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Musical Mementos from the Upper West Side

By Cathleen Freedman

I know it seems trite, but I stand by this adage: West Side, Best Side. I love the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

And when I love something, I associate it with music. I make it mixtapes, and I serenade it with songs that say everything I’m thinking. Even if it is just a neighborhood in New York City.


A good playlist will serve as a memory box. So here is my playlist for the Upper West Side. 

Allow me to explain a few songs, or rather, memories, below.


When we first hunted for apartments, one of my roommates and I were going through a separate but equal Paul Simon listening craze. I kept thinking about the line “He looked around, around, saw angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity. He said ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah’”  in Simon’s song, “You Can Call Me Al.”


My roommate showed me a photo of angels in the facade of one of the UWS apartments we considered. From then on, whenever I walked along West End, I would look for the building where there are clearly—in Paul Simon fashion—angels in the architecture.


Quite a few Paul Simon songs embody the way I think of the UWS. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is self-explanatory when you discover how many schools are on the UWS. “Born at the Right Time” is just as winsome as the West Side. “Kodachrome” is endlessly bright and ebullient. 



The Beatles are very UWS to me for quite a few reasons. John Lennon was an Upper West Sider himself and lived on Central Park West at the Dakota. This is where he was fatally shot and where Yoko still lives today.


Relatedly, I met the Beatles on the UWS. I was standing outside of Pomander Walk—well, hm. I already made a TikTok about this day. I should probably make it an Absolutely Anything article too. Until then, watch this video for more details.

THE 1975

There are several songs from The 1975 on the playlist. I’ve always been a fan, but the reason why I absolutely must include The 1975 is because I met Matt Healy on the Upper West Side. This was somewhere in the high 60s and Columbus, I believe. That was a fun day. I elaborate on that experience here. It was a coming of age test for me, and I passed.


by Romain Collin, Grégoire Maret, Bill Frisell

This version of “Re: Stacks” is the definitive watch-the-sunset-from-Riverside-Park song. I make the rules, and that’s #1.


My friend Sophie invited me to an Amos Lee concert at the UWS venue, The Beacon Theatre. Amos Lee’s song “Sweet Pea” is SO UWS, as is most of his discography. I also saw James Bay perform at The Beacon for my nineteenth birthday (Gabby was my guest!)


by Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones’s “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking” is one of my favorite songs. No wonder I associate it with one of my favorite neighborhoods. If I were in charge of curating  a playlist for subways, I’d have this one on the list first. It makes mundane experiences kind of glamorous and fun and freeing.


by Anyone, Really

“Tom’s Diner,” AKA the song that you hum to yourself more often than you think, is based on Tom’s Restaurant on the UWS. Yes, this is also the exterior shot for the restaurant in Seinfeld. I apologize for referencing my own TikToks. I have another. This one is about Tom’s Restaurant. It’s kind of crazy because the person who sat in the booth behind me found this video! Oh, the places TikToks will go.



by Don Williams

I had an epiphany of sorts while listening to “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good” at Irving Farms on 77th. Maybe you will too.



by the Pixies

Every time I hear “Here Comes Your Man” by the Pixies, I think of when my roommates Sean and Gabby brought home a bass lamp from the Grand Bazaar on 77th. They walked towards me and my roommate Sydni while I played this song in the back of my head. Also, the Grand Bazaar? A lovely UWS Sunday tradition. I liked to meet up with friends at this market and stroll around.


Within the first three months of living in New York, I realized that anywhere on that little isle, at any given time, someone would be playing Billy Joel. It’s one of the most New York things you can do. 


After a long day around Chinatown and downtown New York, I entered my UWS apartment and thought, “Well, that was the end of the day!” I plugged my dying phone into its charger and read a text from my friend Kayla, inviting me to a Billy Joel concert that would begin in six minutes. I quickly left the apartment and booked it to midtown.


by the Paradise

This song was used at the end of the first season of And Just Like That, which I watched in my UWS apartment with roommates Liza and Sydni. I've been playing it ever since.


I packed up my first UWS apartment while playing Harry Styles’s at-the-time new album, Harry’s House. “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” will always remind me of this.


I hope you find yourself on the Upper West Side sometime soon.* If not, these songs will make you feel like you could be there. Check out the playlist for the full 109 song queue.


*I hope I do.

Pictured above: One of Cathleen's favorite places on the UWS, Pomander Walk.

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