Some of the best pieces of music ever written have been set in real-world places, normally areas which have heavily influenced songwriters.
There’s something so visceral about hearing someone speak about somewhere incredibly specific that strikes a note with listeners.
Home is where the heart is, so when you hear your home over the airwaves, an instant emotional connection is born.
Read more: The 16 musicians you never knew were from Essex
It helps if the song is an absolute jam too.
Whilst places like Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield are lucky enough to have been immortalised by timeless bands like The Beatles, Oasis and Arctic Monkeys respectively, Essex is no different.
Our humble little county has birthed plenty of Britain’s most iconic musicians, who have naturally included their roots in their music.
Some Essex towns are also iconic enough on their own back to inspire musicians born elsewhere to dedicate their music to the town.
We’ve collected together some of the songs which have mentioned Essex over the years, and the musicians behind them.
Here are the Essex areas that have been immortalised in songs by worldwide pop and rockstars.
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Madness are one of the best loved British bands of the past 50 years and it’s no wonder.
They became artists at the forefront of the two-tone movement, and scored iconic hits with songs like Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love and Our House.
Even though the band had their roots in London, they weren’t afraid to look out east for lyrical inspiration.
Southend-on-Sea is a seaside destination that isn’t just reserved for residents of Essex.
People from all over the country travel to the seaside for weekends away, and in the last century, even full blown holidays.
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The town is a fond ‘happy place’ for many people, and it would certainly be somewhere you’d miss if you were forced to leave the country and head somewhere completely different.
That’s why the town gets a shout out in Madness’ 2009 song Africa.
The song centres around wanting to leave the mundane British life behind to head to the plains of Africa.
And that means leaving behind Southend-on-Sea.
“Oh I’ve said goodbye to Holloway,
“Farewell Southend on Sea,
“The burning plains of Africa,
“Is where you will find me.”
(Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)
It’s no wonder that Essex turns up in the music of Blur.
The band well and truly has its roots in the town of Colchester, Essex, and Blur are arguably Essex’s most famous addition to the world of music.
The Essex town which gets a shout out in Blur’s music isn’t the ancient Roman city of Colchester though.
It’s actually a little seaside town further east.
The second track in the band’s landmark 1994 album Parklife tells the story of a man who has a breakdown during a mid-life crisis.
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Tracy Jacks is one of Blur’s most popular songs among fans, and in the song, Tracy Jacks takes a train to Walton-on-the-Naze, the seaside town a little north of Clacton-on-Sea.
Once a popular holiday destination, Walton-on-the-Naze is where the fictional Tracy stands on the seafront laughing, before stripping nude and getting arrested by the police.
What a strange claim to fame for Walton-on-the-Naze, but it’s one they have.
“(Tracy Jacks) Got on the first train to Walton
“(Tracy Jacks) And stood on the seafront laughing
“(Tracy Jacks) Threw his clothes in the water
“(Tracy Jacks) And ran around naked.”
Billy Bragg is known as a political songwriter, famous for his songs commenting on British society.
But his Essex song is a lot less cutting, and focuses on something a lot of Essex residents will relate to – a long drive along one of the county’s busiest roads.
The song ‘A13 Trunk Road To The Sea’ is almost an instruction manual for someone in London on how to get to the Essex coast.
The song opens with the lyric: “If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness, take the A road, the okay road that’s the best, go motorin’ on the A13. ”
Shoeburyness is the first Essex town namechecked in the song, which also shouts out the Dartford Tunnel, Grays, Pitsea, Thundersley and Southend, mapping the entire route of the south Essex road.
For Essex, it might ignite horrid memories of traffic along the commuter road.
But for anyone else, it dictates a journey to the seaside.
“If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness,
“Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best,
“Go motorin’ on the A13,
“Well, if you’re looking for a thrill that’s new,
“Take in Fords, Dartford Tunnel and the river too,
“Go motorin’ on the A13.
“It starts down in Wapping,
“There ain’t no stopping,
“By-pass Barking and straight through Dagenham,
“Down to Grays Thurrock,
And rather near Basildon,
“Pitsea, Thundersley, Hadleigh, Leigh-On-Sea,
“Southend’s the end.”
There’s probably not a song that represents the 1990s better than Underworld’s Born Slippy.
The song, made worldwide famous by the 1996 film Trainspotting, is named after a dog which won the band a lot of money at the Romford dog racing track.
It was the inspiration to go out and get leathered, which the song represents in the heart pulsing rave beat.
The band were based in Romford at the time, so it’s no wonder why at the very end of the song, after a big night out in London, the band members are “going back to Romford” via the “tube hole” (London Underground).
Or maybe they’re going back to the dog track to do it all over again.
Whilst Romford is technically in Greater London, the town has historically been part of Essex, and shared a unique dual-culture because of that.
So we’ll include it.
“So many things to see and do in the tube hole, true blonde
“Going back to Romford, mega, mega, mega.”
Chas And Dave
(Image: PA/PA Wire)
In the 1980s, Romford was the epicentre of one of the decades most unique phenomena – snooker.
The sport was at the peak of its popularity, and promoter Barry Hearn based his operations in the west Essex/east London town.
The town became synonymous with the players of the day who trained under Hearn’s Matchroom like Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Tony Meo.
It’s hard to believe now, but snooker was a nationwide obsession, and cockney rappers Chas And Dave created an everlasting anthem for the sport – Snooker Loopy.
It was a surprise success, and a year later, the pair produced another song supported by the Matchroom mob, players who sang on the record, singing about the town at the centre of the craze, and some rather unique terminology.
The ‘Romford Rap’ sadly wasn’t as fondly remembered, but did feature one of the most famous snooker players ever, Jimmy White, on tape.
“We’re going to do the Romford Rap for you, though you might think it silly.”
(Image: Martin Neal)
Folk rocker Frank Turner is known for his prolific touring, which has over the years spanned the length and breadth of the UK, along of plenty of other places in the world.
His love for the UK and the huge variety of towns and cities in the UK is immortalised in the B-side song Sweet Albion Blues.
And of course, an Essex area had to get a shout out, as he “ends up in Southend.”
The Essex coast must have captured a sweet spot for the singer, who has recently moved to live along the Essex coast.
Southend-on-Sea was also the location for one of Frank’s first solo gigs, and his final show before lockdown in 2020.
So it’s only fitting that it gets mentioned in his music.
“I needed some peace, somewhere to stand still,
“Through the Cotswold hills down to Portland Bill.
“And to charge up my batteries for next weekend,
“Where I’d be cruising through Cardiff and ending up in Southend.”
(Image: Andrew Bossi)
On their 1972 album Foxtrot, British music icons Genesis released the eight minute epic Get ‘Em Out By Friday.
The song followed the story between the then-current year and the far off future of 2012.
It incorporated science fiction elements, and commentary on the expanse of landlords and private housing that was occurring in the second half of the 20th Century.
Characters in the song include the evil landlords of Styx Enterprises and the tenants, forced out of their homes.
Naturally, it isn’t a happy song, and of course, an Essex town is a brilliant setting for a song about housing troubles, seeing as much of the public housing in the town has been replaced by private developments.
Get Em Out By Friday takes place in Harlow, Essex, which is especially fitting, as the town was initially built to solve housing problems in London following the war.
It’s a brilliant setting for the dystopian story, which is one of Genesis’ most ambitious songs.
“Here we are in Harlow New Town, did you recognise your block
“Across the square, over there?
“Sadly since last time we spoke, we’ve found we’ve had to raise the rent again
“Just a bit.”
Beans On Toast
Jay McAllister, known on stage as Beans On Toast, is an Essex boy.
He was born and raised in Braintree, Essex, so it’s no wonder that after 13 albums, some Essex locations have popped up.
In the song, Here At Homerton Hospital, which talks about all the people working at the east London hospital and their diverse backgrounds, the hospital porter is Steve from Basildon.
And although that passing reference would have been enough to get on this list, Essex references go into overdrive on the song The Mudhills Crew.
A nostalgic autobiographical song about Jay’s days in the county, The Mudhills Crew references the now sadly closed Harlow Square music venue, as well as a number of areas and events surrounding Jay’s home town of Braintree.
“I spend my days on the road,
“Singin songs at camera phones,
“It takes me here,
“It takes me there,
“It took me back to the Harlow Square.
“I grew up a few towns over,
“I used to come here when I was younger,
“So I’m excited to be back it makes me feel all nostalgic.”