- 1. London Calling – The Clash
- 2. Up the Junction – Squeeze
- 3. Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
- 4. The Battle of Epping Forest – Genesis
- 5. Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
- 6. Werewolves of London – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
- 7. LDN – Lily Allen
- 8. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
- 9. Streets of London – Ralph McTell
- 10. Mornington Crescent – Belle and Sebastian
- 11. London – The Smiths
- 12. Itchycoo Park – Small Faces
- 13. Take Me Back to London – Ed Sheeran
- 14. Brompton Oratory – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- 15. London Boys – T. Rex
- 16. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight – The Jam
- 17. A Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
- 18. West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys
- 19. Mile End – Pulp
- 20. London Belongs to Me – Saint Etienne
London has been a cultural and artistic hub for centuries, inspiring musicians and songwriters from all over the world to capture its essence in their music. From punk rock to indie, from pop to grime, the city’s rich and diverse musical heritage is reflected in the vast array of songs that pay tribute to its streets, landmarks, and people.
In this article, we will take a journey through the top 20 essential songs about London that celebrate this bustling city, each one capturing a unique aspect of the capital’s character.
Our selection of songs spans across different genres and eras, each one with a story to tell about life in London. From The Clash’s iconic punk anthem “London Calling” to the melancholic beauty of The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” we will explore the city’s streets and neighborhoods through the eyes of some of the most talented and celebrated songwriters of all time. With its vibrant energy, vibrant street life, and endless possibilities, London has been a muse for countless artists throughout history, and these songs stand as a testament to the city’s enduring influence and legacy.
1. London Calling – The Clash
London Calling – The Clash: Released in 1979, “London Calling” is one of The Clash’s most famous songs and is widely regarded as an anthem for London. The song is a mix of punk, reggae, and rockabilly, and it highlights the city’s political and social issues, including nuclear war, police brutality, and unemployment. The song’s lyrics urge listeners to “stop pretending” and to “come out of the cupboard.” “London Calling” has become an iconic song that represents the rebellious spirit of London’s youth culture.
2. Up the Junction – Squeeze
Up the Junction – Squeeze: “Up the Junction” is a classic track from the 70s that tells the story of a girl’s life in London. The lyrics detail her experiences and struggles, from working in a factory to partying with her friends. The song’s structure is unusual for a pop song, as it is written in a narrative form rather than a typical verse-chorus-bridge structure. The chorus repeats the phrase “up the junction,” which refers to the junction where the girl lives, adding to the song’s London-centric theme. The song’s enduring popularity has cemented it as a classic representation of London’s working-class youth culture.
3. Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
“Baker Street” is a soft rock song by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty, released in 1978. The song’s famous saxophone riff is one of the most recognizable in music history. The lyrics are about a man who feels lost and alone in the city, wandering the streets of London’s Baker Street neighborhood. The song’s melancholic yet uplifting melody captures the essence of a city that can be both inspiring and isolating. “Baker Street” has become an anthem for those who seek solace in the city’s streets, and it remains one of the most beloved songs about London.
4. The Battle of Epping Forest – Genesis
“The Battle of Epping Forest” is a progressive rock song by the British band Genesis, released in 1973. The song is a satirical take on gang warfare in the Epping Forest area of London. The lyrics tell the story of two rival gangs, the East End and West End, who engage in a humorous battle over the control of the forest. The song features intricate guitar and keyboard work, as well as multiple vocalists, creating a complex and engaging piece of music. “The Battle of Epping Forest” is a classic example of Genesis’ storytelling abilities and their willingness to experiment with different genres and musical styles.
5. Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
“Electric Avenue” is a classic reggae-pop song by the Guyanese-British singer-songwriter Eddy Grant, released in 1982. The song’s title refers to a street in the Brixton neighborhood of South London, which was one of the first shopping streets in the UK to have electric lighting. The lyrics of the song are a protest against the economic and social conditions of the time, particularly the unemployment and poverty that affected many people in the UK in the early 1980s. “Electric Avenue” is characterized by its catchy synth and guitar riffs, upbeat tempo, and Grant’s soulful vocals. The song has become an iconic part of London’s musical history and remains popular to this day.
6. Werewolves of London – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
“Werewolves of London” is a rock classic written by Warren Zevon and recorded by him in 1978, featuring backing vocals by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac. The song features a distinctive piano riff and catchy chorus that have made it a staple of classic rock radio. The lyrics of the song are playful and irreverent, describing a scene of werewolves running wild in the streets of London. The song’s popularity has endured over the years, with many covers and references to it in popular culture.
7. LDN – Lily Allen
“LDN” is a song by British singer-songwriter Lily Allen, released in 2006 as a single from her debut album “Alright, Still”. The song is a catchy and upbeat blend of pop, reggae, and hip-hop, and features lyrics that paint a vivid picture of life in London, including the city’s diversity, fashion, and nightlife. Allen’s conversational style and clever wordplay have made “LDN” a fan favorite and a signature song of her early career. The song’s music video, which features Allen biking through various London neighborhoods, has also become an iconic part of the city’s cultural imagery.
8. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks is a melancholic tribute to the Thames-side view of London. The song is a testament to the band’s songwriting talent and captures the essence of London’s beauty in its lyrics. The song is a masterpiece of storytelling and is filled with imagery of London life, from the Waterloo station to the Embankment. The song has a timeless quality that makes it a perennial favorite.
9. Streets of London – Ralph McTell
Streets of London by Ralph McTell is a poignant ballad that highlights the struggles and loneliness of people living in London. McTell’s evocative lyrics and simple acoustic guitar melody paint a vivid picture of the city’s streets, highlighting the diversity and struggles of its inhabitants. The song has become an anthem for the homeless and the less fortunate and has been covered by several artists, including Mary Hopkin and Sinéad O’Connor. Streets of London is a timeless classic that celebrates the spirit of the city and its people.
10. Mornington Crescent – Belle and Sebastian
“Mornington Crescent” is a gentle indie pop song by Scottish band Belle and Sebastian. The song’s title is a reference to the famous London Underground station of the same name. The lyrics tell a story of a woman who spends her days wandering around the city, observing people and dreaming of a life different from her own. The song’s soft melody and soothing vocals make it a perfect soundtrack for a lazy day spent exploring the streets of London. With its charming lyrics and catchy tune, “Mornington Crescent” is a delightful ode to the city and its many wonders.
11. London – The Smiths
“London” by The Smiths is a poetic song that captures the melancholic mood of the city, with lyrics that express the sense of alienation and isolation that can be experienced in a big metropolis. The song features the distinctive and soulful voice of Morrissey and is complemented by the jangly guitar sound of Johnny Marr. The lyrics describe the emptiness of a city that can be simultaneously alluring and overwhelming, making it a perfect anthem for those who feel a mix of love and disdain for London.
12. Itchycoo Park – Small Faces
“Itchycoo Park” by Small Faces is a classic psychedelic rock song that evokes the vibrant and trippy atmosphere of London’s 1960s counterculture. The song features a groovy melody, with a distinctive Hammond organ riff and catchy vocal harmonies. The lyrics describe a magical place called Itchycoo Park, where people can forget about their worries and indulge in a blissful state of mind. The song has become a cult classic and is considered one of the most iconic tracks of the British Invasion era.
13. Take Me Back to London – Ed Sheeran
“Take Me Back to London” is a song by British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, featuring English rapper Stormzy. The song was released in 2019 as part of Sheeran’s album “No.6 Collaborations Project.” The track reflects on Sheeran’s experiences of growing up in London and his love for the city, referencing places such as Camden and Hackney. It has a catchy chorus and a thumping beat that mixes rap and pop influences. Stormzy’s verse adds a grime element to the track and celebrates London’s diverse music scene. “Take Me Back to London” was a commercial success, reaching the top 10 in several countries, including the UK and the US.
14. Brompton Oratory – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Brompton Oratory” is a haunting and evocative track by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The song’s lyrics describe the speaker’s visit to the Brompton Oratory, a large Catholic church in London. The speaker reflects on the beauty of the building and the religious rituals performed there, but also on the dark undercurrents of the city outside. The song is driven by a slow, mournful piano melody and Cave’s distinctive, gravelly vocals, creating an atmosphere that is both contemplative and eerie.
15. London Boys – T. Rex
“London Boys” is a glam rock classic by T. Rex, released in 1976. The song’s lyrics tell the story of a young man named Alfie who moves from his small hometown to London, seeking adventure and excitement. The track is upbeat and energetic, driven by a catchy guitar riff and the charismatic vocals of frontman Marc Bolan. With its infectious melody and lyrics that capture the spirit of youthful rebellion, “London Boys” has become a beloved anthem of the city’s music scene.
16. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight – The Jam
“Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” is a 1978 song by the British band The Jam. The lyrics depict a man being mugged and beaten in a tube station while on his way home from work. The song has been interpreted as a commentary on urban violence and the anxiety of living in a city. The song’s tense and urgent instrumentation, with its pounding bassline and driving drums, adds to the sense of paranoia and fear. The song was a hit for The Jam, and it remains one of their most iconic and powerful tracks, a testament to their ability to capture the mood and spirit of life in late 1970s Britain.
17. A Rainy Night in Soho – The Pogues
“A Rainy Night in Soho” is a ballad by The Pogues that tells the story of a couple walking through the rain in Soho, London. The song captures the melancholic feeling of the night as the singer’s voice, accompanied by accordion and fiddle, paints a vivid picture of the streets and the emotions of the characters. The song’s lyrics are filled with imagery of the night sky, the neon lights, and the people they encounter, creating a vivid and emotional scene.
18. West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys
“West End Girls” is a synth-pop classic by Pet Shop Boys that describes the experiences of young people living in London’s West End. The song’s catchy beat and infectious chorus are coupled with sardonic lyrics that satirize the yuppie culture of the 1980s. The song’s music video features the duo walking around the streets of London, with shots of iconic landmarks such as Piccadilly Circus and the Houses of Parliament. The song became a massive hit, cementing Pet Shop Boys’ place in music history and capturing the zeitgeist of 1980s London.
19. Mile End – Pulp
“Mile End” is a song by Pulp, released in 1995. The song takes its name from the area in London where it was recorded and is a bleak commentary on urban decay and gentrification. The song is set to a driving rhythm with a haunting synthesizer melody, and features the distinctive vocals of frontman Jarvis Cocker. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of the decline of the area, referencing homelessness, drug addiction, and crime. The song was well received critically and is considered one of Pulp’s best works, with its evocative and atmospheric portrayal of the changing face of London’s urban landscape.
20. London Belongs to Me – Saint Etienne
“London Belongs to Me” is a song by British indie-pop group Saint Etienne, released in 1992. The song is a nostalgic celebration of the city of London and the sense of belonging that it can inspire. The lyrics evoke the sights and sounds of the city, from the hustle and bustle of the streets to the quiet beauty of the Thames at night. The song’s upbeat, catchy melody is accompanied by samples of ambient city sounds, creating a sense of immersive atmosphere. “London Belongs to Me” has become a cult classic among fans of British indie-pop, and is often cited as one of Saint Etienne’s best-loved songs.