10 Songs About London Town, for When You Can't Afford a Trip Across the Atlantic
London Bridge at Night
When the United States was still an undiscovered wilderness, London was already a growing metropolis. Home to arrogant kings, stubborn queens, and footloose princes, this royal city has a rich, turbulent, and colorful history that few places on the planet can match.
This proud city also supports a powerful aristocratic class, along with a teeming working class and a resilient body of merchants. As a result, musical expression can run the gamut here from Dickens-like, cutting social commentary to flamboyant crowdpleasers like Queen, Elton John, and Pink Floyd. Not surprisingly, this diverse cultural milieu has produced an incredible array of talented songwriters and stage performers capable of taking you on a musical journey through old London town.
Big Ben at Dusk
The Americans Step Up to the Mike
To get things rolling with this sampler of London music, let's first take a look at two American songwriters who have taken inspiration from Great Britain's colorful capital.
First, there is Warron Zevon, who, back in the Seventies, composed this nifty, little number called "The Werewolves of London." Even though no werewolves have actually been found within the subterranean maze of this British metropolis, the song has become a rock 'n' roll classic, as people loved to be scared out of their wits, thinking that maybe a few of these terrifying creatures really do exist.
And then on a quieter note, we have Loudon Wainwright, grandson of the master architect, who many years ago took a dive on Primrose Hill and then went on to become a successful folksinging storyteller.
1. The Werewolves of London Live
2. Life on Primrose Hill
Flying to London
Not everybody travels overland to London. Many have to fly to get there, especially since there aren't any ocean liners that cross the Atlantic anymore. And if you are flying, the most likely entry point is Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world. Not surprisingly, Heathrow occasionally finds it way into a few pop songs. Perhaps nobody captures the mood of this place better than that wandering Irish rover, Van Morrison. You probably didn't know that Heathrow was such a jazzy place.
And while we're talking about air travel to London, let's pause for a few minutes to look at an American take on the subject. Back in the Sixties, Roger McGuin and the Byrds wrote and recorded what is perhaps one of the most misunderstood songs in the modern era. If you haven't guessed the title yet, the tune is called "Eight Miles High." Contrary to popular belief, the lyrics of this song do not describe an LSD trip. The phrase "eight miles high" aptly describes an airplane flight, while most of the remaining lyrics are an attempt to sum up the band's experience, trekking around London on a rainy day.
You might enjoy this version as performed by the Georgia guitar virtuoso, Leo Kottke.
3. The Heathrow Shuffle
4. Eight Miles High
Island Immigrants Leave Their Mark
Lord Kitchener was a talented and popular Trinidadian singer who made his musical mark on both sides of the Atlantic. Known in real life as Aldwin Roberts, the Calypso star passed away in 2000. In recognition, several island musicians, give tribute to Kitchener with this sweet, poetic version of "London Is the Place for Me".
On a more striking note, there is Eddy Grant, who was born in British Guiana but moved to Great Britain at age 12 to join his parents. Eddy has had a long and successful recording career with "Electric Avenue," a song inspired by the Brixton Riots of 1981, as his most widely played hit.
Finally, there is no better way to gauge the influence of a group of artists than by taking a close listen to their proteges. In this regard, Graham McPherson, an Englishmen who goes by the stage name of Suggs, passes the test with flying colors. In his popular hit "Camden Town," Suggs displays his reggae influence admirably.
5. London Is the Place for Me
6. Electric Avenue
7. Camden Town
Both the Welsh singer, Duffy, and the English firebrand punk rocker, Joe Strummer, acquired a cynical life view from their teenage experiences in some of England's most foreboding institutions. For Joe Strummer (also known as John Mellor), it was several years in an English boarding school that helped transform the young man into the popular cult hero. On the other hand, Duffy found herself confined to a police safe house when her stepfather was subject to an assassination plot from his ex-wife.
Nonetheless, the singers learned something from these schools-of-hard-knocks, and as a result, each one has produced some very striking music. Joe Strummer is no longer with us and Duffy has drifted into obscurity, yet still, the two numbers featured here say a lot about each performer.
9. London Calling
A True British Master
Richard Thompson has spent most his life in and around London town. At a young age, he and a group of high school friends made it big with a band called Fairport Convention. The next stage of his musical career involved many years of performing and recording with his wife Linda. Now single and on his own, Richard still takes his show on the road to charm audiences around the world. Thompson can be a great social critic, a.k.a. Charles Dickens, as seen in this inspiring rendition of "The Sights and Sounds of London Town."
10. Sights and Sounds of London Town
London Town, the Movie
© 2017 Harry Nielsen