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A Very Rock and Roll Tour of London

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Ben is studying abroad with us in London and he is 1) very excited and 2) a bit of a music expert. We asked him to tell us about the top rock and roll hot spots one must visit and he gave us the scoop. From Mozart to the Clash, read on to learn a little bit about the history of rock and next time you’re in London, definitely take the tour.

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The history of rock and roll is everywhere in London- from the rooftops, to the bars, to the bricks in the walls. The wind that blows was featured in one of Hendrix’s most famous songs; its streets are the stuff of Dylan’s “Homesick Blues,” and even its crosswalks have taken on legendary status (see above). Ziggy Stardust landed in London and glam took off; the three chords and snarls of the Sex Pistols shook the foundations of establishment, and its flats have housed legendary musicians, their parties and their deaths. London is the only city in the world that gives New York a run for its money for the title of “Rock and Roll Capital of the World.”

So it’s a fool’s task to narrow down the five most important musical places in London. Everyone knows about Abbey Road but what about the last place Amy Winehouse was seen (Chalk Farm Road) or the bar where The Smiths called it quits (2 Farmer Street)? London has so much classical and modern music history that it has significance in nearly every era. This list collects the five most noteworthy places in London according to the different periods of rock and roll:

1) 180 Ebury Street – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart writes his first symphonies (1764) – Mozart is THE original rock and roller. He’s the got a name made for rock; he shocked and captivated his audiences, shattering the conception of what music could sound like; and his genius ability to capture pure and timeless human emotions with simplicity and sophistication paved the way for rock and roll. He made music that moved his audience intellectually, emotionally, and physically. As Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull so aptly said, “He was sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll before there was sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”

2) 65 Broadhurst Gardens – Site of Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” and Decca Records (1955) – While the building is now a rehearsal space for the English National Opera, the heavy, soundproof doors at the end of the corridor bear the nameplate “Studio Two,” whereLonnie Donegan recorded his international hit, “Rock Island Line,” and single-handedly started British rock and roll. Lonnie Donegan’s cover of the American folk song inspired the “skiffle band” craze that inspired John Lennon to pick up a guitar and form the Quarrymen, which ultimately turned into The Beatles. Decca is also the location where the future Beatles were passed over for the local Essex “beat group.” Decca said that “the Beatles have no future in show business,” and “guitar groups are on the way out,” one of the biggest mistakes in rock and roll.

3) 90 Wardour Street – Marquee Club (60’s-70’s) – Frequently cited as the most important club in the world, the original Marquee Club (165 Oxford Street) gave the Rolling Stones their first gig and the second location featured nearly every famous band of the 1960’s and 70’s. The Who famously trashed their instruments there, and it was the first venue in London to ban the Sex Pistols. U2, Hendrix, Bowie, and Pink Floyd all played and bands like Iron Maiden and Genesis played secret shows, often under different names. The Marquee Club was a central venue for progressive rock, punk, new wave, and heavy metal. While the location is just a pub now, its history lives on.

4) Stables Market, Camden – The Clash’s Debut (1977) – The Clash took the picture for their debut album to the left of the Stables Market entrance. Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Tory Crimes (Terry Chimes) fusion of reggae, early rock and roll, punk, and socially conscious lyrics revolutionized punk and earned them the moniker “The Only Band That Matters.” Along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash were the forefront of the punk movement, which in turn inspired indie rock, new wave, hardcore and countless other genres. The band and the album are, arguably, the foundation for a whole generation of music.

5) Berwick Street, Soho – The Cover of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995) – The debate of who was the better Britpop band, Oasis or Blur, rages on in internet forums and dorm rooms in America and Britain but there’s no debate that (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is the most well-known Britpop album of the 1990s. Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, I can promise you that wherever a guy with an acoustic guitar and a girl intersect you’ll hear its hit single “Wonderwall.” Oasis mixed distinctly British lyrical subjects and grunge guitars with a fondness for feuds, fashion, and fine melodies that borrowed from the Smiths but still carved out a unique sound. Oasis’ album opened the United States to a wave of Britpop and British Indie bands and paved the way for the mainstream success of bands like Pulp, Radiohead, and Coldplay. Oasis’ Berwick Street cover was the true start of the second British Invasion.

(What's the Story) Morning Glory?

Read more about studying with us in London, and stay tuned for more blog posts from Ben this summer!

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