The Urban Sprawls That Helped Inspire Some Classics

Top Ten: City Songs

From John Lydon spitting super T into the eyes of pink-haired insurgents in London to Kurt stagediving into an army of plaid-wearing Mudhoney fans in Seattle: cities have always spawned the birth of the best genres.

But what of the songs that take on the title of an urban sprawl? We’ve tried to compress a few of the best songs name-checking one singular city eg 'NYC' into a top ten (so yes, that means no ‘London Calling’ or ‘Trenchtown Rock’) and before you start asking what happened to Ultravox’s classic cheese-fest ‘Vienna’, we’re not really going down that route. So in no particular order, here goes..

10)Interpol: NYC

Whilst the Strokes (see below) were busy introducing New York’s new rock n roll roster to a world gorging on Nu-Metal, Interpol’s ‘NYC’ showcased a more refined, melancholic ode to the city. A great song it may be, but Paul Banks still manages to get a sea of music fans scratching their heads with the somewhat aloof and confusing couplet ‘’the subway/is a porno’’. What? We thought subways just turned your snot black and were full of stressed commerce consultants.

Listen to 'NYC' here

9)The Shins: Australia

Ok, so its not strictly written about a city (although lyrically we’re still at a loss as to why its named after Lou Carpenter’s homeland). ‘Australia’ sees James Mercer’s tales of insomnia from ‘Wincing..’ bounding into new spheres. The skyscraping melodics were enough to make all the doubters choke on their coco pops whilst tuning in to ‘future classics’ FM. Catchier than a bout of nausea upon hearing Limp Bizkit, then.

Listen to 'Australia' here

8)Steely Dan: Brooklyn

Taken from the band’s platinum debut ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’, ‘Brooklyn’ saw the all-american duo team up with David Palmer, who sings vocals here. Although Palmer would later become a backing singer for the band (and go on to pen lyrics for Carole King), here Steely Dan forget the jazz noodling and came up trumps with a rather more conventional song structure.

Listen to 'Brooklyn' here

7)The Strokes : Hawaii

Grainy tele-stabs played through a 10watt amp? Check. Drums that sound like they were recorded in a bus shelter? Check. Holiday inspired lyrics that made us consider moving to Honolulu, wearing a lei and greeting confused locals with ''aloha''? Check.

Released as the flipside to 'Juicebox' in 2005, 'Hawaii' found Casablancas&co. taking their sound back to the classic Strokes of old as opposed to the space-age leanings of 'First Impressions..' and also made Hawaii sound like the coolest place on earth.

Listen to 'Hawaii' here

6)Ryan Adams: New York

Never ones to associate Mr Adams with bongos, this is however a poignant ode to N.Y. and the kind of song that should be playing in those corny city promotion adverts (as opposed to Ashlee Simpson). The fact it has a sax solo and is still ace makes it all the better, and considering ‘Gold (the album that hosted ‘New York’) was released merely two weeks after 9/11 makes it even more compelling listening.

Listen to 'New York' here

5)Joy Division: Warsaw

From the unsettling opening cries of "3 5 0 1 2 5.. Go!" (reportedly Rudolf Hess's prisoner of war serial number), this early demo finds Joy Division at their rawest. From the cold, mechanical drumbeat to the wired guitar, ‘Warsaw’s’ actual subject matter is shrouded in mystery (as are many J.D songs). Although lyrically most believe it to be Ian Curtis imagining himself as Hess, ie. a scumbag Nazi dictator.

Listen to 'Warsaw' here

4)Elliot Smith: Angeles

In hindsight, all of Smith's songs are shrouded in some cheerless sense of loss, and with Angeles essentially Smith's declaration of independence toward the big league labels in Los Angeles, its still a haunting, timeless piece of songwriting nonetheless. Taken from his seminal 'Either/Or' album (which also features the classic 'Ballad Of Big Nothing') it should be seen as a celebration of one of America's most missed songwriters.

Listen to 'Angeles' here

3)Orbital: Belfast

From the sinister opening chimes to the mantra-like build-up, Orbital proved themselves to be untouchable upon the release of 'Belfast', an acid-trance classic that's responsible for more gurning than the entire Columbian cartels combined. The fact its been reworked more times than a tin of spam should tell you all you need to know about Belfast. A classic.

Listen to 'Belfast' here

2)Sufjan Stevens: Chicago

Taken from Sufjan's ethereal 'Illinois' album, the prolific Michigan songwriter vowed to write an album for every American state following its release. Although he was knocking out LP's at a rate that would make Axl Rose walk the plank,it has since transpired Stevens won’t be fulfilling his vision (50 states is a lot to cover). Nonetheless, this is Sufjan’s moment; a towering, emotive slice of orchestral pop, and fortunately, ‘Chicago’ is possibly his best song too.

Listen to 'Chicago' here

1)Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra: Jackson

One of the most covered songs ever, this was also a classic cut from the Man In Black and June Carter. Although not penned by any of the above, 'Jackson' is probably the most famous country song named after a place in history. Hazelwood and Sinatra would go on to record countless more records together, but here Sinatra manages to pepper her kooky personality into proceedings (see the repeated Jackson refrain on the outro) and Hazelwood got to rock a legendary 'tache on the cover. Everyone's a winner.

Listen to 'Jackson' here

Have we missed out your fave? Spitting bullets that 'Paris' By Friendly Fires or 'Arizona by Kings of Leon were left off?

Leave a comment below.


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