10 Songs That Capture NYC In The 1980s

Mark Wang / © Culture Trip
Mark Wang / © Culture Trip
Photo of Stephanie Oh
19 March 2018

New York City in the 1980s was embellished with infinite glamor and variety. We might have clear photographs taken back in the ’80s that allow us to look back and visually experience the city, but they do not portray the larger-than-life feeling of the Big Apple as the music does. Sometimes the classic music of that decade sounds dated, but it’s an undeniable thrill to look back and soak up those beats. Here are 10 songs that capture NYC’s soul in the ’80s.

Frank Sinatra’s Theme from New York, New York (1980)

New York, New York. This is the city that never sleeps, the city where everyone can become the king of the hill and smooth town blues. Our beloved Frank Sinatra successfully captures the enchanting city in three and a half minutes, and indeed, his obsession with the concrete jungle survived even after two decades.

Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl (1983)

You might have heard the song from the recent video where Amy Schumer and her recent BFF Jennifer Lawrence light up the dance floor. Written and performed by our favorite piano man, Billy Joel, the song is all about how the downtown boy tries to capture the uptown girls’ attention.

The Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn (1986)

These three b-boys from New York City capture that familiar moment when you travel from Manhattan to those hipster warehouses in Brooklyn where you will be partying the whole night. The music video is quite old school, but the combination of a heavy guitar solo and the classic rap performance done by The Beastie Boys is gold.

Nina Hagen’s New York/N.Y (1983)

‘New York/N.Y ‘ is a track from Nina Hagen’s album Angstlos that delivers the retro disco life in New York back in the ’80s. While enjoying the song, imagine the pool of young people filling up downtown dance floors and truly feeling the nightlife of New York City.

Sting’s Englishman In New York (1987)

Released in 1987, Sting’s ‘Englishman In New York’ captures the singer’s dear friend Quentin Crisp’s adaptation to the city. Sting quite satirically describes Crisp as ‘an alien… legal alien in New York’ and portraits the anxiety the young gay Englishman experiences in this callous society. The jazzy beats smoothly blend with the sound of the city as Sting begins to sing about the gentleman’s complaints about not drinking coffee in New York.

Grandmixer D.ST.’s The Home of Hip Hop (1985)

Hip-hop icon Grandmixer D.ST.’s name comes from New York City’s Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. D.ST.’s a classic hip-hop musician as well as a pioneer of turntables. As a DJ and a rapper, he captures the short yet deep history of hip-hop in the city.

Fear’s New York’s All Right If You Like Saxophones (1983)

This hardcore punk band from California accurately describes the reality of New York. The lyrics are hilarious with a touch of bitter-sweetness. ‘New York’s alright/If you like art and jazz/…/New York’s alright/If you wanna freeze to death…’ The soulful voice of Lee Ving touches our souls with those accurate words that describe our metropolis gloriously standing on the East Coast.

U2’s Angel of Harlem (1988)

‘Angel of Harlem,’ released in December of 1988, was performed by Irish rock band U2. It takes U2 fans all over the world on a virtual tour to some of NYC’s landmarks – from JFK Airport to Harlem. It’s a bittersweet love song with simple yet sentimental lyrics.

The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York (1988)

A Christmas song performed by The Pogues from their album If I Should Fall From Grace With God features Kirsty MacColl where MacGowan sings with her in a sweet duet. It sounds a bit like an Irish folk song, but it describes the cold reality of a drunk young man who inevitably falls in love with the concrete jungle.

Run – D.M.C.’s Christmas In Hollis (1988)

Run – D.M.C.’s seasonal track ‘Christmas In Hollis’ is all about our favorite time of the year. The title of the song refers to Hollis Avenue, a small neighborhood in Queens, where the crew members of Run – D.M.C. grew up. Fun fact: the song also appeared in the famous 1988 film Die Hard. So how about turning the volume up and making the holiday season a bit more hipster?

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