I was browsing youtube videos of Ralph McTell and found that there were clips of him singing his classic “Streets of London” during pretty much each decade of his life from the he wrote it — 70’s, 80’s, 90’s — and then a nice interview of him in 2008 talking about the song and what it’s meant to him. I thought — wouldn’t it be great to edit some of these together into one video showing him singing the song through the years. Then I found out that somebody beat me to the punch and already did it. So — I’m happy to share it. This is not only the best version showing the British folk legend singing the sing throughout his life — but it also has some poignant photographs of the real streets of London that make the message of this amazing, timeless song resonate even more. I must have sung this song a thousand times — it was one of the few that I could play almost exactly like the original, and I always found that if I truly imagined the story that it was telling–pictured the only man in the market, the lady with her life in “two carrier bags” — that I didn’t have to overdo it, that people would feel the truth and poignancy of the song.
Info about this song:
“Streets of London” was written by Ralph McTell and was first recorded for McTell’s 1969 album Spiral Staircase but was not released in the United Kingdom as a single until 1974. It was his greatest commercial success, reaching number two in the UK singles chart, at one point selling 90,000 copies a day and winning him the Ivor Novello Award and a Silver disc for record sales.
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 the call the song Streets of Paris; eventually London is chosen for its arguably more sonorous name. The song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of society.
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 #9 the next month. McTell re-recorded it again for the UK single release in 1974.
McTell played the song in a fingerpicking style with an AABA chord progression. Over two hundred artists have made covers of this song including Cliff Richard, Blackmore’s Night, Mary Hopkin, Sam Hui, Sinéad O’Connor, Schooner Fare, Anti-Nowhere League, Roger Whittaker, Cleo Laine and Liam Clancy.