Billing me softly: Got no dough? Put these songs on the stereo

The many genres of broke
Broke unity transcends genres so beautifully

The rent may be too damn high, but music is practically free these days. If that’s not enough to cheer you up, we’ve made a special playlist about living large on whatever you can find in your couch, a time-honored NYC tradition. We’ve got some Velvet Underground, some Liz Phair, and of course some Cee Lo. Twenty years ago, we would have had to mail every single reader a mix tape to share this playlist, and do you have any idea how much broker that would have made us?

We’ve included a Spotify playlist at the bottom that we’ll keep updated until the end of the internet, or until The Revolution when class is completely eliminated. Let us know what brokester anthems we’re missing in the comments so we can add them to the playlist.

Tori Amos – “Silent All These Years”

I got twenty-five bucks an’ a cracker;
Do you think it’s enough to get us there?

“I’ve for sure had poor days where $25 bucks and a damn cracker would have seemed like a lot. You could eat the cracker on your way to Taco Bell where that amount of money could basically get you three days worth of shitty, delicious tasting food.”

Abigail Washburb – “Coffee’s Cold”

“It’s very honky-tonk and jug-band sounding, which makes me think of toothless people without dental plans from Also it makes me dream on simpler times in small towns that I never lived in and also will never live in because why would I ever wanna be broke anywhere else? Best lyric about brokeness: Before I have ten dollars saved / I’ll be resting in my grave.”

Aloe Blacc – “I Need a Dollar”

“So much funk, dark and delicious. Also the lyric ‘if I share with you my story, will you share your dollar with me‘ is very prescient, because we are all sharing our stories about being broke in the hopes that someone at HBO is ‘listening.'”

Dan Reeder – “Work Song”

“It’s repetitive, like the ongoing refrain of my financial situation”

The Beatles – “Come Together”
“It’s got all the night-crawlers inside— the kind of folks you hope you run into when you’re just wandering blind through the streets at witching hours, wondering what you can afford to eat right now. I once had a man sitting at the back of the Bed-Stuy halal restaurant beckon me over so he could read my palm. He told me a lot of important things about myself that I have since forgotten, but which I have an abstract sense still live inside of me.
Best lyrics: all of them. what. were. they. smoking”

Patti Smith – “Free Money”

Baby, I know our troubles will be gone
Oh, I know our troubles will be gone, goin’, gone
If we dream, dream, dream for free

“Patti’s fever dream of buying all of her problems away. It picks up speed along the way, sort of like when you get paid on Friday and you decide to treat yourself to some nail polish…then dinner, then a road of drinks for all your friends…”

Bikini Kill – “Carnival”

“Sure, this song is about “sixteen-year-old girls, giving carnies head, for free rides and hits of pot.” but it speaks to being young and broke and hustling hard so you can have a good time.”

Velvet Underground – “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
And what costume shall the poor girl wear? To all tomorrow’s parties. A hand-me-down dress from who knows where? To all tomorrow’s parties

“You’re broke? You still wanna look fly? Time to thrift/borrow/steal from who-knows where!”

Simon & Garfunkel – “The Boxer”

“This song is basically the opposite of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York.” A young man with nothing comes to New York looking for a job, but he gets no offers, so he wanders the cities’ poorest quarters until he eventually gives up and goes home. Or freezes to death? Sure, its kind of a downer, but if you ignore the lyrics and just listen to the pretty ‘lie di lie lie’s‘ its kind of romantic.”

The Clash – “I’m Not Down”

“This song starts out by talking about sad rich people are, and then goes on to list all the rough, awful parts of being dead broke…but over kicky guitar riffs and an uplifting drum beat, ‘So you rock around and think that you’re the toughest…but you’re streets away from where it gets the roughest!’ This song is like a punk rock version of Oprah-style gratitude affirmations.”

Jim Brennan:
The Pogues – “Fairytale of New York”

“This might be too sad on the surface. Broke people at Christmas yelling insults at each other. I think it’s a story of togetherness with an uplifting tune. Even at rock bottom there is still room for love. I’m not crying.”

Johnny Cash – “One Piece at a Time”

“Outlaw country is basically an entire genre based on being broke. This song is a celebration of that. Sometimes when the chips are down you come up with a dumbass plan to get a taste of the sweet life. It never works out like it’s supposed to. It’s like an Always Sunny episode. Which one? Uh. All of them.”

Shad – “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”

But what y’all gotta mock for? What’s wrong with my Mach 3?
Y’all gotta be macho and mock more?

“This whole song is pretty fun, especially since the video’s a parody of the greatest show of all time, but I especially appreciate his critique of product life cycles. Planned obsolescence just makes me so angry so often.”

Nina Simone – “Ain’t Got No…I’ve Got Life”
“When you really need to feel better about being so damn broke, Nina Simone’s here to remind us all ‘I got my liver,’ which is especially important if you’re drowning your sorrows in booze”

Fela Kuti – “Expensive Shit”

This is one of Fela’s many blasts of corruption in Nigeria, but it reminds me of the frustrations of feeling taken advantage of when you’re barely scraping by to begin with. It’s hard to not feel good listening to Afrobeat though, so at least you can dance to this in your overpriced apartment.

Santigold – “Shove It”

Brooklyn we go hard
We on the look for the advantage
We work hard
And if we seem to rough it up a bit
We broke but we rich at heart

LCD Soundsystem – “You Wanted A Hit”

“Cause people think living in New York is a hit, but maybe we just don’t do hits”

Best Coast – “How They Want Me To Be”

All of my friends stick up their noses
They ask me where my money is
And where does it go once i’ve spent it

Kate Mooney:
Liz Phair – “Shitloads of Money”

Broke anthem with lines that we all can get behind, like:
You know what you need is a Lotto Revival
It looks like shit and it must be America, it burns so quick and it must be America
It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid

FIDLAR – “Cheap Beer”

“This the ultimate anthem for anyone tired of being dragged to a microbrew beer laboratory with beers the size of a dentist’s swish cup, where the mood feels like trying to get plastered in the law section of your school’s library during finals week. The SoCal punks scream lyrics that should be the DGAF motto to anyone who’s perfectly fine living the High Life: ‘I. drink. cheap. beer. so. what. fuck. you!'”

Pulp – “Common People”

“The classic critique of socio-economic tourism today sounds like a lament for the kinds of bridge-and-tunnel Manhattanites who consider going to Williamsburg ‘slumming it.’ The real broke life takes more than buying a Brooklyn Industries “brokelyn” shirt. You find it at the place where you: ‘dance and drink and screw, because there’s nothing else to do.’ “

Cee Lo – “Fuck You”

“The ultimate ‘bye Felicia’ to them materialistic ninnies taking up your time. Sure the change in your pocket wasn’t enough for that broad, Cee Lo, but as another musical prophet once said: the more money you acquire, the more difficult your troubles will become.”

Catch 22 – “Giving Up, Giving In”

“Dig this song out from the frenetic days of high school ska moshing and find it still feels like an anthem today: it’s the me-against-the-world attitude here that makes this tune from the Jersey band shine, when you want to grab your crew and shout: ‘I got no cash, got no girl, but I got the world in the palm of my hand.‘”

The Julie Ruin “Kids in NY”

This is riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna tip o’ the hat to the generation the generation that came after her, keeping the punk dream alive while barely staying afloat. She sings about making “feminist fanzines in Bushwick,” “starting bands with broken amps and rusted old mic stands.” Kimmy Schmidt probably rocks to these lyrics. “They love it here and they’re not gonna go; it’s so expensive now that they have to get hardcore.”

Mr. Lif – “Status”

“Even if I don’t usually go to the club, I can appreciate walking ten blocks there, fixing your shoe with duct tape and the hilarity of a line like ‘My destination was the back door/Not because the bouncer told me not to come back/I’m just sneakin’ in the club because I got it like that'”

P.O.S. – “Fuck Your Stuff”

“Because seriously, fuck your stuff. If we had to pick a Brokelyn anthem, this is what my vote would go to.”

Shanthony Exum:
Miss Eaves – “Broke Bitxh”

Gabrielle Westfield:
Hall & Oats – “Rich Girl”

A reminder that living off your parents is an abashment and you are an embarrassment to the generation, as the parable goes better to be poorly self-sufficient than rich in parental dependence.

Jackie Hughes:
The Offspring – “Why Don’t You Get A Job”

I won’t pay, I won’t pay ya, no way
na-na, Why don’t you get a job?

Barrett Strong – “Money (That’s What I Want)”

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I need money (that’s what I want)

Spoon – “The Way We Get By”

You bought a new bag of pot, said let’s make a new start
And that’s the way to my heart

Eric Silver:
Queens of the Stone Age – “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like a Millionaire”

Meghan Stephens:
Grip Grand – “Poppin Pockets”

Shaylyn Berlew:

What are we missing? Add your suggestions in the comments below so we can grow our broke hit Spotify playlist!


  1. Isaac Anderson

    I’d suggest Sleater-Kinney’s “Price Tag” as perhaps the most recent–both in terms of release and suggestion–addition to this list; it’s all about the high cost of low prices; struggling to make ends meet; and good, old-fashioned riot grrrl.

    Also, sorry guys, next time I’ll submit something like this BEFORE the post goes up.

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