Have you seen the old man in the closed down market Kicking up the papers with his worn out shoes? In his eyes, you see no pride, hands held loosely at his side Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news So, how can you tell me you're lonely And say for you that the sun don't shine? Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London I'll show you something to make you change your mind Have you seen the old girl who walks the streets of London Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags? She's no time for talking, she just keeps right on walking Carrying her home in two carrier bags So, how can you tell me you're lonely ... And in the all night cafe at a quarter past eleven Same old man sitting there on his own Looking over the world oOver the rim of his tea cup Each tea lasts an hour and he wanders home alone So, how can you tell me you're lonely? ... Have you seen the old man outside the seaman's mission Memory fading with the medal ribbons that he wears? In our winter city the rain cries a little pity For one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn't care So, how can you tell me you're lonely ...
"Streets of London" is a song by Ralph McTell, who first recorded it for his 1969 album Spiral Staircase. It was not released in the United Kingdom as a single until 1974. The song has been covered by over 200 artists. The song was re-released, on 4 December 2017, featuring McTell with Annie Lennox as a charity single for CRISIS, the Homelessness Charity. Roger Whittaker also recorded a well received version in 1971.
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 call the song "Streets of Paris"—eventually London was chosen, because he realised he was singing about London; also, there was another song called "The Poor People of Paris". McTell's song contrasts the common problems of everyday people with those of the homeless, lonely, elderly, ignored and forgotten members of society. In an interview on Radio 5 with Danny Baker on 16 July 2016, McTell said that the market he referred to in the song was Surrey Street Market in Croydon.
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 No. 9 the next month. McTell re-recorded it for the UK single release in 1974. McTell played the song in a fingerpicking style with an AABA chord progression. It is often remarked upon that the composition (along with many others) echoes certain musical patterns found in Pachelbel's Canon. It also bears some resemblance to Dvorak Romantic Pieces Op75, B150:1 Allegro Moderato (which in turn echoes certain musical patterns found in Pachelbel's Canon).
The song was McTell's greatest commercial success, reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart, at one point selling 90,000 copies a day and winning him the 1974 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically and a Silver disc for record sales.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: May 2019.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Ralph McTell (unknown/website).