Pieces of the City: A selection of essential NYC songs.

Direct from the NYC-themed pages of the latest issue of The Rig Out magazine, ‘Pieces of the City’ presents ten wholly essential songs about la grande pomme.

NY State of Mind – Nas.  (3874 10th Street, New York, NY 11101).

Crown Heights born Nas AKA Nasty Nas AKA Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones AKA Johnny Meh is the Ashley Cole of hip-hop. Undoubtedly talented, indeed one of the very best in his field but also undoubtedly, a bit of a dick.  He’s never followed-up the promise of debut LP ‘Illmatic’ from whence ‘Brooklyn’ emerges.  Songs are songs though and whilst he might be a bit if a dick, ‘Brooklyn’ is what’s playing on the radio in the car just after we touch down at La Guardia and cruise up Astoria Boulevard on our way to TCB NYC style yo.

 NYC Ghosts & Flowers – Sonic Youth. (320 West 13th Street, between Hudson and 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10014)

Sonic Youth are the Archetypal New York band; Jazz and Punk-influenced, hipster-adored, skinny-jeaned art-rockers. Like most archetypal New York bands they’re critically swooned-over despite being a bit shit. They’re like an American *Fall. Sung by Lee Ranaldo rather than Thurston (he’s very tall) Moore, Ghosts & Flowers spends 8 minutes noodling along an experimental highway with Ranaldo intoning gibberish in his best William Burroughs-esque voice. As a big fan of experimental noodling, I reckon it tops the usual SY sound and provides a great soundtrack for a stroll along the banks of the Hudson. Hipster High-priests Pitchfork’s reviewer famously gave the album of the same name a magnificent 0/10 which translates to somewhere near a perfect 10 in Real life. (*The).

Slum Goddess – The Fugs.  (Between Delancey St & Rivington St, New York, NY 10002)

Norman Mailer-inspired, originators of alternative rock, The Fugs first album was called The Fugs First Album, which is a really good name for a first album by The Fugs.  Long-time targets of the F.B.I, the band claimed inspiration from Dionysus, Alfred Jarry, Dadaism, Charlie Parker, the Happening Movement and Cabaret Voltaire (the Zurich one not the Sheffield one).  The scuzzy, Rockabilly grooves of ‘Slum Goddess’ suggests they were at least equally influenced by Gene Vincent, lots of drugs and the Lower East Side.  Take the F train.

Alphabet Town – Elliot Smith. (Corner of 77th Street & Avenue A, Manhattan, NY 11812).

Before being sadly and mysteriously found with two knives sticking out of his chest (and therefore dead) Omaha, Nebraska native Elliott wrote ‘Alphabet City’ in homage to the Nuyorican intellectual community and his favourite place to buy superior, high-quality Heroin.  Doubling as District X in the Marvel Comics X-Men stories, Alphabet town is also home to ‘The Porcupine’ one of the first costumed professional criminals of his generation. One of Smith’s most renowned songs ‘Needle in the Hay’ taken from the same album is probably not about him though.

Brooklyn – Mos Def. (Between Nostrand Avenue & Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216).

An NYC Ford Prefect to Aldershot mod Martin Freeman’s Athur Dent, Rapper/Actor/Renaissance man Mos penned ‘Brooklyn’ in homage to both the NY borough of his birth and the Australian town of the same name to the North of Sydney where he has long enjoyed boating off Kangaroo Point.Mos’s Brooklyn drawl draws pictures of his city and the city is his. His steez is legendary and he is single-handedly responsible for the post-preppy, pre-boomer, post-modern heritage trend currently sweeping a quarter of the Lower East Side.

NYC – Burial. (Montefiore,  Springfield Blvd, Booth Street, Albans, NY 11412)

“Don’t rush me…I get you when I’m at you” warns a firm (but fair) Marlo Stansfield as the beats fade on this hypnotic, haunting tune. It naturally suggests Baltimore rather than New York but everyone likes The Wire and we know that many readers like a bit of dub in their step so if Burial wants to call this tune ‘NYC’ then that’s up to him and fine by us. It sounds like London to me, or maybe Oldham but it’s his tune so he can call it what he wants. And it is a tune too. One of his finest and many of them are very fine indeed. You should all wear whatever clothes this magazine suggests and listen to more Burial.

Hell in New York – Slaughter & The Dogs. (400 Sawmill River Road, Hastings-on-the-Hudson, NY 10706)

It’s doubtful whether Wythenshawe’s finest ever strayed far from the Forum of the Garden City to venture over the Irwell and they certainly never rocked-out near the banks of the Hudson but Hell In New York’s Stooges-inspired/copied punkarolla perfectly encapsulates the sound and sauce of the Big Apple despite the Stooges being from Detroit and The Dogs Manchester. Guitarist Mick Rossi is the brother of Status Quo’s Francis but the two don’t speak due to Francis’s ongoing hair.  Later in his career, Vocalist Wayne Barrett  went on to invent the Vibram shoe sole. NY native-darlings The Strokes have admitted owing their whole career to the inspiration of The Dogs.

Desolation Row – Bob Dylan. (207 East 30th Street, Manhattan, NY).

Nobody really likes Bob Dylan that much. Sure he’s written some great tunes but he’s written thousands of the things, about 58% of which are just the same song sung in a different order.  From  his 102 albums you could make a really belting double LP. He can’t sing for toffee either. To be fair to the dull alter kocker though, when he does it right, he does it right and ‘Desolation Row’ is the best of Bob about a city that is quintessentially his. Bobby Z isn’t from New York and he didn’t build any of it or plant any trees but what music came out of New York before Dylan? (Apart from Jazz obv but that’s another book). To be fair to the former mister Zimmerman, he probably invented hip-hop too.

NYC’s Like A Graveyard – The Mouldy Peaches. (100-120 Main St., Mount Kisco, Westchester, New York).

With its opening line “New York City’s like a graveyard and its closer “New York City’s like a cemetery” it was perhaps unfortunate for the band that the song was released on 9/11. Despite the knockabout charm of Adam Green and Kimya Dawson, no amount of sunny, fuggy, garage-rock riffs could persuade radio to play them singing “All the corpses like the way I play my guitar” and “All the tombstones be skyscrapin’”.  I was only assured Green hadn’t ended-up in Guantanamo when he later released an ace cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, that was mostly ace due to it not being sung by Bruce Springsteen.

New York’s in Love – David Bowie. (200 W56th St, NY 10019)

Taken from the doughty Dame’s album Never Let Me Down, ‘New York’s in Love’ is a slice of super-slick, slapped-bass, kick-ass white funk that sounds like the soundtrack to an 80’s US cop show where the detectives are the best of the best but also a pair of mavericks, who both get the glory and the chicks but one is still, often imperceptibly so, the leader of the two (But not Miami Vice).

Bowie started a long-standing love affair with New York (whilst still shagging Berlin) in the 1970’s that continues to this day. He currently lives in a bubble 1.2km above Central Park and just within commercial airspace, where he’s working on new material involving vintage damp.( Or he might be ill. I hope he gets better if he is).

This article appears in issue VI of The Rig Out Magazine: Available from shops and here:  www.therigout.com

(The watercolour accompanying the Slaughter & The Dogs words is by  NYC-based artist Brendan Higgins. See much more of his brilliant work at  chinatownbranch.tumblr.com/ . I havn’t asked him if I can use it yet but he’ll be cool…he’s a top bloke follow him on @chinatownbranch and you can see for yourself).

Thanks to all Rig Out crew dem.

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