Samuel Johnson said “when a man tires of London, he tires of life”. The same could easily be said for London’s music. From rock to hip-hop, folk or R&B, London contains a microcosm of the world’s music. While it is impossible to distill all of the city’s musical heritage into a single playlist, this hopes to capture the musical spirit and soul of England’s capital.
1. Black Dog – Led Zeppelin – 1971
One of the most recognizable rock bands of all-time, Led Zeppelin has contributed to some of rock’s most iconic moments. If the Beatles were the first celebrity pop-group, Led Zeppelin was the first hard rock band to achieve true world-wide stardom. Robert Plant’s high-octane vocals, Jimmy Page’s guitar virtuosity, John Bonham’s thundering drumming and John Paul Jones’ orchestration and elegant basslines all helped contribute to Led Zeppelin’s stardom through the 60’s and 70’s.
2. Feel Good Inc. – Gorillaz – 2005
Perhaps the first virtual band, Gorillaz proved the critics wrong with their global hit “Feel Good Inc” in 2005. Composed virtually by a band separated by geography but not talent, Gorillaz paved the way for the online collaboration that would shape popular music in the decades to come.
3. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – 1975
There are few musical acts in history that can compare with the theatrics and flamboyance of Queen. Another English band that would shape popular music forever, Queen turned the stadium rock show into a genre and would forever change how bands performed live. Vocalist Freddie Mercury would also go down in history as one of the greatest live performers of all-time as well as a historically astounding vocalist and musician.
4. Heroes – David Bowie – 1977
Another 70’s icon who would make an indelible mark on popular music, David Bowie helped usher the transformation of rock from rebellious teenage music to a bona fide artistic genre. During his lifetime, Bowie was one of the most best-selling artists of all-time with hundreds of millions of albums sold. Bowie experimented with a variety of different musical styles and continued to evolve as an artist throughout his life.
5. Behind Blue Eyes – The Who – 1971
It’s almost absurd the amount of talent that London produced in the 70’s. Along with Led Zeppelin, The Who shaped hard rock into one of the world’s most popular and long lasting musical genres. Guitarist Pete Townshend’s theatrics and use of feedback and power chords are still dominant in rock music today. Their music helped to shape both hard rock, punk rock and mod rock in later years.
6. Keeping Your Head Up – Birdy – 2016
An internet sensation while still in her teens, Birdy has quickly risen to ranks to become one of the UK’s most popular pop stars. With her willowy voice, fluent instrumentation and precocious talent, Birdy has already released three studio albums before her twenty first birthday.
7. The Cave – Mumford & Sons – 2009
Folk rock inexplicably grew into one of the world’s most popular genres near the tail end of the 2000’s and no band contributed more to this global resurgence than Mumford & Sons. Mumford & Sons was one of the most popular acts of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s and toured widely throughout the world, while powering coffeeshop playlists across the globe.
8. You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse – 2006
Prodigiously talented, fearless and completely dysfunctional, Amy Winehouse was one of the decade’s most popular acts with a unique sound shaped by blues, R&B and soul. She held the record for most Grammy wins by a single female artist and is widely cited as a musical inspiration, even after her tragic death at age 27.
9. Who Do You Think You Are – The Spice Girls – 1996
One of the original girl pop groups of the 90’s, the Spice Girls remain a cultural icon and one of London’s most popular musical exports. While their flame didn’t burn long, few acts burned as bright as the Spice Girls in the 90’s.
10. Fool’s Gold – One Direction – 2014
Another prolific but short-lived English pop band, One Direction pumped out five albums in five years before internal dissension brought about their end. Few bands were as popular in the 2010’s and the passion and fervor of their fans brought comparisons to the 60’s Beatlemania and was commonly cited as a truly global musical phenomena.
11. Place To Be – Nick Drake – 1972
Essentially ignored by the larger musical community during his short and tragic life, Nick Drake would go on to achieve prominence and influence in later decades. There are few indie and folk musicians today who don’t cite his music as a major influence. His poignant songwriting, non-standard guitar tunings and voicings and reclusive personality would become hallmarks of later folk and indie artists.
12. 22 – Lily Allen – 2008
In conjunction with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen helped usher in a new era for female alternative musicians. Embracing a style that shunned the traditional pop path for women, Lily Allen crafted a sound that combined elements of electropop with R&B. Her fearlessness inspired future generations of artists to embrace their inner vision for their music.
13. Money – Pink Floyd – 1973
In progressive rock, no other name holds as much weight as Pink Floyd. Their philosophical songwriting, extended compositions, abstract experimentation and elaborate live performances all contributed to their success and fame as the world’s greatest psychelic and progressive rock band.
14. I Need A Forest Fire – James Blake – 2016
One of Britain’s most eclectic talents, James Blake’s depressive lyrics, unique audio experimentation and richly layered instrumentations brought indie pop into the mainstream. An indie icon and pioneer of blending rich acoustic talent with electronic production, Blake’s music pushed 2000’s indie music away from the coffeeshop guitars into the galaxy of experimentation.
15. Rolling In The Deep – Adele – 2011
A true pop star in every sense of the world, Adele conquered the 2010’s with Grammy wins, sold-out stadiums, and albums that won critical acclaim while marching to massive commercial success. Few artists sold as many records, or won as many accolades as Adele did in the decade.
16. Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones – 1981
What started as a hard rock alternative to the polished sound of bands like the Beatles has morphed into rock music’s truly eternal show. Touring well into their fifth decade, The Rolling Stones are one of Britain’s truly iconic musical exports. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards permeated the public consciousness to such a degree that their very names came to symbolize an entire era of music and culture.
17. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time) – Elton John – 1972
Another British icon, Elton John built an eternal musical empire on astronomical talent and a prodigious drive for world-wide tours. One of the most widely traveled and toured musicians, Elton John has forever cemented himself into Britain’s already rich musical heritage.
18. Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits – 1978
Fronted by brother Mark and David Knopfler, Dire Straits was one rock’s best-selling musical acts. Their incredible guitar work forever changed rock and helped bring about the musical differention that led to roots rock, blues rock and folk rock. Dire Staits won four Grammy Awards as well as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
19. Viva La Vida – Coldplay – 2008
As universally derided as they are popular, Coldplay brought alternative pop and pop rock to the forefront of the 2000’s Billboard charts. Coldplay sold more than 100 million albums in their career on their way to picking up seven Grammy Awards out of twenty nine nominations.
20. Dog Days Are Over – Florence + The Machine – 2009
Noted for their power vocal performances as well as eclectic compositions, Florence + The Machine were a driving force for the development of indie pop, baroque pop and chamber pop. All of their innovations would become staples of the genre, and they remain one of the most influential indie acts of the late 2000’s.
Follow us on Spotify for more great destination playlists