Whether you can’t stand the big smoke or you live and breathe its many wonderful ways, London has been the subject of many a song over the years. Here’s the NME edit of the best songs about the UK’s capital.
1Libertines, ‘Up The Bracket’ (2002)
Garage-punk story of dark dealings in Bethnal Green and Pentonville, with a sinister cast from London’s criminal netherworld. Darkly thrilling.
2Dizzee Rascal, ‘Stand Up Tall’ (2004)
A defiant East-side brag by a compulsive celebrant of the city’s harshest streets. Pic: Ed Miles
3M.I.A, ‘XR2’ (2007)
Brick Lane and Ladbroke Grove feature in this energetically nostalgic hymn to the early London rave scene.
4Adele, ‘Hometown Glory’ (2007)
. Soul-inflected singer-songwriter ponders her London, from the streets to the government, concluding that it’s the people she has met who are the ‘wonders’ of her world.
5Pulp, ‘Common People’ (1995)
The northerner Jarvis Cocker kept a nicely sardonic eye on his adopted city; this tale of recreational slumming comes from his time at Central St Martins. Pic: PA Photos
6The Beatles, ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ (1965)
Lennon’s brilliant song of surreptitious liaisons with a downstairs neighbour at Emperor’s Gate in Kensington. Pic: PA Photos
7David Bowie, ‘The London Boys’ (1966)
A fine little Soho melodrama from Bowie’s Anthony Newley period. His early years are much-anthologised and should not be overlooked. Pic:PA Photos
8Jack Penate, ‘Torn On The Platform’ (2007)
Platform 3 of Waterloo Station is the arena for this little tale of London chauvinism. Why would anyone leave this city? Jack is ‘torn’ by indecision as the carriage doors close. Pic: Andy Willsher
9The Jam, ‘In The City’ (1977)
. All the pent-up sense of possibility that London can present to the energetic incomer, compressed inside of two minutes twenty seconds. Pic: PA Photos
10Burial, ‘Ghost Hardware’ (2007)
William Bevan’s atmospheric mutation of dancefloor dubstep, sounding like the music of an abandoned city. Words in this gallery taken from ‘In The City – A Celebration Of London Music’, by Paul Du Noyer.
11Elvis Costello, ‘London’s Brilliant Parade’ (1994)
A fuller portrait of his home city – both emotionally and geographically – than the better-known ‘(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’.
12Nick Cave, ‘Brompton Oratory’ (1997)
Erotic obsession meets religious majesty in the beautiful interior of a Kensington church.
13The Kinks, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (1967)
Perverse not to nominate this song, though it’s certainly worth investigating the band’s lesser-known London numbers like ‘Berkeley Mews’, ‘Denmark Street’, ‘Shangri La’, ‘Big Black Smoke’ et al.
14Fleetwood Mac, ‘Man Of The World’ (1969)
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were never more poignant than here, the song of a haunted man surveying his life and rather wishing he hadn’t. Pic: PA Photos
15The Streets, ‘ Dry Your Eyes’ (2004)
And so the old language of anguish finds a new translator, expressing it for the girl on the top deck of the bus, teardrops falling on her MP3 phone.
16Hard Fi, ‘Tied Up Too Tight’ (2005)
Discontented Staines gang (‘Stars of CCTV’, as their debut album had it) resolve to hit the Great West Road in a bid for the bright lights of town. Pic: PA Photos
17T. Rex, ‘London Boys’ (1976)
Marc Bolan, near the end of his days, returns to the verities of his boyhood, when he could be the boss mod of Petticoat Lane.
18Bow Wow Wow, ‘C30 C60 C90 GO’ (1981)
‘Home taping is killing music,’ said the record companies. BWW’s creator Malcolm McLaren thought otherwise. A celebration of the cassette when it was still seen as guerrilla technology.
19The Byrds, ‘Eight Miles High’ (1966)
Borne aloft to London Airport, Californian boys reach the Beatles’ London with a pang of cultural and psychedelic dislocation: the swinging city they heard so much about is rainy-grey and fundamentally foreign.
20The Pretty Things, ’13 Chester Street’ (1965)
Shuddering Brit-blues from the shaggy band who somehow blagged a pad in Belgravia, a short, agreeable stroll from Buckingham Palace. Pic: Photoshot
21Lily Allen, ‘LDN’ (2006)
From old Londinium to text-message LDN the city presents its contradictory faces. Lily is caught between a sunny calypso mood and darker visions of pimps, crack whores and cut-throats. Hogarth, Blake and Dickens would all have empathised.
22Kate Bush, ‘Moments of Pleasure’ (1993)
Dreamy recollections of nights passed in Abbey Road. Given the time musicians spend in studios it’s surprising how few songs ever mention them. Pic: PA Photos
23Pretenders, ‘Talk Of The Town’ (1980)
The single’s artwork showed the West End club, formerly a grand Edwardian music hall, at the peak of its neon glory.
24Pet Shop Boys, ‘West End Girls’ (1985)
Tennant and Lowe return obsessively to themes of London, usually from a slightly detached viewpoint (‘Sexy Northerner’, ‘King’s Cross’). This was the first and most famous example.
25Saint Etienne, ‘London Belongs To Me’ (1991)
From under a willow tree at Regent’s Park, from Camden Tube via Parkway, it’s a shimmering recollection of one romantic day when peace reclaimed the heart. Pic: PA Photos
26Warren Zevon, ‘Werewolves of London’ (1978)
A jangling comic-rock delight, classically Yank in its Hollywood version of Soho’s ill-lit alleyways, and a fearsome hirsute character who has lately wrought terror in Mayfair.
27Amy Winehouse, ‘Take The Box’ (2003)
Wonderful storytelling. Break-up numbers lend themselves to widescreen performances. But it’s the sordid trivia of separation that’s dwelt on here. Pic: Tom Oxley
28Wiley, ‘Slippin’ (2007)
The boy from Grimesville E3, finds himself stranded in South-West London. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he resolves to ‘splurt’. Pic: Tom Martin
29The Rolling Stones, ‘Play With Fire’ (1965)
The social highs and lows of London, surveyed with level contempt.
30Nick Drake, ‘Sunday’ (1970)
Forever at odds with London’s unmerciful tumult, Drake may have written this peaceful instrumental in tribute to the one day when life slowed to a tolerable pace.
31The Clash, ‘Police On My Back’ (1980)
‘Guns Of Brixton’ and ‘London Calling’ are incandescent. But their version of Eddy Grant’s ‘Police On My Back’ is fiercer yet. Pic: PA Photos
32The Who, ‘Real Good-Looking Boy’ (2004)
Their hits are pretty familiar but this sad tale of a west London childhood is a late addition to Pete Townshend’s great achievements. Pic: PA Photos
33Squeeze, ‘Up The Junction’, (1979)
An evergreen contender for the title of all-time London Favourite, though ‘Waterloo Sunset’ still looks unassailable. But then, who needs to choose?
34The Damned, ‘New Rose’ (1976)
The official first blast of UK punk, reverberating down the ages. Pic: Photoshot. Words in this gallery taken from ‘In The City – A Celebration Of London Music’, by Paul Du Noyer.