The Story Of London – In Song

Countless artists have written songs about London and you’d be sitting in front of the computer all night if I was to list all of them, so I decided to take a very personal approach to this task. Counting down from five to one, I’m going to regale you with my favourite five songs about our sometimes wonderful and sometimes downright dangerous city.

I find it interesting that these pieces of music are, with one exception, very dark and pessimistic at their core – contrast that with the tunes about London’s sibling across the Atlantic which seems to inspire songs of optimism. Does that imply that we’re too downbeat or that they’re too blinkered or both?

Gerry Rafferty – Baker St

Written in 1978 this is one of the songs that I grew up with – it’s sweeping, funky mystery stays with me to this day. It describes a city full of potential and promise that always seems to be just out of reach, but you can’t fault Rafferty for the relentless optimism of the song’s last few lines. RIP Gerry.

Madness – The Liberty Of Norton Folgate

The title song of their 2009 album, this is a tale about the odd little street that sits on the extreme eastern edge of the City of London. Shifting across several musical styles it’s a mad jumble of historical references from the Regency and Victorian eras right up to the modern day, although I’m not sure it’s going to age that well – after all, who buys dodgy DVDs from a bloke in the street these days?

Lily Allen – LDNĀ 

A bit of an expert on London (she’s a Hammersmith girl) Lily Allen spells it out in her 2006 calypso-inspired song in an even more literal way than good old Gerry – once you scratch the oh-so-pretty surface this city can be a very hard and unforgiving place, but on its bright, sunny days its wonderful – what to do?

The Clash – London CallingĀ 

In my opinion their best song, this 1979 number has it all – drowning, destruction and even the ‘zombies of death’. There’s no joy in this particular image of London town – even the sunlight in the song is threatening.

The Jam – Down In The Tube Station At Midnight

Despite its rather bouncy, funky rhythms this is the darkest of the lot – Paul Weller sings about heading home, minding his own business, only to be cornered on the tube station platform by right-wing bovver boys, beaten badly and left for dead. Bleak doesn’t really cover it!

Perhaps it’s time to cast your thoughts elsewhere – maybe that old Sinatra number about the city they named twice? That should cheer you up.