London, The Big Smoke, and the proud home to copious musical legends and masterpieces. A variety of genres, from punk rock to gritty grime, we’ve complied some of the best albums written about Britain’s bustling capital.
1‘London Calling’ – The Clash (1979)
Rock ‘n’ roll prodigies The Clash epitomize London’s punk rock era, tapping into the political use of music with the song The Guns of Brixton which features the bold lines: “You can crush us, You can bruise us, But you’ll have to answer to Oh, the guns of Brixton”. As the album title suggests, the characters and background of this album are based in London, making it one of the most famous albums about London.
2‘Parklife’ – Blur (1994)
3‘Boy in da Corner’ – Dizzee Rascal (2003)
Ahhh, London’s most novel and revolutionary genre – grime. Veteran of the field, Dizzee Rascal, pioneered this underground music breakthrough in 2003 and helped propel it into the mainstream sphere, with the release of the 15 track album that documents the struggles of inner-city life, gang culture and violence in London in the early noughties.
4‘Please’ – The Pet Shop Boys (1986)
“In a West End town, a dead end world…”: The Pet Shop Boys debut album, ‘Please’ captured 80’s London with catchy electro-pop confections coupled with Neil Tennant’s ironic lyrics. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) and Suburbia complete PSB’s synthetic dance portrait of Thatcher’s Britain.
5‘Alright, Still’ – Lily Allen (2006)
Allen adopts a light, comedic attitude towards city life in her song LDN, and generally keeps it fast-paced, playful and sprinkled with irony. The “gung-ho girl-about-town ska-pop tunes” produced on this album launched Allen out of her MySpace beginnings and into the public spotlight.
6‘Yesterday’s Gone’ – Loyle Carner (2017)
Born and raised in South Croydon, confessional hip-hop musician Benjamin Coyle-Larner raps with a frank, upfront honesty about his childhood and urban family life. His smooth old school-style hip hop and charming London-accented bars will transport you right onto the couch in his living room.
7‘Muswell Hillbillies’ – The Kinks (1971)
A commercial disappointment after the previous year’s Lola Versus Powerman… it’s been subsequently hailed as a Ray Davies songwriting tour de force. A strange brew of blues riffs, Londoncentric lyrics, a pub piano and Mike cotton’s brass section. For Christ’s sake, have a cuppa tea. Album artwork The Archway Tavern, a few miles from the Davies brothers’ home in Muswell Hill.
8‘Made in the Manor’ – Kano (2016)
More grime. Why? Because this new-born genre practically erupted out of east London and it always promises gritty, raw and unfiltered greatness. Kano takes us on a retrospective journey of his upbringing in East Ham, with songs that tackle crime, drugs and violence with an emotional honesty. T-shirt Weather In The Manor paints a picture of summertime London with the recurrent lyric: “You’ve gotta love London in the sun bro, ya dun know”.
9‘Untrue’ – Burial (2007)
As anybody who has ever lived in South London knows all too well, it can often feel like the unconnected wasteland that the tube map forgot. Released back in 2007, ‘Untrue’ is an album that comes from the very specific headspace of piling onto the N171 for a two-hour ride back to SE23, with nothing but headphones for company. Pulling in threads from UK garage, dub, and even the harsh, abrasive spirit of dissonant post-punk, it’s a distanced journey as London’s finest staples whizz past the window. And like all good trips on a night bus, ‘Untrue’ even contains a pit-stop ‘In McDonalds’ at the halfway point.
10‘Foxbase Alpha’ – Saint Etienne (1991)
Saint Etienne’s debut – a sunbeam of 60s pop and cool, strutting house – is a record that bottles up the very essence of half of the capital’s population calling in sick and sparking up the BBQ. The heat-hazy ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and the Camden Town-bound ‘London Belongs to Me’ stand out as highlights; carefree, roaming songs that sum up the joy of getting lost in a city all summer.
11‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ – Kate Tempest (2016)
A fiercely ambitious concept album which follows seven strangers who live on the same street and don’t know each other (a very typical London scenario, lets be honest), Kate Tempest’s second album takes dry aim at sweeping gentrification on ‘Perfect Coffee’ (“since when was this a winery? / It used to be a bingo”) and pays tribute to a “boarded up independent record store” on ‘Pictures on a Screen’. Often bleakly dystopian – chronicling a city with draconian licensing laws and £6 pints – it also achieves the meaner feat of injecting a bit of hope with its surprise finale.
12‘ill Manors’ – Plan B (2012)
‘ill Manors’ confronts the dichotomy between inner city youths and the government with the feisty lyrics: “If you believe what you read in the papers, then council estate kids are scum of the Earth”, as well as making specific reference to the 2011 London riots and Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ phrase. The track hits back at stereotyping and remains one of the greatest protest songs in years.
Words: Anya Phillips