We can travel by car, by train or by plane; reading a book or, even better, listening to good music, preferably with our eyes closed. Here’s a list of places and cities that made our favourite artists dream, just like us. Ten places that inspired ten unforgettable songs.
SOUTHAMPTON DOCK – Pink Floyd
“Southampton Dock” is a song from the concept album “The Final Cut” (1983), the twelfth by Pink Floyd, completely focused on World War II. During that time Southampton dock was the getaway to Germany; for many soldiers, a point of no return, as in the case of Roger Waters’ father. The author composes a piece of delicate progressive rock, and the more the voice is hushed, the more pain emerges. Roger Waters has never known his father because of the war. In “The Final Cut” the story of this absence is traced from the start, at the dock in Southampton.
“And when the fight was over
We spent what they had made
But in the bottom of our hearts
We felt the final cut“
BERLIN – Lou Reed
“Berlin” (1973) is the song that gave the title to Lou Reed‘s third solo concept album. It tells the story of two young lovers in Berlin during the Seventies, a city crossed by dark themes. With a focus on drug use, violence and suicidal tendencies, the song didn’t immediately collect a great success. Despite its seventh place in UK’s record charts, the title track – and the whole album – has been re-evaluated. It’s now considered Lou Reed’s masterpiece – but still costed producer Bob Ezrin a nervous breakdown.
ALABAMA SONG – The Doors
Perhaps not many people know that “Alabama Song” by The Doors is actually a well set cover of the “Hauspostille” or “The Book of domestic devotions“, a mockery and parody of Martin Luther‘s sermons, written by playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht. It was first set to music in 1927 by German composer Kurt Weill, for the theatrical staging of “Little Mahagonny“. In 1967, Jim Morrison drafted his own version. The singer changed the second verse of the composition from “Show us the way to the next pretty boy” to “Show me the way to the next little girl.“
STREETS OF PHILADELPHIA – Bruce Springsteen
Philadelphia is one of the movies that marked the history of the Nineties, when the AIDS issue became public knowledge. The issue is treated with mastery by director Jonathan Demme, who earned the movie two Academy Awards. Tom Hanks won for best actor, losing 12 kilos to play Andrew “Andy” Beckett; the other award was for Bruce Springsteen‘s “Streets of Philadelphia“. With the union of keyboard and drums, accompanied by the artist’s voice, the song creates a delicate hymn to the “people who do not exist“, the “different ones”. All the AIDS patients who, in the Nineties, have often been marginalised from society.
“Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the streets of Philadelphia?“
LONDON CALLING – The Clash
The bad boys of London dedicate to their city a song that will consecrate them as icons of British punk rock. “London Calling” revolutionised the Eighties and their music, with the album – which carries the same title – having over 2 million copies sold worldwide. The title echoes the phrase that was broadcasted by the BBC World Service Radio during World War II inside the occupied countries; the lyrics refer to the events that seemed to drag the world – and the band’s world, the city of London – in an abyss of misery (first of all, the references to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident).
UNITED STATE OF EURASIA – Muse
Muse invite us to reflect on the futility of contemporary wars. The solution is in the very title of one of the songs on the album “The Resistance” (2009). “United States of Eurasia” is the prospect of a world weary of being divided by war.
“And these wars they can’t be won
Does anyone know or care how they begun?
They just promise to go on and on and on“
These verses end the song by quoting the “Nocturne” by Chopin, conveying a sense of tiredness and dull hope nurtured by humanity at the end of the day.
SOUTHERN MAN – Neil Young
“Southern man, Better keep your head
Don’t forget, what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses, are burning fast, southern man“
In the Seventies, Canadian singer Neil Young devoted a memorial song to the south of the USA. The sad history of racism against black people is the true protagonist of the song, with references that speak about the offensive practices perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. In response to “Southern Man“, the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd composed “Sweet Home Alabama“, in which they sang “I hope Neil Young will remember Southern man do not need him around anyhow”, talking about the reborn beauty of the South.
KASHMIR – Led Zeppelin
Rumour has it that Robert Plant wrote “Kashmir” in 1973, during a car journey that led him across the Sahara desert in Morocco. It is not known why Plant, with his imagination, flew from the hot African sands up to the far mountains that separate the northern Pakistan, India and China.
“I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen”
The song, featured on the album “Physical Graffiti” (1975), became one of the biggest hits of Led Zeppelin‘s history. It contains the sound that identifies the rock band, with its redundant riffs interrupted only by vocals and drums.
IN THE PORT OF AMSTERDAM – David Bowie
In the Seventies, David Bowie decided to record his own version of “Dans le Port d’Amsterdam“, composed in 1964 by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. The song has never been recorded in studio, but its live version is featured in the album “Enregistrement Public à l’Olympia 1964“. It has then been translated in English by artist Mort Shuman for the musical stage “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris“.
“Port of Amsterdam” is a wistful ode to the sailor’s life, divided between the incomparable beauty of the sea and the sense of freedom that it transmits, and the inevitable loneliness that, in the past, has drawn many people into poverty.
“In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings from the wide open sea (…)
In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries in a drunken town fight”.
NAPULE È – Pino Daniele
After traveling around the world, we finally come back home in Italy and listen to one of the biggest hits by Pino Daniele. “Napule è” is the opening track of “My Land” (1977), the artist’s debut album. It tells the sad and poetic story of Naples, a city suffocated by contradictions and difficulties of which nobody seem to care, in a state of resignation and indifference.
“Napule è ‘na carta sporca
e nisciuno se ne ‘mporta
e ognuno aspetta ‘a ciorta”.
Deeply loved by Neapolitans, in 2015 this song started accompanying the soccer teams inside the Stadio San Paolo before the game. Thus aiming to become the official hymn of Naples’ team.