Listen Here is a monthly playlist picked and curated by members of the Deadshirt staff around a certain theme. This month’s theme is New York City, with a playlist selected by music editor Julian Ames.
November happens to be my birth-month (it’s tomorrow if you’re reading this on the day of publication) so I decided to take the reigns of Listen Here and make a playlist about New York City, where I live. I’ve lived in close proximity to the city for most of my life and properly moved here just over a year and a half ago. It’s very important in my life, so I wanted to share a playlist of songs that remind me of either my own experiences or just a general feeling about this place: The City That Never Sleeps, The Big Apple, Gotham, some other nickname. Anyway I hope that if you live here, you get some feeling like “I know what that guy’s talking about,” and if you don’t, I hope it makes you want to move here. Most of all I just hope you enjoy it.
“In A Big City” – Titus Andronicus: This is a fitting opener for the playlist since, much like Patrick Stickles sings in the song, I myself grew up on one side of the river, New Jersey, and now I’ve moved over to the other side of the river to Astoria, Queens (that’s crossing two rivers actually). “In A Big City” also deals with the themes of creativity or lack thereof, and feeling like a robot while working a normal job. Those are things I think about sometimes, but I mainly chose the song because of the biographical nature of the first verse.
“New York City” – They Might Be Giants: TMBG is one of my oldest favorite bands, so I know a lot of their songs by heart at this point. That being said, I swear I didn’t mean to basically re enact the second verse of this song my first week I moved here that March. I met a girl at a rock & roll show that happened on (or near) the Bowery, and we ended up kissing on the subway (although that was a different date). That never ended up budding into any sort of relationship or anything, but that’s okay because everything DOES look beautiful when you’re young and pretty.
“Burning The Bowery” – Jesse Malin And The St. Marks Social: New York is known for its creative output, especially its music; one of the biggest spots in the city that historically produced a lot of talent, especially in the rock and punk world was the East Village and Lower East Side. Bowery is a street that effectively forms the western border to this area, and it’s the street that many music venues are (were) on including the legendary CBGB. I could have chosen songs by some of the famous bands of that era like The Ramones, Blondie, or The Talking Heads, but instead I opted to keep the list mostly contemporary. I went with “Burning The Bowery,” a rock anthem that celebrates the area’s rich history and acknowledges the small but devoted people and bands that are “still burning on the Bowery.”
“Across 110th Street” – Bobby Womack: I decided to go a bit retro when paying homage to another of New York’s musical hubs. 110th street is the southern border of Harlem (the actual line is staggered because of Central Park and Columbia University, but close enough) which is a neighborhood that has had a huge impact on American culture. Musically, certain types of Jazz originated in Harlem, and it’s also an important part of Hip-Hop’s early development. The rough and dangerous Harlem that Womack sings about here is a far cry from the quickly gentrifying Harlem of today. That’s okay though, it’s still a great song.
“Young Americans” – David Bowie: This is technically more of a Philly song since Bowie was inspired to go in the “Plastic Soul” direction by the Philadelphia soul sound. Still though, this song features young Luther Vandross on background vocals and Carlos Alomar on guitar, both of whom are New York natives. I really just wanted a chance to sneak one of my favorite Bowie songs on this list, but try walking around New York City with this song in your headphones and not feel like strutting.
“NEW DORP. NEW YORK” – SBTRKT feat. Ezra Koenig: The song’s title is a reference to a small neighborhood on Staten Island. I only found that out recently and have never been there myself. Still, this is a cool track from the British producer SBTRKT with rapping from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig of all people. It’s all about the hustle that people in New York have to do every day, and the combination of Koenig’s flow and SBTRKT’s syncopated rhythms mimics the bustle of city life.
“Bridge And Tunnel” – Holy Ghost!: Moving to Miami, Florida after a lifetime living near, and sometimes working in New York was a killer. Miami is beautiful and fun and all but NYC was really where I wanted to be. Holy Ghost!’s Dynamics came out towards the end of my time in Florida, and “Bridge And Tunnel” instantly spoke to me. The dance-y, disco rhythms reflected my newfound appreciation for electronic music and the lyrics are all about returning home, and that home of course is New York. The term “bridge and tunnel” is often a pejorative term used for commuters, squares, and people who a “real new yorker” would consider bad. I don’t think that’s what the band means on this track, the chorus is “ah, back to New York City, true love,” so I think my reading of the song is correct.
“Flashing Lights” – Kanye West: This song is only vaguely New York-related and I don’t have too much of a connection with it besides that it was in Grand Theft Auto IV, a game that takes place in a fictional city based on NYC. I chose to put it on the list because it has a New York vibe to it. It could easily play in the background of a movie that has huge aerial shots of the city at night. “Flashing Lights” could easily refer to the flashing of cameras by either tourists or paparazzi, the lights of any police car, ambulance, or fire truck that may speed by, or the bright lights of Times Square.
“New York Groove” – Hello: Maybe it’s because I’m a purist, or maybe it’s because I don’t really like KISS, but I decided to include the original version of this song by glam rock band Hello over the more famous Ace Frehley-sung version. This song was a definite go-to for me after I moved back from Miami. I always loved the harmonies in the chorus, and while the plodding, marching rhythm of the song would be too slow to walk around the city too, it’s still a great song to bop along to.
“The Queen of Lower Chelsea” – The Gaslight Anthem: I was turned on to this band in college and they quickly became my favorite for a while, so I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t include a track from them on here – especially since they are also dudes from New Jersey who spend a lot of time in New York. There’s not much else to say, it’s about a girl from the city who likes music, and left the city, and got old, I don’t know, just enjoy the damned song.
“Clipped On” – Blood Orange: Although he’s actually a Brit, Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes spends a whole lot of time in New York. The album Cupid Deluxe, from which “Clipped On” originates, was actually inspired by this city, and Hynes even brings in Queens rapper Despot. If that wasn’t New York enough for you, the beat is reminiscent of beats from early Hip-Hop, and guess where Hip-Hop originated?
“Living For The City” – Stevie Wonder: I almost didn’t include this song on the list because it’s kind of a bummer and actually difficult for me to listen to. It’s not that it sounds bad, quite the contrary, Stevie’s singing here is probably some of the most dynamic he’s ever recorded. No, it’s the lyrical content and the skit in the middle that makes it rough; a young black man right off the bus from out of town gets framed for selling drugs, immediately arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, ruining his life. It’s a bleak and brutal depiction of 70’s New York – it often seems like things today have gotten much better, but sometimes it feels like they haven’t changed at all.
“If You Need Me Back In Brooklyn” – River City Extension: Here’s yet another group of Jersey natives on the list. This song is sort of about songwriting and sort of about a person who, because of insecurities and the pressures of life, just had to get out of Brooklyn. Wanting to get out of Brooklyn is something we can all relate to, am I right folks!? Nah, just kidding, enjoy the song – it’s pretty great.
“Manhattan” – Cat Power: Before I left for Florida I was interning in New York at Cat Power’s record label (Titus Andronicus and SBTRKT were also on there at the time); I guess it was around the time she was working on this album because one day she was in the office. She was being shown around and ended up at the intern table for some reason. I was on Twitter (it was actually for work, I swear) and Ms. Power sees this and begins making fun of me because, as she said, “you’re really not fucking doing anything, are you?” It was pretty surreal (I didn’t even really know who Cat Power to be honest), but I don’t think it was meant with any malice, so I’m good with it. Anyway, several months later I’m in Florida and the album, Sun, comes out and it has this beautiful ballad about New York on it.
“I Love NYC” – Andrew WK: How can you not have this song on a New York playlist? Like the rest of his music, it’s a big party and it’s happening in celebration of the greatest city in the world!