoned subway station and one of the performers did a hauntingly stunning a cappella version of this. So it’s just the best combination of wonderful and tragic for me.”

Add yours below and help us build our Brokelyn NYC anthems Spotify playlist!

49 Comment

  • Jesus, Meghan

  • Daylight by Matt & Kim

  • –“Jonathan” by Fiona Apple “Jonathan, call again, take me to Coney Island, take me on the train.” Captures that feeling of how unrequited love in New York is also unrequited experience, a kind of FOMO–all the adventures and New York enchantment you want to share with that person, but you can’t because they don’t want to see you anymore.

  • –Elvis Costello (I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea–because I never want to go to Manhattan

  • –“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”–epitomizes how I have felt at times about leaving New Orleans for NYC “I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.”

  • Do You Remember? by Cheeseburger, all the way

  • “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-4vMQOOiUY

    although the first song I could think of was “Back in NYC” by Genesis.

    • This is mine, too, when I want to get pumped up. “I and Love and You” by Avett Brothers is good for a more wistful, reflective train ride back to Brooklyn.

  • If we’re talking about just Brooklyn, though, I think “Coney Island Baby” by Lou Reed nails it for me.

  • Clearly, The Pogues “Fairytale of New York,” which captures the grittiness and the optimism of the city.

  • Okay, fine, I did in fact listen to music before Catey Shaw existed. Matt and Kim’s “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” is a great sidewalk song (with honorable mention to “Daylight”), Santigold’s “Shove It” captures a certain ethos, and there’s something magical that happens to a dance party when LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” plays at the end of the night. You know the feeling.

  • nas – n.y. state of mind

    i don’t think an explanation is necessary.

  • “I Love NYC” – Andrew WK because it’s Andrew W fucking K.

    “53rd and 3rd” – the Ramones. A song about Dee Dee Ramone’s life as a teen male prostitute is pure old school New York

  • oh also David Bowie’s Modern Love cuz of that scene in Frances Ha #greta4life

  • I’ll also add “East Harlem” by Beirut and anything by Matt & Kim

  • Ooo good question. First one that pops into mind: New York Cares by Interpol.

  • Gotta be “I’m waiting for the man” by Velvet Underground. Pure grit, raw, real New York, and of course Lou is the king.

  • My very obvious first choice will always and forever be No Sleep Til Brooklyn, it’s just so perfect. But since that was alluded to already, I’ll mention Juicy by Notorious B.I.G.

    This comment is dedicated to all those teachers who said I’d never amount to nuthin’.

  • Bob Dylan: Joey (Born in Red Hook Brooklyn…), Brownsville Girls, Positively 4th street
    Little Feat: Feats Don’t Fail me now
    Tom Waits: I’ll Take New York

  • Also: Spanish Harlem Incident by Dylan, but gret versions by YMSB and Chris Whitley

  • “Myriad Harbor” by the New Pornographers

  • Harry Nilsson – I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City
    The Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer in the City
    The Strokes – New York City Cops
    Magnetic Fields – The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side
    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Despair (as the first and only music video shot on the top of the Empire State Building)
    Ben E. King – Spanish Harlem
    The Crystals – Uptown
    Hey Marseilles – Rio (For these lyrics alone: “Love is a hazard in lower Manhattan / You cannot escape, and musn’t be saddened /By men who abandon your eyes for another’s/ There are always Brazilian boys to discover”)

    But, most importantly…
    the anthem that got me to move here, Magetic Fields – Come Back from San Francisco

  • The first time I heard it I thought it was a cheesefest, but the more I live here, the more I love “Native New Yorker” by Odyssey.

    I agree with Eric though, “Coney Island Baby” is my favorite song that namechecks Brooklyn. Best song for driving home from the beach.

  • I’d like to co-nominate Union Square and Downtown Train on Rain Dogs by Tom Waits.

  • still no one has mentioned “Brooklyn We Go Hard.” remember when we all fought about whether that song was important? We were so young then.

  • ok, this one is my backup anthem: Magnetic Fields – “The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCxd62yzoOs

    it’s so sad and sweet and feels like driving around lower Manhattan with the top down on an early spring day. And the last line always gets me: “I only keep this heap for you”

  • “Autumn in New York” by Billie Holiday because I’m a big sap
    “Lua” by Bright Eyes because I listened to it like every day of freshman year of college here
    “Walk on the Wild Side” because Lou Reed was New York

  • also… how has NO ONE mentioned…
    Mos Def – Brooklyn

  • oh also,
    nico – chelsea girls

  • The Julie ruin, “kids in New York” right now bc it’s a great kiss off for everyone who says New York is dead.

    I’m also gonna say Patti Smith’s “Gloria” which isn’t really about New York, but it has energy and crunch and, for me, evokes the optimism and serendipitous nature that even the most mundane of Brooklyn parties can evoke.

  • “Harlem Nocturne” by Earl Bostic

  • Rhapsody in Blue is the quintessential answer. I’ll throw Ethel Waters’ “Harlem on my Mind” into the mix as well.

  • Only Living Boy in New York, 59th ST Bridge Song, Bleeker St, etc-Simon and Garfunkle

  • It’s Sinatra’s New York, New York. It always has been, and it always will be. The rest of you are just incorrect.

  • Welcome to the Jungle – Guns and Roses… because it is a jungle out there, folks. A concrete jungle.

  • “New York Girls” by Morning Wood (because nostalgia)

    Has someone already said Rhapsody in Blue? (Though Gershwin apparently had his first ideas for the piece during a train ride to Boston, the Fantasia 2000 animation was set in New York so I say it counts.)

  • My #1 NY anthem is Bar on A by Greg Holden. If you want to throw your arms around a group of friends, and shout and sway to the music, that’s the jam.

    Does everyone think they are too cool for New York State of Mind – Billy Joel? I give it a vote. Also shout-outs to Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega, I and Love and You – Avett Bros, Marching Bands of Manhattan – Death Cab, and since I make no excuses for my tastes in music, Brooklyn Bridge – Lee DeWyze. Sappy love song? Yes. Beautiful tribute to the city? Yes. It was also kind of “our song” in my last relationship and serves as a reminder for me that I will never love a man as much as this city of that bridge.

  • NYC – Interpol

  • Mos Def – Brooklyn (Black on Both Sides)

    Classic.