'Hoover Factory' - Elvis Costello
Wallace, Gilbert and Partners’ Art Deco triumph, built in 1932 on the edge of the A40, is the crowning glory of Perivale and its splendour (‘must have been a wonder when it was brand new’) is justly celebrated in this song, which mentions its ‘scrolls and inscriptions, like those of the Egyptian age.’ It’s surely the only song about a vacuum cleaner factory ever written. And who would have figured the bile-filled Costello as a fan of one of history’s most florid architectural phases?
'Mario's Cafe' - Saint Etienne
Not just any old greasy spoon in Kentish Town, but the favourite of songwriters Bob Stanley (a well-known champion of such old-school gaffes) and Pete Wiggs – and celebrated in song on their album ‘So Tough’. It later inspired a compilation LP called ‘Songs for Mario's Café’, featuring a collection of tracks by different artists all deemed suitable for playing in a café. Especially, one presumes, a café with ‘squeezy bottles under Pepsi signs,’ where ‘Joe and Johnny chew the bacon rind.’
'Second-hand' - Wilfred Bramble
The grumpy and gurning Steptoe Senior is the owner of a surprisingly tender tenor, as this sweetly out-of-character ditty recorded in 1963 proves. It has Bramble bemoaning the fact that all of his clothes are ‘pre-loved’ and running through the London A-Z as he tells us where he sourced his wardrobe: hat (Aldgate), boots (The Strand), braces (Savile Row) and ‘spotted bow’ (Waterloo). Touchingly, he adds that ‘there’s nothing second-hand about Lizzie’, before the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves at the song’s close reveals his fictional London identity.
'Harvey Nicks' - The Mitchell Brothers
The strain of walking the walk and the pain of being ignored when your face doesn’t fit – even if your ‘rented blazer’ does – are The Mitchells Brothers’ concerns here, as they head to Knightsbridge’s famous upmarket department store. Here they find ‘the Lacoste new seasons’, air their displeasure at the sniffy attitude of ‘the pretty bird behind the till flipping thru Marie Claire, flicking the end of her hair, fidgeting, all nervous’, before admitting that they don’t really give a damn about Harvey Nicks anyway. In the final verse, Mike Skinner chips in, adding insult to injury by cheekily declaring that ‘Harvey Nicks is shit’ and he’s ‘all about Selfridges’. Not exactly keeping it real, perhaps, but all things are relative in the rap world.
'Tower of London' - ABC
The iconic palace/prison isn’t the only landmark in this punchy synth-pop number, which is as much an ode to the (perceived) wealth and glamour of the capital in the mid-’80s. ‘Let me take you to Trafalgar Square,’ offers Martin Fry in the opening line, where ‘every street’s a catwalk, everyone’s debonair.’ He then promises to whirl whoever down St James Square and Mayfair, before repeating his love for ‘the Tower over centuries,’ so inimitably a part of ‘Hip London! Hip London!’ Ah, the enduring myth of cool Britannia.
'Bar Italia' - Pulp
‘You can't go home and go to bed, because it hasn't worn off yet, and now it's morning; there's only one place we can go, it's around the corner in Soho, where other broken people go.’ The Frith Street institution that’s been dispensing caffeine to the city’s lost souls and night owls for decades gets its time in the pop spotlight thanks to Jarvis Cocker, who clearly spent a lot of time there when he was at St Martins College nearby. ‘If you can make an order could you get me one?’ he asks. ‘Two sugars would be great, cos I'm fading fast and it's nearly dawn.’
'The Greater London Radio' - Hefner
The titans of twee pulled off a neat lyrical coup by using GLR’s traffic report as a metaphor for the singer’s desperate attempts to reach his girl, as night falls heavy and dark in The Big Smoke. ‘The traffic’s caused a roadblock in my heart,’ he laments, later adding rather sweetly, ‘and on the radio I hear the evening news, but all I think of is you.’ The song is also a declaration of his faith in and love of London – ‘this is my home, this is where I want to be,’ he affirms. Aw gee, shucks.
'Greetings from Shitsville' - The Wildhearts
Few would have picked these old-school rockers as denizens of London’s chi-chi NW3, but it seems they once were. In this rather less than affectionate portrait of the leafy Heath ’hood and his own digs, Ginger scathingly reveals that ‘the euthanasia dream brigade are melting in the Hampstead shade’, and describes how ‘all my neighbours disappear the second that I get too near; I stick out like elephant ears on misery street.’ One imagines a local petition was started to move him on.