Record Machine: 3 New York Songs Without Frank Sinatra

Friends, when you read this, I’ll be taking my first trip to New York City as an adult, so this week’s Record Machine is as indulgent as ever. And with all due respect to Frank Sinatra, let’s listen to a few other city-centric tunes.

“New York, New York” — Ryan Adams

The first time I went to New York, in 1993, I was ten years old. The first World Trade Center bombings had already happened, but we were far from 9/11. My family and I were visiting some friends of my parents, and we went to see the Twin Towers. Buried on a hard drive somewhere, I have scans of the photos of us standing on the roof. In 2001, I thought about how the people who died were not only the people working in the towers, on the planes, and the rescue workers — some of them were likely tourists just checking out another fascinating American monument to excess.

Also in 2001, you may remember that Ryan Adams released his second album, Gold. The video for “New York, New York” was shot just four days before 9/11, and while that coincidence helped make him more famous, for a long time, he refused to play the song live. He said it felt like poor taste to cash in on collective grief. It wasn’t until after ten years had passed that he began to play it again, and this slow, piano-based version played on The Late Show with David Letterman (taped in New York, as we know) is beautiful.

“New York” — Richard Ashcroft

Back in August 2012, I wrote about this song for my Alphabet Soup series. So instead of the original video, here’s a live performance from shortly after the song’s release. If you’ll allow me to quote myself, here’s some of what I had to say almost three years ago:

Richard Ashcroft’s first solo album, Alone With Everybody, was a gift for my eighteenth birthday, but it took another five years or so to fully marinate in my brain. I don’t know how it took that long to catch my attention because I love the album now, along with his other releases I’ve purchased since. Start an album with a swell of strings and all the happy parts in my brain light up. “New York” doesn’t have strings [the above live version does], and the lead-in is reminiscent of The Verve’s “The Rolling People.”.

I love the woozy feeling in this extended live version. It’s all-encompassing, busy, and that’s just how it should be.

“Big Exit” — PJ Harvey

I’ve talked about Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea so many times on this site, but it really is a perfect album and a New York-themed one, so let’s listen to its opening track, “Big Exit.”

Too many cops
too many guns
all trying to do something
no one else has done

It is both unsettling and apt that an opening song about an English artist coming to America would have gun imagery. It’s loud and in-your-face, and I cannot recommend this album enough. “Baby, baby, ain’t it true…”

What are your favorite songs about New York? Give a shout in the comments.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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