New York City is a thriving, bustling town that beats with its own lifeblood, the subway beneath pounding out a rhythm that the citizens feel in their shoes. Eight years ago, on September 11th 2001, New York suffered a great tragedy, but the people united to bring the City back.
This playlist –coming from the Folk and Rock genres– focuses less on the attack on 9-11, but more on the spirit of the New Yorkers. Not every song is positive, not every song is even set after 9-11, but every song captures the heart of New York.
Positively 4th Street, Bob Dylan
It is usually assumed that this scathing attack on some member of Dylan’s circle of friends is referencing Greenwich Village’s 4th Street. 4th Street in Manhattan is the heart of Greenwich Village and was the center of the American Folk Revival of the late 50s and 60s. Situated on 4th Street is Washington Square Park, where aspiring musicians would sit and play for fun and profit, many still do today (Lankford, Ronald D. “Folk Music USA”).
However, there is another 4th Street in Bob Dylan’s life. Bob Dylan attended the University of Minnesota for a short time before moving to New York to join the Folk scene there (“Bob Dylan” nndb.com). 4th Street was a major road in the area of town where many college students lived, called Dinkytown (dinkytownminneapolis.com).
Trying to analyze the mind of Bob Dylan is dangerous work, but it is possible that “Positively 4th Street” has a dual meaning, partially referring to false fellows in Minnesota, and partially to them in Manhattan.
Chelsea Hotel, Dan Bern
“New love is beautiful/ new love is sad/ new love means giving up all the old loves/ that you’ve ever had”
Set in New York City, “Chelsea Hotel” is one of the most bittersweet, uniquely touching, love songs of the modern Folk era. “Chelsea Hotel” is about the narrator trying to get over his old lover in order to pursue a future with his new one. In doing so, Dan Bern has mirrored a common situation among lovers, and he does so with trademark quirkiness.
The Chelsea Hotel (actually “the Hotel Chelsea”) is a hotel on W 23rd St in Manhattan, and has been a center of artistic activity in New York. Many musicians, writers, and artists have lived or stayed there, including (nytimes.com)
- Bob Dylan
- Janis Joplin
- Sid Vicious
- Dylan Thomas
- Jack Kerouac
- Dee Dee Ramone
- Tom Waits
- Robert Mapplethorpe
“City of Immigrants,” “Down Here Below,” Steve Earle
Off of Americana rocker Steve Earle’s 2007 album Washington Square Serenade, “City of Immigrants” captures the sprit of New York City like few songs do. Since New York was founded as New Amsterdam, the City has been the final destination for people searching for a new life. New York continues to be a major– if not the major– port of entry in America.
Earle sings “My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats/ Singin’ in languages I don’t speak,” and a thousand hearts ring out the same. The tapestry of colors, cultures, and flavors of NYC is what makes New York unique in America and the world.
Washington Square Serenade is an album dedicated to New York City. Earle recorded Washington Square Serenade in 2007 after moving to New York.
There are several songs about NYC on the album, including “Down Here Below,” which uses Manhattan’s famous red tail hawk Pale Male– the first red tail to ever nest in a high rise building instead of a tree, and patriarch of the blossoming red tail hawk population in Central Park (Schulman, Janet. “Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City“)–as an allegory for living in New York after 9-11. Despite adversity, Pale Male lives on in NYC, just like the people.
New York, New York, Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams’ song “New York, New York” (not to be confused with Frank Sinatra’s song of the same name) has become an anthem of sorts after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th. Besides being a love song of sorts to a lost girlfriend and to New York City, “New York, New York” had the luck (good or bad) of filming the New York skyline just days before 9-11 (“New York, New York.” songfacts.com). Since then it has been associated with the attack, and with the City.
More Songs About NYC
- The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon and Garfunkle — No New York playlist would be complete without a Simon and Garfunkle folk song.
- Downtown Train, Tom Waits — Captures the loneliness that only a city of 8 million can create.
- Incident on 57th Street, Bruce Springsteen — A rock ballad about trying to find love in the darker parts of New York City.
- New York’s Not My Home, Jim Croce
- Rockaway Beach, The Ramones — The quintessential New York band, Rockaway Beach is a popular destination for New Yorkers looking to hit the beach.
- New Amsterdam, Elvis Costello
- Chelsea Hotel No. 2, Leonard Cohen — Another song about the Hotel Chelsea. According to Cohen it is about love affairs with Janis Joplin and Nico (leonardcohenfiles.com/chelsea.html).
- Angel of Harlem, U2
This September 11th, let us pay tribute to this great city, that suffered a great tragedy, not by focusing on the attack, but on what makes New York City so alive, a city that can withstand anything. These rock and folk songs get to the heart, the soul, and the indomitable spirit of New York. Enjoy.