Streets Of London

Album: Spiral Staircase (1969)
Charted: 2
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Songfacts®:

  • This song was originally about some individual people Ralph McTell met in the French capital while busking and hitchhiking throughout Europe, but when he realized there was already a song called "Poor People Of Paris," he changed the title to "Streets Of London."
  • This was not released as a single until 1974, five years after it first appeared on Spiral Staircase.
  • McTell had originally written this song when he recorded his debut album Eight Frames a Second, which was released in early 1968. However he left it off, as he regarded it as too depressing. Ralph McTell explained: "In one day, 'Streets' sold 90,000 copies and it was #2 by Christmas. There were three versions in the German charts - all by me! Streets also sold more sheet music than any song since the war. I formed a rock band just before the record was a hit, but of course we never played 'Streets.' Audiences didn't like the band, so I announced my retirement and went off to America in a fit of pique. Streets opened more doors than it closed. The song is still played all over the world and even schoolchildren in the Himalayas have been heard singing it." (from One Hit Wonders, by Chris Welch and Duncan Soar)
  • Bert Jansch played on this as an afterthought after McTell had recorded the Scottish folk singer performing the carol "In The Bleak Midwinter" earlier in the day. McTell recalled to Uncut magazine, January 2013: "It's funny how things work out. The plan was to make a Christmas single for Bert, but I ended up having the festive hit. Bert was very humble, though, he always told me he made more money from 'London' than almost any of his own records."

    Interestingly, during an interview with NME October 18, 1975, Bert Jansch praised McTell's Streets… album but was scathing about this song saying it was "so obvious" adding it had "no mystery about it."
  • Over 200 artists have recorded covers of this song, including Sinead O'Connor, who did a cover as an additional track on her "Thank You For Hearing Me" single in 1994. Other artists include Cliff Richard, Mary Hopkin, Anti-Nowhere League and Roger Whittaker.
  • McTell won the Ivor Novello Award for Songwriting for this song in 1974.
  • Ralph was presented with a Gold disc of Spiral Staircase at his 60th birthday concert in 2004.
  • The UK punk group Anti-Nowhere League released a thrash version in 1982 that peaked at #48 on the UK singles chart. The single was originally banned, and copies seized by the police after the profanity-laden B-side "So What" was considered obscene.

Comments: 3

  • Jim from BelfastA truthful song
    A reality check and makes me sorrowful and angry in equal amounts
    I see the same images on the streets of Belfast as I walk in the streets of Belfast but nowadays in the year 2020 the old soldiers have long since died by now on the streets in the damp and cold Irish winters
    But now we no longer see old men and old ladies with their world in bags they carry but young boys forced out of their lodgings and thrown onto the streets by uncaring landlords and a Westminster parliament that behaves as if they aren’t really there

    But for the old men with their medals who fought and sacrificed for our freedoms
    Our generations may not have been able to be born and live good and free lives

    Unless we start caring and act on these great injustices the spectre of evil will once more rise up as it did in the 1930s

  • Thyrocyte from Bangkok, ThailandThis song reminds all of us that there always be some other people who are suffering more than we are. Somehow, these people can go on their lives. So, there is no use to let ourselves down. No use to waste our time moaning. We have to get up and fight for our goals to achieve whatsoever we want.

    Its music seems to be sorrowful but the lyric is encouraging anyway.
  • Kerry G. from Detroit Rock City, MiWOW, thats beautiful. One of the best songs ever made.
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