London is an inspiring city in many ways. In Architecture, Art, Fashion and Music, the UK capital has been an endless source of creation for many artists. In the music industry in particular, many musicians have paid tribute to London over the years. Whatever their style or music genre, these songs always tell a story (either real or fictional), describe a part of London, and capture the spirit of London.
Today, DOYOUSPEAKLONDON invits you to discover 15 of these songs, which I will present you in chronological order.
Now relax in your (safe) home and listen to this…
1.”A Foggy Day (In London Town)”-Ella Fitzgerald (1956)
I love Ella Fitzgerald, “the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for half a century”, because she possessed a singular stunning voice and a had such a strong personality.
Listen to this beautiful version of “A foggy Day” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: a great way to feel like walking in London again!
2.”Here comes the sun”- The Beatles (1969)
Impossible to avoid The Beatles in this selection! I chose the Abbey Road album, which was the final album the band recorded. I think its iconic cover symbolizes London and that time perfectly well…
On this picture, George Harrison, Paul McCartney (barefoot!), Ringo Starr and John Lennon are striding along a zebra crossing on Abbey Road, outside EMI studios in London, where the band had spent the majority of their recording career.
George Harrison wrote it in early 1969 at the country house of his friend Eric Clapton; the lyrics “reflect his relief at the arrival of spring and the temporary respite he was experiencing from the band’s business affairs”.
There are a few anecdotes behind this cover, like the fact that photographer Iain Macmillan only had a short time to get the right shot on his camera. He finally did only 6 photographs, which Paul McCartney analyzed to select the one for the cover.
Discover all stories behind this cover here.
3. “Children of the revolution” – T-Rex (1972)
This is one of my favorite singers in the seventies: Marc Bolan and his band T-Rex. This singer is said to have “kick-started the UK glam rock craze” in the 1970s.
I personally discovered -and instantly loved- all the songs from the band (many of which were used in the 2000 movie Billy Elliot). “Children of the revolution” certainly tries to encapsulate the rebellious attitude of people in the UK at that time (this decade was economically and socially particularly bleak in England) and the energy in that song is amazing.
Interesting fact: “Children of the Revolution” was first recorded for the British concert film Born to Boogie, directed by Ringo Starr (and featuring Elton John on piano and Ringo Starr on a second drum kit).
4. “Sultans of Swing”- Dire Straits (1978)
The British band Dire Straits was formed in London in 1977 by the Knopfler brothers (vocals and guitars), John Illsley (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Pick Withers (drums and percussion).
I discovered the band in the early 1990s and immediately enjoyed their style, with several influences coming from the blues rock, folk and country.
“Sultans of Swing” was their first single (from the 1978 self-titled debut album) and reached the top ten in the UK and US charts.
I like how the South London pub atmosphere is described here, with its mix of populations and musicians trying to stand out…
Interesting facts: The lyrics seem to have been inspired by a jazz band playing in an almost empty pub in Deptford, South London. At the end of their performance, the lead singer announced their name: the Sultans of Swing. Knopfler found the contrast between the group’s dowdy appearance and surroundings and their grandiose name amusing.
Bob Dylan, who had seen the band play in Los Angeles in 1978, was so impressed that he invited Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers to play on his next album, Slow Train Coming.
5. “London Calling” – The Clash (1979)
Another of the greatest bands of the seventies: The Clash. The english rock band formed in London in 1976 was a key player in the original wave of British punk rock.
I am not very familiar with all their songs, but there is one that is major when evoking London and the seventies: “London Calling”. I remember adding this song to my playlist when I arrived in London, and my then 4 year-old son dancing on it repeatedly…!
Interesting fact: The song basically presents the many ways the world could end (via the coming of the ice age). It was the song that best defined the band, who were known for denouncing injustice and rebelling against the establishment, which is actually what punk rock was all about.
6. “Chelsea Girl”-Simple Minds (1979)
I discovered this track from Simple Minds while looking at London-related songs. This Scottish rock band formed in Glasgow in 1977 consists of the two remaining original members, Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (mainly electric & acoustic guitars). Despite the success of the album the song was part of, “Chelsea Girl” failed to chart at the time it was released. I have to admit this song does not have the energy of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (one of their best hits), but the evocation of Chelsea was the reason I chose it 🙂
Interesting fact: here is what Jim Kerr said about “Chelsea Girl”: “Promised You a Miracle” was our first true pop hit, but “Chelsea Girl” from our debut album was in my opinion the first really good pop song that both Charlie and I wrote. Again, I recall clearly it coming together in an instant.”
7. “Talk Of The Town” – Pretenders (1980)
The Pretenders are an English-American rock band formed in March 1978. “Talk of the Town”, inspired by a London nightclub and a fan of the band, was written by Chrissie Hynde and performed by the Pretenders.
I love Chrissie Hynde’s voice, and as she is the only consistent member of the band in a predominantly male industry, I can’t help but admire her…
Interesting facts: Chrissie Hynde explained in a BBC Songwriters’ Circle special: “I had in mind this kid who used to stand outside the soundchecks on our first tour… I never spoke to him. I kind of wrote this for him, so, in the unlikely event that you’re watching this, I did think about you.”
It was also rumored that the song was written about Kinks frontman Ray Davies, whom Hynde would date.
8. “London” – The Smiths (1986)
The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982 and were actually based on the songwriting partnership of Morrissey and Marr.
Interesting facts: the band name “the Smiths”, later informing an interviewer that “it was the most ordinary name and I thought it was time that the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces”
9. “Common People” – Pulp (1995)
I love Pulp. The English rock band formed in Sheffield in 1978 is, for me, very representative of great Britain’s extravagance, daring and sarcasm. “Common People” is my favorite song, I love the way Jarvis Cocker extracts substance from his London everyday life to turn it into a massive hit.
Interesting fact: This song came from a Greek art student whom Pulp singer-songwriter Jarvis Cocker met while he was studying at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design:
“He remembered that at one point she had told him she “wanted to move to Hackney and live like ‘the common people’ ”. Cocker used this phrase as the starting point for the song and embellished the situation for dramatic effect” (interview here).
10. “London Girls” – Tori Amos (1996)
Another beautiful voice to sing London, praising the town… and its amazing girls!
11. “Across the River Thames” – Elton John (2006)
Elton John is no more to be presented. Personally, I would rather associate the song “Candle in the wind” with London, as the singer’s tribute to Princess Diana and images from London in tears can’t get out of my mind when it comes to thinking of the city’s events and spirit. But “Across the river Thames” really describe both Elton John’s introspection and London’s iconic places, this is why it could not be excluded from this specific playlist 🙂
Interesting fact: “Across the River Thames” was issued as an Internet-only download as a bonus with certain editions of the album The Captain & the Kid.
12.“LDN” – Lily Allen (2006)
What a lovely summery song, with uplifting Caribbean beats! In her video clip, Lily Allen is walking through London and describes it by depicting the good and the bad of the city. This is pure sunshine, even if behind the cheerful tone Lily Allen is very cynical when referring to “crack whores, pimps and the filth”. But beyond the lyrics, the melody gets stuck into your head for hours after listening to it …
Interesting fact: William Wordsworth’s poem, Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, was a major inspiration for the song. She explained: “That was one of the poems I studied for GCSE English at school. I remember thinking, ‘I want to write about London,’ and looking at that poem online and thinking, ‘That’s what he thought, what do I think?’ I was looking at his viewpoint; how he told what he felt at that particular moment.”
13. Adele – ‘Hometown Glory’ (2007)
Adele is also inseparable from London’s musical scene. “Hometown Glory” is actually the first song Adele ever wrote, when she was only 16 years old. Although the track sounds sad, Adele wrote it more as a protest against her mother, after an argument. I like its melancholy, maybe the one everyone’s feeling when leaving his own town/country to start a new life in London… After all, this town is as welcoming as international, where Londoners were not all born in London 🙂
Interesting fact: Adele wrote the song in 10 minutes after her mother tried to persuade her to leave her home suburb of West Norwood to go to university in London.
14. “London Town” – Laura Marling (2008)
I love the voice of this young British folk singer-songwriter. In her song “London Town” released in 2008, Laura Marling is very personal and sensible. And once again, London is the setting for a sad romantic story… that I can’t help listening to again and again since I have discovered it!
Interesting fact: In 2011, Laura Merling won the award for best female act at the Brits. Her music has been compared to renowned musicians, including Joni Mitchell, whose album Blue was offered to Marling by her parents at the age of 13. “If Joni Mitchell didn’t exist, I wouldn’t exist,” she said.
15. Warwick Avenue’ – Duffy (2008)
This is quite funny to realize that the most recent songs I selected for this compilation are performed by women…
Duffy is a talented singer, whose work I admire since her first album, Rockferry, released in 2008.
“Warwick Avenue” is a very sad song (speaking about a breakup with her boyfriend), though the voice of Duffy makes it sound beautiful, full of grace and truth feelings. Considering the recent news from the singer, I can only be even more touched by her songs…
Interesting fact: Duffy said that “lyrically, “Warwick Avenue” is a heart-on-sleeve number, in the tradition of great break-up songs”. “I wrote it from a secretive perspective,” Duffy commented coyly after the song was a hit, stating it to be the most unusual song in her repertoire”.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you want to share another music hit that is depicting London well, please mention it on DOYOUSPEAKLONDON’s blog!