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THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Song)

Theme from New York, New York (Song)

Released 1979
Format 7″ single
Recorded 1978
Genre Jazz
Length 3:26
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Fred Ebb, John Kander
Producer(s) Sonny Burke

“Theme from New York, New York” (or “New York, New York”) is the theme song from the Martin Scorsese film New York, New York (1977), composed by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb. It was written for and performed in the film by Liza Minnelli. It remains one of the best-remembered songs about New York City. In 2004 it finished #31 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

It should not be confused with the song “New York, New York”, from Leonard Bernstein/Adolph Green/Betty Comden’s musical On the Town (1944), which features the lyric “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down…”

Composers Kander and Ebb stated on the A&E Biography episode about Liza Minnelli, that they attribute the song’s success to actor Robert De Niro, who rejected their original theme for the film because he thought it was “too weak”.

The song did not become a popular hit until it was picked up in concert by Frank Sinatra during his performances at Radio City Music Hall in October 1978. (It was not even nominated for the Academy Award for ‘Best Song’). Subsequently, Sinatra recorded it in 1979 for his 1980 Trilogy set (Reprise Records), and it became one of his signature songs. The single peaked at #32 in June 1980, becoming his final Top Forty charting hit. Sinatra made two more studio recordings of the song in 1981 (for his NBC TV special The Man and His Music) and 1993 (for Capitol Records). From the latter, an electronic duet with Tony Bennett was produced for Sinatra’s Duets album.

The lyrics of the Sinatra versions differ slightly from Ebb’s original lyrics. Notably, the phrase “A-number-one”, which does not appear at all in the original lyrics, is sung twice at the song’s rallentando climax. (Ebb has said he “didn’t even like” Sinatra’s use of “A-number-one”).[1] The phrase is both the first and fourth on a list of three superlative titles the singer strives to achieve — “A-number-one, top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-one” — where Ebb’s original lyrics (performed by Minnelli) were “king of the hill, head of the list, cream of the crop, at the top of the heap.”

Despite Sinatra’s version becoming more familiar, original singer Minnelli had two of the tune’s most memorable live performances – during the July 4, 1986 ceremony marking the rededication of the Statue of Liberty after extensive renovations, and in the middle of the seventh inning of a New York Mets game, that was the first pro sports event in the metro area after the September 11, 2001 attacks. She also sang it in the Olympic stadium during the 1984 Summer Olympics, accompanied by 24 pianos and strobe lights.