Manchester rightly has a reputation as a music capital.
For decades it has produced an array of ground-breaking artists, albums and songs.
So, unsurprisingly, the region has had dozens of songs written about it – the most recent of which is ‘Moston’, from the latest EP from Manchester rapper Aitch.
Here we look at some of the best known, and some of the lesser known songs, which immortalise Greater Manchester neighbourhoods and local landmarks.
Oasis – Shakermaker
Despite being the archetypal Mancs, relatively few of Oasis’ extensive catalogue specifically mention their home city. However Shakermaker, the second track on their debut album Definitely Maybe does reference one place close to the Gallaghers’ hearts.
The line ‘Mr Sifter sold me songs when I just 16’ is a nod to the still going Sifters second-hand record shop on Fog Lane in Burnage where they spent many an hour as young men picking out vinyls.
The entire final verse was written in a taxi on the way to the recording studio to record the song when the car taking the band stopped outside the shop, prompting Noel, who needed more lyrics to finish, to pen after the line ‘now he stops at traffic lights, but only when they’re green’.
Stone Roses – Daybreak
Again, Stone Roses lyrics aren’t littered with Mancunian references.
However, Daybreak, from the band’s second studio album The Second Coming, does name-check their home city.
The funky song, believed to be about racism, references American civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks and contains the line “From Atlanta, Georgia, to Longsight, Manchester. Everyone ready So, so willin’ and able.”
Ian Brown – Longsight M13
Daybreak was not the only time Ian Brown would sing about the area of south east Manchester.
Ian Brown had an entire song dedicated to Longsight and its postcode on his 2004 album Solarized.
In the chorus Brown, who was born in Warrington before moving to Trafford aged six, sings “Let stars shine on. ‘Til the break of dawn. Let stars shine on. And let her move, move like a queen. Of Longsight M13.”
Legend has it the song was dedicated to locals who had daubed graffiti with the words ‘Free Ian Brown’ around the area after he was jailed over an air rage incident in 1998.
Guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, who co-wrote and recorded the song with Brown, is also from Longsight.
Bugzy Malone – M.E.N
Born in Crumpsall as Aaron Davis, grime star Bugzy Malone shot to fame after the release of his first EP Walk With Me in 2015, which contained the song M.E.N, seen to be a play on the word men and the name of our humble newspaper.
In it he talks about his family and his early life as well as his experiences of Manchester’s gang culture, contrasting it to his new- found success.
He also talks about a nightclub incident the city in 2015 which was reported on in the paper.
He raps: “So picture the scene:, I’m sitting on my corner sofa in peace, until I got a call: “Have you seen yourself in the papers? You’re wanted by the police.”
Later adding “See what happened from there was loose, I was in the Manchester Evening News.”
He released a follow-up, M.E.N 2, in 2019.
Ewan MacColl –Dirty Old Town
Now considered one of the all-time classic folk songs, Dirty Old Town, by Ewan MacColl, was in inspired by and written about Salford where Ewan was born and brought up.
The opening verse, ‘I met my love by the gas works wall, dreamed a dream by the old canal’, refers to the gas croft, land next to the old gas works in industrial Salford and the now disused Manchester, Bolton and Bury canal.
The line ‘I smelled the spring on the smoky wind’ is also reported to have been originally sung as a ‘Salford wind’ before being gradually being changed over time.
Also a playwright, the song was originally composed an interlude to cover an awkward scene change in Ewan’s 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys, set in a North of England industrial town.
But it has since gone on to be covered by dozens of artists including The Spinners, Donovan and perhaps most famously, The Pogues with The Dubliners.
Ewan’s daughter Kirsty MacColl went on to collaborate with Pogues singer Shane MacGowan on Christmas classic Fairytale of New York.
The Smiths – Rusholme Ruffians
Morrissey and the Smiths were certainly never shy in referencing Manchester in their work.
One of the most notable examples is Rusholme Ruffians from their 1985 album Meat is Murder.
Musically it is said to have been inspired by both Elvis’ ‘Marie’s the Name’ and Victoria Wood’s ‘Fourteen Again’ and ‘Funny How Things Turn Out.’
But the lyrics are all about a young boy visiting the fair, which Platt Fields Park, which straddles Fallowfield and Rusholme, famously held every year.
“The real idea was to do something from the fairground,” Johnny Marr told author Johnny Rogan for his book on the band.
“I’d spend a lot of time at the fair in Wythenshawe Park and I worked at a speedway in a place down in Cheshire.
“I still maintain that the best place to hear music is at the fairground. If you get your records played at the fair you’re a great pop group. I used to go there all the time, not necessarily to go on the rides, but to look at girls. I had this really romantic feeling when I was at the fair.”
Doves – Northenden
A laid back, atmospheric acoustic track, the song is much more forthright in its lyrics, namechecking numerous other Greater Manchester areas as it trumpets Northenden, the suburb nestling between Didsbury and Wythenshawe, off Princess Parkway in south Manchester.
In the first of its three verses the band’s frontman Jimi Goodwin namechecks the area’s airport hotel, formerly known as the Forte Posthouse, singing: “F*** Longsight. And Levenshulme. Same goes for Stockport and Hulme. We’re doin’ alright. Just Posthouse blues. ‘Cause this is Northenden in the afternoon.”
Guitarist Jez Williams was living in a house in the area, which also contained a makeshift studio, at the time they made recorded their second album, 2002’s The Last Broadcast.
‘Northenden’ was included as an extra track on the Japanese and US limited edition releases of the record.
It was then released in the UK on 2003 compilation album Lost Sides. ‘M62 Song’ on Last Broadcast is also said to have been recorded under a motorway flyover in Northenden.
Aitch – Moston
Aitch, real name Harrison Armstrong, has become one of UK grime’s hottest properties after appearing on the official remix of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Take Me Back to London’ with Sheeran coming to his hometown of New Moston to record some of the video.
Aitch has also appeared on Stormzy’s recent chart-topping album Heavy Is the Head and his own work has made waves in the charts, with four recent top-ten hits.
His latest release is a dedication to the area he was born and brought up.
The lines ‘Gucci on my ends. M-O-S-T-O-N. From the lane to the ave’ is repeated throughout the song, referencing north Manchester roads Moston Lane and Hollinwood Avenue.
The Courteeners – Fallowfield Hillbilly
A fan favourite from their 2008 debut album St Jude, Fallowfield Hillbilly by Middleton’s The Courteeners rails against hipsters in the city’s student district liking particular bands or artists just to look cool.
In the first verse frontman Liam Fray sings: “Why do you compensate for the fact that you are clearly so oh very silly. By walking around my town like a Fallowfield hillbilly?”
It later name-checks HMP Manchester, saying: “I’ve seen the way you look at all of the normal kids. You think that they’ve just come out Strangeways, because they won’t bat both eyelids…”
The Beautiful South – Manchester
Despite originating from Sheffield and spending a large part of his life in Hull, Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton has become something an honorary Manc after moving here in the 2000s.
And he cemented that status with this tongue-in-cheek ode to the city released in 2006 both as a single and on the band’s album Superbi.
Northenden, Partington, Altrincham, Chadderton, Moss Side, Swinton, Cheetham Hill, Wythenshawe, Gorton, Salford and Sale all get a mention as former Housemartins frontman Heaton, who ran the Kings Arms pub in Salford for five years, bemoans the city’s reputation for constant rain.
However he sings, ‘if rain makes Britain great, then Manchester is greater’ before finishing with ‘ehat makes Britain great, makes Manchester yet greater’. Amen Paul.
The Fall – Cheetham Hill
With over 30 studio albums since their formation in 1976, it’s no surprise The Fall and their enigmatic frontman and only constant member, the late Mark E Smith, mentioned their home city on more than one occasion.
Cheetham Hill is taken from the 1996 album The Light User Syndrome. Most of the song is sung by producer Mike Bennett, who is credited with co-writing it, in dialogue with Smith.
It plays on the pronunciation of the area’s name.
“Couldn’t make out whether he was from. Salford or…ah… Manchester. And this London visitor had this to say; Cheat Em. Cheetham Hill,” go the lyrics.
There are also mentions of ‘cruising’, supposedly a reference to the area’s one-time reputation as a red light district, according to Bennett.
Smith said in a 1996 interview with Big Issue: “‘You see these middle class drivers going up and down Cheetham Hill Road in their big cars. They’re just slumming it.”
Elbow – Station Approach
Manchester has provided much inspiration for the boys from Bury.
The first track off their second album, Leaders of the Free World, Station Approach describes the homely feeling of seeing Piccadilly Station come into view after a trip to London. Piccadilly Approach, the walkway to and from the station, is also sometimes called Station Approach.
“The streets are full of Goths and Greeks. I haven’t seen my mum for weeks. But coming home I feel like I designed these buildings I walk by,” frontman Guy Garvey sings.
In 2008 he said: “In ‘Station Approach,’ that’s a very particular civic pride, which is a very specific civic feeling. I love Manchester. I have a complicated love affair with Manchester.”
Gomez – Whippin’ Piccadilly
Piccadilly is also immortalised in this 1998 hit by indie favourites Gomez.
The band are not from these parts, hailing from Southport.
However the songs tells the story of a day trip to Manchester they took together whilst at Sheffield University to watch Beck at Manchester Academy in 1995.
It talks of ‘falling into the union’ and “seeing someone dressed in a suit looking like a lunatic’ – both references to the gig.
“So I try and guess my weight and wait at the station. We’re whippin’ Piccadilly tonight. And it all falls down, there’s not enough hours in our life,” the lyrics continue.
Keyboard player Tom Gray later told NME: “The person that was ‘dressed in a suit looking like a lunatic’ in that song was Beck and the other person was our mate who took the string out of the bottom of his coat and he was literally whipping the floor of Piccadilly station that night. He was completely on one that night.”
King of the Slums – Bombs Away on Harpurhey
King of the Sulms, founded in Manchester in the mid eighties, specialised in a fusion of electric violin and guitar-driven rock.
‘Bombs Away on Harpurhey’, recorded in 1989, is a mournful look at people’s dreams of escaping working class life that describes how people are being ‘left behind’.
“Don’t waste your life away, in a maisonette in Harpurhey,” says the chorus.
It reached number four in the independent chart in 1989.
Take That – Mancunian Way
Taken from the boy band’s 2006 comeback album Beautiful World, it is their only homage to the city where they formed.
Mancunian Way has a double meaning referencing both the traditional Gallagher-esque Manc walk – ‘We used to swagger, we used to sway’ – and journeys ‘driving home again, back down Mancunian Way’ – the flyover section of the city centre ring road.
Howard Donald, who sings the lead vocal on the song is from Higher Openshaw in east Manchester, with Jason Orange from Crumpsall and Mark Owen hailing from Oldham.
The Smiths – Headmaster Ritual
The song, the opener from the heavily Mancunian influenced album Meat Is Murder released in 1985, opens with the line “Belligerent ghouls, run Manchester schools. Spineless swines, cemented minds.”
An attack on corporal punishment at educational institutions, the lyrics are said to have been inspired by Morrissey’s time at St. Mary’s Secondary Modern School in Stretford.
Brian and Michael – Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs
Released in 1978, this ode to Salford artist LS Lowry shot to the top of the UK single charts and has become synonymous with Lowry.
Performed on Top of the Pops, it begins with the words “He painted Salford’s smokey tops. On cardboard boxes from the shops…and parts of Ancoats where I used to play.”
Written by Michael Coleman, one of the the duo from Oldham, it was originally called Lowry’s Song before being renamed before release. It was the act’s only hit and is regarded as one of the country’s most enduring one hit wonders.
Kevin Parrott, aka ‘Brian’, said in 2013: “We have always been grateful for the success we had and the pleasure the song has given to so many people.”
Barry Adamson – Moss Side Story
Adamson was formerly bass player in post-punk cult heroes Magazine and has also worked with Visage, the Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds during his career.
Moss Side Story, a play on the name of Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story, was his debut solo album released in 1989.
Not taking a traditional format, and almost entirely instrumental, it is one continuous piece split into parts.
It was a concept album and the soundtrack to a fictional crime film. Describing it as ‘one of the best soundtracks ever’, NME said: “the fact that it has no accompanying movie is a trifling irrelevance.”
The Spinners – Flowers of Manchester
The song is a moving ode to the victims of the 1958 Munich air disaster, which saw 23 people killed, including eight of Manchester United’s legendary ‘Busby Babes’ side.
The words were sent into folk magazine Sing anonymously in October 1958. The words were printed, but no music accompanied it, apart from a note saying it was to the tune of High Germany. It later transpired that the lyrics were actually written by Eric Winter, the editor of Sing.
The Spinners, whose frontman Mick Groves is a United fan, were the first to record it, in 1962.
In 2008, Groves, from Salford, released a charity version to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the crash. Lancashire folk duo Hanky Park also later recorded a version which has been played at anniversary events at Old Trafford.
John Shuttleworth – You’re like Manchester
Musical comedy act John’s creator Graham Fellows had a hit in the seventies under his alter ego Jilted John with the song of the same name.
His first album in the guise as as the nerdy Yorkshire keyboard player John, called the Yamaha Years, contains the song ‘You’re like Manchester’.
The opening line is a play on the name of the city’s historic prison saying “You’re like Manchester You’ve Got Strange ways.”
Numerous other areas’ names are twisted in the verse which goes: “But if you’re like Manchester don’t you Cheetham Me. If I rush home to find you’ve been in Whalley’s Range, I won’t be pleased. My Belle Vue of the world will become a Fallowfield. But I know I can trust you, you’re like Manchester.”
Fellows lived in the city when he was a drama student at Manchester Polytechnic, shortly before his rise to fame in the seventies.
Elbow – Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for Divorce was a huge hit single from the band’s 2008 album, The Seldom Seen Kid, which went on to win the coveted Mercury Prize.
Guy Garvey has since said it was about being in an unhappy relationship and wanting to get away from Manchester due to what was going on in his life.
The reference to the Seldom Seen Kid in the opening line refers to friend of Guy and the band’s friend, singer songwriter Bryan Clancy, who died in 2006 with the song also referencing how he dealt with the tragedy.
The ‘hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall’ is said to refer to Temple of Convenience, an underground bar on Oxford Street, in Manchester city centre, which was a favourite of Garvey’s.
The Courteeners – Smiths Disco
Another of The Courteeners’ most obvious Manc references is this celebration of the legendary Smiths night held once a month at the Star and Garter pub near Piccadilly Station.
There are references to the area’s reputation as a red light district and the train station’s cash machine in the lines ‘On the corner, of Fairfield Street, where the ladies of the night tend to meet. If I’m not there I will be at the bank near platform eleven, to be in heaven.’
The Morrissey fan club the Moz Army also hold their annual meeting at Star and Garter, which has become a mecca for Smiths fans, which Courteeners frontman Liam Fray is. He describes himself as a ‘Morrissey with some strings’ in their song What Took You So Long?
The Bosnians – Manchester Rap
A novelty hit in the nineties, the Manchester Rap became a cult classic amongst Mancunians.
It was written by Wythenshawe brothers Pete and Chris Eavers and was recorded by their band, The Bosnians, which included their two sisters Fliss and Kate and pals Ian Parker and Martin Callaghan, at Cavalier Studios in Stockport in 1990.
Pete told the M.E.N last year: “It was at the time that rap was starting to get big but all you heard were American or London accents and we said there should be a Manchester rap.”
Sung in a thick Manc accent it contained references to the 105 bus in Wythenshawe, and going to ‘Asdas’, reaching local populairty after being played on Sunset 102, Key 103 and BBC Radio Manchester.
The chorus, with the line ‘lend us a fag Maxine, I’m gasping, Are you right or what? Are you coming down the chippy?’ became iconic for 90s kids in the city.
The Freshies -I’m In Love With the Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk
Frank Sidebottom creator, the late Chris Sievey, first found fame with The Freshies, formed in the 1970s.
Their biggest hit was released in 1978. It reached number 54 and had one of the longest song titles in chart history.
A two and a half minute tale of unrequited love it was perhaps more famous for being the subject of a furore over its name, with the song needing to be re-recorded to remove the reference to Virgin in the song title and chorus in order to be played on the BBC.
It became I’m In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk instead.
The Times – Manchester
The underground post-punk and indie outfit The Times were formed in London but declared their love for Manchester and its famed music scene in their 1989 song named after the city.
Penned by Edward Ball for the album E for Edward it references Tony Wilson and a number of the city’s bands.
“I see a face at the Hacienda. I see a heart that’s torn in two. I see a head that flies the Happy Mondays. And a lonely girl called you,” go the lyrics.
Finishing with the line “Manchester! Manchester, England! Manchester, I’ll always love you!” We couldn’t agree more.
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