10 Best New York City Bands
Cleveland may be home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the mean streets of New York City have spawned more rock bands and witnessed more rock history than just about any other metropolitan area in the world. Obviously, naming the definitive Big Apple rock band is next to impossible, and even limiting ourselves to the 10 on this list was pretty damn hard. But we persevered, and what follows are our picks for the 10 Best New York City Bands of all time. We didn’t rank them, and if that leads to arguments over what group is the greatest, that’s fine with us: They are all worthy candidates.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the stage for the first time back in the summer of 2000, not even Karen O could’ve known what lay ahead for the dance-punk trio. Major buzz led to a major-label record deal, and that led to a major indie hit with ‘Maps,’ the tender punk ditty that also put YYYs on the mainstream map. Things only grew from there, and over the last decade or so, the band has branched out into wildly divergent sonic territories without ever compromising their sound.
Suicide don’t have the name recognition that most of the bands on our 10 Best New York City Bands list do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t belong here. The veteran duo’s distinct sound — a minimalist mix of simple keyboard chords, primitive drum-machine beats and mumbled vocals — certainly was innovative when it first emerged in the early ’70s, and their self-titled 1977 debut is an undeniable classic. The album has influenced bands as varied as Nine Inch Nails, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Daft Punk. Even Bruce Springsteen is a fan — check out his cover of ‘Dream Baby Dream’ on the ‘High Hopes’ album.
It’s no stretch to call New York City’s hip-hop scene second to none, and over the years, it has produced some of the biggest names in the rhyme-slinging game. Few groups bring together more of those players than Wu-Tang Clan, the Staten Island-bred collective that originally boasted no less than nine members (RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard). Getting all of them together on the same stage at the same time was always chaotic, but it was definitely worth it when they actually pulled it off.
The New York Dolls
Put together punk rock and glam metal and you get the New York Dolls, but impressively enough, this band predated both. Singer David Johansen and the boys infamously played their first show at a NYC homeless shelter on Christmas Eve in 1970 and never looked back. They lasted just five whirlwind years on their original run, but before falling apart, they inspired everyone from Morrissey and David Bowie to Motley Crue.
Although the ‘PUNK: Chaos to Couture’ show recently held at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art proved once and for all that Richard Hell was the first to rock torn T-shirts, safety pins and spiked hair — the look that became a punk staple on both sides of the Atlantic — fashion innovations are hardly Television’s greatest achievements. Along with fellow CBGB regulars like the Patti Smith Group and Blondie (either of whom could’ve deservedly made this list), Television helped spawn the punk movement of the early ’70s with a sound that pushed boundaries even more than their duds did.
Who would’ve thought back in the mid-’80s that three white boys from NYC rapping about fighting for their right to party in a novelty hit would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands of all time, selling more than 20 million records and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the process? The Beastie Boys sure didn’t.
Emerging from NYC’s commercially bankrupt No Wave scene, Sonic Youth gradually transformed from obscure experimentalists in the late ’70s to underground heroes in the ’80s to bona fide stars in the ’90s, taking bands like Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. under their wings and helping spawn the alternative nation.
The Talking Heads
The path the Talking Heads took from quirky Rhode Island School of Design alums in the ’70s to New Wave legends by the ’90s wasn’t a logical one, but would anyone expect it to be? Frontman David Byrne and the band mixed snippets of everything from post-punk and disco-funk to synth-rock and world music into an impressively cohesive sound that’s as hard for others to imitate as it was for them to create.
A case could easily be made — and often is — that punk rock began with the Ramones, the ragtag crew of leather-clad misfits with an unabashed obsession with comic books. The band’s rapid-fire tempos, amp-blasting guitars and over-before-you-know-it song structures are hallmarks of punk rock to this day, and they undeniably influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedys to Green Day.
The Velvet Underground
Brian Eno supposedly said that while only 30,000 people bought the first album by the Velvet Underground, every single one of those folks went on to form their own band. That may be hyperbole, but the influence of Lou Reed’s legendary crew is undeniable, as VU albums like 1968’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ and 1970’s ‘Loaded’ provided the blueprints for the next four decades of rock music and beyond.