Tuesday, March 2, 2010

'Face off against each other out in the street..'

Really, New York magazine? Really?

Not even on the list?

Not even a single Bruce song? Did you read your own criteria?

"..a playlist of the most [sic] New York songs written since 1965 (caveats: no instrumentals, no movie theme songs) that get at the city's romance — the sex, the grit, the wit, the skyscraper-size ambition."

I know it's just linkbait, but I can't resist.

You could probably come up with ten or so brilliant New York City tracks by Bruce alone, but I'll post my own list of songs that aren't on their list later today.

UPDATE: Ok, so like any other listicle, the New York magazine piece was designed to provoke reader responses, comments and page views. It's a decent idea, everyone who lives in the city or has even visited will have an opinion.

The Huffington Post also has a potentially very cool 'Map The City In Song’ project going on at the moment, which seeks readers’ contributions of geographically specific lyrics related to the city.

But even so, it’s kind of hard to believe the New York list didn’t have any Bruce songs and only one – “Visions Of Johanna” by Bob Dylan.

That’s not to say there aren’t some great songs on there, but ranking them, apart from the top five, is probably too tough a call. I mean, Ryan Adams only sneaks in at 35 out of 40? WTF?

Also, I think you’d probably have to amend the criteria to have songs related to 9/11 separate. That would pretty much cover any of the key songs from ‘The Rising’ including the title track, “Into The Fire,” “You’re Missing”, or “My City Of Ruins” (even though it was originally written about Asbury Park ) but of them all, this one is probably my favorite:

There are some great songs in that corner from other artists too, of course, compelling narratives like Lucy Kaplansky’s “Land Of The Living” or Mary-Chapin Carpenter's “Grand Central Station”. But for me, there’s a special place for John Hiatt's “New York Got Her Heart Broke”. John never recorded this song, and I heard him play it just once, at the Town Hall on 43rd Street, on November 17th 2001. It was haunting, sincere and deeply moving.

There have also been lots of songs specifically about immigration from an incomer’s perspective, so I won’t go into them at length, except to pick out Marc Cohn’s beautiful “Ellis Island”, which finds its resonance in a generational connection and continuation.

So, here’s a quick list: no rankings, just great music with this great city as its theme. Most of these are just off the top of my head, so I’m always open to your suggestions.

Since it’s not my field I’m not going to venture into the City’s rich jazz tradition beyond standards like Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” written by Billy Strayhorn, or “Autumn In New York” covered by pretty much everyone. Same with rap, but you totally have to hat-tip The Beastie Boys and kick off with “Open Letter To New York”

Ian Hunter – “Central Park And West”
Kiss – “Back In The New York Groove”
10CC – “Wall Street Shuffle”
James Maddock - “Sunrise On Avenue C”
Brian Kennedy - "Christopher Street"
James Taylor - "Up On The Roof"
Joan Baez – “Diamonds And Rust” (also successfully covered by, er, Judas Priest)
Nils Lofgren - "Yankee Stadium" (written to commemorate the closing of the old park. You can download it for free from Nils' site)
Sting – “Englishman in New York”
Willie Nile - "The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square"
Sarah Harmer - "Basement Apartment" (I know she's Canadian, and the song's about any city, but when I first heard it I thought it was about NYC until I saw the video)

Steve Earle – “Down Here Below”

U2 – “Angel Of Harlem” and “New York”
Fountains of Wayne - "Red Dragon Tattoo"
Velvet Underground – “Waiting For My Man”
Graham Parker and the Rumour – “New York Shuffle”
Billy Joel – “52nd Street”, "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" or “Miami 2017 – I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway”
Rosanne Cash – “Seventh Avenue”

Bob Dylan - Apart from the obvious “Positively 4th Street” (although it’s been argued that this song is meant to contrast Dylan’s two worlds at the time, of New York and Minnesota) there are plenty of songs to choose from here - for a good overview, check out the excellent New Pony site, while reading a blog post by Adam Masterson reminded me of "Joey" the story of a notorious Red Hook gangster.

Tyrone Wells – “Dream Like New York”

Don Henley - “New York Minute”
Joni Mitchell – “Big Yellow Taxi” - maybe, maybe not specifically about NYC, but definitely “Chelsea Morning”
Tom Waits – “Downtown Train”
Simon And Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – again, I know it might not be specifically about the City but at the R&R HoF show their backdrop while singing it was the Manhattan Bridge, while there's always the “59th Street Bridge Song”.

I’d also include Everything But The Girl’s cover of “The Only Living Boy” (despite the slightly bizarre video with its “Bill and Ted” windmilling visual reference).

As I said, you could easily compile a Springsteen-only playlist with tracks like “Meeting Across The River”, "41 Shots", “New York City Serenade”, the afore-mentioned “Jungleland” or “Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?”

But when it comes to capturing the very essence of the city on a steamy summer night, this track just walks away with it…

For tapping into the universality of poverty; urban or rural, young or old, there are few songs as powerful as Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. And what a version this is, alongside Ray Charles.

And finally, here’s something that always, without fail, makes me smile. Sorry, Jay-Z, but the kids from PS22 got your number…

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