The 50 Most NYC Albums Ever

Categories: Best of NYC

March 7, 2014 Update: We've added more albums that didn't make the cut: "The Most NYC Albums That Didn't Make Our Most NYC Albums List."
For the past week we've been locked in the torch of the Statue of Liberty, subsisting on nothing but Russ & Daughters' lox, listening to the best records about, by, and for New York City through headphones endorsed by Lou Reed. Our mission: to come up with a list of the 50 Most NYC Albums Ever; albums born of the five boroughs that best capture what it's like to live, love, struggle, and exist in the sprawling, unforgiving, culturally dense metropolis we pay too much to call home. The albums we finally agreed upon capture everything from the unaffected cool of the Lower East Side to the horn-spiked salsa of Spanish Harlem and much more. So let's get to it. Here, now, the 50 most quintessential New York records. Apologies in advance for The Muppets Take Manhattan not making the cut.

Contributors: Rae Alexandra, R.C. Baker, Lilledeshan Bose, Jonah Bromwich, Tom Finkel, Kat George, Beca Grimm, Chris Klimek, Brett Koshkin, Nick Lucchesi, Anna Merlan, Phillip Mlynar, Chris Packham, Albert Samaha, Alan Scherstuhl, Elliott Sharp, Brittany Spanos, Tessa Stuart, Eric Sundermann, Katherine Turman

Listen to selected songs from most of these 50 albums with our Spotify playlist

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever to Tell (2003)
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs might not be the hipster band du jour anymore, but Fever to Tell is still a perfect downtown New York record, gritty and artsy and stylish. Karen O has always sounded (and dressed) like the most inaccessibly hip girl at the art school party, but Fever's appeal is also about the genuine substance locked inside layers of noise and attitude and snarl. O's lines here are plaintive and written to cut like diamonds, like when she addresses a string of no-good lovers in "Y Control," rebuking both them and herself: "Well I'm just one poor baby/'Cause well I believe them all/Wish I could buy back the woman you stole..."

Jay Z - The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z famously mocked Nas for having a "one hot album every 10-year average." And yet Jay himself has only reached the height of his potential three times in a nearly 30-year career. The highest of those heights was The Blueprint, an imperialistic rap album built upon a New York sound that subsumed whatever else was in its path. Released on September 11, 2001, The Blueprint is a reminder of a New York that still seemed invincible, the city where the American dream was available to anyone with a hustle and the heart to see it through.

Jim Carroll - Catholic Boy (1980)
With his New York drug-drawl and angel-headed hipster-hustler lyrics, poet-turned-musician Jim Carroll spoke-sang with an urgency that belied his drug of choice. "Crow," about muse and friend Patti Smith, is a gift, as is Bobby Keys' sad sax on the spare, mysterious "City Drops into the Night." But it was a litany of especially New York deaths -- by subway, The Tombs (jail), and "heroin in upper Manhattan" -- that made "People Who Died" an unlikely hit. Carroll's perfect phrases and phrasing make his recorded debut both a literary and musical gem.

Lana Del Rey - Born to Die (2012)
Despite her Las Vegas past and L.A. crass, Lana Del Rey is still the queen of Coney Island. The self-appointed "gangsta Nancy Sinatra"'s massive debut stirred discussions of authenticity while delivering a surreally romantic worldview of a futuristic Guys and Dolls New York. Even the male subjects of her songs create a composite of the quintessential young New York hipster, from his blue jeans to his apathy and bad reputation. In her way, this New York singer embraces a dreamier ideal of life in the city.

Ciccone Youth - The Whitey Album (1988)
1988's The Whitey Album is what happens when you take two essential NYC musical icons -- underground masters Sonic Youth and pop queen Madonna (last name: Ciccone) -- add punk legends like Black Flag's Greg Ginn and the Minutemen's Mike Watt, and mash the whole thing together in an avant-garde experiment. Madonna's "Burning Up" and "Get into the Groove" are both covered here, and while the latter is a wall of kaleidoscopic distortion and electronic claps, the former is infused with a distinctly Velvet Underground flavor, to really hammer the inherent New York-ness of Whitey home.

Listen to selected songs from most of these 50 albums with our Spotify playlist

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