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The Report

Back In The New York Groove

New Yorker and music supervisor Mr Randall Poster picks the tracks that spell out “NYC”

  • The Manhattan skyline, New York City Phil Birchman/ Getty Images

As February’s snow clings to the building tops of New York City, we mark our second winter season without the white light and white heat of our ever-urban laureate, Lou Reed. For me, Lou was not only the voice of the city, but also managed to radiate the bold and edgy attitude that marks this metropolis. Impatient, opinionated, never one to suffer fools, he nevertheless revealed through deed and music the boundless empathy that I think is every true New Yorker’s hidden tattoo. And so, as we bundle and shuffle through these frosty months of short days and frigid nights, let’s embrace the spirit of Lou, share some piss and vinegar, and connect with the muses of the five boroughs. Below are the tracks that most say “New York” to me.

To listen to it all in one place head to Spotify.

“Imagine the glow of streetlights and the inimitable Dion: Bronx minstrel, hero of Lou Reed. Released in 1961 after Dion had split from his doo-wop group The Belmonts. Lou indicted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.”

“From Lou Reed’s second solo record Transformer – produced by David Bowie. It’s maybe the greatest bass line ever in a song. ‘New York City, is the place where…’”

“There appears, in the year 2000, a band called Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a girl singer named Karen O with perfect bangs. This song gets you every time.”

“One of the most important bands ever to wear high heels, and one of my all-time favourite groups. Singer David Johansen – a gritty bridge between glam and punk – puts Staten Island on the board.” 

Descending on New York in 1961 to meet his hero Woody Guthrie – Mr Dylan has been freewheeling down our streets and alleys ever since.

“A Welsh cello player named John Cale. A German singer called Nico. And yet never a more New York band. ‘The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many records, yet everyone who bought a copy started a band.’ You’re never alone with this track.”

“James Murphy loves the city like the bad girlfriend she sometimes is. LCD Soundsystem are a band who retired in 2011, just as they were poised to cross the threshold of popularity. Murphy seems to carry the self-conscious weight of downtown cool that is the magnet of uncompromised youth.”

“Lou Reed championed the majestic Antony Hegarty – who won the Mercury Prize in the UK in 2004 – and joined him and The Johnsons on this song from their second record I Am a Bird Now.”

“Four guys from Queens changed the world – the Ramones defied every expectation one had about rock stars and reinvented the criteria. Rock‘n’roll paradise is less than two minutes away.”

“There should be a statue in the New York harbour of Debbie Harry welcoming the once-bored to this unsleeping city. Maybe only an inch or two taller than the Statue of Liberty.”

“Somehow The Strokes started off as living legends and still are. I hear this song and I’m 16 again, and I’m looking for girls but ending up with a slice of pizza. Julian Casablancas has that thing that you can’t quite describe. I may be mad, but I think there is something greater still to come from these fellows.”

“A college friend of Lou Reed – he should be better known. He’s still doing it.”

“For me, this is the CBGB national anthem and one of the greatest and most compelling guitar sounds ever. The sound of electricity racing through the wires. The magic sound that sparks an island uprising. Tom Verlaine is untouchable.” 

“Jay-Z reigns today as king of the New York streets. An inimitable stylist, he presides over this track like a Pharaoh and leads us to the promised land.”

“Biggie, patron saint of Brooklyn, still casts that one-of-a-kind shadow over all five boroughs and beyond. This one, as they say, is money.”

“Currently incarcerated, this beat is so good they should send Bobby a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”

“If I was mayor, this would be my theme song. The Beastie Boys cut through all pretence and take you directly to the street, the playgrounds, the subways and apartment hallways of NYC.”

“Bring the mothaf****n’ ruckus. Wu-Tang forever.”

“Ours is a tabloid town. ‘Did you hear who did what to whom/ happens all the time’. Another classic from Lou Reed’s Transformer, this sums that up perfectly.”

“David Johansen (of New York Dolls fame) becomes Buster Poindexter and Buster breaks us up. Lately, he’s been playing at Café Carlyle at The Carlyle hotel on Madison Avenue. Don’t miss out.” 

“Jeff Buckley left us too soon. He gained acclaim from playing at Sin-é, a small East Village venue. He made just one album while he was alive, but what an album.”

“Legendary lost Dylan song revived by my friends Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon. Lee Ranaldo. Steve Shelley. Thurston Moore. If there were Hollywood Walk of Fame stars in Manhattan, these four would have one.” 

“Dave Van Ronk captivated Dylan back in the 1960s and the Coen brothers of late (inspiring Inside Llewyn Davis). He now lives in the shadows, but his music helps us imagine the past.”

“Patti Smith reminds us to see the past in the present. If you haven't read her memoir Just Kids, you should. If you haven’t seen her live, promise yourself you will.” 

“Perhaps Lou’s most personal song about his city. I’d like to send this one out to Lou and Rachel and all the kids at PS 192 – Mr Reed’s old school, whom he dedicates the song to on the original recording.”