Vintage London playlist
Feb 3, 2021 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, my mind is turning once again to travel. There are places I’d love to visit, as well as old favorites I’d love to see again. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many spots, but London remains at the top of my list. I’ve lingered in the city and I’ve also had trips with just 36 hours to cram in the sights. London is a pleasure at any pace. To get myself in the mood for the future I thought it’d be fun to experience this familiar metropolis in a new way, by pairing pictures with a curated soundtrack. So let’s get ready for adventure with this vintage London playlist. Let me know about your favorite destinations in the comments…
To set the stage we have to talk about one of London’s greatest assets: atmosphere. A clear, sunny day is a rare phenomenon in London. Oftentimes the city is shrouded in overcast skies and that provides a nice intro to our first song. There are many versions of “A Foggy Day” (Fred Astaire first sang it in 1937’s A Damsel in Distress), but I prefer this 1959 rendition by Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald. The Gershwin Brothers were originally inspired to pen this tune because of the notorious, thick fog that clung to the city. Even though the fog has lessened over the years, this song harkens back to London of old. And it is the perfect companion for a warm cup of tea before heading out into the city streets.
Big Ben is one of the most iconic landmarks in London and a natural first stop on our tour. It’s elegant yet brash, functional yet whimsical. While “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” by Frank Sinatra might seem like a superficial partner for this monument, I think the opening crescendos perfectly capture this audacious timekeeper. From your vantage point on the sidewalk, seeing Big Ben climb toward the sky feels a lot like the first twelve seconds of the song: a heady mixture of wonder and energy.
As you make your way closer, you’ll notice the size of the crowd increasing. Soon your main focus is simply getting to your destination. While you’re dodging the throngs of wide-eyed tourists and busy city-dwellers, you’ll probably feel like the piano in Sinatra’s tune – improvising as you find your footing. However arduous the journey, standing close to Big Ben is an unforgettable memory you can only experience in London.
I love those moments when you stroll along a non-descript street only to have it open up into a flash of bustling activity. Trafalgar Square is like that for me. Walking down Northumberland Avenue is an unassuming prelude to the outburst coming your way. That’s why I’ve paired it with the expressive Nat King Cole song “Orange Colored Sky.” There are surprises no matter which way you turn at Trafalgar (a lot like the blasts from the horn section in the song!): Nelson’s column draws your eyes heavenward, the lions bring a smile to your face, the fountains generously lend their glamour to the scene, and then there’s the constant flurry of feathers from the ever-faithful pigeons. It’s a lot to take in and you just have to relax and go along for the ride!
London, like any big city, is a cultural haven. There are so many wonderful galleries and collections to take in and – while the Sir John Soane Museum is my favorite – if you get one stop you have to go with the British Museum. The breadth of the collection is staggering. It’s hard to capture all the genres into one song, so instead I’ll select a tune that reflects the joyful energy of the space itself. “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck makes you want to wander, just as it invites you to be still and ponder. That’s the soundtrack of a museum experience, you can stroll through many galleries and then – bam! – something will stop you in your tracks. Maybe it’s the brushstrokes on a Degas or the way the light bounces off a sculpture. Before you know it, time seemed to have stood still as you savored this artistic creation. Then, just as suddenly, the spell is lifted and you continue on to the next gallery.
There are countless sights and treasures in the city, but I hope this musical tour has whetted your appetite for travel. I’ll leave you with a quintessential sight that is found throughout the city, but never in the same place! A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a ride in a classic London cab. I find their omnipresence on the streets a comfort. They are a nod to tradition and hailing one is like a mini-adventure of its own. As your driver shuttles you back to Heathrow, the perfect last track for your journey comes from England’s WWII sweetheart, Vera Lynn. “We’ll Meet Again” is the perfect sing-song as you watch the city lights retreat into the night sky. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be planning your next trip back before you board the plane home…