Liverpool in 20 Songs

Rough Trade Records

April 17th, 2024


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“Few songs give you the option to feel that deeply in the first instance, but The Killing Moon gives you that sized canvas to project onto as a listener… that’s uncharted waters. Almost unheard of.”

The birthplace of The Beatles, the epicentre of pop, home to the UK’s first superclub. Liverpool has long been known as one of the most musically creative and influential cities for music. Beyond just a lengthy tradition for dominating the music charts with jangly pop and Merseybeat, the Liverpool scene today is more diverse than ever, a hotbed for musical talent across indie rock, dance music, metal and more.

Alongside its renowned artists and musicians, the city’s musical story very much unfolds in its venues and various musical outposts. Liverpool is well known for institutions such as Cavern Club (the legendary cellar which hosted The Beatles first show), warehouse turned multi-purpose arts space Invisible Wind Factory, the world famous Eric’s (Previous hosts to Joy Division, The Clash, OMD, The Ramones, The Bunnymen) or The Jacaranda Club (associated with the rise of the Merseybeat phenomenon in the 1960s) – just a few which should be on your radar.

Rough Trade Liverpool

In 2024 we are thrilled to debut up north with a flagship store on Hanover Street on 18th April, a brand new hub for the keen and culturally rich community of music fans in this vibrant city.

Find out more!

Whether the cult of The KLF, Beatlemania or the Bunnymen. From homegrown heroes The Wombats and Jane Weaver, to the twisted pop of Ladytron, explore 20 hand-picked tracks that showcase Liverpool’s enduring musical legacy.

LISTEN NOW: Go beneath the Merseybeat. Discover some of the greatest songs by artists from or connected to the UK’s legendary music city.

The Liverbirds

Peanut Butter (1965)

One of Britain’s first all-female rock and roll bands, the story goes that at one of The Liverbirds’ early gigs (at the renowned Liverpool venue Cavern Club), a scathing John Lennon quipped: “Girls with guitars? That won’t work”. The pioneering quartet went on to prove this statement hugely wrong, a hit across the country and Europe, hailed as the ‘all-girl Beatles’ in the height of Beatlemania.

The all-singing all-playing beat group recorded two albums on The Star Club’s label (Hamburg) as well as releasing smash hit Peanut Butter / “Why Do You Hang Around Me” on 7″ in 1965. A foot-stomping track with raw immediacy, carried by Pamela Birch‘s bluesy vocals. This was one of the band’s strongest releases which sounded brilliant live.

READ NOW: The Liverbirds: Our story of life in Britain’s first female rock ‘n’ roll band

The Beatles

Penny Lane (1967)

A road in the south Liverpool suburb of Mossley Hill, The Beatles took inspiration from their hometown on the iconic 1967 single, recorded as part of the Sgt. Pepper sessions. Written primarily by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership the jaunty melodic pop song depicting the sights and characters that McCartney recalls from his childhood in the city.

Elvis Costello

Pump It Up (1978)

“Every evening, I’d scan the Liverpool Echo, trying to find somewhere to play.”After moving to Birkenhead in 1971 aged 16, after his parent’s divorce, Elvis Costello formed his first band, a folk duo called Rusty. By 1978 Costello sought a different direction, forming Elvis & The Attractions. Compounded with attitude commenting on rock & roll decadence and hedonism, the bands 1978 hit Pump It Up is often recalled for having Costello’s most enduring riff. In 2020 Olivia Rodrigo was accused of pinching the Pump It Up motif for her song Brutal. Costello argued in her defence that he had “used the broken pieces of other songs” and that is “how rock and roll works.”

OMD

Electricity (1979) 

Infectious melodic synth emulating Kraftwerk‘s machine soul. OMD‘s debut single and a surefire fan favourite from the synth-pop mavericks. Frontman Paul Humphreys told Uncut: “We’ve never done a gig without playing ‘Electricity’, never. It’s often the last encore. When we’re doing our own tours, no song goes down better.” After playing this single when opening for Joy Division in at Eric’s Club in Liverpool, 1978 the group were able to send a demo of their song to Factory Records Tony Wilson, landing them a deal and great success to come.

Soft Cell

Bedsitter (1981) 

Although Soft Cell were formed after meeting at university in Leeds, the duo of Marc Almond and David Ball both share north west roots, born in Southport and Chester respectively. Bedsitter is a classic synth-pop release, a more evocative and slower number within their vibrant discography, still boasting equally slinky electronics and memorable melodies.

Echo & The Bunnymen

The Killing Moon (1984)

A statement of impeccable poise and pure grandeur, capable of sweeping you up in the moment every time it plays. A wildly dramatic and romantic construct that you can fill with your own emotions (or simply watch in awe from the sidelines as the guitar booms and Ian McCulloch croons). Few songs give you the option to feel that deeply in the first instance, but The Killing Moon gives you that sized canvas to project onto as a listener… that’s uncharted waters. Almost unheard of.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Two Tribes (1984) 

Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s unmistakable hit Two Tribes is a bonafide staple of 1984 that has deservedly enjoyed an enduring legacy thereafter. Armed with one of the best openers of any song of that decade, the anti-war anthem with a call out the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a theme and message that continue to hang heavy on today’s political landscape. The brilliantly arresting video for the track is the sort of genius that has inspired many an indie video treatment since.

The Lightning Seeds

Pure (1989) 

A key example of the band’s skill in blurring melancholy and euphoria, The Lightning Seeds earned an album deal and released Cloudcuckooland in January 1990, with Pure on the track list. Psychedelic and hazy the starry-eyed song wins over your emotions from its pure sentiment, as the name doth suggest.

BUY: Record Store Day 2024 exclusive Pure 10″

The La’s

There She Goes (1990)

Like many bands of the Britpop movement of the early 1990s, Liverpool band The La’s created a monumental but short-lived splash before belly-flopping into the abyss. There She Goes is without doubt not only one of their most renowned hits but also one of the most renowned hits of 90s indie rock, a timeless, dreamy floating number, hopelessly romantic and damn right perfect.

The KLF

3AM Eternal (1991) 

‘KLF is going to rock you’. Fact. Recorded in the 80s, released in the 90s, the British acid group released something ahead of its time in 3AM Eternal. Key to understanding their sound is knowing their anti-establishment mentality. Former music manager Bill Drummond and artist and musician Jimmy Cauty leant into the story behind their name, “Kopyright Liberation Front”, also operating as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and the JAMs. Whatever they were, this was pure anthemic rave music at its finest, a hypnotic and pulsating groove which still conquers all dance floors.

Shack

Comedy (1999)

Michael Head sings the blues, guitar strumming ebbs and flow alongside sparkly melodies. A familiar, indescribable Britpop effortlessness, dreamy and lazily glorious.

The Mighty Wah!

Story of the Blues (2000)

One of the most memorable hits of the 80s, Story Of The Blues spoke to the current political climate, releasing in 1982 just as the country (in particular Liverpool) was starting to feel the pinch from the Thatcher government. Penned by a proud Liverpudlian in Pete Wylie, The Mighty Wah! came around to remind the Merseybeat scene that although you may not have money you will always have music. An epic, widescreen pop hit which shot to number three in the charts upon release.

The Coral

Skeleton Key (2002) 

Garage rock, psychedelic pop, folk-rock and a recognisable tinge of Merseybeat. The Coral combined the guitar work of Frank Zappa with horns and Middle Eastern music on this bonkers EP. Anything but conventional in true The Coral style.

Ladytron

Seventeen (2002) 

They only want you when you’re seventeen / When you’re 21, you’re no fun.

A serious ear-worm which is sure to go round and round in your head. On Seventeen the British act who originated in Liverpool in 1999, retain their own distinctive, mysterious sound, breaking through a sea of increasingly popular electronic sounds of the time.

The Wombats

Let’s Dance to Joy Division (2007) 

I’m back in Liverpool / And everything seems the same

The Wombats‘ second single off their 2007 debut album, Let’s Dance To Joy Division is easily the Liverpool band’s signature tune (closely followed by Moving To New York). An ode to irony, the upbeat rock song references the bizarre happiness the famous Manchester outfit’s emotionally intense music induces. LDTJD is a song that set many a millennial student’s heart (and feet) alight and was hard-cemented in the playlist of every indie club night across the nation (and undoubtedly still is).

Jane Weaver

Argent (2014)

The second track on the strongly melodic sixth solo album (The Silver Globe) from Liverpool-born, Manchester-based indie folk artist Jane Weaver. Hypnotic and repetitive Krautrock-inspired groove bolstered by otherworldly, pulsing synths.

Bill Ryder Jones

Dont Be Scared I Love You (2018)

The third single to be released from Ryder-Jones’ Yawn album, recorded where Bill records all of his albums, in West Kirby, a small seaside town half an hour train ride away from Liverpool’s city centre. Tenderly melodic and distinctively personal, the ex-Coral guitarist delivers a sharp piano performance under his delicate vocals, a track which heartbreakingly builds from start to finish.

The Mysterines

Reeling (2022)

The titular track from the Liverpool and Wirral-formed band’s thrilling debut. Dark and intimate with raw grunge elements reminiscent of Courtney Love and Hole. Frontwoman Lia Metcalfe‘s husky tones command a bed of gritty guitars. Raw, jagged and wickedly alluring.

Jalen Ngonda

Come Round and Love Me (2023)

From Maryland, USA to studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Jalen Ngonda is a vital voice to pick out as an honourary member of the Liverpool music community. Inspired by the Motown greats Jalen’s voice is liquid gold to the soul, raw soaring power and sweet falsetto all on display on this debut album title track.

Courting

Flex (2024) 

Refining their glitchy pop sound, Flex showcases how unrestrained the Liverpudlian indie band are choosing to be on their engaging sophomore New Last Name. Brimming with nuance, pop culture references and baroque strings this track indicates a band ready to surpass its post-punk roots, full of character and kinship.



Rough Trade Liverpool’s Assistant Manager Bradley Fielding sheds light on Merseyside’s hidden heritage when it comes to metal with two key songs.

Carcass Heartwork

Fermenting innards, bubbling with rot / Alcoholic pus, dissolves the wooden box

In 1993, the cartoonish graphic song titles and clinically gory imagery were moderated by “goregrind” forefathers Carcass for something a lot more digestible but still technical and boundary-pushing. Gone were lyrics about digging up corpses for the purpose of eating them and Fermenting Innards. Instead, the lyrics on Heartwork portray the grim side of artistic expression with a backdrop of melodic and groovy breaks, guitar solos and slower, more rhythmic tempos.

Bleeding works of art / Seething works of dark / Searing words from the heart

LoatheScreaming

Combining elements of metalcore, nu metal, black metal and shoegaze, on their sophomore record I Let It In and It Took EverythingLoathe meld the varying dynamics from their influences and guiding subgenres to entirely shift the dynamics of existing sounds into new territories that remodel the opposing styles, resulting in a masterclass showcase of their depth as musicians and songwriters. The band create atmospheric soundscapes that shapeshift back and forth between haunting synth-driven ambience and harsh industrialised guitar-laden havoc.

Screaming hosts melodic clean vocals and brutal unclean bellows from singer Kadeem France that display his immense vocal range, as well as guitar and drum breakdowns with a enough vitality to rip through three-dimensional space!

Cilla

Other mentions…

Surprise surprise! It’s Cilla Black. From cloakroom girl at the Cavern Club to leading 60s pop star. Way before her successful television career Cilla was the first and only important female performer to emerge from Liverpool in the heyday of the British beat boom.

Cast formed in Liverpool in 1992 by John Power and Peter Wilkinson after Power left The La’s and Wilkinson’s former band Shack had split. Their single Walkaway was one of their most renowned hits, a beautiful Britpop song, remembered for its use as the soundtrack when the England football team were knocked out of Euro 96.

Homegrown titans and brass-infused sextet Red Rum Club (named after Liverpool’s Second World War naval command centre) secure a place as one of the city’s most popular live bands. Check out the anthemic single Would You Rather Be Lonely.

Famed for their hit single Valerie (famously covered by Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse) The Zutons are one of the quirkiest bands to emerge from the Merseyside, a melting pot of bluegrass-rootsy funk-zombie-soul southern-fried voodoo rock. Plenty of much-loved baroque bangers in their arsenal.

Surrealist scousers Trudy and the Romance, a”mutant 50’s pop” beat group, combine the retro with the impeccably modern. The Original Doo Wop Spaceman is a key track from their discography, a heart-warming romantic rock number.

Southport-born Singer-songwriter Låpsley cut her teeth in the covert warehouse raves in the city’s docks which influenced her successful career as an electronic producer and singer-songwriter. A renowned favourite of her often club-ready tracks is Operator, given a gleaming disco edit by Germany’s DJ Koze, catapulting the track to become an underground club and festival anthem.

Born in Widnes, Cheshire, bordering the Merseyside to the North West, Spice Girl Melanie C grew up inspired by her northern heritage, proudly placing her Merseyside roots and Liverpool FC fandom front and centre. A successful career in her own right, with solo hits I Turn To You and Never Be The Same Again. 

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