The title refers to a story (called a "novel" in the album title) that accompanies the album, and which takes place in a low-income housing estate in the West London area of White City, near where Townshend had grown up. The story tells of cultural conflict, racial tension and youthful hopes and dreams in the 1960s — a world of "prostituted children", "roads leading to darkness, leading home" and despairing residents living in "cells" with views of "dustbins and a Ford Cortina". The song "White City Fighting", which features David Gilmour's guitar work, tells listeners that the White City was "a black, violent place" where "battles were won, and battles were blown, at the height of the White City fighting". The album opens with crashing guitar chords that capture a feeling of urban chaos, leading into "Give Blood", a song with Townshend's trademark, moral lyrics demanding listeners to "give blood, but you may find that blood is not enough".
The disc also mentions a film based on the album, directed and "adapted for longform video" by Richard Lowenstein. The 60 minute video, entitled "White City: The Music Movie", was released by Vestron Music Video in 1985 and stars Pete Townshend, Andrew Wilde and Frances Barber. The videotape also features exclusive footage of Pete Townshend discussing the album and film, and the premiere performance of "Night School". That song, in a different form, would be included on Hip-O's 2006 re-release as a bonus track.
The track "White City Fighting" originated as a tune written by David Gilmour for his second solo album About Face. He asked Townshend to supply lyrics, but felt that he couldn't relate to them, so Townshend used the song instead, with Gilmour playing guitar. Gilmour sent the same tune to Roy Harper, whose lyrics had the same effect on Gilmour. Harper used the result, "Hope", which has a markedly slower tempo, on his 1985 album with Jimmy Page called Whatever Happened to Jugula?.