1001 Songs Challenge,  2000s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #974: Empire State of Mind (2009)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!


Jay-Z & Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind (2009)

Empire State of Mind – Wikipedia

” Empire State of Mind” is a song performed by American rapper Jay-Z featuring vocals by American singer Alicia Keys, from Jay-Z’s 11th studio album, The Blueprint 3 (2009). Produced by Al Shux, the song features a music sample of ” Love on a Two-Way Street” performed by The Moments.


Lyrics (via Genius)


We’re remaining in the US today, dear reader, but leaving Maryland behind and making our way back to New York. It is another appearance from Jay-Z who previously collaborated with Notorious B.I.G. and supported his wife Beyonce Knowles on one of her tracks featured on this prestigious list. It is 2009 and Jay-Z is onto his 11th album, The Blueprint 3, and from there 1001 Songs have lifted a collaboration between Jay-Z and fellow New Yorker, Alicia Keys, who has also been on our list. Small world.  

Empire State of Mind was first written by Angela Hunte and Jane Sewell-Ulepic and concerned their feeling of homesickness. Both writers were in London and the city of New York had never felt so special to them than in that moment. They set about to write an anthem for New York with the song then being handed to Jay-Z. He considered a collaboration with Mary J. Blige, but instead opted for Alicia Keys, also a New York resident. Empire State of Mind gives the verses to Jay-Z and he wanders the streets and celebrates not just his achievements and opportunities in being a son of this fine city but there are also nods to others who have made it big such as Afrika Bambaataa. The choruses belong to Alicia Keys and are the most well-known element of the track as she sings of her own love for New York. This is the American Dream right here in the Big Apple.  

I saw the title to this song and did not think I knew it but as soon as I heard Alicia Keys singing “New York” I recognised the song immediately. The gestation of the track was an interesting read and there is added poignancy with the original writers remembering just how much New York meant to them, that old saying of you don’t know what you have until it is gone. The song would be a huge hit across the globe and although it appears on Jay-Z’s album and he was instrumental in bringing it to life, he would admit and would be right in saying that Alicia Keys is fundamental to the song’s appeal.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Doors – The End (1967)

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)

Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (1988)

U2 – One (1991)

Radiohead – Paranoid Android (1997)

Snow Patrol – Run

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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