30 songs that absolutely define 30 cities

These songs define some towns.

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The Northeast

"STREETS OF PHILADELPHIA" by Bruce Springsteen (1994)

When Whitney Houston presented Springsteen with the statuette for Best Original Song at the 1994 Oscars, it set up one of the best acceptance speeches I have ever heard. After a brief message about tolerance and thanking director Jonathan Demme and Neil Young (who also had a nominated song from the movie Philadelphia), he signed off with “Thanks for inviting me to your party.” It’s a haunting song about acceptance and grace in the midst of tragedy. AIDS ravaged every city in the country, but this story happened to take place in Philadelphia.

"DIRTY WATER" by the Standells (1965)

“Down by the river, down by the banks of the River Charles – That’s where you’ll find me, along with lovers, muggers and thieves.” The Standells were a garage band from SoCal who had never even been to Boston when they recorded this track. Their producer Ed Cobb wrote the song after being mugged on a visit to Beantown – hence the reference to muggers and the overall snarky tone. Snarkiness aside, Boston has embraced it. Just go to any sporting event in town – you’ll hear “I love that dirty water – Boston you’re my home.”

"LIVING FOR THE CITY" by Stevie Wonder (1973) and "THEME FROM 'NEW YORK, NEW YORK'" by Frank Sinatra (1979)

As I said, some cities are too big for just one song. But I’m reserving my one and only tie for the biggest city of them all. These two iconic songs, made famous by two iconic singers, capture the duality of the Big Apple.

Sinatra, whose 1979 recording supplanted Liza Minelli’s original as the standard, sings about aspiration – “I want to be a part of it – New York, New York.” Stevie Wonder sings about the underbelly. “His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty – He spends his days walking the streets of New York City – He’s almost dead from breathing air pollution – He tried and fought but to him there’s no solution.” That is the dichotomy of New York.

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