For the place where punk began to take off, there are surprisingly few punk songs about New York City. Maybe that’s because life is tough in the Big Apple. It’s expensive, congested, has terrible weather and, in some places, is still dangerous. Plus, the punk scene that started there in the 1970s was largely fueled off the alienation that life in New York can cause and not so much because of what it offered.
Which may be why when delving into punk’s catalogue, most songs about the city focused on the terrible sides of New York. But since punk is bred off anger, angst and doing things your way, it often times made for a great song. So here are 10 great punk songs about the Big Apple, for better or worse.
The Ramones – “53rd & 3rd”
The Ramones wrote a ton of songs that reference New York. “53rd and 3rd” might be the best, though, with tales of turning tricks as a male prostitute (something the Ramones were familiar with) and violence. Life in 1970s New York in the form of two and half minute pop-punk genius.
Johnny Thunders – “Subway Train”
Former New York Dolls member, Thunders’ “Subway Train” is loud, messy and catchy — all things you want from Thunders and all the things New York was back in the ’70s.
The Dictators – “New York, New York”
Formed in 1973, The Dictators were one of those punk bands from New York before “punk” was even a thing. “New York, New York” is a perfect example of the brand of “punk ‘n’ roll” that was coming out then with lyrics that document the difficulty of day-to-day life in the Big Apple.
Randoms – “Let’s Get Rid of New York”
Super short-lived LA punk band featuring John Doe from X on bass, this track is the b-side on the ABCD 7-inch, their only official release. Fast, fiery and angry, there may not be a better punk song against New York.
GG Allin – “New York Tonight”
Before Allin became known for all his intensely transgressive state antics, he recorded some excellent early ’80s punk including this gem from when he was fronting for the Jabbers.
Slaughter and the Dogs – “Hell in NY”
One of the first punk bands out of Manchester, England, Slaughter and the Dogs are probably one of the lesser known UK punk bands in the states. That doesn’t mean that their track “Hell in NY” from their sophomore record Bite Back isn’t an excellent ode to the hellish life of NYC.
NOFX – “All My Friends in New York”
From a limited edition 7-inch, this track is definitely not the most well-known NOFX song but it contains all the socially-poignant satirical lyrics and melodic pop-punk that has made this band a favorite for so long. Poking fun at the vapid materialism of Manhattanites, “All My Friends in New York” would sound like petty high-school snottiness if it wasn’t so true.
Born Against – “My Favorite Housing Project”
A single from this leftist, socio-politically charged hardcore band out of New York from the early ’90s, the track doesn’t explicitly mention New York City but is clearly in reference to the terrible living conditions that have often characterized housing projects in New York.
Fear – “New York’s Alright if You Like Saxophones”
More barbs thrown at New York City from an LA punk band. This time coming from Fear off their 1982 classic debut LP, The Record.
Le Tigre – “My My Metrocard”
How catchy is this song? The danc-y feminist punk three-piece not only has numerous shout-outs to various subway stops but they make sure to throw out a “Fuck Giuliani” for good measure.
(photo by Ian Dickson)