x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fans are fascinated by pop music landmarks

As the gates to Strawberry Field, and the sign that inspired one of The Beatles' most famou songs, are taken down, Jessica Holland looks at some of the landmarks that have helped in the creation of famous pop songs.

There are certain must-see sites for the devoted Beatles fan: the zebra crossing on Abbey Road, Penny Lane in Liverpool, and the former Salvation Army children's home near John Lennon's old house called Strawberry Field. Walking past the ornate red gates of Strawberry Field every day are what inspired John Lennon to write one of the Beatles' best-loved songs, but from now on fans will have to make do with visiting a replica: the original gates have been taken down.

Liverpudlians quoted in a local newspaper were furious, accusing the Salvation Army of trying to make a quick buck by auctioning the gates, but the threat of theft might be the reason for the removal. The gates have been stolen and recovered before, and Abbey Road and Penny Lane road signs have to be regularly replaced because of fans eager for a piece of authentic memorabilia.

It's a hazard for many real places immortalised in successful songs. More than a few Bob Dylan fans have stolen "Highway 61" signs (the road, which goes through Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, inspired Dylan's album Highway 61 Revisited), and Bruce Springsteen aficionados flock to E Street in New Jersey, where Springsteen and his backing musicians - later known as the E Street Band - would rehearse in the early days of their career.

For a cafe, hotel or shop, becoming the namesake of a hit single can be great for business. The Chelsea Hotel in New York was already famous for its literary residents by the time Leonard Cohen wrote the song Chelsea Hotel No 2, but now it has become a pit stop for rock fans. Another NYC landmark, the Copacabana club, is now best known for the Barry Manilow tune written in its honour. And Manhattan isn't the only New York borough with star status: visitors to Queens can listen to the Ramones' Rockaway Beach as they check out the sand and sea, and then head to Brooklyn with Lou Reed's Coney Island Baby on their headphones.

While Paris is the setting for lots of romantic songs (Place Pigalle by Elliot Smith, Left Bank by Air, Boulevard de la Madeleine by The Moody Blues), Berlin is another city whose trendy neighbourhoods have inspired musicians: just listen to Kreuzberg by Bloc Party or Prenzlauerberg by Beirut.

But if there's any capital that can rival New York for the number of pop songs sung about it, it's London. There's still a Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong Garden standing on Chislehurst High Street in Kent (just outside the capital), which was immortalised in song by Siouxie and the Banshees in 1978 with their single of the same name. Brompton Oratory, a church in Kensington, is best known as the title of a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Fans of Pulp might fancy popping into Bar Italia in Soho, after which Jarvis Cocker named a song from his 1995 album A Different Class ("There's only one place we can go / It's around the corner in Soho"), while those more into the British band St Etienne should visit Mario's Cafe in NW1, another place with a song named after it. Its owner was interviewed a few years ago, and said, "I still get people from Australia or Sweden coming in and asking if this is the cafe from the song."

Carnaby Street, Primrose Hill and Portobello Road have all been turned into tunes (by The Jam, Madness and Cat Stevens, respectively), and Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees is said to be inspired by Canary Wharf, the east London area full of office blocks and shops. Fans of the folk singer Kirsty MacColl and her song Soho Square ("One day I'll be waiting there/ No empty bench in Soho Square") went so far as to buy a memorial bench in the central London park in her honour.

For Strawberry Field, which is no longer a care home but a church, becoming famous has been a mixed blessing. The gateposts of the building are criss-crossed with overlapping graffiti (including, rumour has it, some by Lennon's sons Sean and Julian), but if the Salvation Army does decide to sell the original gates, it could make a fortune.

Perhaps songwriters should think twice before they look around them for inspiration: they could end up having more of an impact than they had planned.