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Best Songs About England: 10 Spirited Tributes To Old Blighty
Mark Mordecai
List & Guides

Best Songs About England: 10 Spirited Tributes To Old Blighty

From state-of-the-nation addresses to nostalgic reflections on tradition, the best songs about England can still inspire passion.

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It’s fair to say England has an impressive history when it comes to pop music and its myriad styles. Indeed, from the British Invasion to Britpop and beyond, English artists have often led the field – and some of the most singular have relished the chance to write songs about their native land and English society’s many wonderful quirks and eccentricities. Whether you’re celebrating St George’s Day on 23 April, or just looking for some of the finest observations on Old Blighty, the best songs about England celebrate the redoubtable spirit of Albion.

Best Songs About England: 10 Spirited Tributes To Old Blighty

10: The Clash: This Is England (from ‘Cut The Crap’, 1985)

Vilified – and sometimes even ridiculed by the critics – The Clash’s final album, 1985’s Cut The Crap, is largely best forgotten. It did, however, bequeath one absolute gem courtesy of This Is England. Written late in 1983, around the time Margaret Thatcher returned to power for a second time, this bleak and remorseless hymnal addressed the sorry state of the nation, reflecting upon everything from inner-city violence to racism, nationalism, police corruption and even the UK’s dying motorcycle industry (“I got my motorcycle jacket/But I’m walking all the time”). Capable of touching a nerve both then and now, the stirring This Is England was Joe Strummer’s last truly great Clash song.

9: ENGLANDneworder: World In Motion (single A-side, 1990)

Football may be known as “the beautiful game”, but as previous English football-related songs, such as Liverpool’s Anfield Rap and Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle’s Diamond Lights, had already proved, its interaction with the music industry usually fell some way south of heaven. That all changed dramatically in 1990, when England’s official theme for that year’s World Cup campaign, World In Motion, linked the national team with an in-vogue band, New Order, then at the peak of their powers circa Technique.

The band were initially sceptical of the collaboration (Stephen Morris later said, “If it all went pear-shaped, at least we could pretend it was a joke”), but everything went swimmingly and the song – and its memorable video – put a contemporary, ecstasy-influenced smile on the sport’s face. The end result? One of the best songs about England, credibility for the nation’s football team, and New Order’s first No.1 single.

8: Pink Floyd: Matilda Mother (from ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, 1967)

Everything from the bucolic beauty of Ummagumma’s Grantchester Meadows to the anti-war sentiments of the furious The Final Cut album reflects the tangible streak of Englishness that runs through Pink Floyd’s canon like a stick of rock. During their initial, Syd Barrett-helmed phase, however, the Cambridge quartet alchemised a peculiarly English form of psychedelic whimsy, with the title of their classic debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, even deriving from Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved Edwardian-era children’s book The Wind In The Willows. One of the album’s many highlights, Matilda Mother, was based around another English classic, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales For Children, and its chorus (“Why d’ you have to leave me there/Hanging in my infant air?”) reflected a nostalgia for childhood that would become a common theme in many of Syd Barrett’s best songs.

7: The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (from ‘The Queen Is Dead’, 1986)

If we accept Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen to be England’s most scabrous state-of-the-nation address of the 70s, then surely The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead played a similar role in the decade that followed. As with the Pistols’ famous punk broadside, the title track of The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead album offered explicit criticism of the monarchy as a pillar of the UK’s class system, and its lyric was a blast of highly eloquent rage delivered from an outsider’s standpoint – and, once again, the singular lyric was the work of a young English man of Irish extraction.

Morrissey, of course, also injected some wonderfully satirical humour into his memorable diatribe (“I say, Charles, don’t you ever crave/To appear on the front of The Daily Mail/Dressed in your mother’s bridal veil?”) along with some still-relevant concerns about the nation’s mental health (“Past the pub that saps your body/And the church who’ll snatch your money”), conjuring one of the very best songs about England in the process.

6: The Streets: Has It Come To This? (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2001)

The first single culled from The Streets’ debut album, Original Pirate Material, Has It Come To This? found Birmingham’s Mike Skinner rapping about a host of things (from getting stoned playing PlayStation, to new trainers and being menaced in kebab shops) that scores of millennial English kids could all too readily relate to. Effectively an anthem for “sex, drugs and the dole”, the song not only offered the most original, lyrical English rap in memory, but it also helped chart an evolutionary route for UK garage, as well as launch Mike Skinner’s career. As NME wrote in 2005, “Has It Come To This? is the first garage record to be made about those who buy the records, rather than those who make them – a major talent has arrived.”

5: Blur: Sunday Sunday (from ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, 1993)

Not only one of the best songs about England, but one of the best Blur songs to boot, Sunday Sunday is a quintessentially English pop song, so it’s ironic that frontman Damon Albarn wrote it after watching a slew of shoppers aimlessly wandering around a mall from the window of his Minneapolis hotel room during the band’s US tour of 1992. Then again, the trek in question was notoriously miserable, with Blur hating both the US and each other (“We all had black eyes,” Dave Rowntree later noted), so maybe it’s not so strange that it inspired a song steeped in English staples such as walks in the park, bingo and the traditional Sunday roast. With its Sally Army-style brass and madcap, Benny Hill-esque sped-up middle section, Sunday Sunday was steeped in glorious English eccentricity. Though it was a relatively minor hit, it provided a highlight on the band’s Modern Life Is Rubbish album, and set them on course to capture the hearts of the nation when they dove deeper into similar themes on their Britpop-era classics Parklife and The Great Escape.

4: Sex Pistols: God Save The Queen (from ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’, 1977)

These days, it’s hard to envisage any band engendering as much hatred as punk firebrands Sex Pistols, but when their legendary second single, God Save The Queen, was released in May 1977, all hell literally broke loose. The song whipped up a media hailstorm and scared the BBC so much they couldn’t officially admit that it had reached No.1 on the singles chart.

Inevitably, John Lydon’s lyric was widely misinterpreted (despite the furore, he didn’t actually call the Queen a moron). Indeed, while the song did give the finger to the establishment, its inherent fury was a thin disguise for Lydon’s eloquent social critique of an England which had fallen on hard times, with lyrics such as “We’re the flowers in the dustbin/We’re the poison in the human machine” relating to how the UK was in danger of ignoring its younger generation. Iconoclastic and incendiary, God Save The Queen still polarises opinion, but it remains one of the best songs about England.

3: The Kinks: Autumn Almanac (single A-side, 1967)

Few pop wordsmiths have explored the notion of Englishness with the skill and dexterity of The Kinks’ Ray Davies. Other legend-enshrining songs from the band’s late 60s heyday, such as Waterloo Sunset, Victoria or The Village Green Preservation Society, could just as easily have made this list of the best songs about England, but there’s something especially compelling about the band’s 1967 hit Autumn Almanac. Reputedly inspired by a hunchbacked gardener on The Kinks’ local London area, Muswell Hill (the lyric refers to “my poor rheumatic back”), this gloriously happy-sad song references a cornucopia of home-grown customs, from roast beef on Sundays to holidays in Blackpool, plus tea, toast and currant buns, and it’s as quintessentially English as they come.

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2: Morrissey: Everyday Is Like Sunday (from ‘Viva Hate’, 1988)

There’s something intrinsically sad about an English seaside town when it closes down for the winter, and Morrissey tapped into that feeling of creeping ennui with his second solo single, 1988’s Everyday Is Like Sunday. Though inspired by Neville Shute’s Australia-based novel, On The Beach, the former Smiths frontman’s lonely vignette about “the seaside town/That they forgot to bomb” could only be set in an English resort long past its heyday, where “every day is silent and grey”. Resigned and melancholic, yet somehow strangely uplifting, Everyday Is Like Sunday later inspired a cult movie of the same name, and it also ranks among the best Morrissey lyrics.

1: The Jam: That’s Entertainment (from ‘Sound Affects’, 1981)

Paul Weller has often played down how he came to write The Jam’s That’s Entertainment. In one interview with Absolute Radio, he even said, “I wrote it in ten minutes flat, whilst under the influence. I’d had a few but some songs just write themselves. It was easy to write, I drew on everything around me.” Weller was referring to what he saw on a late-night bus ride in London, yet while he effectively jotted down a stream-of-consciousness collage of scenes from ordinary life in Margaret Thatcher’s England, his words had an extraordinary power when taken in one sitting. He sang of “paint-splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat” along with “lights going out and a kick in the balls”, and he punctuated the verses with a chorus using the song’s title as an ironic refrain.

Weller arguably saved his best for the song’s evocative final verse, homing in on two lovers whose “kissing masks the scream of midnight/Two lovers missing the tranquillity of solitude”, but really the whole work was a master class in lyric-writing and a nigh-on perfect snapshot of English working-class life. Initially recorded for The Jam’s fifth album, Sound Affects, That’s Entertainment wasn’t officially a UK single, but it sold so strongly on import that it later became a domestic hit. It’s since been covered by other quintessentially English artists such as Morrissey and Billy Bragg, and, as the best songs about England go, it still takes some beating.

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