28 Of The Best Songs About New York City: Big Apple Playlist

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

New York City is one of America’s most iconic cities, both in terms of its current cultural significance and its long history as a trading city. Anybody who has spent some time in New York City—whether you are talking about the niche neighborhoods of Brooklyn or the iconic places like Times Square—can probably attest to its unique energy.

And if you want to appreciate the great city of New York with some fantastic music, you have come to the right place. Here, let’s explore 28 of the best songs about the Big Apple!

Related: Check out our list of the greatest songs about America here.

1. “New York, New York” By Frank Sinatra

First up in this collection of songs about New York has to be the famous “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra.

While plenty of other recordings of this song exist, Sinatra’s version is the most renowned. It captures the unique energy of New York City. 

Liza Minnelli recorded the original version of this tune as part of the Martin Scorsese film New York, New York. But Sinatra’s version is played at events such as Yankee games and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The lyrics capture the spirit that anything is possible in the Big Apple, and everyone should want to be part of that exciting place. 

2. “Autumn In New York” By Billie Holiday

If you live in New York and are looking for a song to warm you up during the chilly months of autumn, consider sitting next to a fire and listening to this classic Billie Holiday recording of the jazz standard “Autumn in New York.”

The song, written by the songwriter Vernon Duke in 1934, has been covered by many top artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. But hopefully, you will find this Billie Holiday recording captures the more sentimental side of the autumn season in New York City.

The lyrics mention various places across the city and how they change in sad and exciting ways, including Central Park and the Ritz.

3. “Empire State Of Mind” By JAY-Z Featuring Alicia Keys

A part of the JAY-Z‘s 2009 album The Blueprint 3, “Empire State Of Mind” is an iconic song that rivals “New York, New York.”

This track is a tribute to the great city of New York, and its title shadows that of the famous Billy Joel song “New York State Of Mind.”

New York State has the nickname of the Empire State since the Empire State Building is one of its most iconic tourist attractions, though some say it’s because George Washington referred to the state as “the seat of the Empire.”

But title and nicknames aside, the music is exciting and driving, with passionate additions of singing and piano playing throughout the chorus by Alicia Keys.

The track was successful enough to be in the top 10 in multiple countries, and in the United States alone, it sold over 4 million copies in the first few years.

4. “New York State Of Mind” By Billy Joel

Up next is another song and artist that likely needs no introduction. Billy Joel released “New York State Of Mind” in 1976 on the album Turnstiles, and the track has become one of his most famous.

With the brilliant piano playing and belting vocals you expect from Joel, the lyrics express an appreciation for the simple beauty of New York State and New York City.

The inspiration for the song occurred after Joel returned to New York in 1975 after living in California for three years.

The lyrics constantly reference other places around the country—like Hollywood, Highland Falls, and Miami—but always return to an appreciation for being in a “New York state of mind.” 

5. “Talkin’ New York” By Bob Dylan

“Talkin’ New York,” released in 1962 on Bob Dylan‘s first album, is a folk song that expresses the feeling of arriving in New York City for the first time.

Especially in contrast to the culture and life in Minnesota, where he came from, he describes many of New York’s bad aspects, such as the freezing winters and the crime.

Overall, the song has the folk-style guitar playing and singing you would expect of Dylan. And despite the lyrics that paint a negative picture of the New York, the rhythm and harmony in this track are upbeat.

Related: Read our list of the best songs about Minnesota here.

6. “First We Take Manhattan” By Leonard Cohen

Released on Leonard Cohen’s 1987 album Famous Blue Raincoat, the song “First We Take Manhattan” has disturbing lyrics about terrorism and world-ending revolutions.

But the apocalyptic suggestions of the lyrics seem to match the tone of the music, which has dark harmony and instrumentation that mimics a horror movie.

There is both a synth-pop version of the song (linked above) and a more funk-inspired version that he released in later years. Whichever version you prefer, the lyrics invite you to imagine a grand city like New York in apocalyptic times.

7. “Englishman In New York” By Sting

Frontman of rock band Police, Sting released the song “Englishman In New York” as part of his 1987 album Nothing Like the Sun.

The lyrics tell a story of a foreigner (Englishman) living in New York City, and the song is more specifically about the English humorist Quentin Crisp, who inspired Sting to write it.

Branford Marsalis—brother of famed trumpet player Wynton Marsalis—played the saxophone interludes throughout the song.

Lastly, you can also check out an orchestral version of this song that Sting released in 2010 on the album Symphonicities

8. “Welcome To New York” By Taylor Swift

Next in this collection is Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York,” released on her 2014 album 1989.

Considering that Swift moved to New York City earlier in 2014, it is safe to assume that these lyrics are personal in nature—her new experiences in the city inspired her to write this energetic track.

The song—and the album more generally—is a shift in sound for Swift. It contrasts with much of her previous music by using synthesizers and drum pads.

There are also heavily produced vocals throughout that create notable harmonies. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the track Platinum to recognize its success.

9. “Chelsea Morning” By Joni Mitchell

Moving back a few decades, the next track is Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” Released on her 1969 album Clouds, the song is all about New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, where Mitchell lived. 

The music, characteristic of Mitchell, features just her acoustic guitar playing and beautifully clean singing voice.

And her lyrics are expressive and artful, making many visual suggestions of the sun, clouds, rainbows, and other morning phenomena she experienced while living in Chelsea.

The song eventually reached the 25th spot on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart.

10. “New York Serenade” By Bruce Springsteen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWG_oRgNBhU

If you are only slightly familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s music, you might be surprised to hear just how much jazz influence his song “New York Serenade” contains.

Released on his second album in 1973, the track opens with an impressive piano solo before settling into a groove. The lyrics tell the story of someone named Billy and his life as a street musician in New York City.

Springsteen did not live in the Big Apple, but he wrote many songs about the uniqueness of the city and the people that live there.

The live versions of this track feature extensive soloing and other improvisations.

11. “Fairytale Of New York” By The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

The track “Fairytale Of New York” was part of The Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace With God, although they released it as a single one year prior.

It might take a minute or two to notice clearly, but the track develops into the style of Irish folk music, including the sound of the Irish flute in the background instrumentals.

As the lyrics suggest, people usually play this song during the Christmas/holiday season—it is one of the most popular Christmas tracks in the UK in particular.

The lyrics tell a story about someone on Christmas Eve who was arrested and put in the drunk tank. 

12. “Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo)” By Alice Cooper

As soon as this Alice Cooper song starts, you will be able to start rocking out to its powerful and driving guitar riffs.

Released on Cooper’s 1973 album Muscle of Love, this rock song is about leaving the small-town setting of the Midwest to move to the big city of New York.

The song’s title references New York City’s now-famous nickname of the Big Apple, a phrase that dates back to 1921 and refers to horse racing terminology.

If you listen to the end of the song, you will also hear a surprising violin solo that closes out the track. 

13. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” By Beastie Boys

The majority of songs written about New York tend to focus on Manhattan, but up next is a track by the Beastie Boys that’s all about Brooklyn.

Released in 1986 on their album Licensed to Ill, the song opens with a powerful guitar riff that immediately sets the band’s style of rock and hip-hop.

Since the band is originally from Brooklyn, the title and lyrics express how tiring it is to go on tour. But no matter how tiring a tour is, the band keeps chanting that they cannot sleep until they return home to Brooklyn.

14. “New York’s Not My Home” By Jim Croce

Folk and rock singer-songwriter Jim Croce released the song “New York’s Not My Home” on his 1972 album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.

The song is about the negative experience Croce and his wife had during the year that they lived in New York. Originally from Pennsylvania, they moved to New York City in the late 1960s to pursue music but eventually left.

As the lyrics suggest, the song is about the feeling of leaving New York, seeing the skyline in the background, and realizing that you do not belong there.

15. “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” By LCD Soundsystem

Art and music about any great city like New York should contend with the negative elements, and this LCD Soundsystem track does a fantastic job at capturing the melancholy of the Big Apple.

Released on the 2007 album Sound Of Silver, the lyrics talk about a complicated love for New York City.

The singer repeatedly says that he loves New York but, at the same time, mentions many of its darker elements. The track crescendos to a loud and exciting ending with driving guitar lines and screaming vocals.

16. “New York” By Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran’s “New York” came out in 2014, and it is all about falling in love in the city. Besides Sheeran’s expressive vocals, the song has a sparse texture of acoustic guitar and light percussion.

“New York” is about the singer staying up all night and driving around New York City, especially in Brooklyn, trying to ease the worries of the woman he’s fallen in love with and, toward the end, promising a new life together.

Like many songs, this Sheeran track seems to capture the unique New York energy of beginning new adventures in life.

17. “The Only Living Boy In New York” By Simon & Garfunkel

From Simon & Garfunkel’s classic 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water, the song “The Only Living Boy In New York” has lyrics that seem to reference Simon living alone in New York while Garfunkel was out of town.

If you do not recognize the song from Simon & Garfunkel’s album, you might know it from its being used on the soundtrack for the 2004 movie Garden State.

“The Only Living Boy In New York” was also covered by various artists, including The Tennors and Marc Cohn. 

18. “Safe In New York City” By AC/DC

Next up is “Safe In New York City” by AC/DC, and from the opening guitar chords alone, you can hear the classic AC/DC musical style of hard rock.

From their 2000 album Stiff Upper Lip, the track would eventually gain an association with the September 11 attacks in New York City, even though it was not originally about them.

The track eventually reached the number 21 spot on ​Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, and its edgy lyrics brought the song both positive and negative attention.

19. “Take The ‘A’ Train” By Duke Ellington Orchestra

This next track takes you back in time to a jazz number written way back in 1939 by Billy Strayhorn.

The song’s title, “Take The ‘A’ Train,” references the subway line that opened in 1936, which connects eastern Brooklyn with Manhattan.

Considering this track is now a jazz standard, many famous artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Clifford Brown, and countless others recorded their chart versions. But it is this recording by the Duke Ellington Orchestra that is one of the most classic renditions.

20. “N.Y. State of Mind” By Nas

Changing moods completely, next up is a hip-hop song from Nas’ 1994 album Illmatic called “N.Y.: State of Mind.”

The track was heavily influenced by the Kool G Rap song “Streets Of New York” and features a driving beat and passionate rapping. The lyrics are mainly about how dangerous New York streets can be, but for the singer, it’s all a “New York state of mind.”

Despite the similar title to the Billy Joel song listed above, expect a different take on New York City from this track!

21. “New York City Boy” By  Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys are an English synth-pop band with a distinct sound, and they released the song “New York City Boy” on their 1999 album Nightlife.

Considering the year it was released, the song’s style calls back to earlier disco eras and comments on the nightlife of the Big Apple.

In the UK, the track reached number 14 on the UK Singles Chart, and in the United States, it hit the top of Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Consider this song a great dancing/party tune!

22. “Rockaway Beach” By The Ramones

Next up we have “Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones, a punk rock band from Forest Hills, Queens. The song is from their 1977 album Rocket to Russia. It opens with a classic guitar riff that you will likely recognize.

The track captures the classic punk rock sound that you would expect from The Ramones, and the style also mimics the surfing style of bands like the Beach Boys.

As the title suggests, the lyrics reference Rockaway Beach in New York, where the band’s lead singer Joey Ramone grew up. 

23. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” By Simon & Garfunkel

Here we have another classic track by Simon & Garfunkel, this time a soft folk song released in 1966 on their album ​​Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

The original studio version, linked above, features instrumental contributions by the members of Dave Brubeck Quartet on drums and double bass. A recent cover (2021) by The Cyrkle is a little bit more upbeat.

The title refers to the well-known 59th Street bridge that connects Queens to Manhattan, and the lyrics and music convey a relaxing and positive take on life.

24. “New York City” By They Might Be Giants

Alternative rock band They Might Be Giants has a niche audience, so if you are unfamiliar with this group, consider checking out this great song about falling in love in New York City.

It is an exciting song named after the Big Apple itself and has a driving rhythm and lyrics that reference many locations throughout the city—”Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, The Empire State” to name a few.

But the most notable of locations is the famed Bowery, where the singer met the girl he fell in love with. Bowery is a concert venue located in the neighborhood of the same name in Manhattan that hosts many big bands. 

25. “Manhattan” By Ella Fitzgerald

Changing pace from the driving rock style of They Might Be Giants, up next is a relaxing jazz classic sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

The song “Manhattan”—sometimes called “We’ll Have Manhattan”—dates back to the early 20th century and has been recorded by countless big names like Eric Clapton and Dinah Washington.

But this Ella Fitzgerald recording captures a particular type of energy and decade in New York that is unmistakable. In listening to it, you will feel the joy of a young couple in love wandering through Manhattan. 

26. “Harlem Blues” By Nat King Cole

Staying in the jazz genre, the next song about New York is Nat King Cole’s “Harlem Blues.”

The track opens with the loud brass sounds of a big band, quickly transitioning into the classically smooth singing of Cole. The lyrics are about a man losing his love and feeling sad while living in Harlem, New York.

With references to other New York neighborhoods like the Battery and the Bronx, the overall tone is a positive wish to get over the sadness and enjoy life again. 

27. “New York At Night” By Willie Nile

For the second to the last song, we’ll fast-forward many decades into the future. “New York At Night” is from Willie Nile’s 2020 album of the same name.

As the title suggests, the song describes the various weird scenes of New York that Willie Nile saw while walking home late one night. Despite this, “the city calls out” to our singer, and he guarantees that if “you’re feeling blue, you won’t be for long.”

The song has exciting rhythms that drive the energy forward, along with extended guitar solos. And anybody who has wandered the streets of Manhattan at night will probably appreciate this track’s lyrics! 

28. “New York City Rhythm” By Barry Manilow

Last up is Barry Manilow’s “New York City Rhythm,” released on his 1975 album Tryin’ To Get The Feeling. Even if you do not recognize the title, you will likely recognize the open instrumentals to this track.

The lyrics are all about a person who is appreciating the excitement of living in New York City, comparing the city’s energy to musical rhythm.

Even through heartbreak, one can always head out to the streets and let the city’s lights, energy, and people energize you enough to let go of sad emotions.

Summing Up Our Playlist of New York City Songs

As you can tell, there are many great songs about New York, and these tracks only scratch the surface of what you can find out there.

Maybe you grew up in the Big Apple and want to reconnect to the unique culture you grew up in, or maybe you love tourism and want a playlist to get you in that New York mindset.

Either way, since New York is a city that greatly values arts and culture, you can find plenty of great tracks in this collection to connect you with the city’s energy!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.