Some cities are so epic that they inspire poetry and music about their streets. Others have a difficult history and artists memorialize the sufferings in rhythm and rhyme. The songs that are written are reminder of life in all its forms and they capture the character of a city better than any snapshot can.
With more than 13 million residents, the capital city of England is huge and exhilarating. Its 2,000 year history also gives it depth and flavour to go with the modern vibe, creating one of the best cities to visit for most travellers.
Hundreds of songs have been written about London, some referencing streets or suburbs and others about the bridges and buildings. Big Ben Boogie and Big Ben Blues sing about the bell in the Palace of Westminster. The Pet Shop Boys helped immortalize the West End Girls, and London Girls have made their way into almost a dozen songs by various artists. London Boys didn’t inspire as much music, but David Bowie and The Go-Go’s both found them songworthy.
A port city with a mix of cultures and classes, Liverpool is popular with tourists interested in football (Liverpool and Everton leagues), history (several UNESCO sites), music (The Beatles and others) and innovation (railways, steamships and trams started there).
Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields are there (The Beatles) and the Leaving of Liverpool must be traumatic because The Dubliners sing I Wish I was Back in Liverpool. Perhaps it’s the Long Haired Lover from Liverpool that Jimmy Osmond sings about or Liverpool Lou, or it may even be the Whiskey on a Sunday.
Creativecommons.org/ Daniel Morrison
The capital of Northern Ireland is both beautiful and sad, with the scars of its many troubles still visible in the streets. The RMS Titanic was built there and the city is still a centre for industry, business and art.
The Irish rock band U2 wrote one of the most poignant songs about the trouble in Northern Ireland, and although Sunday Bloody Sunday doesn’t mention Belfast, it is a tribute and memorial to the troubles that affected many in the capital. The Dubliners sing of sweeter things in Black Velvet Band and Finbar Magee will tell you of My Belfast Love.
Another city with 2,000 years of history behind it. The city is diverse and modern, with the music about it matching the variety.
Many westerners first heard the name of the city in the musical Hair when Claude is said to be from Manchester, England England. The Flowers of Manchester were footballers from Manchester United, who were lost in a plane crash. The Smiths had a number of songs about the city as did The Fall and the Stone Roses.
Creativecommons.org/ michael warren
The city has changed quite a bit from its start as a medieval marketplace, having grown into a global leader in commerce and industry. Still, many songs sing about difficult times the city has gone through.
Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six by the Pogues recalls a miscarriage of justice while several songs tell about the Bullring (Made in Hell, Turn the Page) before it was the shopping Mecca of today. ELO sing the Birmingham Blues and The Fall will tell you all about the Birmingham School of Business School.
Creativecommons.org/ Beverley Goodwin
The city was once known as a health resort and a favourite getaway for the Prince Regent back in the 18th century. It’s still a popular day trip from London although now it’s more about shopping than bathing.
Rumble in Brighton (Stray Cats) comes to mind pretty quickly when you see the town as does Brighton Rock by Queen. Older folks may remember Tangerine Dream and Cool Breeze of Brighton, or 5:15 by the Who about the train back to Brighton. The Sea and This is the Sea celebrate Brighton’s place on the coast.
Creativecommons.org/ Ben Salter
The Normans erected a castle near the River Usk and the settlement of Newport was born. It’s the third largest city in Wales and owes its growth to coal exporting up until the 1800s. Today it holds a mix of industries and business and supports a flourishing music scene.
The Byrds sang The Bells of Rhymney that mentions a number of places in Wales, but the most well-known song about the city has to be Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind) that parodies a song by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. The song is highly entertaining and introduces you to all the highlights of the city.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Creativecommons.org/ Ben Salter
When William the Conqueror’s eldest son built a new castle near the River Tyne, the settlement in the area got its name. The city was once known for wool trade, coal mining and shipping, although today the football club and beer are more likely to come to mind.
The city may have been a hotbed of love and infidelity in the 1800s – at least if you listen to songs written then. There are actually dozens of old folk tunes that mention Newcastle and the Tyne, many involving love, shepherd girls and boats. Newer songs might be less dramatic, but they are just as entertaining. I’m Coming Home Newcastle is a lad’s sad song of homesickness and he mentions many of the things that make the city so memorable.