It’s grim up north, or so they say. But like a lot of cold, rainy places, Manchester — where our musical world tour stops this week — has bred a surfeit of fantastic music, and not all of it somber or reflective (just look at the slap-happy 1980s Madchester explosion, which although it bred surprisingly few songs about the city, was still deeply infused with the spirit of the place). Anyway, as ever on a Friday afternoon, we’ve chosen five of our favorite songs about the city. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, and your suggestions are always welcome. Have at it, lad.
Gomez — “Whippin’ Piccadilly”
No, it’s not about Piccadilly Circus in London — rather, the location referred to in the title is Piccadilly Station, Manchester’s central railway hub, where Gomez and their mates end up waiting for a train back home after a long, hazy day of boozing it up in the student union. Apparently it’s a true story, recounting the band members’ visit to the city from Sheffield to see Beck play.
The KLF — “Justified and Ancient”
If you’ve ever wanted to join Tammy Wynette aboard the Justified Ancients’ ice cream van and head for Mu Mu Land, but never been entirely sure where this mystical location actually is, then you might be somewhat taken aback to find that there’s a theory that places it squarely in Britain’s north. According to this idea, the “Mu Mu” name came from Manchester United graffiti around the city. Of course, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond aren’t saying one way or the other — but whatever the case, this is one of the most gloriously deranged chart-toppers ever. As Wynette said, “Mu Mu Land looks a lot more interesting than Tennessee.”
The Smiths — “Suffer Little Children”
This song is one of Morrissey’s most harrowing lyrics, cataloguing the infamous Manchester Moors murders of the 1960s in chilling detail. The refrain — “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for” — perhaps suggests that UK society bears at least some responsibility for creating the climate that bred murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. However you interpret it, it’s a haunting, hugely creepy piece of work.
Ewan MacColl — “Dirty Old Town”
The fact that it was The Dubliners (and later, The Pogues) who made this song famous generally leads people to believe that it’s about Dublin. In fact, MacColl wrote it about his home city of Salford, which is part of greater Manchester and thus works perfectly well for our purposes.
The Beautiful South — “Manchester”
“If rain makes Britain great/ Then Manchester is greater.” OK, Paul Heaton. If you say so.