The Most Popular Songs About London
If there is a foreign city you’ve yet to travel to, I find that one of the best ways of connecting to the essence of that city is through targeted music.
Being one of the most iconic cities in the world, London has had a good many songs written about her over the years. During the 60s and 70s it became extremely fashionable to create lyrics about the English capital. Even today, songwriters around the world still make regular reference to the city.
Some songs about London have withstood the test of time; regardless of your age, you’ll likely recognize at least two or three of the following hits.
Few songs shook the world the way this chart topper from The Clash did back in 1979. Back then, The Clash called London home, with all members having been born and bred in the city.
The punk rock sensation used their musical platform to vent about concerns they had for everyday life in London, including the increasing police brutality of the time and the potential overflowing of the Thames River.
If you’ve ever watched a rom-com or light hearted film set in London, it’s not unlikely that this song featured at some point.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growin’ thin
A nuclear era, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river
Preceding The Clash by about a decade, The Kinks were another successful English rock band that formed in the 60s.
Their song Waterloo Sunset is widely regarded as one of the best songs ever written about London. The irony is that Waterloo Sunset wasn’t originally written about London at all. It was initially a song about Liverpool.
Frontman Ray Davies decided to change the location to Waterloo after some deep reflection on how much this area impacted his early life.
Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, rolling into the night
People so busy, make me feel dizzy, taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t, need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I am in paradise
In more contemporary times, Lily Allen is an English singer who was born in Hammersmith, London, in 1985. Today she is one of the most well known British artists, performing in sold out concerts all over the world.
One of Allen’s biggest songs is about her hometown, called LDN. It was released shortly after her debut single called ‘Smile’. A lot of us will remember hearing that song on the radio a couple of years back.
LDN is a light hearted track that pokes fun at some serious topics on London’s streets, including prostitutes and pimps.
Everything seems to look as it should
But I wonder what goes on behind doors
A fella looking dapper, and he’s sittin’ with a slapper
Then I see it’s a pimp and his crack whore
You might laugh, you might frown
Walkin’ round London town
West End Girls
Pet Shop Boys
The Pet Shop Boys formed in 1981 in the heart of London. The group was endlessly fascinated by the Soho nightlife of the 1970s, and it is this subject that inspired the creation of their biggest ever song West End Girls’
The lyrics explore different sites and experiences of London’s West End. At the same time, the song remains socio-politically conscious and touches on issues that people of this region were facing in terms of class and peer pressures.
In a restaurant in a West end town
Call the police there’s a mad man around
Running down underground
To a dive bar in a West end town
Galang is one of the newer songs to have emerged about London Town.
Written and performed by M.I.A, an English singer born and raised in Greater London, the track is still played in niche clubs around the world depict being released back in 2003.
Galang is an ode to post 9/11 London; a time where the city was filled with police paranoia, marijuana and street crimes. In the song, M.I.A makes reference to The Clash’s London Calling, and the phrase “galang” is Jamaican slang for “go along”.
Speak the slang now
Boys say wha
Come on girls say what, say wha’
The London Boys
Brixton’s proudest creation, David Bowie, released The London Boys in 1970.
The song is a melancholic exploration of what young men growing up in London might experience. It explores the first time one is pressured into taking illegal substances, making friends on the streets and moving away from home.
It is likely that there is much autobiographical content about Bowie’s personal experiences growing up in London present in the song. This is one of a few songs written by David Bowie about his hometown.
Bright lights, Soho, Wardour street
You hope you make friends with the guys that you meet
Somebody shows you round
Now you’ve met the London boys
Things seem good again, someone cares about you
Another 80s baby born and raised in the city, Adele is no stranger to making reference to London in her music.
Hometown Glory is a track that Adele actually wrote at just 16 years old. While to the average listener it sounds like nothing more than just a song of great love for the city, she herself actually explains that Hometown Glory was, at the time, a sousing of great protest against her mother’s wishes for her to move to London.
I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
And turning my heel and strutting my feet
“Is there anything I can do for you dear?
Is there anyone I could call?”
“No and thank you, please Madam.
I ain’t lost, just wandering