‘London Town’ is the title track and opening song on Wings’s penultimate album.
The song was started in Australia in November 1975.
Funnily enough it was written in Perth, Australia. It was started in Perth when we went on our Australian tour. Linda and I were sitting in the hotel in Perth, which is a big Sheraton, you know, top floor, Elton John suite. [laughs] I don’t mean that how it sounds, actually! We were in Elton John’s suite! And we started doing this thing, we came up with these opening lyrics, ‘Walking down the sidewalk on a purple afternoon’.
So it got started there, and then it hung around for a little while. I just had that first bit that Linda and I had done, and then I got together with Denny in the summer of ’76 I think it was, in Scotland, and we just sat down and finished it all, arranged it up a bit, and got other little bits and pieces. I wrote another little bit when I was on holiday. I went to Mexico for a holiday, somewhere in between time, and wrote another little bit. So we put it all together and then recorded it in London town.
BBC Radio 1, 1978
‘London Town’ was one of the first songs recorded for the album. The backing track was recorded on 14 February 1977 at Abbey Road Studios, with overdubs following in March. The song was completed towards the end of the year.
As is so often the case in my songs, I’m a water-colourist. I’m just painting a scene: here’s me walking down the sidewalk on a purple afternoon, I’m accosted by a barker and he’s playing a simple tune on his flute – ‘Toot toot toot toot’. I’m just dredging my imagination, saying, ‘Okay, what shall we do now?’
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
‘Sidewalk’ is an American usage, I know. When I look at it now I think, ‘Why wasn’t it “pavement”?’ But I like the word ‘sidewalk’. The US features large in all my thoughts, musically; I was married to an American woman then, and I’m married to an American woman now. And I’m in New York a lot. Obviously, I know I’ve got a choice of ‘pavement’ or ‘sidewalk’, but ‘sidewalk’ just happened to pop out and I though, ‘Yeah, that’ll do.’
‘Ordinary people it’s impossible to meet’ has a double meaning. It’s almost impossible to meet anyone. It’s impossible to meet new people. You could also say it’s impossible to meet people you know. ‘The dirty ground of London Town’ – that’s a bluesy thing, as well as folky. So now we’ve got people passing me by, and then it gets quasi-philosophical, with me realising that we’re just passing each other in life, ships in the night. ‘Oh where are there places to go?/Someone somewhere has to know’ – that’s coming off the back of that little philosophical thing about the people, and then, with ‘Out of work again’, we’re getting a bit more story line. The actor is telling stories to his wife of their ordinary life, and it’s almost like a dig at him: he’s out of work; he entertains his wife instead of people.
There are parallel lines that run through a song. You set up a pattern and you don’t have to stick to it, but it’s kind of nice to. In ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, for example, the pattern is informed by the title. Those three words come in order at certain points of the song and move the story along. So, with ‘London Town’, whereas before I was walking down the sidewalk, I’m now doing a variation on that: I’m ‘crawling down the pavement’, this time ‘on a Sunday afternoon;. It’s the same rhyming pattern, but now the story’s kind of advanced. It sounds like I got drunk, and then I was arrested by a rozzer with a pink balloon tied to his foot, and it’s just daft, but you can also read into it that pink could signify something like a certain gayness. ‘Rozzer’ is just another word for a policeman, or copper, but ‘Toot toot toot toot’ refers to cocaine. And this was the freedom of Wings: I could just throw in surreal lines because I like surrealism in painting, people like Magritte, who had been a big influence on me since I came across his work in the 1960s. I like the freedom of being able to throw it in a song for no reason whatsoever.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
‘London Town’ was released as a single in the USA on 21 August 1978, with ‘I’m Carrying’ on the b-side. It reached number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It was issued on 26 August in the UK, where it peaked at number 60 on the singles chart.