Last week marked the 150th anniversary of Big Ben’s first chime. Though that famous London clock had been working since May of 1859, the bell inside its tower did not chime until weeks later on July 9.
There has always been some debate about how the bell got the name Big Ben. It could have been named after England’s famous heavyweight champion Benjamin Caunt, who was known for “ringing the bell” of his opponents. Another likely theory is that the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the man who supervised the bell’s installation.
Though Big Ben originally referred to just the bell, the name now includes the clock and tower as well. Big Ben has become the most famous clock in the world, one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Europe.
To honor Big Ben and the 150th anniversary of its first chime, I created a list of ten clock songs that I find quite “chiming.”
10. “Six o’ Clock” by Ring Starr: Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics, which emphasize the regret a man has for not doing enough for his woman. Ringo’s smooth delivery is what makes the song worthy of his best album, simply titled Ringo.
9. “Grandfather’s Clock” by Johnny Cash: The song repeats the “Twilight Zone” episode in which the old man thinks he’ll die if the old grandfather clock stops. Cash’s voice conjures sympathy for his granddaddy, in spite of the somewhat trite plot.
8. “Seven o’ Clock News” by Simon and Garfunkel: In a brilliant artistic endeavor for the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album, the duo sings “Silent Night” over a newscast filled with reports of war casualties.
7. “Five o’ Clock World” by The Vogues: It used to be a good anthem for every working man. Back when The Vogues recorded this pop hit every workday was from nine to five. Now those who are lucky enough to still have a job must clock in much earlier than nine, and with all the traffic they’re lucky to get home by six or seven to see their baby.
6. “Listen to the Clock on the Wall” by The O Jays: The 70s song has the same soulful allure as the group’s other hits, most notably “Back Stabbers.”
5. “Clockwork Chartreuse” by Loudon Wainwright: The folk singer here pokes fun at the working man’s supposed need to unwind with guns and violence on the weekends. He sings of killing women, slugging cops, beating up guys in wheelchairs, and blowing up McDonald’s, all to a jaunty blend of acoustic and electric guitars typical of his early album, Attempted Moustache.
4. “Clockwork Creep” by 10cc: In spite of the happy melody and gorgeous backing vocals, this song is about destruction. The clockwork ticking here is the sound of a bomb. It comes from the band’s early 70s cast, before Crème and Godley left Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman to focus on more radio-friendly pop.
3. “Like Clockwork” by The Boomtown Rats: Bob Geldof here is criticizing people who all think alike, never allowing their minds to stray from the mainstream. They can be relied on like clockwork to say exactly what everyone else is saying. Though it is a product of 80s new wave, the song could be even more relevant today.
2. “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets: This could be the most famous song in rock and roll history, and many consider it the first. The lyrics are simple but catchy, and the beat is contagious.
1.”Six o’ Clock News” by John Prine: All songs that mention news seem to be sad, but this one is leaves a hole in your stomach. In his folkie grunt, Prine describes the short miserable life of fatherless James Louis, who finds something “in the closet” that leads to his suicide. All we know of Johnny in the last verse is that “his brains were on the sidewalk, blood was on his shoes.”