Sounds and the City: A New York Playlist

Every great adventure needs a soundtrack. When I strut around the city, the experience is heightened by submerging myself in songs that capture what it is to live, love, survive and thrive in New York. Here is my New York City playlist:

woman listening to music in New York with headphones

1. Begin – Ben Lee
“Begin,” by Sydney-born troubadour, Ben Lee, and the album that spawned it, “Awake Is the New Sleep,” were pivotal to me realizing that living in New York could be a reality. The album initiated a paradigm shift that such a dream was entirely accomplish-able, and every move to New York starts with a sense of wonder about the infinite opportunities that lie ahead. The honeymoon has begun!

2. Nolita Fairytale – Vanessa Carlton
Finding your way around New York is easy, but if only there were a map for finding yourself. By letting go of what is comfortable, shedding all expectations and embracing new opportunities that come your way, the fairy tale has a chance to reveal itself. Nolita is a portmanteau of North of Little Italy, a Manhattan nabe that I called home for a while. Fittingly it’s often referred to as “Little Australia” – it’s peppered with Aussie businesses and residents, including Ruby’s Cafe, which Vanessa references in this song.

3. Native New Yorker – Odyssey
You’ll never be a native New Yorker, but there is a place for you within this amazing cultural tapestry. The city’s magic will weave its way through your soul and psyche, giving rise to your unique groove, independence, and ferocity. DJ Mode, the music director for soccer team, New York City FC, plays this song at the end of every match. A perfect pick-me-up for those days when the city knocks it out of you. Let’s slay!

4. Walking Down Madison – Kirsty MacColl
Things are getting real. Your newcomer naivete is now replaced by the sobering reality of city life, wherein the grime, grit, and grunge reveal themselves. “Walking Down Madison” was co-written with English musician Johnny Marr, but tongue-in-cheek legend has it that Kirsty “kidnapped” this song. She made it her own with sardonically intelligent lyrics, 90’s rapping and hip hop beats, recording it at New York’s iconic Electric Lady Studios. A bold maneuver that captures the tenacious spirit of what it means to be an Australian woman in New York. RIP Kirsty MacColl.

5. New York – Daniel Johns
Thematic, operatic, climactic, dramatic, synaptic, enigmatic. Who better to articulate the indefinable way New York permeates your consciousness than Australian musician, Newie native and former Silverchair frontman, Daniel Johns, with this heavenly tune that hints at the underbelly of New York’s fabulous-ness.

6. You Said Something – PJ Harvey
Love will find you in New York, whether your paramour is another person or the city itself. The City is the perfect backdrop to moments that are “never forgotten”. The album from which this song is lifted, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea“, was partly inspired by PJ Harvey’s stint living in NYC. Her lamp post twirling and handbag swinging in the video clip for “Good Fortune”, also from this album, are an NYC night strutter’s template after a night on the town. 

7. Someone To Love – Fountains of Wayne
You might reach a point in New York when you’re in-between worlds. You haven’t quite found “someone to love”, but your friends back home assume that you’re surrounded by eligible suitors at glamourous parties. FOW captures the sobering reality of the FOMO of being solo and normalize the stark mundaneness that is life in New York. Love and longing have an extra dimension of depravity in New York. Your knight in shining armor may very well be vying for the same NYC yellow cab as you. You’ve been warned! Where DO all those lonely people come from? Director of the video clip, Adam Neustadter, has a theory.

8. New York – St. Vincent
You’ve settled into the groove and found your people – people who get you and people who get the city. But one day one of your people leaves and the dynamic shifts. This song is your shoulder to cry on.

9. Get Out Of The City – Ivy
You may find yourself cycling in and out of love with New York. The quirks that you once find charming and intriguing will start to bug you. You may even wax nostalgic that Fairview Park or Erinsborough weren’t so bad after all. It will probably happen in the heat of summer or frost-bite of winter – those weather extremes can really push you over the edge. It’s not you, it’s New York. As local band Ivy prescribe, it might be time for a (short) break.

10. Car Crash – She’s Spanish, I’m American
Stepping out your front door in NYC means stepping on a four-seasons-in-a-day treadmill of Big Apple emotions: fearlessness, joy, gratitude, impatience, fear, contempt. This perfect four-minute pop song captures everything that I love and hate about New York, with an NYC taxi cab as the song’s protagonist.

11. Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega
Now that you’ve gotten all that out of your system, you shed a skin and you’re ready for NYC 2.0. You’ll notice a new layer of the city, where the magical is replaced by the mundane, which in turn offers its own kind of magic.

12. Walking Down Madison – Johnny Marr
Even in the city that never sleeps, you’ll eventually need to. Slink through your nabe, from the subway station to your overpriced apartment where you can reflect and absorb all that New York is, hibernate and recharge your batteries, knowing that you’ll be doing it all again tomorrow.

What songs are in your New York City playlist? Tell us in the comments below.


  1. Begin is from the album, Awake Is The New Sleep by Ben Lee, 2005, New West Records/Inertia Distribution
  2. Nolita Fairytale is from the album Heroes & Thieves by Vanessa Carlton, 2007, The Inc., co-write Stephan Jenkins
  3. Native New Yorker is from the album Odyssey by Odyssey, 1977, RCA Victor, written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell
  4. Walking Down Madison is from the album Electric Landlady by Kirsty MacColl, 1991, Virgin, co-write Johnny Marr
  5. New York is from the album Talk by Daniel Johns, 2015, Eleven
  6. You Said Something is from the album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea by PJ Harvey, 2000, Island Records
  7. Someone To Love is from the album Traffic and Weather by Fountains of Wayne, 2007, Virgin
  8. New York is from the album Masseduction by St. Vincent, 2017, Loma Vista, co-write Jack Antonoff
  9. Get Out of the City is from the album Apartment Life by Ivy, 1997, Atlantic
  10. Car Crash is from the EP She’s Spanish, I’m American by She’s Spanish, I’m American, 2007, Bedroom Classics
  11. Tom’s Diner is from the album Solitude Standing by Suzanne Vega, 1987, A&M
  12. Walking Down Madison is by Johnny Marr

Author: Angela Tohl

Adelaide-born Angela came to New York in search of the ultimate adventure, by way of Australia and Japan. She juggles technical and copywriting projects, with chasing her kids around (usually on roller skates). Find Angela on Twitter @angelatohl and at Image credit: Susie Lang

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