The world is full of stunning landscapes, cities, and people that are all deserving of representation. And what better way to represent a capital city than with a beautifully-crafted song? This is exactly why we here at AXS has compiled a list of our top ten favorite songs representing some of the most praised capital cities. Here they are:
10. George Ezra – "Budapest"
When "Budapest" was originally released in 2013, little did English singer/songwriter, George Ezra, know that it would become his breakthrough single. "Budapest" was the second single off Ezra's debut album, Wanted on Voyage (2014), and his first-ever attempt at writing a love song. The 26-year-old folk-pop phenom also stated that the song utilizes the first three guitar riffs he ever learned. The song's warm, deep bassline, simplistic and memorable chords, and Ezra's coarse yet palatable vocal cadence depict a sense of tranquillity for Hungary's capital city.
9. Gorillaz – "Hong Kong"
What originally was a solo offering by Gorillaz frontman, Damon Albarn, turned into a song on the Gorillaz second b-side album, D-Sides, released in 2007. "Hong Kong" garnished a lot of attention after the British virtual band released a live version of the song on their Demon Days Live short film shot at the Manchester Opera House.
"Hong Kong" features an extremely well-mixed array of instrumentation including the notorious yueqin, a short-necked Chinese guitar. Contextually, frontman, Damon Albarn addresses the industrialization of modern China revealing that the government is stripping the land of its identity and cultural heritage all the while forcing its patrons into a police state. While the content may be somewhat controversial, the composition of this hymn was executed to perfection.
8. Camila Cabello – "Havana" feat. Young Thug
Thanks to "Havana," Camila Cabello was able to rise to prominence as an international pop sensation. The track, originally released in August 2017, later became the leadoff single to Cabello debut album, Camila (2018). "Havana" made its way to the number spot on several country charts; including Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico, the United States, and more.
The Cubana salsa-inspired pop track infuses the swing of Camila Cabello's ethnic roots by incorporating a classic Cubano piano riff and uptempo bongo percussion. The commercial success of "Havana" is the perfect combination of Cabello staying true to her origins and utilizing the popular sound of mainstream music to become one of the most highly-popularized songstresses of this current generation.
7. The Clash – "London's Burning"
While The Clash has another London-themed classic under their belt in their 1979 single "London's Calling," their B-side entitled "London's Burning" is a little more aggressive and more suitable for punk-rock purists. Will The Clash is known for its politically-charged lyrics, "London's Burning" shows that the band's lyrics remain relevant even in today's society. In the first verse, frontman Joe Strummer sings; "Black or white, you turn it on, you face the new religion | Everybody's sitting 'round watching television." With an ever-growing attachment towards cellphones and TV screens, these lyrics still ring relevant towards today's audience.
While The Clash might have struggled throughout their prominent years, be it through drug use or interpersonally, the "Rock The Casbah" creators will forever be recognized as pioneers of punk rock. Rest in power, Joe Strummer.
6. St. Vincent – "Paris Is Burning"
St. Vincent, released her debut album, Marry Me, in July 2007. While it's popularity upon release wasn't overwhelming, it did produce one of the most haunting capital city themes in history in "Paris Is Burning." The track narrates the story of an American WWII soldier who informs his family that the city of Paris has been left in ruins after combat. The haunting swing, change in tempo, and stoic vocal cadence in Clark's delivery is chilling yet entrancing in its compilation.
However, in an interview with QRO Magazine, St. Vincent revealed that she wrote the song in remembrance of the victims and families left devastated by Hurrican Katrina. While not necessarily reflected in the lyrics themselves, the songs still capture the essence of a city torn apart by chaos.
5. The Fall – "Edinburgh Man"
This mellow jam is an ode to Scotland's capital city, Edinburg, and would be the perfect song to play while roaming the city's streets. The song, written by Craig Scanlon and Mark E Smith, was featured on The Falls' 13th studio album, Shift-Work. The narrator of the song sings of their longing to be in Edinburg while recounting the seasons of the year and state of the world."It's springtime but I still miss the streets at dawn / And in the morning walking your bridges home / As I sit and stare at all of England's souls / I tell you something / I wish I was in Edinburgh."
4. Lou Reed – "Berlin"
Since it's initial release in 1973 then, Berlin has become one of the most notable conceptual albums of its time. The concept for the album came about when record producer Bob Ezrin approached Reed asking him about a couple from Berlin that appeared in the lyrics of his debut solo album in 1972, which inspired Reed to create a full-length album about the couple. Throughout the record, the couple, Jim and Caroline, suffer horrible atrocities involving drug use, prostitution, domestic violence, suicide, and more.
The album's lead-off song of the same name, "Berlin" begins in a catastrophic array of clashing instruments and voices before becoming a soft piano-driven ballad where Reed introduces the setting of one of the greatest rock operas of all time. The platinum-selling rocker goes on to introduce the couple in a quaint cafe setting where their love is introduced as a blossoming affair of passion, only for listeners to spiral into the disturbing reality of what could have been a fairytale story for Jim and Caroline.
3. Toots & The Maytals – "Funky Kingston"
Hailing from one of the most fruitful and beautiful places in the world in Jamaica, Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert and The Maytals are also known as pioneers in reggae. The group/band was the first ever to use the term 'reggae' in the title of their 1968 single "Do The Reggay." However, it is their 1972 double-disc album Funky Kingston that allowed for the collective to gain international notoriety.
The title track is known for its reggae-esque punchy piano chords and a vocal performance by Toots that is reminiscent of the Godfather of Soul in James Brown. The song's multiple fermatas take a line from the then highly-popularized R&B/soul music of the United States. However, "Funky Kingston" is a musical experience that provides connectivity to the capital of Jamaica that permeates listeners that have never set foot on the island a day in their lives.
2. Outkast – "Bombs Over Baghdad (B.O.B)"
"Bombs Over Baghdad" or abbreviated "B.O.B" was the first single off of Outkast's legendary fourth LP entitled, Stankonia (2000). While the song did fairly well on the American and UK Single Charts, it later became recognized as one of the greatest songs of the millennium across the majority of music publications. The uptempo fizzling bassline, nonstop banging snare and kick drums, and unorthodox flow of both Big Boi and Andre 3000 set the bar for what hip-hop was going to have to compete with coming into the 2000s. The song references Bill Clinton's decision to bomb the capital city of Iraq but on a much more playful scale as the song utilizes a gospel choir to sing the chorus. Not only is "B.O.B" a musical masterpiece, but the visuals for the track are also a psychedelic trip into the controlled chaos that was the visionary artistry of what Outkast was at the time.
1. Jay Z x Kanye West – "Ni**as In Paris"
"Ni**as In Paris" was recorded by Jay Z and Kanye West in the Hôtel Meurice, in Paris, France and would later become the anthem for their 2011 collaborative LP entitled, Watch The Throne. While the album featured a lot of Afrocentric empowering content, this particular track stood out as the Hit Boy-produced instrumental featured a constantly gravitating high-pitched synth, altered woodwind instruments, and trembling 808 drums. Both Kanye and Mr. Sean Carter deservingly brag throughout the track about their traveling luxurious destinations and opulent lifestyles.
The official music video for "Ni**as In Paris" was shot in STAPLES Center during the Watch The Throne Tour in Dec. 2011 where on the final night of the tour, the two performed the song a total of ten times for the fans in attendance. Now, with the two seemingly still at odds, we'll never know if we'll receive a part two of The Throne making musical magic ever again.