In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking songs about living in the city.
In my adult life, the size of my adopted hometowns have increased incrementally: I left the Michigan suburbs for a Big Ten college town; left East Lansing for another college town that’s also the rapidly expanding capital of Texas; left pretend-big-city Austin for the real deal: The City Of Big Shoulders. I’ve just entered my fourth year in Chicago, but I still feel an infatuation with the place, coupled with fleeting disbelief that I actually made it here. Tourists are supposed to be the only people who crane their necks to take in a city’s skyline, but I don’t buy into that. The skyscraper was born in Chicago, and I’m never not going to be impressed by the achievements of Daniel Burnham, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, or Jeanne Gang.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s still a romance to living in a metropolis, a romance that gushes forth from Cub’s “New York City.” Yeah, it’s a song about that other big American town, but the feelings it describes are universal: “I can’t believe it’s true,” vocalist Lisa Marr sings in the final verse, one more immigrant heeding the siren song of tall buildings, suspension bridges, and famous filming locations. (Not that Cub’s native Vancouver is anything to sneeze at in those regards—it was headquarters for all of the good seasons of The X-Files!) The sugary buzz of the song is the rebuttal to so many grim-and-gritty musical depictions of urban life, a perspective represented in “New York City” by a romantic interest who can’t stomach another Big Apple snow storm.
Some native New Yorkers were on Cub’s wavelength: They Might Be Giants recorded a version of the track for 1996’s Factory Showroom. Johns Flansburgh and Linnell have always projected an image of their home base that’s more Flushing Meadows than Central Park, but their bigger-budget “New York City” redux still hinges on the same “love letter to picture-postcard locations” spirit as Cub’s original. There’s no shame in keeping a laundry list of landmarks like the one reeled off in “New York City”; just make sure you’ve got someone who makes visiting those tourist destinations worth it.