Listen to this track by New York-based art rock and new wave quartet Talking Heads. It’s “Psycho Killer”, an early composition that would eventually appear on the band’s appropriately titled 1977 debut album Talking Heads 77 and become its second single.
The song was released in the winter 1977, months after New York City was menaced by The Son Of Sam, a serial killer later revealed to be one David Berkowitz, who claimed that he was driven to kill six young women at the behest of his neighbor’s dog Harvey, who according to Berkowitz, was actually a demon in dog form. Despite this song seeming to be a direct reference to this series of events, the song actually pre-dates them, written in 1974 around the time the band was formed. Maybe it was chosen as a single because of its relevance during a time when psycho killers were on everyone’s mind.
Singer, guitarist, and co-writer David Byrne has been quoted as saying that this song is about the Alice Cooper meets Randy Newman interior monologue of a single, and very pretentious killer. Yet, I think this suggests something beyond that that has more to do with us listeners than it does with any one bad guy. Read more
Listen to this track by former Whiskytown principle turned 21st century roots-rock poster boy Ryan Adams. It’s “New York, New York”, a stormingly anthemic single as taken from his smash 2001 record Gold his second album as a solo artist.
Apart from the ambitious scope of the record that touches on a number of classic rock textures that reference Dylan, Van Morrison, The Band, and late ’60s Rolling Stones, it had time on its side, too. Released only a couple of weeks after New York made the news in a shocking and tragic manner during the events of September 11, 2001 , this song became a love song to a city during a very troubled and heartbreaking time.
The madness of these times was palpable, and this was an anathema, like a balm during a time that felt like the end of one era, and the beginning of a much darker one. The song won him a Grammy for best male rock vocal, and raised his profile among peers, critics, and record buyers. Yet, that darkness followed this song, impossible to separate from how celebratory it sounds due to that timing which could not be forseen. Amazingly, the video for this song was shot four days before the skyline of the city to which the song became a tribute would change forever.
Listen to this track by New York icon and guitar-distortion enthusiast Lou Reed. It’s “Egg Cream”, an anthem to local cuisine as taken from Reed’s 1996 record Set The Twilight Reeling. The song opened the record, setting the scene in more ways than one.
Lou Reed is known for writing songs about drugs, sexual ambiguity, alienation, disease, the failure of political systems, and other aspects of the darker side of humanity and culture. He continues in that tradition with this record on a number of songs. But, here on this song, Reed breaks from the heavier topics that would characterize his work from this period.
First, he focuses on that which brings him simple pleasures; the chocolate egg cream, which is a quintessential New York beverage. And second, it’s all about the guitar on this song, sounding kind of like you’re hearing it being played from the inside, full of distorted glory. Reed plays it himself, of course. Maybe the subject matter does seem a bit lightweight for him.
But, I think it serves a purpose outside of itself. Read more