Waterloo Station, London, United Kingdom

Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks

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They don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on
Waterloo Sunset
They are in paradise Read full Lyrics
Rowing on the Thames
(thanks, Myk Reeves)
The opening bars of "Waterloo Sunset" immediately set the melancholy theme of the track, begging the question "dirty old river, must you keep rolling?" of the Thames as the narrator sits alone observing the comings and goings of Waterloo Station, the famously bustling London Underground and train stop. Situated in the heart of the city, Waterloo Station is iconic of London, taking its name from the Battle of Waterloo, though very far removed from that history today. The trains that cross the platforms of this particular station boast some 88 million passengers every year. This station is estimated to be the city's busiest terminal. The passenger estimation above does not include foot traffic through the station or the millions of sightseers and loiterers that haunt the area. Trains stopping at Waterloo station mostly carry local traffic and commuters from the suburbs, but there are also a handful of trains that run from Waterloo Station to various cities on the southern coast of London. With the second largest number of trains in the UK riding the rails through its brick walls every day, it is evident that Waterloo Station is a hub of human activity.

While the narrator of The Kinks' "Waterloo Station" zeros in on the bedlam and vibrancy of this place, the song is more centered in a sense of loneliness as he witnesses a couple, either real or imagined, escaping the commotion by crossing the Thames on a footbridge. The Thames itself is legendary, and became a focal point of both history and folklore in London, where it snakes its way through the very center of the city. The river splits London into relevant quadrants, the area north of the Thames known simply as the East End. Ray Davies, the frontman of The Kinks who penned this song in 1967, acknowledges the vastness of these histories and the impact on so many individuals that these simple geographic locations have had. Yet what he writes about is the experience of such grandeur for an individual who himself has no great impact.
Waterloo Station concourse
While each stanza is colored with undeniable melancholy, the sunset that the narrator witnesses at Waterloo Station is a point of assuagement. While he laments the lack of calm of the city and his own isolation within it in the lines "taxi light shines so bright / but I don't need no friends," he goes on to undercut his sadness with these moving words that resonate with so many: "as long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset / I am in paradise." It may not be lasting, but from the narrator's perch, watching people and trains whiz by, he has found a singular and momentary source of joy.

There has been much speculation about where "Waterloo Sunset" sprung from in the mind of Ray Davies, but he summed it up simply and sincerely in a 2004 interview, saying, "It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country." Listeners, of course, imagine other stories, and most everyone has a sentiment attached to the song. "Waterloo Sunset" is considered to be one of the quintessential, and most beautiful tunes about London, as well as perhaps one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded.
~ Maggie Grimason Waterloo Sunset Songfacts
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