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Best The Streets Songs: 20 Classics That Pushed Things Forward
Edd Westmacott
List & Guides

Best The Streets Songs: 20 Classics That Pushed Things Forward

From pioneering grime cuts to unlikely emotive ballads, the best The Streets songs gave UK hip-hop the identity it had long been in search of.

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Two decades on from the genesis of Mike Skinner’s genre-mashing The Streets project, his home turf of UK garage and grime is going through a sustained revival, and the maverick Birmingham MC himself has returned to the main stage with relevant, drill-influenced new material on the recent None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive mixtape. The best The Streets songs have soundtracked the early 21st century, and these 20 reveal just how he brought a new voice to UK hip-hop.

Listen to the best of The Streets here, and check out our best Streets songs, below.

20: Turn The Page (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

The opening track from The Streets’ debut album, Original Pirate Material, Turn The Page sees Skinner coming over the horizon like a Wild West sheriff, riding dripping-tap-like garage beats reminiscent of El-B (later to become familiar in the hands of Burial) while proto-grime string strokes colour his approach. The results turned the page on contemporary music and raised goosebumps along the way, Skinner confidently asserting, “You rain down curses, but I’m waving your hearses driving by.”

19: Give Me My Lighter Back (from ‘All Got Our Runnins’ EP, 2003)

From the sublime to the ridiculous, this grimy early Streets B-side – and its pummelling bassline – distils the common-touch cheek which made Skinner popular in the early 21stst century. “I don’t give to receive, but you seem to live to receive,” he says on what’s almost a modern take on punk pathetique or the music-hall of over a century ago. Sharing the same space as folk favourites such as Don’t Dilly Dally On The Way or Two Lovely Black Eyes, Give Me My Lighter Back is popular music of its time and for all times.

18: Your Song (from ‘Radio 1: Established 1967’)

This nicely understated performance of the Elton John classic was released on 2007’s Radio 1: Established 1967 compilation. Revealing unexpected similarities between the observational style of two seemingly disparate artists, Skinner’s take on Your Song is buoyed by a gentle but expansive band arrangement that helps claim John’s original as one of the best The Streets songs.

17: All Got Our Runnins (from ‘All Got Our Runnins’ EP, 2003)

From the 2003 EP of the same name, the swaggeringly pitchbent All Got Our Runnins is a swinging little gem about being skint, Skinner noting, “Two days after pay day’s clocked/And it’s back at The Black Dog.” It pops up every so often, belatedly making itself known among its more famous contemporaries.

16: Going Through Hell (featuring Robert Harvey) (from ‘Computers And Blues’, 2011)

Mike Skinner lets loose his inner guitar god on this head-nodding rock-influenced single from 2011’s spiky, glitchy little treasure trove, Computers And Blues. One of the best Streets songs of the 2010s, Going Through Hell rides a break reminiscent of authentic early hip-hop and features Rob Harvey from The Music on rock-star vocals. Notably, Harvey later formed The D.O.T. with Skinner.

15: The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer (from ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’, 2020)

The Streets returned in 2020 with another hip-hop-style mixtape album (following 2011’s scrappy but effective Cyberspace And Reds). The consistently atmospheric None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive features everything from collaborations with top indie acts such as Tame Impala and Idles to bass-heavy drill and drum’n’bass. As usual, Skinner is ensconced with the latest talent, here updating The Streets’ sound effectively with the help of the hypnotic, flourishing rapper Oscar #Worldpeace. “The devil says he misses me and wants me back,” he says, paying services to many fans’ wishes, too.

14: The Strongest Person I Know (from ‘Everything Is Borrowed’, 2008)

As Skinner slid towards middle age on 2008’s Everything Is Borrowed, he felt comfortable enough to shed almost all the trappings of contemporary music for the album’s most reflective and standout moment. A charming, disarming oasis of serenity, The Strongest Person I Know features Ed Harcourt on mandolin, alongside acoustic guitar, piano, clarinet, xylophone and harp, and makes for an effortless entry among the best The Streets songs.

13: Prangin’ Out (MCs Mix) (featuring Skepta, Ghetto, Tinchy Stryder, Frisco, DJ Bossman, Devilman and Wretch 32) (promo-only A-side, 2006)

The bluesy opener from 2006’s The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, Prangin’ Out received an all-star grime remix for radio play. It combines the chorus with a cavalcade of verses from Skepta, Ghetto (now better known as Ghetts), Tinchy Stryder, Frisco and DJ Bossman, plus early appearances from Devilman and Wretch 32. The mix eventually got a proper release on 2019’s Remixes + B-Sides Too.

12: When You Wasn’t Famous (Professor Green Version) (single B-side, 2006)

The lively, soca-influenced Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living single When You Wasn’t Famous recounted a crack-smoking episode with a fellow-popster. A young Professor Green – then still in short trousers – peppered one of the various remixes with lyrics, beating off the competition to claim his place on one of the best Streets songs by gracing the sunny Caribbean rhythm with his honest account of how contrastingly little fame he had at the time.

11: Empty Cans (from ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, 2004)

Closing 2004’s A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Empty Cans works best in the context of that concept album, but remains an intriguing piece when taken on its own merits. The song is similar to Last Call, from Kanye West’s The College Dropout (also released in 2004), in that it is a lengthy rap – in the pre-hip-hop sense of the word – more spoken than chanted, and gives the truest understanding of its parent album’s ultimate point. The song starts normally enough on its dancehall reggae rhythm, with Skinner shrugging, “If I want to sit in and drink Super Tennent’s in the day, I will,” but makes an exhilarating transformation halfway through, as the album’s story reaches its conclusion.

10: Geezers Need Excitement (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

An early, fully formed sighting of the “geezer” character that would become so central to the concept of The Streets, Skinner announces his arrival with the lines “Just to recap/For those in the back/This is everyday tit for tat”. A gritty British hip-hop banger from Original Pirate Material, Geezers Need Excitement deserves its place among the best Streets songs for lighting the way towards the shaggy-dog absurdities of A Grand Don’t Come For Free.

9: Fit But You Know It (from ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, 2004)

An attempt to replicate the style of Don’t Mug Yourself, from Original Pirate Material, this A Grand Don’t Come For Free highlight perfected that stomping formula in terms of commerciality (though it gets docked a couple of points for a few wobbly lyrics). Instantly laugh-out-loud, with recognisable imagery such as the woman with “tan lines on your shirt”, Fit But You Know It is underpinned by an infectious indie-style guitar lick, and left listeners shaking their heads at its directness while nodding in agreement with Skinner’s spot-on observations.

8: Never Went To Church (from ‘The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living’, 2006)

Enough time has passed for the gospel-tinged Never Went To Church to step out from under the shadows of Skinner’s biggest hit, the similarly emotional Dry Your Eyes, and take its place as one of the best The Streets songs. This time, Skinner was trying to deal with his father’s death (“I never cared about God when life was sailin’ on the calm”) over chords that recall The Beatles’ Let It Be and guitar licks that channel The Wailers. That it wasn’t a bigger hit only reflects how fickle we can all be.

7: Get Out Of My House (MC Version) (featuring Double E, Bruza, Demon and Kano) (promo-only single A-side, 2004)

In the best of a string of uncompromising collaborations with the grime artists of the day, Skinner removed himself and Nottinghamshire female MC C-Mone out from their brutal A Grand Don’t Come For Free break-up track in favour of a superlative (if uncharitable) series of one-night-stand verses from the then-emergent MCs D Double E, Bruza, Demon and Kano (“Forget your number/I’ll find you”). It was matched by a Carry On-style promo clip.

6: Don’t Mug Yourself (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

Arguably the peak moment of swagger among the best Streets songs, Don’t Mug Yourself insistently recounts a morning-after-the-night-before caff-breakfast situation familiar to a high percentage of Skinner’s audience (“Playin’ with the salt, looking out the window”). The situation is replicated in the video, as Skinner’s mate suggests he cools his jets with the girl from the previous day.

5: Blinded By The Lights (from ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, 2004)

In an early example of the wider trend for recontextualising trance licks, Skinner proved he had just as labyrinthine an understanding of nights out as he did of nights drooping on the sofa. Blinded By The Lights is an exhaustively frank, bittersweet highlight from A Grand Don’t Come For Free (“My head’s twisted severe”), though the video cheekily placed the intoxicated MC at a wedding party rather than a nightclub.

4: Dry Your Eyes (from ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’, 2004)

For a nation usually keen on a stiff upper lip, it’s notable the extent to which the UK took Dry Your Eyes to its heart. While the idea of a blankly delivered rap with the hook-line “Dry your eyes, mate” didn’t promise much, the song has stood the test of time as an eminently relatable summary of that less-travelled element of buddy relationships: mopping up the tears after a break-up ( the video sees man’s best friend assuming that role). As Skinner twists himself into desperate positions to win his previously under-valued girlfriend back (“We can even have an open relationship, if you must”), he gives the song a string-laden coda to die for, planting the seeds for thousands of rappers’ earnest confessionals.

3: It’s Too Late (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

Never given a proper single release (though High Contrast provided a complementary drum’n’bass remix), the lush Original Pirate Material track It’s Too Late remains the ultimate Streets deep cut. It’s a close cousin of Billy Stewart’s soul standard Sitting In The Park, but while Stewart hangs around on a bench moping over a girl who never shows, Skinner is wrapped up in himself (“We first met through a shared view: she loved me and I did, too”) and misses the park meet-up – with inevitable consequences. The starting point for the honesty Skinner mined so successfully on Dry Your Eyes and Never Went To Church, It’s Too Late is the best The Streets song audiences have tended to overlook.

2: Let’s Push Things Forward (featuring Kevin Trail) (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

Largely responsible for the comparisons between The Streets and 2-Tone, Let’s Push Things Forward’s lazy ska trombone and skanking keys are joined by a hefty proto-dubstep bassline and a lyric which builds on Turn The Page’s new-music manifesto: “This ain’t a track/It’s a movement.” It properly twisted things up, both for The Streets’ debut album and for the new millennium, while the single’s cheap’n’cheerful video could sit on a syllabus about the British urban environment of the early 2000s.

1: Has It Come To This? (from ‘Original Pirate Material’, 2002)

The UK welcomed its equivalent to a dub poet with this jazzy beatnik-garage single. Topping our list of the best Streets songs, the lyrically impressive Has It Come To This? was such a novelty that it was initially taken to be a one-off oddity. How wrong that was. Serving as a rallying call for similarly minded waifs and strays who homed in on Skinner and his assured back-and-forth between the mindset of a “geezer” and something more profound, the song made one of many promises Skinner would go on to fulfil: “You’re listening to The Streets/You’ll bear witness to some amazing feats.” Over time, he was proved correct, in spades.

Find out how Mike Skinner built The Streets’ “cult classic, not best-seller” legacy

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