LONDON CALLING – By the time you read this I will be heading south to the ‘Big Smoke’. See family, shop, see an art exhibition, eat and embrace the capital. I know the capital isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. The hustle and bustle, the architecture, the list goes on. I stopped the sight-seeing trips and the usual touristy jaunts long ago. I love Camden, Brick Lane, and the hidden gems. When I was young I spent a lot of time down there and for a while thought it was the place I really wanted to live. I now know that although I love it and would probably happily live there temporarily, that this Northern lass loves Newcastle and its people. Anyway one of my favourite things to do in London is to visit the East End record shops, Rough Trade especially. Bloody love it!
So this week let me take you on a trip to good old ‘London Town’ through music. There are thousands of songs about London, musicians and poets have been inspired by London for centuries, but while many have just ticked off the landmarks, a few have managed to capture London life or their own time here in a way that has earned them a place in the city’s cultural history. From wide-eyed visitors and new arrivals, and from some of the greatest London bands and artists, here are a few of what I think are the best London songs and had to start with this one in particular.
THE CLASH – LONDON CALLING
London Calling is the third studio album by English punk rock band the Clash. It was released in the United Kingdom on 14 December 1979 by CBS Records, and in the United States in January 1980 by Epic Records. London Calling is a post-punk album that incorporates a range of styles, including punk, reggae, rockabilly, ska, R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. The album’s subject matter included social problems of that era, unemployment, racial conflict, drug use, and the responsibilities of adulthood.
The album was voted number eight on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.London Calling was a top ten album in the UK, and its lead single “London Calling” was a top 20 single. It has sold over five million copies worldwide.
Critic Sean Egan summarised what made them exceptional by writing, “They were a group whose music was, and is, special to their audience because that music insisted on addressing the conditions of poverty, petty injustice, and mundane life experienced by the people who bought their records. Moreover, although their rebel stances were often no more than posturing, from The Clash’s stubborn principles came a fundamental change in the perception of what is possible in the music industry, from subject matter to authenticity to quality control to price ceilings.
To hell with the Sex Pistols, if any punk band captured the quintessential spirit of late-’70s London, it was The Clash. ‘London Calling’ is a neat counterpoint to their ‘London’s Burning’ and sees them shifting their focus from the personal and impressionistic to the forcefully political and more general anger of London youth of that time.
SQUEEZE – PICCADILLY
East Side Story is the fourth studio album by new wave group Squeeze. The initial concept was for a double-LP with one side produced by Elvis Costello, another by Dave Edmunds, a third by Nick Lowe and the fourth possibly by Paul McCartney. Ultimately it was largely produced by Costello and Roger Bechirian, and released on one disc In the late 1970s Squeeze were masters of the London song, responsible for the ageless rhyme ‘I never thought it would happen with me and a girl from Clapham’. The album was a definite break with Squeeze’s “New Wave” sound, as it contained songs influenced by rockabilly, R&B, blue-eyed soul, Merseybeat, and psychedelia among other genres. It also contained Squeeze’s last top 10 UK single, “Labelled with Love”. This was a track that Costello allegedly had to fight to have recorded, as Tilbrook in particular initially felt that the song was too country-and-western sounding for Squeeze’s image ‘Piccadilly’ is a tour of London’s bustling nightlife through the eyes of a couple on a date to the theatre, followed by a curry. Much of the song still rings true, although the internet might have put paid to the ‘neon club lights of adult films’.
THE JAM – DOWN IN THE TUBE STATION AT MIDNIGHT
The Jam were an English post punk rock band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were formed in Woking, Surrey. While they shared the “angry young men” outlook and fast tempos of their punk rock contemporaries, The Jam wore smartly tailored suits rather than ripped clothes, and they incorporated a number of mainstream 1960s rock and R&B influences rather than rejecting them, placing The Jam at the forefront of the mod revival movement. They had 18 consecutive Top 40 singles in the United Kingdom, from their debut in 1977 to their break-up in December 1982, including four number one hits. As of 2007, “That’s Entertainment” and “Just Who is the 5 O’Clock Hero?” remained the best-selling import singles of all time in the UK. They released one live album and six studio albums, the last of which, The Gift, hit number one on the UK album charts. When the group split up, their first 15 singles were re-released andall placed within the top 100. The band drew upon a variety of stylistic influences over the course of their career, including 1960s beat music, soul, rhythm and blues and psychedelic rock, as well as 1970s punk and new wave. The trio was known for its melodic pop songs, its distinctly English flavour and its mod image. The band launched the career of Paul Weller, who went on to form The Style Council and later had a successful solo career. Weller wrote and sang most of The Jam’s original compositions, and he played lead guitar, using a Rickenbacker. Bruce Foxton provided backing vocals and prominent basslines, which were the foundation of many of the band’s songs, including the hits “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”, “The Eton Rifles”, “Going Underground” and “Town Called Malice”.
‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’, was released on 21 October 1978, it charted at number 15 and was backed by a cover of the Who song “So Sad About Us”, and “The Night”, written by Bruce Foxton. The back of the record jacket displayed a photo of Keith Moon, former drummer of The Who, who had died the month prior to the single’s release. Getting the tube was a dangerous business in the ’70s, or at least that’s if you believe Paul Weller. On his way home with a curry in a bag, the hapless protagonist here gets knocked out by some National Front thugs, and his suburban life flashes before his eyes as he blacks out staring at an advert for cheap holidays. Simple enough – but we haven’t been able to find any convincing theories to explain the baffling line ‘I put in the money and pull out a plum’, let alone why anyone would bring a curry on the tube. The skinheads probably just took offence at him stinking up the carriage. Those of a certain age will love this little flash from the past that introduces this video.
ED SHEERAN – THE CITY
Edward Christopher “Ed” Sheeran born 1991 is an English singer-songwriter and musician. Born in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire and raised in Framlingham, Suffolk, he moved to London in 2008 to pursue a musical career. In early 2011, Sheeran released an independent extended play, No. 5 Collaborations Project, which caught the attention of both Elton John and Jamie Foxx. He then signed to Asylum Records. His debut album, +, containing the singles “The A Team” and “Lego House”, was certified 6× Platinum in the UK. In 2012, Sheeran won two Brit Awards for Best British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act. “The A Team” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. In 2014, he was nominated for Best New Artist at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
In 2011 Ed didn’t look old enough to have left the Scouts, let alone the bosom of his family. But in this song he’s a streetwise character with a cynic’s eye for the pleasures and pitfalls of the big city, which he credits with informing, inspiring and ultimately improving his music. Nice work, London.
SAINT ETIENNE – MARIO’S CAFE
Saint Etienne are an English indie dance/indie pop band from London, formed in 1990. The band consists of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. They are named after the French football team AS Saint-Étienne. Saint Etienne were associated with the “indie dance” genre in the early 1990s. Their typical approach was to combine sonic elements of the dance-pop and digitally synthesized sounds, with an emphasis on romantic song writing. Early work demonstrated the influence of ’60s soul, ’70s dub and rock as well as ’80s dance music, giving them a broad palette of sounds and a reputation for eclecticism. Years later, The Times wrote that they “deftly fused the grooviness of Swinging Sixties London with a post-acid house backbeat”.
Not just any old greasy spoon in Kentish Town, but the favourite of songwriters Bob Stanley (a well-known champion of such old-school ) and Pete Wiggs – and celebrated in song on their album ‘So Tough’. It later inspired a compilation LP called ‘Songs for Mario’s Café’, featuring a collection of tracks by different artists all deemed suitable for playing in a café. Especially, one presumes, a café with ‘squeezy bottles under Pepsi signs,’ where ‘Joe and Johnny chew the bacon rind.’ If you fancy a bit of Pepsi ’n’ bacon rind yourself, you can find Mario’s at 6 Kelly St, NW1.
THE KINKS – WATERLOO SUNSET
The Kinks are recognised as one of the most important and influential British groups of all time, with millions of record sales and countless awards and accolades to their name. From their explosive beginnings as part of the British Beat movement. The Kinks have left an unimpeachable legacy of classic songs, many of which form the building blocks of popular music as we know it today. Hailing from Muswell Hill in north London, The Kinks were formed by brothers Ray and Dave Davies. Calling themselves The Ravens, an early line-up saw them playing a combination of R&B and rock and roll with friend Peter Quaife on bass. A self-produced demo tape reached record producer Shel Talmy who helped the band land a contract with Pye Records in 1964. Before signing, the group replaced their drummer with Mick Avory and renamed themselves The Kinks. With the classic line-up in place, music history was about to be written when the group’s third, You Really Got Me, stormed to the top of the UK charts. Written by Ray in their parents’ front room, the song has since been cited as the inspiration for garage rock, punk, heavy metal and on contemparies The Who. An album, The Kinks, was hastily assembled in the aftermath of the monster hit and was, in turn, swiftly followed by a second Top 10 single, All Day and All Of the Night. Between 1965-1967, The Kinks enjoyed their first commercial peak, scoring nine British and seven US chart hits. 1965′s Tired Of Waiting For You displayed Ray’s world-weary vocal style while Dave came up with a then innovatory Indian style drone guitar on See My Friends. As Ray’s song writing developed, he emerged as a witty, compassionate social commentator, chronicling the absurdities and aspirations of English life. He took stabs at fashion victims with Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and his fellow nouveau rich pop star peers on Sunny Afternoon. He even created a hymn to the Thames on the peerless Waterloo Sunset.
I read an article where Ray Davies explains how he wrote what is claimed to be and I agree the greatest London song of all
‘I used to go past Waterloo every day on my way to Croydon Art School, when I was a kid my father took me to the Festival Of Britain, my first real girlfriend, we walked by the Thames; I was in hospital at the old St Thomas’s and my room had a balcony looking out over the river. All the imagery comes from memories like that. The song was supposed to be about the end of Merseybeat, called “Liverpool Sunset”. But when I was writing the lyrics I started to think about Waterloo and what it symbolised for me.
Well that’s me done and London really is calling properly now, have a good week and keep on keeping on X