According to Monsters and Critics, Katy Perry recently admitted that she wrote her hit song "California Gurls" out of jealousy over Jay-Z's anthem for New York, "Empire State of Mind". So her "state of mind" got me thinking: are songs about New York or California better? Perhaps it's not the best idea to try and start another East Coast vs. West Coast battle, but I'm going to compare some of the best songs about California and New York anyway. So get ready for a East Coast vs. West Coast showdown full of great songs and see if Katy Perry and her bikini that shoots whipped cream remain supreme:
"California Gurls" by Katy Perry vs. "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z – Well, I guess I'll go ahead and get the most obvious East Coast vs. West Coast song showdown out of the way. I'll make this one short and sweet: sure it's one of the kitschiest pop songs that will ever assault your ears, but I'd much prefer to indulge my sweet tooth with a quickly-melting Popsicle than to hear Alicia Keys bang out the same chords over and over again.
"Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed vs. "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses – Two very different sounds from two very different eras, these songs both describe their cultures in very different ways. Lou Reed's New York is a place where creatures can shave their legs and go from a he to a she, something he makes sound like a splendid idea in his laid back, mellow voice (it really might tempt you to take a walk on the wild side). But while he soothingly sings the praises of a trip to the city safari, Guns N' Roses shouts at you about the dangers of the California jungle, a warning punctuated with plenty of machine gun fire stutters. So when it comes to East Coast vs. West Coast songs about the local wildlife, I'd definitely prefer Lou Reed as my tour guide.
"Talkin' New York" by Bob Dylan vs. "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger – These two songs are both about heading to the big city and the adventures to be found there, although Bob Seger's California tune is love story full of sand and sun, while Bob Dylan's song is set against a New York cold that cuts like a knife, featuring stark subways and people blowing aimlessly around the city like the dirty snow swirling around them. Sure Bob Seger's love story doesn't have a happy ending, but when it comes to these East Coast vs. West Coast songs, I prefer Bob Dylan's less glitzy and glamorous one.
"NYC" by Interpol vs. "Californication" by Red Hot Chili Peppers – Both of these songs capture the sordid side of life in two of America's most populous states, with "NYC" describing the dying heart of New York and its congested arteries like this: "the subway is porno". However, I can't help but enjoy the more vivid picture of California painted by RHCP; you just can't beat lyrics like "space may be the final frontier but it's made in a Hollywood basement". What better way to describe the many facades that can be found in California? They're definitely not the most flattering of East Coast vs. West Coast songs, but they do paint very realistic pictures of both of the USA's profiles.
"California Love" by 2Pac vs. "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G. – The musicians behind two of the greatest rap songs the world has ever heard definitely added fuel to the fire (and loads of lead) when it came to the heyday of the East Coast vs. West Coast battle. Sure Biggie Smalls' tale of living a hard life in New York is moving, but I can't help but always give the edge to 2Pac's tunes, especially his ode to "the city of sex". This song gave California some major street cred, as 2Pac informed the world that the wild, wild west knew how to party. So while Biggie has one of the most inspiring songs about his state, I've got to go with the guy who makes the dance floor shake like a good ol' Cali earthquake.
"California Blue" by Roy Orbison vs. "New York City Blues" by Yardbirds – Here we have one of the world's best classic crooners up against a band messing around with one of America's most well-known sounds. The Yardbirds' cautionary and comical tale of love in New York is great, but their silly little story just can't beat Roy Orbison's lullaby full of longing for his "California Blue". So when it comes to East Coast vs. West Coast songs about being blue, the drab gray city just can't beat the sunny state's bright skies.
"Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A. vs. "N.Y. State of Mind" by Nas – Both of these rap songs are as hardcore as they come, describing life on the streets complete with gunfire and all the other gangsta lifestyle trimmings. However, California definitely trumps New York here; N.W.A. was the first to really shock with straight talk about life on the streets (including more than a few jabs at the police). It's a raw slice of California that the world wasn't ready to digest, but now it's just hard to believe that a guy that used to sing songs like "Straight Outta Compton" has traded his attitude for Disney movies.
"L.A. Woman" by The Doors vs. "The Girl From New York City" by The Beach Boys – According to the Beach Boys, the guys just can't peel their eyes from the girl from New York City (something the California boys repeat in their song over and over again). However, I think I'd prefer to be the L.A. lady that the more poetic Jim Morrison praises. When it comes to these songs, it's not just a case of East Coast vs. West Coast, but the men vs. the boys (and the L.A. Woman vs. the N.Y. girl).
"Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues vs. "Hotel California" by The Eagles – Both of these songs tell tall tales, but while "Fairytale of New York" is an Irish folk story set during a cold Christmas Eve, "Hotel California" is one of the greatest ghost stories of the California desert. Sure "Fairytale of New York" is a merry song perfect for sharing some spirits to during the holidays (if your friends and relatives don't mind a little bad language), but I just can't help but prefer the strange spirits haunting one of the Eagles' greatest songs, no matter how many times it gets played on the jukebox at the local bar.
"New York City Serenade" by Bruce Springsteen vs. "Going to California" by Led Zeppelin – While these songs describe very different worlds, both are beautiful ballads worth giving a listen. Bruce Springsteen's lyrics including references to a prostitute ("fish lady") and fast living, including taking the train, boogalooing down to Broadway, and other colorful descriptions of life on the streets. But while Bruce Springsteen sings of the jazz man, Led Zeppelin dreams of a guitar-playing girl in California with flowers in her hair and a more idyllic way of life. And since Led Zeppelin leaves me with an aching in my heart for California, it looks like this song about searching for something to fill the void fills the last slot on this list.
So when it comes to songs about New York and California, it looks like I'm a Cali girl at heart, hands down. However, if you dare to compare, see which of these songs about some of America's most beloved states you prefer. Just beware: you might find yourself on a train or plane ready to write your own ballad about these popular places.