The death of Bob Holness on 6 January was a sad affair. Memories came flooding back of watching Blockbusters with granny and gramps, dreaming of how amazing it would be to be a student — you could get to appear on this wonderful show.
Being a student turned out different — Blockbusters repeats on Challenge TV in-between inverted triple kick-flips on Tony Hawks 2 for the Xbox, surrounded by gin bottles, ashtrays and books on theoretical phenomenology.
But the greatest memory of Bob Holness has to be the urban legend broadcaster Stuart Maconie started in the NME about him playing that saxophone riff on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. A total lie, but one Twitter still went crazy about upon Holness’ death.
We’ve used this wonderful non-fact as a tenuous excuse to declare the Top 10 songs about London streets.
59 Lyndhurst Grove, Pulp
They were dancing with children round their necks/ Talking business, books and records, art and sex.
A song about a “crap” middle-class party Jarvis Cocker went to in Camberwell where there were children, perish the thought. It’s a melancholic late-night tale laced with Pulp’s signature noir-synth and Cockers obtuse observations. Part of the Inside Susan trilogy of songs from the early 90s.
Carnaby Street, The Jam
This street is a mirror for our country/ Reflects the rise and fall of our nation.
A pessimistic view of how the centre of the swinging sixties had declined by the late seventies, sung by bassist Bruce Foxton. Although pedestrianized in 1973, Carnaby Street lost its trendy boutiques to the chains ripping the heart out of mod culture. Goodness knows what he’d think of Carnaby Street’s multi-national chains nowadays.
Oxford Street, Everything But The Girl
When I was seventeen London meant Oxford Street/ It was a little world, I grew up in a little world.
Probably one of the most accurate portrayals of London for people in the provinces: shopping. People travel for hundreds of miles for Oxford Street’s length and reputation, unaware of London’s little secrets. This smooth jazz-pop sums up the differences between living in London and looking towards our city.
22 Acacia Avenue, Iron Maiden
So If you’re looking for a good time, and you’re prepared to pay the price, 15 quid is all she asks for.
From one of the best metal albums ever, The Number of The Beast, this follows fictional prostitute Charlotte working in a north London brothel. The lyrics urge Charlotte to get away from the place while she can, since some people genuinely care for her and know what she’s truly capable of.
Maid of Bond Street, David Bowie
This girl is made of loneliness, a broken heart/ For the boy she once knew doesn’t want to know her anymore.
A rather jolly waltz from Bowie’s debut album in which he’s the dual protagonist of glamorous fashionista mixing with London’s sophisticate hoi polloi, and envious provincial boy. Bond Street is the metaphor for his personal and career change at the time — what he’s made of and becoming. Extra relevance since Bob Holness played the very first James Bond on the wireless in the 50s.
The Ghosts of Cable Street, The Men They Couldn’t Hang
With courage we shall beat those blackshirts down.
A retelling of the clash between the Mosley’s Fascists (Blackshirts) and anti-fascist demonstrators, and the role of the Metropolitan police, in a largely Jewish area of east London in 1936. It also honours anti-fascists who fought in the Spanish Civil War. It’s a punky folk stomp which now sounds rather dated.
Portobello Road, Cat Stevens
Nothing looks weird, not even a beard/ Or the boots made out of feathers.
This psych-lite folk ditty from Stevens’ debut 1967 album illustrates the bohemian nuances of Portobello Road’s market with exotic Indian boots, antique leathers and ill-fitting dresses, much of which is relevant today. Co-written by American Kim Fowley, it shows Portobello Road’s historic appeal stretches beyond London. There’s also a track of the same name in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, of course.
Suicide on Downing Street, Tim Finn
Too young to retire too old to die/ This message all he had to give.
A no-holds-barred account of the suicide of Derek Bainbridge outside the gates of Downing Street in 1988. He set his car on fire with himself inside, in a protest against unemployment. Police found a suicide note at Bainbridge’s home outlining his intent. No one else was injured.
Warwick Avenue, Duffy
And I didn’t want the train to come/ Now it’s departed I’m broken hearted/ Seems like we never started.
Sentimental couplet-laced schmaltz from the Welsh siren, which has less to do with Warwick Avenue itself and more to do with its syllables. Duffy’s been wronged by a horrible boy and excuses need to be aired, but she’s all: “Yeah, whatever, bothered”. But she is bothered really. A lot of people seem to like it.
Goldhawk Road, Dustin’s Bar Mitzvah
Some of them are good some of them are bad/ Some of them are angry some of them are sad.
This vitriolic view of the residents of the west London road, with crazy characters wandering into shops shoeless, and probably in sweat pants (yes, those types), is a quintessentially English view of London’s quirks thorough perfect Ramones-esque jangly indie from the mid noughties. Acton’s Dustins Bar Mitzvah were brilliant.
Listen to the Spotify playlist of all ten songs, with the honorary inclusion of The Sweet’s Blockbuster and Baker Street.