New York City

New York City: Aural history tour

WORDS: FLORIAN OBKIRCHER
Photo: Getty Images

If you’re a day tripper with an Empire state of mind, NYC is a pop music history mecca

From where did the modern nightclub emerge? Where did Jimi Hendrix build his psychedelic recording studio? Where did the Ramones play their first concert? Where was the world’s first hip-hop party? Four questions, one answer: New York City.

The Big Apple is the birthplace of many of popular music’s significant trends. Music is still a vital element of the city’s lifeblood. Here is a travel guide for pop pilgrims.

Apollo Theater: 253 West 125th Street

© James Brown // YouTube

Back in the day: Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and almost all of the most important African-American musicians got an early career boost here.

Now: Still attracting a million visitors a year to music and comedy shows, including amateur night. 

While there, listen to: Live At The Apollo, James Brown.

CBGB: 315 Bowery/Bleecker St

Back in the day: Punk was born here in 1974, with the Ramones’ first gig and early Television shows. 

Now: CBGB made way for a fashion store in 2006, where fans can gaze in admiration at old concert posters and punk memorabilia.

While there, listen to: Ramones

The Loft: 647 Broadway

© Ben Velez // YouTube

Back in the day: Where, in 1970, DJ David Mancuso built the template for the modern-day nightclub. At invitation- only parties in his apartment, he played an eclectic mix of funk and soul on NYC’s best sound system, inspiring the ‘legal underground’ disco scene, and clubs such as Paradise Garage and the legendary Studio 54. 

Now: A shoe shop and a deli on the ground floor, but Mancuso is still active and organises loft parties in Manhattan a few times a year.

While there, listen to: David Mancuso Presents The Loft, various artists.

Electric Lady: 52 West 8th St

Back in the day: Jimi Hendrix’s recording studio, complete with psychedelic interiors, was built in 1970. He died just three months after it opened, but the studio lives on. Artists such as The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Kings of Leon have recorded here. 

Now: Musicians hoping for Hendrix magic can hire the studio from US$2,000 a day. 

While there, listen to: The Cry Of Love, Jimi Hendrix.

1520 Sedgwick Avenue: 1520 Sedgwick Ave

© RgNero // YouTube

Back in the day: DJ Kool Herc was on the decks for the first hip-hop party, held in this Bronx high-rise in 1973. 

Now: Still residential; the Hip Hop Bus Tour (hushtours.com) drives by with anecdotes. 

While there, listen to: The Adventures of…, Grandmaster Flash.

Minton’s Playhouse: 210 West 118th St

Back in the day: Club regulars Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, invented bebop here in the 1940s during long jamming sessions. 

Now: A place to enjoy delicious multi-course menus while listening to live music performances. 

While there, listen to: Midnight At Minton’s, Don Byas.

Brill Building: 1619 Broadway/49th St

Back in the day: The Art Deco ‘Hit Factory’ of pop: over 165 music publishing companies worked here, turning out over 200 hits for artists including Elvis Presley, between 1958 and 1965. 

Now: Recording studios and music biz offices, including Paul Simon’s, among more mundane workplaces. Great photo ops in the lobby.

While there, listen to: The Brill Building Sound, various artists.

Cafe Wha?: 115 MacDougal Street

Back in the day: The 1960s hangout for beat poets and folk musicians. A 20-year-old Bob Dylan played his first New York concert here in January 1961, and even devoted a line in a song on his first album to Cafe Wha? –“Blowin’my lungs out for a dollar day” – in reference to his many poorly paid performances as a harmonica player.

Now: Although the bar is now seen as a tourist trap, it’s worth going to on Thursday nights when young, talented bands take to the stage. 

While there, listen to: Bob Dylan.

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