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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

From 'Baker Street' to 'Penny Lane': 10 tracks inspired by big city life

In light of The Proclaimers’ latest single Streets of Edinburgh, we take a look at 10 other songs about streets

The Proclaimers’ latest single is about a street in Edinburgh. Getty Images
The Proclaimers’ latest single is about a street in Edinburgh. Getty Images

When 56-year-old identical twins Craig and Charlie Reid aka The Proclaimers released the single Streets of Edinburgh in August, it caused quite a stir. Taken from their new album Angry Cyclist, the song is a touching portrayal of the Scottish capital, its landmarks, people and its potholed thoroughfares.

Despite the twins’ obvious affection for their home city, the song’s accompanying video takes a warts-and-all approach. “We wanted to give an honest picture of modern Edinburgh,” the duo told Scottish Television.

Some fans of the song described it as an alternative Scottish national anthem, while Justin Currie, singer with fellow Scots act Del Amitri Tweeted that Streets of Edinburgh was “awesome. Just flabbergasting”. In light of its theme, here are 10 more songs inspired by streets both real and fictional.

Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty

With its signature saxophone motif, Rafferty’s tale of an ageing man whose drinking and womanising are slowly ruining him is set on the same London thoroughfare that was home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. “This city desert makes you feel so cold / it’s got so many people but it’s got no soul,” sings Rafferty, his laid-back delivery enhancing the song’s singular mood. Baker Street was a big international hit in February 1978.

La Rue De Menilmontant by Camille

Taken from Camille’s 2005 album Le Fil (The Thread), this song is named after a long, picturesque street in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. ­Camille’s gentle a cappella performance finds her looking out on to La Rue De Menilmontant on a particularly quiet morning, and thinking forlornly of an absent lover. “In the schoolyard / a little further / the birds are quiet,” she sings with haiku-like economy.

Sesame Street Theme by Joe Raposo

“On my way to where the air is sweet / Can you tell me how to get / How to get to Sesame Street …” runs Raposo’s jaunty theme for the American children’s TV show that first aired in 1969. The Massachusetts-born composer took his inspiration for the theme song’s opening riff from The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. Jon Stone, who wrote the lyrics for the Sesame Street Theme with Raposo and Bruce Hart, described it as “a musical masterpiece and a lyrical embarrassment”. The location itself is fictional, but Sesame Street won a place in the hearts of children around the word for generations.

Reeperbahn by Tom Waits

For Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan – she co-writes here – the Reeperbahn in Hamburg’s St Pauli district is a vehicle for tales of lost innocence. “The apple has gone but there’s always the core,” intones Waits gruffly alongside rusty pecks of banjo and a decrepit-sounding piano. The song comes from his 2002 album, Alice. With salt in the air and a story around every corner, the Reeperbahn’s seedy, slightly sinister atmosphere is perfectly evoked. You sense that Waits feels perfectly at home there, too.

Cypress Avenue by Van Morrison

Taken from Morrison’s landmark 1968 album Astral Weeks, Cypress Avenue is an impressionistic evocation of a residential street in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “To me it was a very mystical place” the singer recalled. “It was a whole avenue lined with trees and I found it a place where I could think.” Flute, harpsichord and upright bass aid Morrison’s stream-of-consciousness flow as he is transported back to his childhood. The song’s significance for him was obvious; he would often close his concerts with it in the 1970s.

La Rambla by Quimi Portet

It was natural that Barcelona-born guitarist and songwriter Quimi Portet (real name Joaquim Portet Serda) would want to big-up La Rambla, the Spanish city’s tree-lined, pedestrianised street. Like La Rambla itself, this percussion-rich song from 2003 is a snaking, slowly-unfolding thing full of life, activity and colour. “I’ll buy you a bouquet of flowers”, sings Serda. “We’ll drink coloured syrups. There is a monkey who danced on the tip of a stick.”

Penny Lane by The Beatles

Is this the most famous street song of them all? Written by Paul McCartney about the Liverpool street from which he and John Lennon would catch buses to each other’s houses, and portraying a barber, a banker, a fireman and a nurse, it remains an astonishingly potent time-capsule of 1960s Britain. It was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s David Mason who played the song’s distinctive piccolo trumpet solo of the 1967 track. In 1987, the instrument he used was sold in an auction at Sotheby’s for $10,846 (Dh40,000).

Warwick Avenue by Duffy

When 19-year-old singer Amy Anne Duffy relocated from North Wales to London, she found a certain poetry in the street name Warwick Avenue, which is also a tube stop on the Bakerloo Line. “When I get to Warwick Avenue / I’ll tell you baby that we’re through,” she sings, making the station the epicentre of her hurt. This classic soul-influenced single reached No 3 in the British charts in 2008.

Sampa by Caetano Veloso

Broadly speaking, Caetano Veloso feels the same way about Sao Paulo, Brazil as the The Proclaimers do about Edinburgh. In Sampa, a Spanish guitar-led stroll through the city, he reflects that something unique happens in his heart every time he walks down Ipiranga Avenue, but he also notices “the oppressed people in the queues and the favelas”, and “the ugly smoke that rises, erasing the stars”. A thoughtful walking tour set to a bossa nova rhythm from Veloso’s 2006 album Perfil.

The B Q E by Sufjan Stevens

Few people have rhapsodised about one street as fulsomely as Detroit-born Sufjan Stevens. His 2009 album The B Q E was “a symphonic and cinematic exploration of New York’s infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway”. An electronic and orchestral-pop adventure, Stevens’s inspired record explored the thoroughfare’s endless vehicle flow with movements such as Self Organising Emergent Patterns. In an accompanying film written and directed by Stevens, hula-hoopers dance in slow motion with the busy motorway in the background. It was originally a live show performed in 2007.

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