Mind the Gap – Tube Station songs

This week the London Underground celebrated its 150th anniversary, so to mark the occasion here are four Tube Station songs…

I love the Tube (except, of course, the Central Line at rush hour) and  have done since I was a child and first grasped the elegant logic of Harry Beck’s map. In fact I sometimes think my frequent visits to the Big Smoke are primarily an excuse to navigate the Underground. Oddly, London itself lacks a big American-style signature song, of the Chicago or New York, New York type. There are plenty about how awful the place is (London Calling, Streets of London and I’ve got a soft spot for Catatonia’s Londinium (London never sleeps, it just sucks/The life out of me, and the money from my pocket)) but where is the lionising tribute?

If we narrow down to particular London places then pop offers more choice, and for this Tube Station special I’ve avoided Baker Street and Waterloo Sunset, great as both are, for being too obvious. However, Mornington Crescent (on the Northern line) by the fey and occasionally sublime Belle & Sebastian will probably put you in mind of Waterloo Sunset, having a similar lilting melancholy. (Mornington Crescent is of course also famous for being the name of a very silly game on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which hasn’t been the same since the death of Humphrey Lyttleton. But I digress.)

If Belle & Sebastian’s number is sweetness itself, here’s some sour. This Pulp song, which features on the mega-selling Trainspotting soundtrack, paints a very grim picture of a squat in Mile End (Hammersmith & City, change for Central and District lines). Sample lyric, presumably taken from Jarvis Cocker’s real life experiences : The lift is always full of piss, / the fifth floor landing smells of fish (not just on Friday, / every single other day)…

What happened to Duffy, I wonder? She was always a bit sub-Winehouse, but she was huge for a while, even landing a truly awful Coke ad. Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo line) is easily her best song, a gorgeous tune worthy of any of the great 1960s songstresses. The video is striking too, featuring some impressive method acting…

Alright, so Waterloo (Bakerloo, change for Jubilee and Northern lines) is (a) not about the Tube Station and (b) as obvious as Waterloo Sunset, but the ABBA girls have better legs than Ray Davies, and the boys have better facial hair too. Agnetha even looks like she’s almost enjoying herself in this terrific old clip from Norwegian television; I defy you  not to enjoy it likewise…

So what others did I miss?

19 thoughts on “Mind the Gap – Tube Station songs

  1. Dragging myself, with difficulty, away from the picture of the Abba girls (The Beatles, for men) I wondered idly whether ‘serious’ music had anything worthwhile to contribute to this debate – but could only think of the London Suite by Coates, with Covent Garden, Westminster and the famous Knightsbridge March – quite good easy listening, but nothing to dampen my loins.
    What is more interesting is the current discussion, put about by men in white coats, that ‘classical’ music played on the Underground, will subdue the enthusiasm of a boot-boy for head-butting a ticket inspector, or grabbing a pensioner’s handbag.

  2. Give me the Kinks any day, one of the few groups whose music had something to say. Even though I did live their for some time I was never a fan of the London underground, too many people with runny noses.
    One of the benefits of the Köln U-Bahn is it’s access to a constant supply of buskers. Boarding at the Ebertplatz one recent Friday evening, heading into town, when a five strong ensemble joined the train, formed a horseshoe and struck up. A fan of the often hauntingly raw Cajun music and this song played by amateurs within the confines of the U-Bahn filled with night-outers of every hue was pure magic, not to be forgotten. I gave them 20 Euros, I would willingly have given 200 for an evening of their music, Simone gave them 10. Junior, mind scarred by those moments on the pews as the plate goes around said “my half was in with Simones.”

  3. Good choice of theme, Brit, and great tunes too (Pulp do have some terrific songs don’t they. My favourite is ‘This is Hardcore’)

    This topic would work excellently for Berlin too

    • Whoops, I think I messed up the link – to the video of The Guns of Brixton. A song about inner-city social unrest and violence released during a period, and about a place, famous for its riots. All rather dated nowadays, of course.

    • Strike a light, Nige, so I did. Inexplicably, since (a) Goodge St is a station I have used many times and (b) I really like the song and have included it in a previous Dabbler post.

  4. I really enjoyed listening to Mornington Crescent (shame it isn’t a little faster though… ) Mile End is terrific – great selection of photos in the video too. Thanks Brit!

  5. Wot, no Down In The Tube Station At Midnight by The Jam? ‘I first felt a fist, and then a kick / I could now smell their breath / They smelt of pubs / And Wormwood Scrubs / And too many right-wing meetings…’ One of Weller’s really successful songs I think. This has reminded me that in my youth I was beaten about a bit by a gang of skinheads in Piccadilly Circus tube station, but that was on a Saturday afternoon.

    BTW good topic.

    • (Yes, it’s the Parisian Métro, not the London Underground, so I realise I’m cheating a wee bit…)

      • Merci, Graham. I wonder if there’s a frog version of this site, Le Dabbleur, doing this kind of thing somewhere….