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The 50 Best Songs From New York City Bands That Almost Make the Unaffordable Cost of Living Worth It

Some say New York City is the greatest city in the world. Those people have either never stepped foot outside of the Tri-State area or only have Indianapolis as a basis for comparison. Either way, some of the best songs ever recorded hail from bands that formed in one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. But just because no one can afford the monthly rent AND groceries in this city anymore doesn’t mean this place isn’t a breeding ground for iconic music.

That being said, here are the top 50 songs from bands that formed in this filthy, malodorous, unaffordable utopia. (Listen along with the playlist)

50. King Missile “Detachable Penis” (1992)

Of all the songs about a penis that can detach from your body and it getting misplaced after a night of partying, this one reigns supreme. Hands down. No question about it.

49. Fountains of Wayne “Stacy’s Mom” (2003)

“Stacy’s Mom” is poppy, catchy, and extremely easy on the ears, so it kind of has no business being written by a band formed in NYC considering the song’s lack of grit, aloof coolness, or overall “fuck you” sentiment. But hey, even New Yorkers have good days sometimes. That day is usually payday right before all that money is immediately siphoned off elsewhere.

48. Gogol Bordello “Start Wearing Purple” (2005)

Nothing makes you want to swing from a chandelier with a dagger in your mouth while dressed like a 19th-century seafarer at a boisterous tavern in the East Village that was established in the 1930s more than this band. It’s one of the thousands of ways to have a good time in this city.

47. Asobi Seksu “News Years” (2006)

Shoegaze has a place in the New York City music scene, though it seems to be a small pocket located in a five-block radius maybe somewhere in Alphabet City. Regardless, Asobi Seksu is near the top of the list of bands that are into swirling ethereal tones and rent that’s 70% of your income.

46. Sick of It All “Step Down” (1994)

Nowhere in the country excelled at NYHC better than New York. Not even Los Angeles. It’s just something we’re proud of, like the bagels, city skyline, and being able to throw garbage directly onto the street with little to no regard for your surroundings.

45. Television “Marquee Moon” (1977)

We are contractually obligated to include Television on a list of iconic songs from bands formed in NYC. Their impact cannot be overstated either. The group went on to influence a ton of other bands who are arguably better and financially more successful. Someone had to pave the way without getting any credit from the mainstream.

44. Nada Surf “Popular” (1996)

“Popular” was a weird little song from the mid-90s that put the band on the map. The lyrical content either satirized life as a popular student in high school or was a genuine step-by-step guide to becoming the most liked person in your graduating class. Still to this day no one knows for sure.

43. Quicksand “Fazer” (1993)

Quicksand never really had the mainstream success they probably should have despite their handsome sound. Prior to being in Quicksand, musician Walter Schreifels was a part of Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today, so the band’s resume was more than qualified to quickly move up the ranks.  

42. Vampire Weekend “A-Punk” (2008)

While the indie sleaze bands of the era inspired the world to smoke Marlboros and make alcoholism look quirky, Vampire Weekend encouraged us to share a charcuterie board and exactly one glass of wine with a close group of friends who all have their shit together. A real change-of-pace indie band.

41. Madball “New York City” (1994)

Beatdown hardcore is a genre that is under-recognized on a national level. For instance, there are zero of these types of bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Are we, as a country, sure that Kiss belongs in the Hall of Fame over legends like Madball? The only thing Kiss influenced was a gross overindulgence of merch ideas.

40. Swans “Stay Here” (1983)

Swans’ album “Filth” sounds exactly like what would happen if a bunch of construction tools and pallet jacks gained sentience in an abandoned warehouse in Willets Point in Queens, microdosed Benedryl, and somehow made a record in the middle of the night as an excuse to pass the time. It’s that good.

39. Blonde Redhead “23” (2007)

Legend has it that members of Blonde Redhead met at an Italian restaurant in New York City. Good luck trying to figure out which one though since there are like 2,500 of them in the area. But hopefully they went with one of the ones that offer unlimited breadsticks.

38. The Casualties “We Are All We Have” (2009)

The Casualties seemed like they formed near a dumpster in the Lower East Side that they all frequented. They likely meet at the trash receptacle once a year and smoke a cigarette to commemorate the anniversary of the band’s genesis. This is how legends are formed in New York.

37. New York Dolls “Personality Crisis” (1973)

New York in the ‘70s sounded like it was batshit wild. Many will tell you that it was an unmanageable crime-ridden metropolis that had serial murdering sprees like Son of Sam. But rent cost the same as a monthly Peacock subscription today and the New York Dolls played punk before punk was even a thing. So besides all the homicides, it sounded pretty sweet.

36. Bayside “Devotion and Desire” (2005)

Bayside is so New York that they named themselves after a neighborhood in Queens. Legend has it that they were on their way to a New Found Glory show to hand the band their demo and wrote “Bayside” on it as their name after passing the Bayside train station. Way to plan ahead, guys.

35. DIIV “Doused” (2012)

It’s no secret that the best pizza in the world is made in New York City. Haven’t actually fact-checked that claim or taste-tested pizza in every other city on Earth for comparison, but it sounds right. That theory also applies to indie dream pop songs. Haven’t confirmed that either nor will I. New Yorkers just know the truth when they see it.

34. Helmet “Unsung” (1992)

NYC’s major three eras of music consisted of late ‘70s punk, ‘80s hip hop, and 2000s indie. Only nine bands wrote music in the ’90s in New York City. Helmet was one of the better ones.

33. The Walkmen “The Rat” (2004)

For an indie song from the mid-2000s, this track goes hard. The guitar is unrelenting, the drums are frantic, and the vocals make me feel like I’ve done something to upset the singer. Perhaps inadvertently, the Walkmen wrote the only indie song that you can mosh to. Be warned though that this is the only track of theirs that will inspire you to punch your friends in the face for fun.

32. Agnostic Front “Gotta Go” (1998)

Agnostic Front was a huge influence on the NYHC scene. There’s even a documentary called “The Godfathers of Hardcore” about their history. If you want to see what your hardcore phase will look like when you’re in your 50s and 60s, this is the doc for you. Honestly, there are worse phases to extend into middle age. Like a ska phase or a Mets fan phase.

31. Suicide “Ghost Rider” (1977)

Suicide was way ahead of their time with their use of electronic instruments, synths, and drum machines. Today, 75% of music consists of electronic music, so you can thank this band for your best friend Caleb starting that solo project in his bedroom with that looping machine for which you will never listen to his 38-track demo.

30. The Moldy Peaches “Anyone Else But You” (2001)

Formed by Kimya Dawson and Adam Green, the Moldy Peaches are an anti-folk band which, according to experts, is a genre meant to mock the self-seriousness of mainstream music and folk. Not enough music ridicules other music.

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