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"Streets of London" is a song written by Ralph McTell. It was first recorded for McTell's 1969 album Spiral Staircase but was not released in the United Kingdom as a single until 1974. It was his greatest commercial success, reaching number two in the UK singles chart, at one point selling 90,000 copies a day , winning him the Ivor Novello Award and a Silver disk for record sales.

The song was inspired by McTell's experiences busking and hitchhiking throughout Europe, especially in Londonmarker and Parismarker; although the individual stories are taken from Parisians, London is chosen for its arguably more sonorous name. The song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely elderly, and ignored and forgotten members of society.

McTell left the song off his debut album, as he regarded it as too depressing, and did not record it until persuaded by his producer Gus Dudgeon, for his second album in 1969. A re-recorded version charted in the Netherlandsmarker in April 1972, notching up to #9 the next month. McTell re-recorded it again for the UK single release in 1974.

McTell played the song in clawhammer style with an AABA chord progression. Over two hundred artists have made covers of this song including Cliff Richard, Blackmore's Night, Mary Hopkin, Sinéad O'Connor, Schooner Fare, Anti-Nowhere League and Roger Whittaker.

The comedy programme Big Train featured a sketch in which Ralph McTell (played by the actor Kevin Eldon), having just finished a performance of "Streets of London", tries to play "a new song". This results in cries of shock and disbelief from the audience, unable to comprehend that McTell could play any other song. The insistent audience forces him to segue into Streets of London once more.

References

  1. BBC, "Sold on Song: Streets of London". Accessed 16 February 2009.
  2. BPI. “Certified Awards Search: Ralph McTell”. Accessed 22 September 2009.
  3. Streets of London holding on to the #9 slot for the 2nd and last week on Veronica Top 40, May 20th, 1972
  4. Ralph McTell, “Spiral Staircase”. Accessed 16 February 2009.



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