Top Ten NYC Subway Songs

Posted by Billyjam, September 3, 2014 10:51pm | Post a Comment
New York State of Mind Amoeblog #96:

As this 100 part weekly series winds to a close over the coming weeks I figured I'd do some music best-of lists in these final five installments including this week's Top Ten Best NYC Subway Songs. While a tough list to compile, due to the sheer number of songs out there that reference the most frequently used mode of transportation here in New York City, it was still a fun one to draw up.

For this top ten, rather than just do say 70's rock or 90's hip-hop or any one specific genre, I tried to cover several genres and eras, and even still just scratched the surface. The selections are mostly subway themed songs - although some are overall NYC themed but with subway references in them like the ones by Fear and VU which placed in the last two positions for that very reason. Some others that almost made the list include "F Train" by Babe the Blue Ox, Unsane's “D Train,” "The L Train Is A Swell Train And I Don't Want To Hear You Indies Complain" by Out Hud, "Subway: The Last 'I Love New York' Song" (from the musical Mayor), and another musical one - "Subways Are for Sleeping" from the musical of the same name. In comments below please feel free to add any songs you think should have made the list.

1) Duke Ellington Orchestra “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1941) "You must take the 'A' train / To go to Sugar
Hill, way up in Harlem.
" Even if they don't realize it, everyone knows this song - a jazz standard and signature tune for Duke Ellington and his orchestra with lyrics. Literally a classic and one that pops
into my head every time I take the A train, and I rate it number one on my list for its historic relevance. Honorable mention to another jazz classic: "GG Train" by Charles Mingus about the line now known
simply as the "G" line - as the "L" line used to be the "LL" line.

2) I.R.T. "Watch The Closing Doors" (1984) The name chosen by the makers of this old school electro
jam, that still rocks thirty years later, is culled from The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) that operated the underground New York City Subway line for eighty years from 1904 to the year this record was released. Too bad that they never made a video as it the songs' detailed lyrics are perfect for it; as
they take you on vivid subway ride with a play by play,  station to station all the way from downtown to uptown Manhattan to the "last stop Harlem USA"

3) Guru "Transit Ride" (1993) Like the previous track this one also repeatedly throws in the "watch the closing doors" NYC subway train announcement that you hear at every stop. And like the previous song
by I.R.T.,  here Gang Starr's Guru from the Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 project release featuring Branford
on saxaphone takes the listener on a train ride or rather a transit ride; this one to Brooklyn.

4) Le Tigre “My My Metrocard” (1999) An irresistible track by NYC trio Le Tigre, from their self-titled 1999 album, that name checks subway  stops like Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Christopher Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Equally good accompanying fan video above made and shot in the NYC subway system by YouTuber chescaleigh.

5) Tom Waits “Downtown Train” (1985) Unless you are one of those people that can't get with
Tom Waits trademark raw raspy vocal stylings (in which case you might like one of the covers
of the song such as Rod Stewart's) then this song is just pure magic. Taken from the 1985
Tom Waits album Rain Dogs.

6) New York Dolls “Subway Train” (1973) As David Johansen introduces the song in the live clip
above "it's a song about riding the subway train" with simple lyrics like "I keep on ridin ridin ridin"
the subway train. Even if the subway doesn't or didn't have a whistle the Dolls get poetic license
for this killer track. The song is found on their 1973 debut album New York Dolls. There is also the
Dolls' Johnny Thunders later solo version from his 1978 album So Alone - that some prefer over this.

7) Beastie Boys "Stop That Train" (1989) Off Paul's Boutique - as part of the "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" segment, "Stop That Train" is just one Beastie Boys song that references the NY subway - but boy does it have some great lyrics. "Groggy-eyed and fried, and I'm headed for the station.  D-train ride to Coney Island vacation This one’s… Dedicated to the boofers in the back of the 1-train. They'll be kicking out windows, high on cocaine. And then I jump the turnstyle, I lost my last token.
Riding between the cars, pissing, smoking
" - are sample of the lyrics of this song that is loosely
based on the reggae standard of the same name.

8) Brooklyn Funk Essentials - Take The L Train (To Brooklyn) Complete with subway train and
announcer samples this track was done in the spirit the previous era Duke Ellington jazz standard.
The 1990's acid jazz/funk/hip-hop collective The Brooklyn Funk Essentials also recorded the accompanying
other direction on the L train song, the more chilled sounding "Take The L Train (To 8th Avenue)."

9) The Velvet Underground “I’m Waiting for the Man” (1967) "Up to Lexington and 1 2 5" as
Lou Reed sings about taking the 4, 5, or 6 train to get there to East Harlem from Downtown is
enough to quality this Velvet Underground classic, that sums up New York City of old, as a NYC
subway song in my books.

10) Fear “New York’s All Right If You Like Saxophones” (1982) off the album Fear. With the opening line about "New  York's alright if you wanna get pushed in front of the subway" this song makes the list. And getting  pushed in front of the subway is a very real threat in New York City that occurs from time to time - most recently about two years ago. It is easy to do, if someone decides they want to commit such a
random crime, since there's no barrier between passengers and the high speed subway trains
pulling into the station.

Relevant Tags

Irt Watch The Closing Doors (1), Amoeba Music New York City (3), New York (59), Top Ten Best New York City Subway Songs (1), New York Subway Songs (1), Tom Waits (16), Transit Ride (1), Le Tigre (2), New York Dolls (5), Guru (10), Johnny Thunders (5), New York State Of Mind (92), New York Dolls (5), Nyc (85), Branford Marsalis (2), Charles Mingus (6), Ny State Of Mind Amoeblog (63), New York City (100), Duke Ellington (9), Take The A Train (1)