10 Best And Worst Songs About Cities

From 'London Calling' to 'Viva Las Vegas'
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Welcome to Polls Apart, the Clash barometer of the best and worst facets in music.

At ten, the antithesis of cool - the worst perpetrators of musical crimes. At one, the most influential and heroic saviours. Let countdown commence.

This month we look at 'City' themed songs...

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10. Infernal - ‘From Paris To Berlin’



Remember last time you saw Tron and sat there thinking, ‘They’ve missed a blimming trick here! What this needs is a section wherein Jeff Bridges finds himself battling a club full of chlamydic Euro Trash as the mainframe computer jizzes a barrage of pre-fabricated beats and slutty vocals straight down his cochlea. It would be fucking mental!’ Well, shit the bed; some snide bugger has only pipped you to it. Boasting a budget that wouldn’t stretch to a Happy Meal, the video for Infernal’s ‘From Paris To Berlin’ does exactly what a promo clip should; give a pithy visual interpretation of the song it accompanies. That said song happens to be a weeping gash of crapness is presumably what prompted the director to fashion something akin to The One Show’s opening credits being projected onto Yates happy hour. As for any relation to the cities name-checked throughout, Infernal’s choice of Paris and Berlin seems less about the rich cultural heritage which characterises these European metropolises and more about the odds of getting your end away with some coke-faced skank.

Fire in the disco!

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9. Bran Van 3000 - ‘Drinking In LA’



Los Angeles is less a city, more a nation state riveted by Taco Bells and an exoskeleton of asphalt. A sprawling mess with almost thirteen million residents, LA represents every facet of American society in a clusterfuck of boroughs that range from the sun-bleached dichotomy of Beverly Hills through to the dusty nihilism of South Central. Yet were you to look for a song which encapsulated this improbable smear of West Coast humanity you would do well to abjectly ignore Bran Van 3000’s ‘Drinking In LA’. A lolling trip-hop-big-beat-skunk-rock-shambles, ‘Drinking In LA’ could be considered a success if judged on epistemological grounds alone; epitomising the fallow stream of talentless cunts who seek fame and/or notoriety within the City of Angels. However, in reality this is late-Nineties genre hopping at its worst - a soulless creation which channelled Skint Records’ patchy legacy and ironed it dry for a beer commercial.

Grecian!

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8. Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé - ‘Barcelona’



Other than having Richard Simmons sashay into shot mid-video draped in a rhinestone Bandera de España, this 1987 song from Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé couldn’t get any gayer. Over the top and unashamedly bombastic, ‘Barcelona’ should have been fucking brilliant - giving the Queen front-man ample opportunity to wrap his tonsils around a totally ornate edifice of popera alongside Catalan soprano Caballé. But all that came out was this turgid shit. A meandering series of peaks and troughs that fails to achieve anything other than mild disappointment, ‘Barcelona’ abjectly ignores the fascinating city of its inspiration and opts instead for an aural representation that has all the glamour of Tamworth’s retail park. Like Mika and SuBo wanking each other off at a firework display, it’s undeniably a spectacle but not one you’d voluntarily witness.

Gaudi!

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7. Friendly Fires - ‘Paris’



A disclaimer; this song ain’t that bad. In fact, should you be looking for a carbonated take on the shoegazer-asthetic, then you could do much worse than point your ears in the direction of Friendly Fires. Why not treat yourself to the Au Revoir Simone mix? It’s bootiful! No, what our honking great bone of contention here concerns is the pervasive myth that Paris represents the romanticised pinnacle of North European society. Having first visited the city on a school trip at the age of fourteen only to see a middle-aged woman defecating on the Metro, subsequent visits have involved muggings at gun point, surly service staff and a general air of superiority that bears little relation to the polluted carbuncle in which you’re stood. So, when Friendly Fires sing: “One day we’re gonna live in Paris / I promise / I’m on it / I’ll find you that French boy / You’ll find me that French girl”, what they actually mean is: ‘One day we’re gonna live in Paris / Where we can be patronised daily / See industry crippled by totalitarian unions / And speak a language so lacking in evolutionary instinct that it has to be protected by an arcane academy’. Sac de branler.

In Seine in the membrane!

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6. Arctic Monkeys - ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’



“He talks of San Francisco, he’s from Hunters Bar” quipped Alex Turner on the Arctic Monkeys’ debut EP back in 2005. How terribly wry of them - deriding bands for assuming parochial attributes that are totally removed from their actual locale. The Thrills might sound like they awoke every morning to some Super-8 version of California life, but in reality they were from Dublin. As in Dublin Ireland. But I digress. When the Monkeys drew comparisons between Sheffield’s student rat-run and San Francisco’s balmy climes, they were overtly planting a cultural marker in the sand which naturally aligned to regional auteurs such as Shane Meadows, Morrissey and Mike Skinner whilst distancing themselves from the skinny-jeaned influx lead by Julian Casablancas et al. Yet whilst past bands such as Pulp, Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League cast the Steel City as a place of endless juxtaposition, the Monkeys gave a far straighter interpretation of their hometown which barely lifted its head from the post industrial malaise. Clever and erudite it may be, but a good representation of Britain’s forgotten cultural gem? Dunna kid yerself duck!

Steal!

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5. Lou Reed - ‘Berlin’



“In Berlin, by the wall / You were five foot ten inches tall / It was very nice / Candlelight and Dubonnet on ice”. Not the most auspicious introduction to Germany’s capital, but Lou Reed’s evocation of chilled Buckfast and going on the pull down at Checkpoint Charlie certainly captures something of the pre-unification Berlin. A significant departure from ‘Transformer’, ‘Berlin’ found Reed in reflective mood and happy to submit his pumice vocals to a buoyant composition that was both pretty and lithe. That the narrative happened to be entwined around the Havel is fairly academic, but what the setting did proffer was a sense of an artistic outsider welcomed by a town bearing the scars of its recent past. Ich bin ein Berliner.

Reed it and weep!

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4. Ultravox - ‘Vienna’



Looking like a young Peter Mandelson cottaging around Covent Garden, Midge Ure strides purposefully through billowing dry ice as the synthpop heavens open and bestow the crisp binary thud of ‘Vienna’ at the foot of the Eighties. Loosely based on Graeme Green’s The Third Man, ‘Vienna’ is a thrilling confection of electro, violins and histrionic vocal peaks all held together by a populist ethos that didn’t seek to patronise or confound. Beyond appellations, ‘Vienna’ has about as much in common with the eponymous town as Amarillo and San Jose have with those looking for directions. Yet when Ultravox inflate their pomp and intone “The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky / It fades to the distance / The image has gone only you and I / It means nothing to me / This means nothing to me / Ah, Vienna’, the monochrome frosted image conjured up is so vivid it may as well have Wish You Were Here daubed across the top corner in red Comic Sans.

Voxy lady!

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3. Nas - ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’



Rappers love towns almost as much as their mums and cussing. By the time you reach the middle eight it’s obligatory for any hip-hop song to have given a shout out / shown respect / made some noise for the post-code they happen to call home. With Kanye it’s Chicago. Snoop LA. Eminem Detroit. But alongside Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Tes and the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas has got a proper little hard on for New York - a city which has been lyrically documented like an aural Ordinance Survey. Abbreviating a title from Billy Joel (since handed down with a further twist to Jay-Z), Nas’ ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ is a searing example of territorial hip-hop; with Nas both celebratory and damning of the five boroughs. Atop looping pianos and a Rakim sampled chorus, Nas paints a vivid portrait of a city riddled by crime and social rifts. Yet rather than become a morose depiction of inner city living, ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ sees optimism in the generational renewal of street corners and gang affiliations - not an obvious source of civic pride we grant you, but one which Nas invests with a very real sense of dignity and danger.

Not for girls!

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2. The Clash - ‘London Calling’



London is a shit hole. But it’s our shit hole. A chaotic worm farm that bears scant regard to the nation it holds at bay through a moat of gridlocked tarmac, London long ago ceased to be the beating heart of Britain and effectively became a citadel which happens to share a flag and media with those beyond its boundaries. A patchwork quilt of ethnicity, belief and values, London is a remarkable place that repels mass gentrification in favour of conflicting identities and a creative hunger which makes it one of the most exciting places on Earth. However, back in 1979 London was fucked - struggling to identify a means of becoming a tertiary society as the economy jack-knifed and a desperate populace lived under the Soviet Union’s nuclear cosh. Taking this unease and reducing it into a pithy rash of guitar and snarls, The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ is the spiritual forebearer of every song played on Rinse FM with Joe Strummer balancing the sickly reality of life in the capital against the siren song it omitted to those stranded in the sticks. Be standing please for our true National anthem.

Give the Strummer some!

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1. Elvis Presley - ‘Viva Las Vegas’



Despite extolling family values ad nauseam and thrusting their moral superiority down the gullet of anyone who dares to cross them, America is remarkably good at turning a blind eye when it suits. And we’re not just talking Guantanamo here. Squatting in the Nevada desert with all the moral ambiguity of a Bible bukkake, Las Vegas appears diametrically opposed to the clean living, puritanical pillars on which the nation was built. But fuck it; it makes money, is a good laugh and they hold wet T-shirt contests nightly. Like, chill out granddad. As synonymous with Sin City as the misogynistic and criminally lubricated Rat Pack, Elvis Presley was surely preordained to provide an anthem for this sparkly bauble of capitalist excess. Imagine for a moment the unmitigated uproar there would be if a foreign national (in the army no less) started dating a fourteen-year-old American bird. But that’s exactly how Elvis met Pricilla when stationed in Germany during his national service. He was twenty-four. She was fourteen. THE RUDDY OUTRAGE! Cobble into this is a voracious addiction to prescription drugs and Elvis’ tenure as the King of Vegas becomes so obvious you begin to assume he sat on a rock and they built out around him. A thundering glitter-ball of a song, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ takes the disposable nature of the town and recasts it as a celebration of the high-life with no concern for tomorrow morning; all pumped out through one of the greatest (and flawed) showmen ever to grace a stage.

Burger King!

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Words by Adam Park









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