With a 2,000-year history behind it, it stands to reason that there are some great tracks written about London. In modern music, that means everything from rap to rock, reggae, and more. These top songs about London represent the fascinating culture of the Swinging City.
1. Waterloo Sunset — The Kinks
The Kinks’ 1967 classic might just be the most famous London-themed song of all time. Writer Ray Davies said that he was inspired by the memories of being hospitalized after a tracheotomy at the age of 13; every evening, a nurse would bring him to watch the sunset over the Thames River from his window. The track is about watching two lovers walking by the river and talking about their lives together.
2. London Calling — The Clash
Many of those who were alive in 1979, when The Clash released their post-punk hit, would have recognized the phrase in the title. It was taken from the BBC station identification during World War II, often used during emergency broadcasts or communication to people in occupied territories.
The Clash used this concept of an emergency broadcast to draw attention to the plight of Londoners in the 1970s, facing threats of police brutality, drug abuse, nuclear warfare, and potential flooding from the Thames River.
3. West End Girls — Pet Shop Boys
West End Girls is one of the most famous songs about London ever written. The 1986 synth-pop hit has come to be considered one of the Pet Shop Boys’ signature tracks and earned multiple awards, including Best Single at the 1987 Brit Awards.
It contrasts life in different neighborhoods in London with commentary on class differences. Londoners of the 1980s would have recognized the theme of boys from the lower-class East End traveling to the other side of the city for a night out in the hopes of landing a “West End girl.”
4. London — The Smiths
For people who live elsewhere, London is often the first thing they think of when the UK comes to mind. But for British natives, life in London can be intensely different from their hometown. The Smiths’ 1987 hit London follows the thought process of a man who is moving to the city from his hometown in the north of the country.
He feels nervous and hesitant about leaving his safer way of life for the unknown of the capital, where he has no friends or family.
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5. Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner — David Jones
The most famous version of Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner was recorded by David ones in the 1960s. However, the song, now considered a Cockney classic, was composed by BBC radio announcer Hubert Gregg in the 1940s.
He was on leave from his broadcasting career during the Second World War, which was when he wrote the tune as a love track for his hometown. It became a kind of rallying cry for the British public under threat from Nazi Germany and remains a song of love and unity for Londoners to this day.
6. Up The Junction — Squeeze
The 1979 song Up The Junction might not specifically be about London, but it describes the unique experience of living in Clapham Junction, a working-class neighborhood of the city near Battersea.
The track follows the story of a London man as he falls in love with a woman and starts his life with her only to have it all fall apart. It plays on words with the phrase “up the junction,” which is London slang for being in deep trouble, but also in this case, literally means in the neighborhood of Clapham Junction.
7. Strange Town — The Jam
The 1970s seemed to be an era of songs all about the “big city,” and in the UK, that is, of course, London. The 1979 hit Strange Town by The Jam is written from the perspective of a man who has just moved to London and finds himself overwhelmed by the pace of life there.
In particular, he struggles with the people, who seem hurried and unfriendly, making it difficult to make any permanent connections. For him, London is such a strange place that he feels as though his every move makes him stand out, from his accent to the way he walks.
8. Streets of London — Ralph McTell
In the 1960s, singer Ralph McTell had the unique experience of hitchhiking around Europe and busking in different cities around the continent. His 1969 song Streets Of London details his experiences with other street workers in that city, specifically on Surrey Market Street in Croydon.
During that time, he experienced a side of London that is rarely memorialized in tracks— the side of those who lived on the street and was overlooked by society, including the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, and the sick.
9. The City — Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran got his start as a musician when he moved to London at the age of just 17. Long before he made it to superstar status, he was playing at small venues throughout the city. Money was tight and sometimes nonexistent, and he was homeless for nearly three years.
The City is a song about his experiences during these years, particularly with the busy and constant noise and energy of London and how it made it difficult to sleep when he lived on the street.
10. Baker Street — Gerry Rafferty
The 1978 song Baker Street was a massive hit for Gerry Rafferty, but it came out of strange circumstances. It was written during a time when he was embroiled in legal troubles and obliged to travel frequently from Glasgow to London to consult with his lawyer.
While there, he often stayed with a friend who lived on Baker Street. The track was an international hit, climbing to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning an Ivor Novello Award. It is widely remembered for its distinctive saxophone riff.
11. Soho — Bert Jansch And John Renbourn
Bert Jansch’s 1966 song is a tribute to London nightlife; the track begins with the attention-catching line “Come walk the streets of crime.” Soho has long been the entertainment district of London, and during Jansch’s time, was also a prominent place for both sex work and the underground gay scene.
In the song, he reflects on the change that comes over the district when night falls and how it transforms from a market neighborhood to a place of drunkenness and revelry.
12. Hometown Glory — Adele
Adele wasn’t yet the superstar that she would become when she composed Hometown Glory. It was written in 2004 when she was just 16 years old; at the time, her mother wanted her to leave her home in London to go to university. The track didn’t get widespread attention until the release of her debut album 19 in 2008.
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13. Primrose Hill — John And Beverley Martyn
Married duo John and Beverley Martyn released their song Primrose Hill on their second album in 1970. The track is about the hill in Regent’s Park in London; the singer describes watching the sunset over the hill with her love and how she wouldn’t want any other life. For Londoners, the name would offer instant recognition as the perfect place to take an evening stroll with the person that you love.
14. Fake Plastic Trees — Radiohead
Radiohead’s 1995 hit Fake Plastic Trees doesn’t mention London by name, but the UK band wasn’t shy about the inspiration behind the song. The track was a hard-hitting critique of false things—including the commercial development taking over London throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Specifically, it was sparked by the Canary Wharf development.
15. Galang — M.I.A.
M.I.A.’s 2005 song Galang is an ode to street life in London, a side of the city that isn’t often celebrated. The word “galang” comes from Jamaican slang meaning “go along.” It has come to mean the act of keeping your head down so as not to attract attention from unwelcome parties.
16. The Guns of Brixton — The Clash
No one does music about London like The Clash. In their 1979 reggae track The Guns Of Brixton, they reflect on the feeling of increasing unrest in London’s Brixton district, fueled by draconian policing, poverty, and other factors. The song seems prophetic, as Brixton did erupt in riots for these reasons throughout the 1980s.
17. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square — Vera Lynn
A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is a traditional love song composed in 1939. It has been covered many times, notably by Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra. The track describes the feeling of meeting your lover for the first time and likens it to hearing a nightingale—a country bird—sing in the middle of London.
18. A Rainy Night in Soho — The Pogues
Irish band The Pogues released A Rainy Night In Soho in 1986. On its surface, the song seems to be about finding comfort in the company of a beautiful woman during a rainy night. However, some people interpret it as being about using alcohol as your nightly comfort rather than a human being.
19. Mile End — Pulp
Most people familiar with Pulp’s Mile End will recognize it from the 1996 film Trainspotting. It painstakingly details the squalor of the place, based on frontman Jarvis Cocker’s real experiences living in Mile End for nine months. He said that it was the worst period of his life and he spent every moment afraid for his own safety.
20. For Tomorrow — Blur
Blur’s 1993 song For Tomorrow centers on life in London, particularly the districts of Camden and Kensington. From Primrose Hill in Camden, the viewer can see an excellent vista of the city. Following this theme, the music video was shot at recognizable sites around London, including Trafalgar Square, the Thames, and Trellick Tower.
21. North Circular — Real Lies
The North Circular Road extends throughout the majority of London, stretching nearly 25 miles through the city. Real Lies’ 2015 song is about wandering this street in the middle of the night because the narrator has nowhere else to go. The track mentions several London fixtures, including the A1 and the Hornsey Lane Bridge.
22. LDN — Lily Allen
Lily Allen was an up-and-coming singer when she released LDN in 2005. The title refers to the text shorthand for “London.” The song, a cheerful, upbeat tune, at first seems to be an ode to her hometown, detailing the things she sees as she rides around London on her bike.
There’s some black humor in the track, such as the description of homeless men eating on a park bench as “dining al fresco” and the realization that a stylish couple is actually a “pimp and his crack whore.”
23. Dettwork Southeast — Blak Twang
Blak Twang’s Dettwork Southeast is a hip hop ode to London transit—which probably can’t be said for any other song out there. In a uniquely London performance, he uses Cockney slang in his rap verses and describes the experience of being a black man in the UK. It’s not just about London; it’s also a fascinating example of one of the city’s many subcultures.
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24. I Love London — Crystal Fighters
Crystal Fighters’ 2009 track I Love London is deceptively simplistic. At first glance, it seems to be a sparsely-worded electronic song about wanting to go to a party. But the track has been praised as an insightful commentary on the mindless partying scene in London and how it can become monotonous as partygoers bounce between the neighborhoods listed in the song. Whether a shallow party romp or commentary on London nightlife, you can’t deny that it’s a banger.
25. London Belongs To Me — Saint Etienne
Indie-pop group Saint Etienne released London Belongs To Me in 1991. The song is about falling in love with someone in London. The result is the sensation of being the only two people in the entire city—or even feeling like the city is in love with you, too. Their track namechecks a few of London’s most iconic landmarks.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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