Seven London spots that have inspired great music
Over the years, musicians have found inspiration in all corners of the capital.
From the housing estates of East London to Premier League football grounds, artists have had their imaginations stoked by the city’s various sights and sounds, creating some amazing music as a result.
Here, we’ve picked out some of the finest examples of tracks and albums that wouldn’t exist without London’s influence.
Browse the map to plan your musical pilgrimages and read on below for the stories behind the songs.
Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks
Much of this song was inspired by Ray Davies' own memories of Waterloo. As he explained in an interview with the Guardian, the area “always had a lot of significance” for Davies — whether that was going to the Festival of Britain with his father, gazing out over the river from his bed in St Thomas’ hospital, or changing trains at the station on his way to college. The song itself is tinged by woe as much as it is by romance — Davies sings of lovers wandering over the Thames while he stays home alone, but takes solace in that amber glow. Where is the best place to watch a Waterloo sunset, actually? Probably from Waterloo bridge, above that dirty old river — find a place somewhere in the middle and watch the day disappear behind the city skyline.
Bow E3 by Wiley
Wiley has never been one to pull punches and on this quintessential track, he slams anyone who claims Bow isn’t the home of grime, or that he isn't the living embodiment of it. It’s part-love letter (“The whole of E3’s got so much talent, I hope you see,” he spits, referencing Dizzee Rascal, DJ Target and the numerous other grime artists who sprung from the area) and part-battle cry (“It’s not hard, anybody trying it better just stop, I’ll let the leng go E3”). He goes on to pay homage to various spots around Bow — from the (now permanently closed) Moon Lee Chinese takeaway to famous Roman Road.
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Ok, so it’s an album rather than a song, but there isn’t any other place in London that has become as tightly linked with the music named after it as Abbey Road has. It’s fair to say that the area itself didn’t have any great effect on the music — no great flashes of inspiration were drawn from this quiet corner of north-west London — but by naming their eleventh studio album after the place, and by posing for that album cover, the Beatles turned Abbey Road into a musical Mecca. To this day, people flock to the site, dodging traffic to try and recreate the iconic photo (their exploits are captured on this camera, live-streamed to the world).
Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
This song is less about the place, and more about the swaying, purgatorial state of mind that Gerry Rafferty found himself in when he wrote it. Tied in a legal battle as he tried to escape the contracts that bound him to his previous band, Stealers Wheel, Rafferty was crashing at a friend’s flat on Baker Street. It was a time of heavy drinking — “Winding your way down on Baker Street/ Light in your head and dead on your feet,” he sings in the opening lines — but also of fresh hope, as he emerged from his addiction and his litigious woes (“The sun is shining, it’s a new morning”). Oh, and it just so happens to feature the single most recognisable sax riff of all time.
Dopamine Clouds Over Craven Cottage by Stars of the Lid
One of the more peculiar songs on our list brings together two otherwise disparate things: hazy ambient music and Fulham Football Club. Stars of the Lid, the seminal ambient production outfit, are a duo with a member called Brian McBride. A footballer of the same name from the US made 140 league appearances for Fulham between the 2004 and 2008. It only seems right, then, that the duo would pay tribute to Craven Cottage, the club’s stadium, with this track. It includes a sample of a commentator watching McBride (the footballer) scoring a goal, before fading away into a sea of droning noise.
The Guns of Brixton by the Clash
At the end of the 1970s, Brixton was simmering. High unemployment, crime and sharp racial tensions had led to divisions between the people and the police that ruled over them. The Guns of Brixton captured that paranoid tension and condensed it into a feeling of resentful resistance (“You can crush us/ You can bruise us/ But you’ll have to answer to/ Oh, the guns of Brixton” sang bassist Paul Simonon). To the outsider, upon its release in December 1979, the song might have seemed hyperbolic but it turned out to be eerily prescient — just shy of 16 months later, Brixton was ablaze as thousands took to the streets to riot.
Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant
In the aftermath of those riots, Eddy Grant wrote this song. It's a strange composition, with jaunty rock guitars and bouncy keys, but lyrics that speak of violence in the streets and families that can't afford food for their children. The street in question, Electric Avenue, flanked by Brixton Market, still stands to this day. Thanks in no small part to this song, it serves as a reminder of the area's far more turbulent past.