Culture

Music: (subversive) songs for the European city

Article published on April 8, 2010
Article published on April 8, 2010
Madrid's famous Gran Via boulevard celebrated its 100th anniversary on 7 April, with a local survey seeing 'Gran Via' by crooner Antonio Flores top a list of songs dedicated to the city. From monkeys in Berlin to Red Bull and Swedes in Barcelona via Stalin in Warsaw, a selection of offbeat videos suggested by the cafebabel network

To mark the 'Broadway' or 'Champs Elysee' of Madrid's centenary - once called Soviet Union Avenue during the civil war between 1936-1939 - an offering from an artist with the biggest-selling album of the year in Spain: Joaquin Sabina. It's a suitable dedication coming from a man forced to flee to London during the dictatorship, and for a boulevard which resisted the shells of war

High school friends, old school rockersFor the politically inspired, Warsaw struck musical hearts in the UK at least - David Bowie(Warszawa, 1977) inspired Joy Division's Rudolf Hess ode, Warsaw, in 1978. But it's 'punk hard rock' Polish band T Love's Warsaw (1991) which is the firm homegrown post-transition classic: 'I love the city where Hitler and Stalin did what they did' runs one memorable lyric

For the French, 1968 was marked not only as the year of strikes, protests, the winter olympics but also Monsieur Jacques Dutronc: 'Il est cinque heure, Paris s'éveille' ('It's 5am, Paris wakes up') has become the mantra for many a brooding morning whisperer, socialist revolutionary or not

In Italy, it was left-wing crooner Antonello Venditti who put the 'Roma Roma Roma' in romantic - he serendaded his home city in Roman dialect with this song in 1972, and is generally known for singing about his home city

Back to Spain, on its east coast, much has been sung about the country's 'other capital'. Barcelona is one of the most modern city favourites in Europe, and rappers ZPU agree that you can llámalo the place to be:

Additional appraisals are owed to the Austrian drum and bass master D Kay and Epsilon who had Brits kicking up their legs to Barcelona in 2003, and the head-swaying feeling that the eccentric 29-member Swedish pop band I'm from Barcelona gave to us with this track in 2006:

Lily Allen combines a ska sound to William Wordsworth influences, she saysIn the same year, a fresh-faced Lily Allen changed the tone for city love songs, bringing her poop-and-cigarette-butts-in-the-sunshine view of the British capital LDN. However it's former Seeed frontmanPeter Fox who goes one step further with this reggae vibe and his anti-love songs to Berlin. He cites the Neukölln and Ku'damm districts of Berlin in his 2008 ode to 'city monkeys' (Stadtaffe), whilst lyrics to his 2009 award-winning song Schwarz zu blau ('You can be so ugly, so dirty and gray...You're not beautiful and you know it') probably wouldn't earn him a Sabina-esque medal from the city anytime soon...

Additional thanks: Fernando Acuña, Judith Argila in Madrid and Barcelona

Images: T Love in 2008 by ©Patryk Korzeniecki/ Wikimedia, LDN single cover ©myspace/lilymusic