What’s the greatest rock’n’roll “guidebook” song?

Recently I spoke on WNYC’s Soundcheck radio show about the world’s Top 40 Rock’n’Roll Sites, which include evil dwarves, walls and bad Deep Purple lyrics, and topped by seeing — for the time being — Chuck Berry live.

Here’s the interview that was plain fun to do:

But what rock’n’roll song offers the ultimate guidebook, where its lyrics offer both a sense of place (not listing off spots like “I’ve Been Everywhere”) and suggestions of how to follow in your own adventure.

I found picking a #1 easy:

Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset” (1967)

There is no band more English than the Kinks, who’ve made concept albums about drinking at pubs, longing for Oklahoma life from up on North London’s Muswell Hill, and village greens in country villages. None compare to this one, picked by Time Out London as the number one London song in a list of 100.

The song gives a rewarding dusk-hour walking tour. Its author, Ray Davies, asks of the Thames, “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling?” as busy people and traffic make him dizzy. “But I don’t need no friends, as long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am paradise.” He then switches to Terry and Julie (supposedly based on his sister and husband) who meet on Fridays at Waterloo Station, where millions swarm like flies, but leave it to cross the river, with the silhouette of the Parliament in the distance, and reach their own paradise.

I followed the lyrics a couple years ago (after staying in Davies’ old neighborhood Muswell Hill). From the station’s flurry of commuters at rush hour, I followed a brick walkway to the gray bridge, and walked opposite of the hordes leaving work to cross to south London. Not sure I found paradise, but I’ll never hear the song the same way again.

For four more songs that offer “guidebooks” see the list I wrote for Soundcheck.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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