Ahh, London, home of the brash, outrageous and free, as Morrissey once sang. To celebrate the launch of London Conversations – The Best of Saint Etienne – the PopJunkie team has come up with our favourite 100 songs about the capital city.
The key word being favourite – this is the type of stuff that we at PopJunkie love, so prepare for lots of 80s indie, 60s psych, cheesy listening, Brit Pop and anything that sounds remotely like The Byrds. It is by no means a definitive list and there are loads of great tracks we could have included like London is the Place For Me by Lord Kitchener, which wouldn’t really fit in.
Obviously my top London song is London Nights by camp, roller-skating German Euro-pop duo London Boys, but alas it didn’t make the cut this time.
Please use the comment section to share your top London songs, especially ones we may have missed.
We are putting together a similar list for Sheffield, so if you have any suggestions for that email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our completely subjective top 10
1 The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset – Undoubtedly The Kinks’ finest hour and a song that topped a GLR poll about the best London tune a few years back. A few people I know, ok, me, have spent many a happy hour listening to the song while gazing out across the Thames towards St Paul’s. Could the ‘Terry and Julie’ mentioned in the lyric be Swinging Sixties icons Terence Stamp and Julie Christie? Davies has denied it, but we have our suspicions. Vid
2 Gene – London, Can You Wait? – The Smiths recorded a noisy, punk-inspired song named after the city, but London’s answer to The Smiths, Gene, came up with a much better offering – this melancholy gem from their debut album, Olympian. A sad tale of crime and premature death, it was used to great effect in the closing scene of the Britpop gangster flick, Face. Vid
3 Pet Shop Boys – King’s Cross – London is a recurring theme in the work of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Like The Smiths, they even named a song after the city – London, from their long-forgotten 2002 album, Release. It’s on their 1987 long-player Actually, though, that you’ll find this beauty – downbeat electro-pop with subtle jazz trumpet. Eerily, the lyric about seeing dead and wounded on either side at King’s Cross station predated the King’s Cross Underground fire disaster of the same year. Vid
4 Rialto – London Crawling – Penned by front-man Louis Eliot, this atmospheric, synth-heavy, cinematic tune about a narcotic-fuelled nighttime drive through the capital city can be found on Rialto’s lost classic Night On Earth. Vid
5 Nick Heyward – London – The former Haircut 100 singer takes us on a guided tour of the city, starting off in Liverpool Street, then ducking down Carnaby Street and ending up at Big Ben – listen out for the chimes. Set to a breezy Britpop strum and a Beatles string arrangement, it name-checks The Clash and references The Jam’s A-Bomb in Wardour Street. Find it on the brilliant Fab Four inspired album, Tangled. Vid
6 Billy Nichols – London Social Degree – Given the backing of as huge orchestra and with half the Small Faces in tow, 18 year old Billy Nichols spent much of 1967 coming up with Would You Believe, a genius pop album that is quite possibly the nearest thing to a British Pet Sounds. London Social Degree (get the acronym?) might just be the album’s highlight, with our man correctly surmising that his collection of GCEs aren’t worth anything compared to his intimate knowledge of Soho night clubs. Lob in a blistering guitar solo, Motown beat and soaraway chorus and you have one of the best Brit psych pop songs ever. Track
7 Animals that Swim- Faded Glamour – Criminally underrated late 90s indie miserabilists who have three albums that are all well worth buying. Many of their songs are about London, but Faded Glamour, with its evocative litany of markets, garbage riots, Maydays and meteors in the streets, is probably the best. Rumoured to be about Stoke Newington. Vid
8 Blur – For Tomorrow – Well take your pick? Before the Brit pop bandwagon rolled out of town, Blur had also offered London Loves, Best Days and Charmless Man, all of which drip references to the Old Smoke. It is ,however, For Tomorrow which does it for me the most. People forget how grim the world, and indeed music, was back in 1992, and in For Tomorrow, Blur delivered a song that captured the romance and mystery of London at a time when all ears seemed focused on that awful racket coming out of Seattle. It is worth watching the video too, for kooky apartments, double decker buses and shots of Damon and friend rolling down Primrose Hill. Vid
9 The Clientele – Losing Haringey – The area between the Haringey Ladder and Tottenham has not exactly offered rich picking for songwriters, but then Alasdair MacLean is not your average tunesmith. Losing Haringey has all the usual Clientele trademarks, Byrdsie guitar, gentle rhythm and breathy vocal, but this features a rather bizarre monologue about a summer’s night out that weirdly morphs into a 1980s photo. For me, The Clientele are the London band of the moment. Their wistful, melancholic, wonderfully romantic tunes make me think of things like first dates spent kicking leaves around London parks. Almost all their stuff is amazing. Last FM
10 Mike Proctor – Mr Commuter – The bloke who wrote this went on to pen the theme tune to Rupert the Bear, but don’t hold that against him For many years a cult classic only know to few British psych heads, Mr Commuter finally got a proper release this year on a collection of EMI psychedelic called Songs For Insane Times. The whole album is amazing, but Mr Commuter, which is a fuzz guitar driven Ray Davies-esque poke at the ‘regimental soldiers who march into the city each day, is a real stand out and to these ears at least, one of the best 60s London tunes. Track
11 The Jam – Strange Town – Or we could have chosen Tube Station or Wardour Street or even The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong. Vid
12 Billy Bragg – You Woke up My neighbourhood – Contains a line that always warms this North Londoner’s heart – ‘beneath the Seven Sisters stars.’ Plenty of other London songs in the Bragg canon including the great travelogue A13 Trunk Road to the sea. Vid
13 Squeeze – Up the Junction – Chronicled south London like no other band. Many great London tunes. ‘I never though it would happen with me and a girl from Clapham,’ is one of my favourite opening lines to a song ever. Vid
14 Madness – Driving in my car – One of the few references to Muswell Hill in a pop song. They mentioned Camden a few times, too. Vid
15 Morrissey – Come Back to Camden – Lots of London references for a Manc. This one nips it for the ‘tea with the taste of the Thames ‘line.
16 St Etienne – Mario’s Café – Blimey – Where do you start? London Belongs to Me on Foxbase Alpha is dripping with cool London references, while Teenage Winter from Tales From Turnpike House highlights a more melancholy side of city life. However this song, named after a Kentish Town café by the old swimming pool, just pinches it. It even spawned an excellent compilation album. Vid
17 The Clash – London Calling – They are to West London what Squeeze and Madness are to north and south respectively. In a radio poll a couple of years back, this came second as Londoners’ favourite song, beaten only by Waterloo Sunset. Vid
18 David Bowie –London Boys – A classic naïve-young-suburbanite-comes-up-to-London-meets-girls-boys-drugs-etc-type song. Recorded around the time of his first album which I think is one of his greatest achievements. Vid
19 Elvis Costello – I don’t want to go to Chelsea – Neither do I. Vid
20 Carter USM – The Only living boy in New Cross – The band made a career out of cheap London based puns. Good tunes though. Vid
21 Robyn Hitchcock – 1974 – Hitchcock’s songs boast loads of obscure London references (Hogarth roundabout, festival pier, and Clerkenwell bound buses all appear in his music). This brilliant but understated song from a late 90s live album wins, for being one of the few tracks to name check the Archway Road. Vid
22 The Nips – Gabrielle – This is Shane McGowan in his moddie power-pop days, before he ditched his Union Jack waistcoat and had a Saint Patrick style makeover . Includes the immortal line (immortal for N16 dwellers anyhow) took the 73 to the city. Vid
23 Rosie Taylor Project – London Pleasures – Really lovely tune, which hints at early Belle & Sebastian from the Leeds band’s great new-ish album. Last FM
24 Hefner – Painting and Kissing – Hefner’s main man, Darren Hayman has written many fine London tunes. This one makes the cut for its comparing of north and east London and the way it manages to make Holloway Road feel like a romantic place. Last FM
25 The Real Tuesday Weld – I loved London – when I was in love with you. The guy is obsessed with London; great pop tunes and antique 30s style samples, which I think makes him among the coolest men in the capital. Vid
26 Cathy Dennis – West End Pad – From the ill-fated, but really very enjoyable, Brit pop album Am I the Kinda Girl. West End Pad is the highlight, but the album also contains a very cool version of Waterloo Sunset. Vid
27 My Life Story – Angel – Jake Shillingford apparently wrote MLS’ first album Mornington Crescent while working in clubs in Camden. Not sure if he had N1 in kind when he wrote this, but it is an amazing ballad with strings to die for and a wonderful, fat lady singing finale. Last FM
28 Belle and Sebastian – Mornington Crescent – B&S pop down to the capital with this oddly country-esque tune from the genius Life Pursuit album. The Boy with the Arab Strap also contains a nod to Soho’s Old Compton (Street). Vid
29 The Len Price 3 – Rentacrowd – Garage punksters from the Medway have a go at the ‘Rentacrowd with their Hoxton hair and trendy sound.’ Sounds not unlike The Who in their prime. They have two great albums, both of which are well worth tracking down. Vid This is great too
30 Ed Ball – Mill Hill Self Help Club – A complete London odyssey with mentions of Primrose Hill, London Fields and bizarrely Mill Hill. Ed’s previous band The Times wrote many fantastic tunes about the capital including the genius Whatever Happened to Thamesbeat? Vid
31 Television Personalities – Parties in Chelsea – Another band whose back catalogue is a virtual musical tube map. This is one of the best songs from they peerless And Don’t The Kids Just Love It debut album. Download
32 Boys Wonder – Shine on me – ‘There’s a place in the West and I’ll tell you right now it’s the best.’ Killer line from the second single from the late 80s most criminally ignored band. See also this bit of capital whimsy. Vid
33 The Rolling Stones – Play with fire – Namechecks St John’s Wood. Not as many London Stones tracks as you might think. Vid
34 The Bible – Crystal Palace – Ok, so the song isn’t about the leafy south London suburb, but it is a great tune nevertheless. Vid
35 Dream Academy – Hampstead Girl – In which Mr DA meets posh totty and follows her all over Parliament Hill. Nice breezy pop tune from the band’s 1987 album Remembrance Days. Vid
36 The Cleaners from Venus – Illya Kuryakin Looked at me – Chief Cleaner, Martin Newell’s imaginary jaunt round 60s London. Sounds fab. Available now on various Cherry Red Cleaners comps. Newell himself isn’t much of a London lover – check out his brilliant Greatest Living Englishman album. Vid
37 Nick Drake – At the Chime of the City Clock – Oddly upbeat Nick Drake number from the troubled troubadour’s second album Bryter Later. Obviously written about his stint in the capital. Vid
38 Suede – By the Sea – One of the highlights from Suede’s third ‘pop’ album Coming Up. Talks about leaving Seven Sisters for a room in a seaside shack – bad move. Vid
39 Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Charlotte Street – He might have been ‘looking for a rhyme for the New York Times’ but Lloyd actually ended up hanging out in a basement flat just off Oxford Street. Such a media luvvie. Vid
40 Captain Sensible – Croydon – ‘I’ll be in Los Angeles, but I’ll still be dreaming of you Croydon.’ Aaah, such is Captain Sensible devotion to London’s answer to Manhattan. This ditty comes from his debut album Women and Captains First – the one with his comedy hit single Wot on it. Last FM
Dick Van Dykers – Anglophile Yanks
41 The Byrds – Eight Miles High – Drug trip masquerading as an ode to flying over The Smoke. ‘Rain grey town, known for its sound’ – I haven’t a clue what are they talking about. But neither do they. Brilliant guitar solo. Vid
42 The Fountains of Wayne – Places – A band very steeped in NYC swap continents for a while and get all wistful about Primrose hill and Camden market. Very odd.
43 Anita Harris – London Town – ‘While Paris sleeps / London just keeps right on swinging /And all the songs that the world is singing … they are born in London Town.’ Rather they were in 1966 when Burt Bacharach composed this ode to his favourite city. The Carry On starlet’s version is probably the best. Last FM
43 The Magnetic Fields – All the Umbrellas in London – Arch US indie posters love their geographical tales. This is one of two London songs in their repertoire, though sadly it isn’t anywhere near as cool Love Goes to Paris in the spring (natch). Vid
44 Count Five – Double Decker Bus – From the band who gave the world Psychotic Reaction. This sneaks in as I guess they don’t have too many Double Decker buses in California. Vid
45 London Phogg – Takin it Easy – Soft pop 60s classic from a band so in love with Blighty they named themselves after one of our weather afflictions.
46 David Axelrod – London – Top tune from his jazzy late 60s Songs of Experience album. Last FM
47 Joni Mitchell – Chelsea Morning – Ok, so there is some debate about which Chelsea she is referring to, but great tune nevertheless. The version from the first Fairport Convention album with Judy Dyble is even better. Vid
48 Mary Lou Lord – Camden Town Rain – Kurt’s ex (and committed busker) on weather-related issues in north London, The song mentions buses, Agnes B etc but is pretty nevertheless and Mary Lou has a wonderfully breathy vocal style. Download
49 Bo Diddley – London Stomp – Bloody cheek! Bo and his mates take the piss out of British rock and roll bands just before The Beatles and The Stones took America.
50 Nico – Chelsea Girl – Again not too sure which Chelsea, but given it is the title track from her 67 masterpiece who cares. Oh, I forgot. She’s German isn’t she? Vid – btw this version is bonkers
* btw the amazing This is London is by the incredibly talented Miroslav Sasek. More info on this brilliant website here. Take the slide show tour!