Streets of London (song)

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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[1] and winning him the 1974 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and a Silver disc for record sales.[2]

The song was inspired by McTell's experiences busking and hitchhiking throughout Europe, especially in Paris and the individual stories are taken from Parisians – McTell was originally going to call the song Streets of Paris;[3] eventually London was chosen because he realised he was singing about London.[4] The song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of society.

McTell left the song off his debut album, Eight Frames a Second, since 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 Netherlands in April 1972, notching up to #9 the next month.[5] McTell re-recorded it for the UK single release in 1974.

McTell played the song in a fingerpicking style with an AABA chord progression.[6] Over two hundred artists have made covers of this song[7] including Glen Campbell, Harry Belafonte, Cliff Richard,[8] Blackmore's Night, Mary Hopkin, Raffi, Sam Hui,[9] Sinéad O'Connor, Schooner Fare, Anti-Nowhere League,[10] Roger Whittaker, Cleo Laine[11] and Liam Clancy.[12] Its popularity was also the subject of a comedy sketch on BBC show Big Train.[13] Finnish folk rock artist Hector has translated the lyrics to Finnish language, as Kuinka voit väittää ("How Can You Claim"), telling essentially the story in Finnish. German singer/songwriter Jasmine Bonnin did the same in Germany with a version called "Straßen unserer Stadt" ("Streets of our city").