This week, it’s time to revisit a list I’ve had partially completed for weeks. It’s all about life in the city. I love living in the city, and indeed have done so for much of my life. I love the bustle, the crowded streets, the fast pace of life, and the fact that there is also something to do, and something to keep you going. On the flipside, sometimes they can be a place to lose yourself in, as they have to me sometimes become the loneliest place of all.
Welcome To The Jungle
Appetite for Destruction
Unquestionably one of the greatest opening tracks of all time, a near perfect track about the sensory overload of heading to the big city for the first time. The mythical city where you can fulfil all of your hopes and dreams, get whatever you want and do whatever you please. But, of course, there is a darkside, and not everything works out. Even so, GnR made this place sound like the world’s biggest party…
Hit The City
The reasons for Lanegan’s trip to the city are somewhat obscure – in fact the cryptic lyrics give little away – but the overriding impression from this is that there is a driving need to Lanegan to make it to the city, probably under the cover of darkness too.
Walk On The Wild Side
Nothing so cryptic here, as Reed gleefully details the strange goings on, presumably in his home city of New York. Famously featuring transsexuals, drug use, prostitutes and various sexual acts, somehow this graphic depiction of the seedy underbelly of the city never seemed to be censored, when other tracks were banned on the spot…
Fake Plastic Trees
One of Radiohead’s most affecting songs, this lament of the modern world was apparently inspired at the time by the then somewhat deserted Canary Wharf development, a world where nothing seems real and nothing has any “soul”. Apart from more people, not a lot has seemed to have changed at Canary Wharf, in that case – still a soulless world of towering buildings with not a lot of real-life in amongst it other than the bustling hordes of commuters.
mmm Skyscraper…I Love You
One of Underworld’s most iconic songs, perhaps, but perhaps not as well known as their various hit singles. Which is a shame, as it’s sweeping, swirling futurism is a joy to behold. As the sound of the wind whipping through the city opens the track, as the tribal-esque beat and cut’n’paste lyrics take hold, it becomes clear that this is a track celebrating the city’s rise high into the sky. Best listened to on headphones, while walking through the city streets with skyscrapers above you.
And from celebrating life…to death. The whole of this masterful album was preoccupied with the dark foreboding of the decay and descent into hell of the city, and I don’t think it was any particular stretch to understand that they were tracking the decay of the London inner suburbs. It wasn’t all darkness, though, as the first single from the album showed. Just a small shaft of light amongst the dark colours of this album, this beautiful track uses vocal samples from a Vangelis track originally used in Bladerunner, and the surreal, playful video makes it even more elegant, featuring various scenes of London with odd additional computer-generated imagery changing entire scenes into something else, like an alien invasion of the city as the world continues with it’s business.
Inner City Life
Another trip back into the nineties, from where a lot of this playlist seems to stem. Goldie was arguably the first “superstar” of the burgeoning drum’n’bass/jungle movement in the mid-90s, and this track was probably his biggest and best hit. A sparkling, surging track whose programming and beats are perfectly in step with the soulful vocals, it somehow invokes life in the city without really saying too much.
One of this truly unique band’s earliest (and best) singles, a gorgeous, lush lament to a lost love, coupled with lyrical imagery that suggests that a move to an unnamed city may not have all it was cracked up to have been, and may not exactly be helping the situation.
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
A song based – at least in part – on experiences in the North American ice storm of 1998, which left the band’s home city of Montreal in darkness after the power failed – and the lyrics and dense, driving music create a dense atmosphere that perhaps does indeed invoke the sensory chaos of the familar having been turned on it’s head in the city – no lights, no power, and it’s sodding cold. Not quite as extreme, but a similar feel of chaos seemed to envelop my current home city of Sheffield in recent instances of flash flooding in the past few years, as the city gridlocked and the power began to fail.
Despite reforming in recent years, I suspect not that many people really remember that much by this band. Although I’d suspect that if you remember any Carter track, this might well be it. A band who are most certainly a product of their home city (London, if you need to ask) – the accent, the subject matter in particular could only be about London, this track covers a subject that is perhaps not quite as common. That is, shitty, scummy city landlords. The kind who charge a packet for shit houses, and do fuck all with them. We’ve all had them, and seeing as this track is reputedly about an old landlord of theirs, the guys in Carter must have had a really, really shitty one to write a song this full of bile.
Other possibles that didn’t make the final list:
Daft Punk | Da Funk
Siouxsie & The Banshees | Cities In Dust
Leonard Cohen | First We Take Manhattan (and about twenty others)
Tom Waits | Downtown Train
Blur | London Loves