The classic tune Streets of London has been updated by its writer Ralph McTell. The song — once delivered compulsively by every busker, but now replaced by Hallelujah — has gained a new verse to reflect these days of isolation. It made us wonder, what other songs are in need of a refresh?
The Kinks classic has much to recommend it as a hymn for the time of coronavirus. “Every day I look at the world from my window,” laments Ray Davies. “But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander. I stay at home at night.” That’s just the kind of attitude we need to get through this crisis. But then he spoils it all at the end by singing of “Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground”. Wreckless.
The Clash’s whatever-the-opposite-of-loveletter-is to the capital paints a grim picture of a city in decline. It sounds like a good fit for the times, and certainly contains some choice lyrics:
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growin’ thin
Have you tried to buy any flour recently?
It’s a near perfect song for dystopian afternoons, with one caveat. “Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls,” might send out the wrong message when we want to keep people indoors.
London Bridge is Falling Down
Much of this old nursery rhyme dwells on the bridge’s repair and the diverse materials suggested to ‘build it up’. Sadly, the construction industry is under great pressure at the time of writing, and may have to halt works on all but essential buildings. As it happens, the famous bridge recently part-closed for extensive repairs. Whether those will continue under lockdown remains to be seen.
Gerry Rafferty’s timeless song stands up to scrutiny pretty well when viewed through a COVID-shaped lens.
This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul
That sounds eerily prescient. London is still just as populated, but the soul has gone. It feels like a desert. A city desert, if you will. And Gerry will.
Meanwhile, “Another year and then you’ll be happy,” matches projections as to how long the virus might take to defeat. Even the drummer sports a mighty beard, reminiscent of the isolation chinwigs that most male Londoners are currently cultivating, because why not.
The middle of the song gets a bit gung-ho about social distancing, however, with someone paying a nocturnal visit to a friend (“he opens the door, he’s got that look on his face”). That’s a bit of a no-no. But we’re really only listening for the saxophone solo anyway, so all is well.
London is the Place for me
London is the Place for me was devised by Aldwyn Roberts, stage name Lord Kitchener, while voyaging to London on the Empire Windrush. It’s a song of hope and optimism by a man making a fresh start in a new country. It’s a great listen if you want something buoyant to remind you of London at its most welcoming — but best not take the advice of the lyrics.
Because the English people are very much sociable
They take you here and they take you there
And they make you feel like a millionaire
Let’s all go Down the Strand!
Just don’t. And you can’t have a banana, either.