Most big cities with any sort of history have a song. If that city’s New York, it has about 1000 of ‘em. But to be a classic of the genre, the song has to speak to bigger themes about city life, be it the hustle, the danger, or the beauty below the filth.
Here, we go beyond Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” to look at songs about New York and other cities that feel universal to city dwellers everywhere. Nas, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder give voice to the gang violence and systematic racism of inner-city living. Talking Heads and Arcade Fire bemoan small-town existence. The Pretenders and Sufjan Stevens ache over poorly planned Midwest sprawl branded as urban revitalization. Many more simply get swept up into the charms of city life.
Click through for all 25 — unranked — on the following pages, and a Spotify playlist.