Lancaster’s a sleepy little town, isn’t it? Out of the public eye – and it’s not really referenced at all in popular culture. Apart from Oscar’s minor cameo in Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it’s difficult to think of many times that Lancaster has been referred to in the mainstream. But there are a few songs that have been written about our city, contrary to popular belief.
Travis – Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
The Scottish rockers’ arguably most famous song ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ was in fact written about Lancaster. Vocalist Fran Healy wrote the song whilst studying in the city, and although he questions whether it was because he lied when he was seventeen, the truth was not so philosophical: Lancaster’s weather is notorious – we all know that – but it was Mr Healy and his Glasgow friends that first put this to music.
Healy was frustrated with the lack of sun over the Bailrigg campus, and rather vainly claimed it was a personal issue. Had Fran studied elsewhere, it was likely that this song would never have been penned, they would never have become million copy-sellers and we’d never have had to turn off the radio every time this song came on.
The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
More Scottish bands writing about Lancaster here, as the Reid brothers sing about a long-distance relationship between a County boy and a Lonsdale girl. Craig Reid wrote this song as a County college fresher, pining for his love all the way down in Lonsdale. Apparently he would walk the horrific distance between the colleges “just to be the man who walked a thousand miles, to fall down at your door.”
Never has anyone been so dedicated to a university relationship before. We must nit-pick, however, and admit that the distance between the two colleges isn’t exactly 500 miles, but for the purposes of lyrical flow we’ll let The Proclaimers off with a warning. His arduous task of romancing this girl thankfully resulted in one of the finest love songs around. And people say County have never contributed to anything.
Maroon 5 – Sugar
A great modern love song? Wrong. Adam Levine’s smash hit with Maroon 5 was written about a rather drunken affair in the Sugarhouse on a visit to our fair city. All that was desired was a cheap fling; it didn’t matter where. This song could easily have been called ‘Hustle’.
“I need your loving”, “you got me begging, begging, I’m on my knees”, “you show me good loving” – it’s all in there, all those typical Lancastrian bender details. It’s quite hard to ignore how sultry this song is, as Levine describes his desperation to not end up alone after a night out. There’s always someone missing the last bus home, in search of that regrettable one night of passion. To think: people play this song at weddings…
Echo & the Bunnymen – Lips like Sugar
We chastise Adam Levine, but he’s not the only one guilty of writing about the ‘romantic’ side of Lancaster’s staple nightclub. Ian McCulloch’s various nights out in Sugar always ended in the same way: “I know what she’s thinking, sugar kisses, sugar kisses”. It’s cheap, but that’s what they loved. “She’ll ask and you’ll give her, lips like sugar’. The chase of McCulloch to taste these adventures is referenced throughout the song, as his flings are mere momentary glances – “just when you think you’ve caught her, she glides across the water”.
A slightly more abstract metaphor, but tasteless all the same.
Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underpass
This song wasn’t originally called ‘Sound of the Underground’, oh no: it was titled ‘Sound of the Underpass’ before over-bureaucratic production got in the way and made the song slightly less esoteric. The girls – as of course we all know – got together at Lancaster University, and the original demo of this song was written about their trips to the underpass before a night out.
They describe the noises around them from pre-drinks where “beats are pumping on the stereo, flatmates banging on the kitchen wall”, before heading to the underpass and hearing “the sound of the underpass; the noise of the bus goes round and round”. Whatever could “the electric night” refer to? Well, probably a LUDEMS night in Daltons. But the night ends up pear-shaped, as per, when Cheryl Tweedy and co. have too much to drink: “summit funnies goin’ on inside my mind”.
What a shame the song was ultimately edited before release.
Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
We all thought that the university were mental when they fitted a tree into the library, but the original plan was worse as they wanted an artificial plant to fit into the interior. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ was written by Thom Yorke in response to this, mocking the stupidity and cheapness of the plan. Yorke laments the awful image: “her green plastic watering can, for her fake Chinese rubber plant in the fake plastic earth”. The song was powerful enough to convince the university to change to a real tree at least. It could have been worse.
Madonna – LICA Virgin
Madonna is Lancaster alumni, we don’t need to tell you that. But what we do need to explain is that her smash hit ‘LICA Virgin’ addresses her experience as she encounters the LICA building for the first time. The opening line “I made it through the wilderness” relates to her struggles to make it to Lancaster through UCAS in the first place, but her first glimpse of the building helped her cope. The icon sings “LICA virgin; touched for the very first time” as she traverses over the moat and saunters through the automatic doors.
Heart-warming stuff, it really is.
The Spice Girls – Spice Up Your Life
I’ve been advised not to go any further with this one. You get the picture.