The greatest New York albums of all time

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, the big place in America that’s not LA. Whatever you call New York, it’s sure produced its fair share of amazing records. Here are 13 of our favourites that perfectly capture the NY spirit.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Fever To Tell’ (2003)

This scorching hot debut album led the punk trio to ride the mid-noughties New York ‘New Rock Revolution’ guitar scene to ever greater success and longevity than many of their (still amazing) contemporaries.

Wu Tang Clan, ‘Enter the 36 Chambers’ (1993)

Weird song structures, oddball rappers whose monikers name-checked old kung fu movies and wilfully unpolished production: the rap group embodied the experimental, open-minded attitude of NYC.

The Strokes, ‘Is This It?’ (2001)

Did Julian and co. ever better this near-perfect debut? With their artfully dishevelled look and tunes that traded on a rich lineage of New York guitar bands that ran from The Ramones through Blondie and Talking Heads, they arrived as the definition of fully formed.


Sunflower Bean, ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ (2018)

A newbie! When we first reviewed this fantastic, shimmering guitar pop record from the Brooklyn trio – they’re a little Fleetwood Mac, a little Velvet Underground – we reckoned it brimmed with “rage, humour and humanity”.

QTY, ‘QTY’ (2017)

From last year’s NME review: Take opener ‘Rodeo’, a riff-stuffed storm that could slot in on The Strokes’ immortal debut album ‘Is This It’, and the sludgy ‘Living Things’, which follows in the footsteps of post-punk icons Television.” Nuff said, yeah?

Richard Hell & the Voidoids , ‘Blank Generation’ (1977)

Having left aforementioned influential punks Television in 1975, Richard Hell unleashed this ramshackle, massively influential art-punk collection that cheerfully defined contemporary youth as “the blank generation”.

The Ramones, ‘Rocket To Russia’ (1977)

There are people that will tell you that the first Ramones album is their best, and those people may have a point. But this is the one that feature ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, and for this it deserves some love.


Jay Z, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (1996)

With its soul samples, straight-talking rhymes (not sure if you’ve heard, but Jay-Z used to sell drugs?) and air of worldly insouciance, this is debut that ignited a brand. It’s so good that Jay commissioned a 20th anniversary documentary about it, streamed on his own service Tidal, of course.

Blondie, ‘Parallel Lines’, 1978

How many bangers can you stuff onto one album? ‘One Way Or Another’, ‘Hanging On The Telephone’, ‘Heart Of Glass’ – they’re on here, on the record that saw Debbie Harry and co. perfect their new wave stylings into a delicious slice of pop brilliance.

Velvet Underground, ‘White Light/White Heat’ (1968)

As definitive New York albums go, you could pick pretty much any Velvet Underground album – except for the pseudo-Velvets 1973 dud ‘Squeeze’, which featured none of the original member – and anything by head honcho Lou Reed. Yet this is perhaps the quintessential Velvets album, the last featuring founding member John Cale, and one that perfected their scrappy, feedback-driven sound.

Patti Smith, ‘Horses’ (1975)

Smith fully embraced the artier, more literary side of New York counter-culture, combining beat poetry with raw rock’n’roll. The challenge was to capture the spirit of her incendiary lives shows, a feat achieved by Velvet Underground member and producer extraordinaire John Cale.


Nas, ‘illmatic’ (1994)

“I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin if death”: a standout line from an all-time great hip-hop record, one that ushered in smooth jazz samples and staccato breaks, influencing all that came after it. The claustrophobia of youth and poverty has never been captured with such potency.

Beastie Boys, ‘Licensed To Ill’ (1986)

Did Mike D and the gang invent rap-rock? Pretty much, and the genre has never sounded more fun and dumb than on the gleefully juvenile, rabble-rousing ‘Fight For Your Right’. At this stage, the Beasties were more punk than hip-hop, although ‘… Ill’ became the first hip-hop record to reach number one in the album charts.