Streets of London (song)

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"Streets of London"
Song by Ralph McTell
from the album Spiral Staircase
Released1969 Spiral Staircase
1970 Revisited
1971 You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here (US release)
1974 UK single
1975 Streets...
2017 CD single
Recorded1968, 1970, 1971, 1974, 2017
Songwriter(s)Ralph McTell

"Streets of London" is a song by Ralph McTell, who first recorded it for his 1969 album Spiral Staircase. It was not released in the United Kingdom as a single until 1974. McTell himself noted that there were 212 known recorded versions of the song.[1] The song was re-released, on 4 December 2017, featuring McTell with Annie Lennox as a charity single for CRISIS, the Homelessness Charity. Roger Whittaker also recorded a well received version in 1971.


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"[2]— but eventually London was chosen, because he realised he was singing about London;[3] also, there was another song called "The Poor People of Paris".[4]

McTell's song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of society. In an interview on Radio 5 with Danny Baker on 16 July 2016, McTell said that the market he referred to in the song was Surrey Street Market in Croydon.[citation needed]


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 No. 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]

Similarities of the composition have been noted (along with many others) with certain patterns found in Pachelbel's Canon.[7]

It also bears some resemblance to the first of Dvořák's Romantic Pieces (which in turn echoes certain musical patterns found in Pachelbel's Canon).[citation needed]

However, the chord sequence and the tune (minus syncopations) have the closest resemblance to the Trio section of Charles Johnson's 1909 Porcupine Rag []. This was current on the folk scene in London at the time as it had been recorded in 1967 by Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy in Rags, Reels and Airs [Topic TSCD517].

Commercial performance[edit]

The song was McTell's greatest commercial success, reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart, at one point selling 90,000 copies a day[8] and winning him the 1974 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and a Silver disc for record sales.[9] This was kept out of the high position, by a combination of "Lonely This Christmas" of Mud, and "Down Down" of Status Quo, for two weeks.

Roger Whittaker version[edit]

In 1971, Roger Whittaker released his version making the song gain great popularity internationally. It appeared in his album New World in the Morning. The single "Streets of London" was the B-side to his own song "Why" with the radio stations promoting his version of McTell's song. It was also B-side to his huge hit "The Last Farewell" also in 1971.

2017 Crisis single[edit]

In 2017, Ralph McTell re-recorded the song with Annie Lennox and clients of UK national charity Crisis, a charity for single homeless people. This was to mark the 50th anniversary of both the song and the charity.[10] The CD single of this release was Number 1 in the Christmas 2017 Official Physical Singles Chart (for CD sales).[11]

2020 Coronavirus updated verse[edit]

In March 2020, Ralph McTell agreed to write another verse to the song, inspired by the Coronavirus pandemic gripping the world at the time. The new verse is as follows:

In shop doorways, under bridges, in all our towns and cities

You can glimpse the makeshift bedding from the corner of your eye

Remember what you're seeing barely hides a human being

We're all in this together, brother, sister, you and I.[12]



  1. ^ "Spiral Staircase". Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  2. ^ Ralph McTell: Streets of London. YouTube. 18 June 2009.
  3. ^ McCormick, Neil. "The rock star and the prime minister". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 27 February 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  4. ^ "Ralph McTell Streets of London". YouTube. Retrieved 21 November 2018. (interview with the artist)
  5. ^ "Streets of London holding on to the No. 9 slot for the 2nd and last week on Veronica Top 40". 20 May 1972. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011.
  6. ^ Raven, Michael (1 April 2006). English Folk Guitar. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-906114-74-2.
  7. ^ "Canon in the 1990s: From Spiritualized to Coolio, Regurgitating Pachelbel's Canon". Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  8. ^ "Sold on Song: Streets of London". BBC. Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  9. ^ "Certified Awards Search: Streets of London". Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  10. ^ "Streets of London". Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Official Physical Singles Chart". Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  12. ^ Keane, Fergal (26 March 2020). "Ralph McTell gives hit song a coronavirus update". BBC News.