Now that I’m back in London, I’ve got inspiration for writing again at last – because there are just SO many things to write about here, dear friends! And I really feel more and more like a real Londoner every day…
One of the most important aspects of any local culture is the music, of course; and London music definitely IS special. Being one of the biggest and most important cities in the world, a melting pot of races and cultures, its music has had influences from literally everywhere. Now I’m certainly not trying to point out the most ‘important’ or ‘influential’ songs ever sung about London (would be hard to get an unbiased list there, anyway), I just want to tell you about my personal favourites, dear friends – trying to keep a bit of a balance, though, and including songs from various eras; the oldest one is from 1937…
But first, let’s hear about today’s London – from probably the greatest 21st century bard the city’s got: wonderful grime artist Dizzee Rascal!
10 Hype Talk – Dizzee Rascal (2016)
Here he is, Dizzee the hero of London’s young generation; grime doesn’t get any better than this! And he’s talking about a local boy made good, a young singer who made it not only to the radio but to America – he’s on a hype now! But Dizzee also knows how that boy started out, and he tells us a bit of gossip there from Bethnal Green and Soho… In case you can’t get your head around the lyrics listening to Dizzee’s machine gun-like delivery, here they are:
Next, let’s go back into time a bit, to 1979 when Thatcher (the worst thing that’s ever happened to Britain since World War II) had just been elected Prime Minister – there was a chilly wind in the air, a wind of change definitely for the worse; and the young punk band The Clash knew what it meant and warned the rest of the nation…
9 London Calling – The Clash
It’s quite a bleak picture they paint for us here, disillusioned and desperate – but on the other hand, ‘I have no fear, cause London is drowning and I live by the river’…
But let’s have a look at London’s bright and beautiful side, too; a lovely song from the 1971 Disney movie “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” has immortalised one of the city’s most famous street markets:
8 Portobello Road – Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson
All sorts of things are being sold on Portobello Road, from valuable antiques to little old tin soldiers to souvenirs for tourists; I’ve been there, and believe me, it IS just like the song describes it!
There’s another, darker side to London, though, a picture present in all big cities, no matter how budding and prosperous: all the homeless people, forgotten by society, with nobody to care for them or about them…
7 Streets of London – Ralph McTell
It was made in 1969 (but only released as a single in 1974), but it’s a timeless song with a timeless subject – until people will REALLY start caring about each other and end the misery of homelessness.
Now here’s a less dark, but most charming song about the West End, described by a band that captured London street scenes maybe better than any other:
6 Wild West End – Dire Straits (1978)
Talking about the area in a wonderfully affectionate way, describing a day in the life of an average Londoner, a down-to-earth and yet romantic way of looking at the town and its people and girls and love; the Dire Straits have always had that special gift of serving us a slice of real life in their songs!
But here is something a bit different – something BEYOND everyday life, something in between reality and… daydream…
5 Itchycoo Park – The Small Faces
This is 1967, folks! Skip school and go to the park instead to get high until you think ‘it’s all too beautiful’… Psychedelic rock at its best, this song really takes you back into time and will maybe even make you sad in case you’re (like me) too young to have lived those glorious hippie days. By the way, if you’re wondering where the title came from: it’s the stinging nettles growing in Manor Park, East London, where Steve Marriott, the lead singer of The Small Faces, grew up!
And now let’s go even further back, to the 1930s, to a declaration of love to one of South London’s most famous streets:
4 Lambeth Walk – Lupino Lane
Sung by Lupino Lane, the cousin of Stanley Lupino who was the father of Hollywood legend Ida Lupino, this wonderfully bubbly 1937 piece takes us down to ‘Sarf London’, as the natives call it – where you feel at home at once! I’ve done the ‘Lambeth Walk’ myself, that is I’ve walked the whole length of the road; it’s much quieter today, but the cosy atmosphere of the little old houses still captures you!
Now for my Top Three… There’s a most iconic pop song from 1967 that’s made a certain London Tube station famous the world over:
3 Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
So here’s this guy who doesn’t go out, he’s fine just looking on Waterloo sunset from his window while Terry meets Julie… Terry being Terence Stamp, and Julie of course Julie Christie – THE London celebrity couple of the time! A great time document, cool and groovy, that shows us younger folks in the most enchanting way what London was like in the Swinging Sixties.
But this great old city had seen much darker days: during the Blitz in 1940, it was bombarded mercilessly by the Germans; during those horrible eight months, more than 40,000 Londoners were killed. And here’s the song that’s immortalised the defiant spirit of the people of London during those dreadful days – written and performed by Britain’s greatest multi-purpose entertainer of all times.
2 London Pride – Noel Coward
While the bombs keep dropping, this little city flower called London Pride grows all over the town just like it does every spring – and in the same way, Londoners continue their life among the ruins and the danger. This is definitely the most powerful hymn ever written to this city and its citizens!
Back to the present, though, and to life in London today – and a hymn to the gals!
1 London Girls – Chas And Dave
As I’ve said before, this isn’t supposed to be a list of the ‘undisputedly greatest London songs’; it’s just about the songs I personally love. Actually, though, I feel that our very own Tottenham boys, Chas and Dave, who sang all those lovely Spurs songs, are a bit underrated where those lists of London songs are concerned – they capture the very essence of London everyday life and London popular culture like very few other musicians!
Their heyday was in the 1980s, as popular bards who featured a mix of boogie and rock n roll (and as musicians, Chas on the piano and Dave on the guitar, they really could match the very best!) and folk songs, and they also became the official fan song composers and performers for Tottenham Hotspur – London’s greatest football club, as last season’s Champions League clearly showed. But the duo was hugely popular all over London and the UK, and lots of their songs entered the British Top Ten. They continued appearing at festivals and on TV until 2018, when Chas very sadly died – but their working class pub songs will live on forever, and “London Girls” is one of the best!
And this is why it’s become my personal Number One London song: it’s because I feel like a London girl myself now; and yes, I do like this old-fashioned description of a perfect girl – pretty, practical and understanding at the same time!
Have you got other suggestions for great songs about this great city, dear friends? I’d love to hear your comments! Till then, cheers, see you at the pub…