With the Olympics beginning this week, one thing is certain: London is on the brain. And it’s especially on the minds of those of us who love it. As Samuel Johnson famously once said, “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
This incredible city has inspired so many artists and musicians over the years, and to help celebrate all eyes being on the Big Smoke for the next few weeks, here is a list of 20 of the best London-related songs. I enlisted the help of some music loving friends in compiling it, and in no particular order, this is what we came up with for your listening pleasure.
London Calling by The Clash
This song is a given for a list like this, and a classic. It’s already being used heavily in adverts for the Olympic Games.
Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon
A groovy track from 1978, with an interesting side note: There’s some Fleetwood Mac representation on it. Mick Fleetwood plays drums, and John McVie plays bass.
LDN by Lily Allen
This song is one of my favourites. Cheeky and fun, Lily never disappoints, especially with this sassy ode to her hometown.
West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys
This is an 80’s favorite. With lyrics that focus on class struggles and inner-city pressure, the video for it features some great footage of Blighty.
Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
One of the most iconic saxophone solos ever recorded. Be careful, or you won’t be able to get it out of your head.
London Loves by Blur
This song was featured on the 1994 album, Parklife. Blur frontman Damon Albarn has cited the novel London Fields by Martin Amis as a major influence. Hearing that, now I have two more things to add to my Amazon wish list…
Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead
There are various interpretations of this song, but one of them is that it’s about Canary Wharf in East London. I think it probably goes quite a bit deeper than that, but I’ll find any excuse to include a Radiohead song on a list of great music.
Cemeteries of London by Coldplay
A folk-tinged ghost story, this is one of Coldplay’s lesser known songs. Rumour has it that Chris Martin read a lot of Charles Dickens novels whilst recording the album on which this song appears, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. That may explain some of the imagery in the lyrics.
London’s Brilliant Parade by Elvis Costello
From his album Brutal Youth, Elvis Costello showcases his signature storytelling/songwriting on this track. The lyrics are certainly worth a read.
Down In the Tube Station at Midnight by The Jam
A great song, and one that always runs through my head at some point when I’m on the Tube, regardless of the time.
Towers of London by XTC
Originally titled Tunnels of London, this song is one of XTC’s best.
London by The Smiths
Yes. By including this track by The Smiths, yes I do think I’ve made the right decision this time.
Hairdresser on Fire by Morrissey
This chorus sometimes doesn’t leave my head for days after I hear it. I’ve often wondered if the person who inspired this song can still be found in Sloane Square. Hmm… Must Google.
Streets of London by Ralph McTell
I first heard this song on the radio in Germany a few years ago, and I was really touched by its simplicity and poignant lyrics. They didn’t say the name of the artist after they played it, so I asked a German DJ friend-of-a-friend about it. He pointed me in the right direction.
Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks
An English friend of mine says he’ll lay any money that this will be played by the BBC (if they’ve bought the rights to use it, of course) during the Games. This is a song rich in nostalgia for many, I’d reckon.
A Foggy Day (in London Town) by Frank Sinatra
A swinging rendition of the Gershwin classic from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
London by Night by Frank Sinatra
This is a lesser known Sinatra song, but certainly worth mentioning, and extremely romantic. Le sigh.
London Skies by Jamie Cullum
I listen to this song every time I’m packing for a trip across the Pond. It always makes me happy, and gets me ready to enjoy those skies I miss so much.
Hometown Glory by Adele
Adele is said to have written this track in 10 minutes. Impressive, and powerful.
England by The National
Songs don’t come much more beautiful than this, in my opinion. It also boasts one of my favourite lyrics: “You must be somewhere in London… You must be loving your life in the rain.” With any luck, maybe one day, I will be.
About the author: Amie Taylor initially caught Anglophilia in her childhood, although she didn’t realise there was a proper name for it at the time. A native Arizonan, she lives in Phoenix and is a self-professed music, literature, and all-around pop culture freak. She also thinks Nutella should be a regulated substance. After her first trip to London in 2009, she made a promise to herself to visit England each year—for at least a week—until she eventually moves there. So far, so good.