One final stop in England (for now, at least) on our ongoing musical world tour: Merseyside, which has long been a hotbed of UK musical talent, from a band called The Beatles (you may have heard of them) through post-punk icons like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes to more recent types like The Zutons and Ladytron. So, as ever, we’re choosing our five favorite songs about the city — this isn’t meant to be a definitive list, but rather a personal selection, and suggestions are always welcome.
Shack — “Streets of Kenny”
Merseyside seems to breed smack-addled visionaries, sadly. Shack singer/songwriter Mick Head had all the talent in the world, and also a whacking great heroin habit — this song describes a search through the backblocks of Liverpool’s Kensington district in search of a dealer. Their 1991 album Waterpistol — from which this is lifted — is one of the great lost classics of the era. Head surfaces less and less often these days, although perhaps there’s still hope — he’s playing a show this very night, in fact, at a club called The Brink in Liverpool (which the Shack website, with admirable gallows humor, is calling “Back from The Brink”).
The Real Thing — “Children of the Ghetto”
This might sound like it’s walked straight off a 1970s blaxploitation soundtrack, but it’s in fact the work of the Amoo brothers, Eddie and Chris, who formed the songwriting axis of 1970s Scouse soul act The Real Thing. The song has a long and storied history — it’s been covered many times, and its lyrics are broad-ranging enough to be universally applicable. But it was originally written in 1975 about Toxteth, the impoverished part of Liverpool where the notorious Toxteth Riots would break out six years later. If you’re interested, The Guardian ran a fascinating interview with Eddy Amoo earlier this year, where he speaks extensively about the song and the history of his band.
Mike Hart — “Almost Liverpool 8”
Liverpool 8 refers to the postcode of an area of the city (an area that encompasses the abovementioned Toxteth, coincidentally enough), but although this song is steeped in the atmosphere of its location, it’s ultimately a song of regret about loving a girl and realizing what you had once she’s gone. It was released on legendary UK radio DJ John Peel’s label, with the great man dubbing it “the saddest song in the world.”
Echo and the Bunnymen — “Villiers Terrace”
We’re going to have to admit ignorance here. This is one of the overlooked highlights of Echo and the Bunnymen’s fantastic debut record Crocodiles, and we’re assuming that Villiers Terrace is a location in their home city (where it sounds like all sorts of wacky shit goes down), although we can’t find any mention of such a place on Google Maps. Does anyone want to enlighten us here?
The Beatles — “Penny Lane”
No, we weren’t going to forget The Beatles.