There’s music in the streets of London and every borough has a song to sing. Plenty of songs have been written about the UK’s capital and its people across several decades and genres of music. These tunes have lyrics that address the different flavors of London, whether talking about its people, history, or current affairs. No matter what type of music you’re in the mood for, you can find a song about London that speaks to you. We’ve identified ten of our favorites below, but you can let us know your own in the comments.
“Hometown Glory” – Adele
The debut single from soulful London native Adele, “Hometown Glory” is inspired by discussions with her mother about what university the singer should attend. In a reverse of how these discussions usually go, Adele wanted to stay close to London and the song is a reflection of her thoughts on her experiences and people she’s known who influenced her desire to stay near home.
“London Calling” – The Clash
While the Sex Pistols might represent the angry rebellion of the punk movement, the true ambassadors of London punk are The Clash, who crafted “London Calling” in 1979. The song expresses many of frontman Joe Strummer’s concerns about the city, from a nuclear “error” similar to Three Mile Island striking the city to the possibility of the Thames flooding Central London (a concern that led to the construction of the Thames Barrier).
“Waterloo Sunset” – The Kinks
One of the favorites of many music critics, The Kinks’ 1967 hit “Waterloo Sunset” is a story told from the perspective of a narrator reflecting on two lovers, the Thames, and Waterloo Station. Ironically, the song was originally going to be “Liverpool Sunset”, but Ray Davies decided to change it to be more about his hometown. So, much like Adele’s single listed above, it’s recollection of growing up in the city and the wistfulness of memory.
“LDN” – Lily Allen
Singer Lily Allen crafted “LDN” (the text language meaning “London” on mobile phones) as an upbeat melody that describes a bicycle ride through the city describing situations that aren’t as they seem. Allen describes everything from an old lady getting her Tesco’s bag snatched to a pimp and his crack whore. The video shows Allen moving through the city as if living a fantasy that dissolves as she walks away.
“West End Girls” – Pet Shop Boys
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe brought audiences this synth-heavy dance hit in 1985. Tennant said of the song, “I loved the whole idea of the pressure of living in a modern city, and I decided to write a rap that could be done in an English accent over this piece of music.” The song’s lyrics set up a dichotomy between the lower-income East End and the affluent West End.
“Werewolves of London” – Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon was joined by Mic Fleetwood and John McVie for this 1973 comedy classic describing the hairy monsters wandering the streets of Soho and Mayfair. Plenty of London references are dripped throughout the song from Trader Vic’s to the Queen herself. The song has had quite an impact on American artists, with everyone from Kid Rock to Adam Sandler playing tribute to it.
“Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
Three years after Stealers Wheel broke up, frontman Gerry Rafferty broke out on his own in 1978 with his album City to City, which included this ode to one of London’s most famous streets. During the intervening time between the band’s breakup and his new album, Rafferty often made the trip from his family home to London, where he would stay with a friend in a flat on Baker Street. The song captures the feelings of a musician dealing with the deeply impersonal nature of London which echoes Rafferty’s own legal struggles to get out from his old group.
“Galang” – MIA
From her debut album Arular, rap artist MIA brings the diversity of London to life with this dance song heavily steeped in the Caribbean slang of the city’s streets. Combined with the singer’s own Sri Lankan and West London background, this electronica-dance-rap song an excellent example of the mix of cultures that represent modern London. While the song is now fifteen years old, it remains a fun piece to dance to and still representative of the city today.
“London’s Brilliant Parade” – Elvis Costello
Released with Costello’s 1994 album, Brutal Youth, “London’s Brilliant Parade” is another love letter to a city the artist called home. While not the biggest fan of the city, Costello admitted the song was “a more affectionate look at the city in which I was born than I could ever have managed when I was actually living there.” Despite this, the song comes off as somewhat wistful, so maybe there’s a part of him that longed for home after all.
“Electric Avenue” – Eddy Grant
“Electric Avenue” is a street in Brixton that actually got its name from being the first market street lit by electricity. By the time of Eddy Grant, this part of London had a heavy population of African, Caribbean, and other immigrant groups. Concerns over unemployment, poverty, and racism exploded in the 1981 Brixton riot, which motivated Grant to write the song that expressed the anger and hurt of his community. It was released in 1982 and became a mega hit in 1983 due to the advent of music television and Grant’s video to promote the song.