Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Seven). “If Joan of Arc Had a Heart ….”

On the 8th November 1981, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released their third album, Architecture & Morality.   It became a commercial and critical success, selling over 4 million copies by early 2007 and becoming hailed as the band’s seminal work.  Architecture & Morality is widely regarded as one of the greatest electronic albums of the 1980s, with some publications calling it one of the best records ever made.  The singles from the album began with Souvenir on the 4th August 1981 …

… before being followed by Joan of Arc on the 9th October 1981 and Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc), a re-titled Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) to save confusion with the previous single, on the 15th January 1982.

The latter two singles released from the album tell the story of Joan of Arc and are placed together on the second side of Architecture & Morality with Joan of Arc as side two, track one and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)  as side two, track two.  Having already penned possibly their most famous song, Enola Gay, named after and about the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, for their previous album Organisation (1980), …

… the two songs written about Joan of Arc were yet more examples of the band’s penchant for writing songs about unusual subject matter.  When band members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were asked why their song lyrics were about such unusual subjects in a 2008 interview for Beatmag, the pair replied:

Paul Humphreys:  “We really didn’t want to do this traditional love lyrics.  We always hated those kind of ‘I love you’ and ‘You love me’ kinds of songs.  Kraftwerk always sung about really unusual things as well.  Also, another influence on us was Brian Eno and he always sung about some very unusual topics.  So, we kind of followed that line”.

Andy McCluskey:  “Again it was us wanting to do something new and not be clichéd and repeat things.  I tortured myself.  On the third album, the song Joan of Arc has the word ‘love’ in it and I kept thinking, can I use this word?  But love here is kind of third party – it’s not you or me, it’s she.  She fell in love, so I can get away with that.  It’s not a first or second love”.

Paul Humphreys:  “Because we thought love was such a cliché.  There were so many love songs, particularly at that time.  We just thought they became meaningless, really”.

Of the subject matter for Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in France, believed that God had chosen her to lead France to victory in its long-running feud with England.  Without any military training, Joan convinced the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orleans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians.  After seeing the Prince crowned King, Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of just 19.  By the time she was officially canonised in 1920, the Maid of Orleans, as she was known and hence the title of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s second piece about Joan of Arc, had long been considered as one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.

Joan of Arc was thought to have been born around 1412 as Jeanne d’Arc, with Joan of Arc being an Anglicisation of her name.  Joan of Arc was the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domremy, in North-eastern  France.  She was never taught to read or write but her pious mother taught her to love to love the Catholic Church and its teachings.  During this time, France had been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England, later known as the Hundred Years’ War, in which England was winning.  A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France.  His son, Henry VI succeeded him in 1422.  Along with its French allies, led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgandy, England occupied much of Northern France, and many in Joan of Arc’s village, Domremy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she interpreted as having been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by expelling its enemies and to install Charles as its rightful king.  This divine mission also led Joan to take a vow of chastity.  At the age of 16, following her father’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her, she successfully convinced the local court that she should that she should not be forced to accept the match.

In May 1428, Joan made her way to Vancouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles.  Here, local magistrate Robert de Baudricourt initially rejected her claims to be the virgin who, according to popular prophecy, was destined to save France but after she had attracted a small band of followers, the magistrate relented.  Joan cropped her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to make the eleven day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, the site of the crown prince’s palace.

Joan promised Charles she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orleans, which was at that point under siege from the English.  Much against the advice of most of his counsellors and generals, Charles granted her request and Joan set off for Orleans in March of 1429.  She dressed in white armour and rode a white horse.  After sending a defiant letter to the enemy, Joan led several French assaults against the, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing them to retreat across the Loire River.

Following the victory, Joan’s reputation spread far and wide among French forces.  Joan and her followers escorted Charles across enemy territory to Reims taking towns that resisted by force and enabling his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429.  Joan argued that the French should press on and attempt to claim back Paris, but Charles wavered, as even his favourite court, Georges de La Tremoille, warned him that Joan was becoming too powerful.  The Anglo-Burgandians were unable to fortify their positions in Paris and turned back an attack led by Joan in September.

In the spring of 1430, Joan was ordered by the king to confront a Burgandian assault on Compiegne.  During her effort to defend the town and its inhabitants, Joan was thrown from her horse and was left outside the town’s gates as they closed.  Joan was taken captive by the Burgandians and took her to the castle of Bouvreuil, occupied by the English commander at Rouen.

In the following trial, Joan was ordered to answer to upwards of 70 charges brought against her, including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man.  The Anglo-Burgandians aimed to remove Joan from power as well as discredit Charles, who owed his coronation to her.  In an attempt to distance himself from an accused heretic and witch, Charles made no attempt to negotiate Joan’s release.

Following a year in captivity and under threat of death, Joan relented in May 1431, signed a confession denying that she had ever received divine guidance.  After several days, however, she defied orders once again by wearing men’s clothes and the authorities pronounced her death sentence.  On the morning of May 30th, at the age of 19, Joan was taken to the old market place of Rouen and burned at the stake.  Joan of Arc’s death only served to increase her fame and at a trial ordered by Charles VII twenty years after her death, her name was cleared.  Long before Pope Benedict XV canonised her in 1920, Joan of Arc had attained mythic stature, inspiring numerous works of art and literature over the centuries and becoming the patron saint of France.

The first of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s two pieces about Joan of Arc is titled Joan of Arc.  Upon its release, the single reached number five on the UK singles chart, number 13 on the Irish singles chart and number 4 on the Canadian singles chart.

The second of the two pieces, Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), or Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) for its single release, was described by McCluskey in an interview with The Guardian in 2011 as the band’s “Mull of Kintyre”.  When released as a single, the song topped the performance of Joan of Arc in the UK and Ireland by reaching number 4 and number 5, respectively, whilst it reached number 32 on the Canadian singles chart.  In Germany, the song became the biggest selling single of 1982.

Both songs take the form of love songs to the French heroine, and as a suite roughly tells the tale of Joan of Arc’s life through the slightly cryptic lyrics.  Joan of Arc begins with the lines, “Little Catholic girl is falling in love, A face on a page, gift from above”, telling of Joan of Arc falling in love with the Catholic Church and it’s teachings, with the “face on a page” possibly being an apparition of God and the “gift from above” being God instructing Joan of Arc to lead France to victory against England.  Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc), written on the 30th May 1981, the 550th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s death, is a slightly more straightforward sixteen line love poem to Joan of Arc, including the lines, “If Joan of Arc, Had a heart, She would give it as a gift, To such as me”.  The song also describes the heroine’s death in its closing lines, “She offered up, Her body, To the grave”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Five). “Pioneer of Aerodynamics, Thought He Was A Real Smart Alec …”

Alec Eiffel is a song from the Pixies’ fourth album Trompe le Monde (1991).  The song, written by frontman Black Francis and released as the third single from the record, is about French Engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (15th December 1832 to 27th December 1923), designer of the Eiffel Tower and also the Statue of Liberty and tells of how, when the Eiffel Tower was being built, people thought it was a bad idea.  Alec Eiffel is a song about how people bring down other people and their ideas.

Construction work on the Eiffel Tower began on the 29th January 1887, with the building being completed on the 15th March 1889.  It was formally opened to the public on the 31st March 1889.   During its design and construction stages, the Eiffel Tower was subject to some controversy, attracting criticism from both those who did not think it was feasible and those who objected on artistic grounds.  When work began on the tower at Champ de Mars, the ‘Committee of Three Hundred’ was formed, with one member for each metre of the tower’s height.  The committee was led by Charles Garnier and included some of the most important figures of the French arts establishment, including Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet.  A petition was sent to Jean-Charles Alphand, the Minister of Works, and was published by Le Temps.  Part of the criticism against Eiffel’s idea read:

“To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour de Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of le Invalides, the Arc de Triumphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.  And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”.

Starting with the line, “Pioneer of aerodynamics (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)”, Francis describes how, during his lifetime, Eiffel carried out important work in aerodynamics, as well as meteorology.  Eiffel’s interest in these areas was a consequence of the problems he had encountered with the effects of wind forces on the structures he had built.  His first aerodynamic experiments, an investigation of the air resistance of surfaces, was undertaken by dropping the surface to be investigated together with a measuring apparatus down a vertical cable stretched between the second level of the Eiffel Tower and the ground.  By doing so, Eiffel definitely established that the air resistance of the body was very closely related to the square of the airspeed.  He then built a laboratory on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the tower in 1905 and later built his first wind tunnel there in 1909.  The wind tunnel was used to investigate the characteristics of the airfoil sections used by early pioneers of aviation such as the Wright Brothers, Gabriel Voisin and Louis Bieriot.  Eiffel’s work established that the lift produced by an airfoil was the result of a reduction of air pressure above the wing rather than an increase of pressure acting on the under surface.  After complaints from nearby residents about the noise generated by the wind tunnel, Eiffel moved his experiments to a new establishment at Auteuill in 1912.  At this new site, it was possible to build a larger wind tunnel and Eiffel began to make tests using scale models of aircraft designs.  In 1913, Eiffel was awarded the Samuel P. Langley Medal for Aerodynamics by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Presenting the medal, Alexander Graham Bell said:

“… his writings upon the resistance of air have already become classical.  His researches, published in 1907 and 1911, on the resistance of the air in connection with aviation, are especially valuable.  They have given engineers the data for designing and constructing flying machines upon sound scientific principles”.

In celebration of Eiffel’s work in aerodynamics, the music video for Little Eiffel features the Pixies playing in a wind tunnel with physics formulas in the background.

The second line of Alec Eiffel, “They thought he was a real smart alec (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)” was explained by Francis in an interview with Melody Maker at the time of the album’s release:  “Because of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, but also because it’s funny:  In Australia, you often say ‘It’s a smart Alec’ for a guy who’s nice but not very bright”.  However in reality, Australians actually use the term to describe somebody who is speaking out of turn; often in a way that makes them appear more intelligent than the person or group that they are addressing.  In the UK and US, a “smart Alec” is the opposite of Francis’ description, meaning somebody who is intelligent but mean or sarcastic.

The following line, “He thought big, they called it phallic” refers to some peoples’ view of the Eiffel Tower at the time of its design and construction, an observation that is still attached to the building to this day.  As recently as 2013, several feminist groups in France called for the tower to be demolished, with Marianne Caster, the leader of the campaign, telling newspaper, The Local:

“For too long we have lived under the shadow of this patriarchal monstrosity.  Every day, women in this city are forced to glare up at the giant metal penis in the sky.  It may be good for tourism but as long as it stands there, France will never have ‘egalite’ [liberty, equality, fraternity].  Since 1889, women have been forced to gaze up at this example of French industrial machismo and colonial arrogance”.

In his 1979 collection of essays, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, French philosopher Roland Barthes asserted that the tower is really nothing; not a museum, nor is there anything to be seen within it.  Barthes went on to say that the reason people go to see the Eiffel Tower is because it stirs the human imagination and people are able to attach their own vision to it, thus making the tower “the symbol of Paris, of modernity, of communication, of science or of the nineteenth century”.  Barthes continues to tell of how the tower can become a “rocket, stem, derrick, phallus, lightning rod or insect”.  He concludes by saying, “In the great domain of dreams, it means everything”.  It is important to note here that the back cover of the artwork for Alec Eiffel features the Eiffel Tower in the form of a rocket, linking in with Barthes idea that in the imagination of the person viewing the tower, it can become a “rocket” and so forth.

Further into Alec Eiffel, Francis continues to tell of how Eiffel’s detractors thought the project was lunacy, with lines such as “Little Eiffel stands in the archway (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel), Keeping low, doesn’t make no sense”.  In a Melody Maker article in 1991, they describe the line thus:  “It’s not certain whether lines like “Little Eiffel stands in the archway, Even though it doesn’t make no sense” are an observation of the lunacy of the architecture or the song itself, which features a sixties-style zither!”  It should be noted here that Melody Maker misquoted the line, it being “Keeping low, doesn’t make no sense” rather than “Even though it doesn’t make no sense”, which answers Melody Maker’s question.

Put to a musical backdrop which sounds like a whirlwind, complimenting the song’s subject, with Eiffel using the wind tunnel in his quest to understand the concept of aerodynamics, Alec Eiffel is just one of a myriad of great Pixies songs.  This is a song of unique subject matter and vision as wonderful as that of the Eiffel himself, executed in a way that only the Pixies ever could.  As Francis said himself in his 1991 Melody Maker interview:  “I thought it was important to speak about Gustave Alexandre Eiffel, as he is considered as the pioneer of aerodynamics.  Fascinating subject”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Three). “This is the Story of the Hurricane, The Man the Authorities Came to Blame”.

Hurricane is a protest song written by Bob Dylan for his 1976 album, Desire.  The song, co-written with Jacques Levy, is based on the imprisonment of American / Canadian boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.  It compiles the alleged acts of racism and profiling against Carter, which led to his trial and wrongful imprisonment.  He was later freed via a petition of habeas corpus after spending almost twenty years in prison.

Carter (6th May, 1937 – 20th April 2014) was arrested in 1966, along with his friend John Artis, for a triple homicide committed in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.  Police stopped Carter’s car and brought him and Artis, also in the car, to the scene of the crime.  When the police carried out their search of the car, they found ammunition which fitted the weapons used in the murder.  Police took no fingerprints at the crime scene and at that point in time, did not have the facilities to conduct a paraffin test for gunshot residue.  Carter and Artis were convicted twice for the murders, in 1967 and 1976, but after the second conviction was overturned in 1985, prosecutors chose not to try the case for the third time.

In 1975, Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, was published by Warner Books.  In the book, Carter maintained his innocence.  The Sixteenth Round moved Dylan to such an extent that he visited Carter in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge County, New Jersey and began to write what would become Hurricane.  At first, Dylan was unsure whether he could do justice to Carter and his predicament in song form but using the storytelling method previously used on other topical ballads such as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are a-Changing, 1964) …

… he eventually found that the words flowed reasonably quickly, such was his contempt for those who had wrongfully imprisoned the former middleweight boxer.  Hurricane was one of Dylan’s few protest songs of the 1970’s and became his fourth most successful single of the decade, reaching number 33 on the US Billboard Chart.

Hurricane was first recorded in July 1975 with Scarlet Rivera on violin and Vinnie Bell on Danelectro Bellzouki 12-string guitar.  In October 1975, Dylan was forced to re-record the song with its lyrics altered, after concerns were raised by Columbia’s lawyers who feared a lawsuit regarding references to Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, petty criminals who were in the area to burgle a factory, robbing the bodies.  Bello and Bradley had never been accused of such acts.  Due to the amount of leakage on the multi-tracks, making it difficult to achieve a vocal ‘punch in’, Dylan decided to record the entire song.  The resulting final version of Hurricane is faster than the original cut and in addition to Rivera on violin, uses other musicians from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue as the back-up band.  The final version was put together from two separate takes, both recorded on the 24th October, 1975, and clocks in at over eight minutes in length.

Despite the fact that some offending lyrics had been rewritten, the song still managed to attract legal action, from eyewitness Patricia Graham Valentine.  However, her case was dismissed by a federal district.  The dismissal was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Other lyrics to receive criticism included the line “Number one contender for the middleweight crown” because according to the May 1966 issue of The Ring, Carter was ranked ninth at the time of his arrest and had never been placed higher than third.  Additionally, at the time of the song’s release, reporters for the Herald News, a New Jersey newspaper published not far from the scene of the crime, questioned Dylan’s objectivity and accused him of excessive poetic license.  Others noted that there was no reference to Carter’s criminal history or violent temper.  Another song from Desire, Joey, about the life and death of mobster Joey Gallo, received similar criticism.

Hurricane brought Carter’s case to the attention of the wider public and is credited with harnessing popular support to Carter’s defence.  Following the release of Desire, Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue played a benefit concert for Carter in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The concert raised $100,000.  Dylan and his band also played another benefit at the Houston Aerodrome a year later, alongside Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Dr John, whom Dylan had personally managed to get to play the concert after meeting with managers Richard Flanzer and Roy Silver.  Despite its all-star line-up, after expenses were paid, the Houston failed to raise any money.

Despite winning the right to a new trial, Carter and Artis were once again found guilty and on the 9th February 1976, Carter was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.  Dylan and Carter’s other high-profile supporters did not attend the trial.  In 1985, Federal Judge H. Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial and set aside the conviction, commenting that the prosecution had been “based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure”.  Ironically, Sarokin had declined to listen to Dylan’s song when it was offered to him by his family.  In 1988, following the prosecution stating that they would not seek a third trial and filed a motion to dismiss, a Superior Court Judge dropped all charges against Carter.

Lyrically, Hurricane is a straight, or as straight as can be from a writer who wasn’t present at the scene of the crime, retelling of the events that led to Carter’s arrest and his incarceration.  The song sets the scene with its opening line, “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night”, placing the listener at the crime scene.  The star witness, Patty Valentine, who was awoken by the sound of the gunshots, is mentioned in the second line, “Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall”.  Following this, we find Valentine’s view as she entered the bar:  “She sees the bartender in a pool of blood, Cries out, “My God, they killed them all”.  “All” refers to bartender, James Oliver and two customers, who were killed instantly.

The following section of the song and probably its most famous, “Here comes the story of the Hurricane, The man the authorities came to blame, For something that he never done, Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a-been, The champion of the world” finds Dylan lamenting on how Carter lost twenty years of his life along with his career and his chances of reaching the top of his profession in the process.

Following this, we once again find Patty Valentine’s view, “Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see”.  The prosecution believed that the murders at the Lafayette Bar and Grill, particularly that of white bartender James Oliver, were motivated by the murder of black bartender, Leroy Holloway, who happened to be the stepfather of one of Carter’s friends.  The next lines, “And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously, “I didn’t do it”, he says and throws up his hands, “I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you undertand, I saw them leavin’”, he says and stops”, refer to Bello’s testimony at the 1966 and 1976 trials, in which he stated that he saw Carter and Artis outside the Lafayette Bar and Grill with a shotgun and a pistol immediately after the triple murder.  He apparently came face to face with them on the sidewalk and saw their getaway car.

“”One of us had better call up the cops”, And so Patty calls the cops, And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’, In the hot New Jersey night”.  Due to the murder taking place on the 17th June, the temperatures would most probably have been at an extreme high, common at that time of year.  It has been said that heat can cause people to be enough on edge to commit murder.  This idea was also famously used by Spike Lee in his 1989 film, Do the Right Thing.  In both Hurricane and Do the Right Thing, heat is portrayed as a major physical and psychological factor for rage and violence.

The next lines, “Meanwhile, far away in another part of town, Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around, Number one contender for the middleweight crown, Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down”, find Carter and his friends driving through town, completely unaware of what was about to happen.  Carter, at this stage in his life, was in the middle of his career.  He had a record of two wins, twelve losses and one draw.  As several publications have noted since the song’s release, Dylan neglects to mention that Carter was far from a law abiding citizen, having done several stints in jail for mugging and assault.  However, on this occasion, Carter was wrongfully convicted by the US’s corrupt justice system.  In the following lines, “When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road, Just like the time before and the time before that”, Dylan suggests that the police continuously pulled Carter over as they were racist.  The idea of the police being racist is carried over to the next lines, “In Paterson that’s just the way things go, If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street”, which suggests that racism against black men like Carter was institutionalised and was readily practised by the local police.  In the following line, “’Less you wanna draw the heat”, “heat” is this time used to refer to the police.

The following lines feature further testimony from Bello and Bradley:  “Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops, Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around, He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights, They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”.  Note the vague way in which the men say, “they looked like middleweights” expressed in Dylan’s lyrics.  Additionally, Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness.

The line “And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head” refers to the way that Valentine simply agreed with what other witnesses had seen without actually knowing anything.  Valentine provided a description of the car to the police, which changed at the second court case.  Valentine claimed that the lights “lit up like butterflies”.  However, on Carter’s car, this was not the case, as only the end two lights lit up.

“Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”, So they took him to the infirmary, And though this man could hardly see, They told him, that he could identify the guilty man, Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in, Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs, The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye, Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for?  He ain’t the guy!” refers to Willie Marrins who was not killed instantly and the police attempt to have Carter identified as the murderer.  Marrins told the police that Carter was not the murderer but his testimony was ignored.

Further into the song, we find the line “He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”, a reference to James J. Corbett, who is considered to be the father of modern boxing.  Carter is said not to be a “gentleman” because, unlike Corbett, Carter is black.  Other lines of interest in Hurricane include “And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger, No one doubted that he pulled the trigger”.  Here, Dylan, a white man, single-handedly invented a rhyme (“trigger” and “nigger”) which today is one of the most popular rhymes in hip-hop.  For example, see Nas’s N.Y. State of Mind, from the album Illmatic (1994).

One wonders whether Hurricane’s closing lines, “Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been, The champion of the world” may have influenced Carter receiving an honorary World Champion title in 1993, five years after his release from prison.  Additionally, following his release and before his death in 2014, Carter headed the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted for twelve years and founded Innocence International in 2004.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Two). “And So It’s My Assumption, I’m Really Up the Junction”.

Up the Junction is the eighth track on, and third single from, Squeeze’s second album, Cool for Cats (1979).   The song became one of Squeeze’s most successful singles, reaching number two on the UK chart and has become one of their most enduring and recognisable compositions. The tale of working class life set in the band’s native South London is notable for not having a chorus, instead using key changes to its base progression in order to mirror the dramatic arc of its storyline.  ”.  Structurally, the song is similar to Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street (1965), which songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have cited as an influence.  In a piece written for The Guardian on the 5th May 2015, Tilbrook stated “There’s no chorus because I thought a repeated section would spoil the flow of Chris’s story”.

Lyrically, the song is well-known for its use of half rhymes.  For example, “ready” and “telly”; “kitchen” and “missing”.  The title of the song is not sung until the final line.  Difford has been known to cite Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain (1972), which similarly only has the song’s title in the last line, as the inspiration for this.

Difford has acknowledged that the song takes its title from the 1965 television play Up the Junction, aired as part of The Wednesday Play series, directed by Ken Loach, and the subsequent film version, released in 1968.

The play is, in turn, based on Neil Dunn’s collection of short stories of the same name, first published in 1963. The film version of Up the Junction featured a song named also named Up the Junction by Manfred Mann, which is unrelated to Squeeze’s song.

Although Squeeze’s Up the Junction is not a retelling of the play, it does include several parallels.  Firstly, both the play and Squeeze’s song are a portrayal of daily life in the Clapham area of London, the song beginning with the lines “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”.  The “Junction” in both the song and the play refers to Clapham Junction railway station.  Clapham is seven miles southwest of Deptford, where the band is from.  The term ‘up the junction’ is English slang meaning without hope, or taken at its crudest level with another English colloquialism, ‘screwed’.   In turn, ‘screwed’ is also a colloquialism for someone who has just had sexual intercourse, thus linking in with the theme of pregnancy in both the play and particularly in the song, in which it is a main theme.  The use of colloquial working class language is prominent in both the song and the play.

As the song continues, the “windy common” mentioned as the place where ‘it happened’ between the song’s protagonist and his love interest is a 200 acre park in Clapham which has sports fields, freshwater ponds, a bandstand and its own tube station.  Further into the song, following a verse of flirting between the couple, we find the lines “We moved into a basement, With thoughts of our engagement, We stayed in by the telly, Although the room was smelly”.  Here, the protagonist and love interest are living together and thinking about marriage.  They are living very modestly but happily, staying at home and enjoying each other’s company and watching the television.  Further to this, in the following lines, “We spent our time just kissing, The Railway Arms we’re missing, But love has got us hooked up, And all our time it took up” sees the couple loved up and starting a new way of life away from the local pub, “The Railway Arms”.

In the following verse, the protagonist tells of how he “got a job with Stanley, He said I’d come in handy, And started me on Monday, So I had a bath on Sunday”.  The first day of a new job being a special enough occasion to have a bath is a reflection of the economic situation of the characters in the song.  Additionally, the idea of having a bath as and when needed is an example of the humorous self-defacing attitude towards British working class life prominent in the song.  For further examples of this, see the line “She dealt out all the rations, With some or other passions” in the first verse.  This line not only depicts the love interest playing hard to get but is also a comment on rationing in post-World War Two Britain, which didn’t end until 1954.  If we were to take the song to be set in the same era as the play, with the book on which it was based having been published in 1963, then although rationing was finished, it would have still been very fresh in the memories of the characters involved.  Also, the couple live in a “basement”, which has connotations of them being at the bottom of the property ladder.

In the next verse, “I worked eleven hours, And bought the girl some flowers, She said she’d seen a doctor, And nothing now could stop her”, we see the change in circumstances which informs the rest of the song.  Interestingly, after the love interest finds out she is pregnant, the song’s tempo speeds up, perhaps referring to the passage of time taking on a new speed and evoking the chaos which the couple are thrown into.

For the next verse, “I worked all through the winter, The weather brass and bitter, I put away a tenner, Each week to make her better, And when the time was ready, We had to sell the telly, Late evenings by the fire, With little kicks inside her”, the song shifts from a major to minor key in order to simulate the passing of time and circumstance and the change of season.  The “brass” is another British colloquialism from the phrase “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.  It is derived from small monkeys cast from alloy brass which were very common tourist souvenirs from China and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries.  They often, although not always, came in a set of three representing the Three Wise Monkeys carved in wood above the Shrine of Toshogu in Nikko, Japan.  Some sets added a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.  Similarly, “tenner” is another British colloquialism, meaning ten pounds.  The fact that the couple have “to sell the telly [another colloquialism, meaning television]” shows how tight money is, particularly with their new arrival imminent.  The couple also live in cramped conditions; note how their living quarters is referred to as a “room” earlier in the song.  This means they would be thinking there would now be very little room for a “telly” once the baby arrived.  The fact that the couple are sitting in front of the fire in the penultimate line of the verse is telling of the coldness of the couple’s flat during the winter.

The next verse, “This morning at four fifty, I took her rather nifty, Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later, She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker, She looked just like her mother, If there could be another”, switches back to the major key, conveying the joy of childbirth.  This joy is short-lived, as the next verse explains:  “And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier, She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging, The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie, no more nights by the telly, no more nappies smelling”.  In this verse, the stress of fatherhood has taken its toll on the protagonist, his partner and his daughter are no longer in his life and he has succumbed to the twin vices of drinking and gambling.

The following verse, “Alone here in the kitchen, I feel there’s something missing, I’d beg for some forgiveness, But begging’s not my business, And she won’t write a letter, Although I always tell her, And so it’s really my assumption, I’m really up the junction” finds the protagonist missing his partner and daughter and his old life but admitting that it is his own fault that he is on his own.  The fact that he wants his ex-spouse to write a letter shows that the protagonist wants to make amends for his wrongdoings and have his family back in his life.  The brilliance of the song’s composition is seen in the way in which the final line, featuring the phrase “up the junction”, referring to both the hopelessness of the situation and Clapham Junction, brings the song full circle with the opening scene, “I never thought it would happen, With me and a girl from Clapham”.

And what became of the “girl from Clapham”?  She reappears in the later Squeeze song A Moving Story, from their 1998 album Domino.

The music video for Up the Junction features the band playing in a flat.  The flat is actually John Lennon’s old house, the same house where the promotional film for Imagine was filmed.  Additionally, the song is also notable for its accompanying Top of the Pops performance, for which the band, miming to the song, swapped instruments.  For example, singer Glenn Tilbrook is on drums and pianist Jools Holland is on guitar.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day One). “Jeux Sans Frontieres …”

Always one to push musical boundaries, when Peter Gabriel presented his 1980 album Peter Gabriel to Atlantic Records, who handled the US distribution for his previous two albums and his final two albums with Genesis, it was flatly rejected.  Upon hearing mixes of the album’s session tapes in early 1980, Atlantic A&R executive John Kalodner deemed the album not commercial enough and recommended that Atlantic drop Gabriel from their artist roster.  As a result, Peter Gabriel, also referred to as ‘Melt’ due to its sleeve picture and to distinguish it from his three other self-titled albums, became Gabriel’s only release for Mercury Records.

By the time Peter Gabriel was eventually released several months after being rejected, Kalodner, now working for Geffen Records, realised his mistake and arranged for Gabriel to be signed to the label.  Peter Gabriel was subsequently reissued on Geffen Records in 1983.  The first single to be taken from Peter Gabriel, Games Without Frontiers, was released three months prior to the album and set the precedent for further explorations into the eclectic mix of sounds and intelligent lyricism that pervades Gabriel’s body of work.

Games Without Frontiers, as is the case with many of Gabriel’s compositions, is a song which takes one idea and builds it into a piece with a variety of meanings.  The starting point of Games Without Frontiers came from the long running European television show, Jeux Sans Frontieres, which translates as ‘Games Without Frontiers’.  The song starts with the refrain “Jeux sans frontieres”, often misheard as “She’s so popular”, sung by collaborator Kate Bush.

The idea for Jeux Sans Frontieres, which ran from 1965 to 1999, is credited to French President Charles de Gaulle, who thought it would be a good idea for French and German youths to meet in a series of funny games in order to reinforce the friendship between France and Germany in the post-World War Two era.  This idea was then put to other European countries and as a result, countries from all around Europe took part.  In the show, teams representing towns and cities from the various European countries would compete in games of skill, usually dressed in bizarre costumes, hence the line in the song, “Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games”.  Whilst some games were simple races, other games allowed one team to obstruct the other.  As to be expected, there was a strong element of nationalism in the games.  The British version of Jeux Sans Frontieres was titled It’s A Knockout, which is referenced by Gabriel in the lyrics in the final verse of Games Without Frontiers:  “It’s a knockout, If looks could kill, they probably will”.

And then we find the sublime brilliance of Gabriel’s writing because the use of references to Jeux Sans Frontieres is an allegory for the childish antics of adults.  Gabriel noted the attitudes of countries towards each other in the sporting events and the seriousness with which they competed against each other despite them supposedly being fun, hence the likening of such competitions to war.

The character of Andre in the lyric “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Andre Malraux (1901 – 1976), a French statesman and author of the book Man’s Fate (1933), about Shanghai’s communist regime in the 1920s.  The “red flag” that he has refers to Malraux’s leftist politics.  Chiang in the following lyric, “Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975), the Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists, hence the right-wing blue flag.  In 1949, after being defeated in the Civil War, Kai-shek’s forces fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.  Lin Tai-Yu in the line “They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai-Yu” refers to Nguyen Van Thieu (1923 – 2001), the South Vietnamese president at the height of the Vietnam War.  Following the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, followed by England, and later to the US where he died in exile.  The lyric refers to the way in which whilst leftist politicians such as Andre Malraux had a secure position in France and rightist leaders such as Chiang Kai-shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those in the middle such as Nguyen Van Thieu had no secure country and were just pawns in the Cold War game.

Additionally, Lin Tai-Yu is a character in the classic Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber (1868) by Cao Xueqin, which charts the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.   In the novel, Lin Tai-Yu is emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy.   She is also described as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure.  Therefore, her name could be used in order to represent a country which is in a weak position during a war and is jealous of the positions of other countries.

Despite the song actually having been written prior to the incident, Games Without Frontiers took on further meaning when it was released as a single shortly after the 1980 US boycott of the Olympic Games, which is referred to in the single’s accompanying video with scenes from Olympic events juxtaposed with clips from 1950 public information film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school children on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

Gabriel also covers the Olympic Games in the first verse of Games Without Frontiers.  The lyric “Adolf builds a bonfire …” refers to the way in which the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, Germany, was used by Hitler as an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.  Hitler had high hopes that Germany would dominate the games with victories and was horrified when Jesse Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals in sprints and the long jump.  On the first day of the games, Hitler had only shaken hands with the German victors and left the stadium.  On the day when Owens was due to be decorated with the first of the four gold medals, the Olympic committee gave Hitler the ultimatum that he either shook Owens’ hand or didn’t shake any hands at all.  He chose the latter option.  The decision was largely seen as a snub towards Owens.  To add insult to injury, Owens later discovered that Franklin D. Roosevelt had not invited him to the White House to honour his victories in the games.  The line continues, “… Enrico plays with it”.  The Enrico mentioned is Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954), who is most notable for his work on Chicago Pile-1, the first nuclear reactor.  In 1938, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on induced radioactivity by neutron bombardment and the discovery of transuranic elements.

To sum up the point that Gabriel is making in Games Without Frontiers, “War without frontiers” refers to a competition between nations, whilst “war without tears” refers to countries competing for supremacy without using any military force.  Therefore, Games Without Frontiers is a song about nations using athletes to fight wars.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Seven). “Generals Gathered in Their Masses, Just Like Witches at Black Masses”.

1970 was a busy year for rock band Black Sabbath.  In February, they released their debut self-titled album, following it up in September of the same year with their second album ParanoidParanoid has come to be regarded as one of the most quintessential and influential albums in heavy metal history and features several of Black Sabbath’s signature songs, including the title track, Iron Man and opening track, the anti-war anthem, War Pigs.

In 2006, in Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History, a book by Martin Popoff, drummer Bill Ward recalled performing an early version of what would become War Pigs as early as 1968 at The Beat Club in Switzerland.  During their early period, the band were often required to play several sets in one night but because of the limited amount of material at their disposal, would perform lengthy jam sessions to fill out the sets.  In conversation with Wes Orshoski for Billboard in 2002, guitarist Tony Iommi confirmed that War Pigs did indeed originate from these live jam sessions:  “We were playing this club in Switzerland, it was the early days and of course, there were about five people there.  So we used to get bored and start making up stuff.  And we used to do a long jam.  And that’s when I came up with War Pigs”.

War Pigs criticises those who wage and carry out war but keep their distance through fear of getting their hands dirty, a case in point at that current time, the United States and the ongoing war in Vietnam.  In Carol Clerk’s 2002 book Diary of a Madman:  Ozzy Osbourne:  The Stories Behind the Songs, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne states that the band “knew nothing about Vietnam.  It’s just an anti-war song”.  However, bassist and War Pigs lyricist Geezer Butler told Martin Popoff for the 2006 book Black Sabbath:  Doom Let Loose:  An Illustrated History that War Pigs is “totally against the Vietnam War, about how these rich politicians and rich people start all the wars for their benefit and get all the poor people to die for them”.

War Pigs was originally titled ‘Walpurgis’ and dealt with the witches’ Sabbath.  Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht, a German name for the night of the 30th April, the eve of the feat day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th century abbess in Germany.  In German folklore, Walpurgisnacht, also referred to as Hexennacht, literally translated as “Witches’ Night”, is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains.  The Harz Mountains lay between the rivers Weser and Elbe in central Germany.

Butler explained to Noisecreep in 2010 that “Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists.  And to me, war was the big Satan.  It wasn’t about politics or government or anything.  It was (about ) evil.  So I was saying ‘Generals gathered in the masses, Just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy.  But when we brought it to the record company, they thought Walpurgis sounded too satanic.  And that’s when we turned it into War Pigs.  But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished”.  Whether accidentally a song about the horror and destruction of war or not, what is true is that War Pigs is now an essential part of the anti-war song genre.

With the opening lines of War Pigs, “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses”, Black Sabbath, in a leftover element from when the song was named Walpurgis, compare the meeting of witches with meetings between politicians where wars such as the Vietnam War are conceived.  Think here of the War Room scene in Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

In the following lines, “Evil minds that plot destruction, Sorcerers of death’s construction”, the song tells of the way in which the generals, through their plotting of destruction, serve only to cause death through lengthy conflict as their primary purpose.

Following this, the lines “In the fields the bodies burning, As the war machine keeps turning” refer to thousands upon thousands of deaths of civilians and soldiers caused by the US’s bomb and napalm air-strikes on Vietnam.  “Death and hatred to mankind, poisoning their brainwashed minds” continues the song, telling of how little regard the masters of war have for human life.

In the song’s second verse, we find the lyrics “Politicians hide themselves away, They only started the war, Why should they go out to fight?  They leave that role to the poor” which speak of the upper class politicians’ exploitation of the seemingly expandable lower classes in order to carry out tasks in the war that the politicians do not want to.

The following verse starts with the line “Time will tell on their power minds”, where the band tell of how those who start wars will eventually get their comeuppance for causing countless numbers of deaths.  “Making war just for fun, Treating people just like pawns in chess” continues the third verse, condemning draft into the US army where soldiers were treated like pawns, low powered chess pieces routinely sacrificed in order to achieve a tactical or strategic purpose.   The final line of verse three, “Wait ‘til their judgement day comes” reiterates the idea of comeuppance talked of in the opening line of the verse, this time introducing the biblical idea of Judgement Day.

These lines and the lines “Now in darkness world stops turning, Ashes where the bodies burning, No more war pigs have the power” in the fourth and final verse are a prelude to the aforementioned Judgement Day where the war pigs will be punished.  This judgement Day arrives in the next few lines of the song, “Hand of God has struck the hour, Day of judgement, God is calling, On their knees the war pigs crawling, Begging mercy for their sins”, where we find the war pigs begging to be admitted into heaven, but as we see in the last line of the verse, “Satan laughing, spreads his wings”, they are destined to end up in hell for their terrible sins, with Satan amused at the politicians’ pleas for forgiveness.

War Pigs was also the original title of the song’s parent album.  However, the band’s record company, Vertigo Records, allegedly changed the name to Paranoid due to fear of backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War.  Additionally, the first single from the album, Paranoid, reached number 4 in the UK singles chart and the record company felt that the album would be easier to sell if it was named after the successful single.  Despite the fact that the album was, in part, renamed Paranoid in a shrewd marketing move made by the record company, it was actually a brilliant move.  At the time in which Paranoid was released, the Cold War, of which Vietnam was a proxy-war, was in full swing and paranoia regarding the nuclear bomb was rife.

In his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy, Osbourne says of the album’s name change:

“Paranoid went straight to number four in the British singles chart and got us on Top of the Pops – alongside Cliff Richard, of all people.  The only problem was the album cover, which had been done before the name change and now didn’t make any sense at all.  What did four pink blokes holding shields and waving swords have to do with paranoia?  They were pink because that was supposed to be the colour of the war pigs.  But without “War Pigs” written on the front, they just looked like gay fencers.  “They’re not gay fencers, Ozzy”, Bill told me.  “They’re paranoid gay fencers””.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Six). “What If I Take My Problem to the United Nations?”

For her eighth studio album, Let England Shake (2011), PJ Harvey looked to war for inspiration and in particular, the war in Afghanistan, which Britain was heavily involved in at the time of the album’s writing and recording.  Harvey also took inspiration from past conflicts, most notably the two World Wars.  Of the album’s subject matter, Harvey told Uncut Magazine in January 2015:  “I’ve always felt that I’m affected by the world, by the way we treat each other, by the way different countries treat each other”.

Let England Shake was not the first time that Harvey had spoken about war in her music.  On her 1996 album with John Parish, who also collaborated on Let England Shake, Dance Hall at Louse Point (credited to John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey), she included the song Civil War Correspondent.

At this point in time, Harvey never explained her lyrics and they were, more so than ever, left open to broad interpretation.  One could assume that the civil war mentioned in the song is the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War, a phase of the war in Afghanistan which had been raging since 27th April 1978.  The war in Afghanistan had started when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution.  Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the PDFA government.

In December 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan began with the aim of replacing the existing communist government.  The mujahideen, Afghanistan’s resistance forces, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Some factions received support from the US, with the Pakistani ISI serving as the US middleman, and Saudi Arabia.  The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in February 1989.  The Soviet-backed Afghan communist government survived for three more years until the fall of Kabul in 1992.

In 1992, Afghan political parties agreed on the Peshawar Accords, a peace and power-sharing agreement which established the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan after the resignation of communist President Mohammad Najibullah and appointed an interim government.  Militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opposed the agreement and with Pakistani support started a bombardment campaign against Kabul, signalling the beginning of the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War.  In addition, three militias who had been able to occupy some suburbs of Kabul engaged in a violent war against each other.  Other than Kabul, other cities to witness violent fighting included Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

Despite these assumptions that the civil war of which Harvey speaks in Civil War Correspondent is probably the Afghan Civil War, it is left open to interpretation.  Therefore, the narrator of the song could easily be a correspondent in any war, making the song a stark reminder that all war is the same:  Each war has its casualties and its devastating effects on those involved, whether on the frontline or witnessing the atrocities from a journalist standpoint.  “Word leave my heart dry, Words can’t save life, Love has no place here, No joy, no tears” sings Harvey emotionally on the song.  Perhaps the correspondent is actually Harvey herself as opposed to a media correspondent, a songwriter attempting to put into words what she sees through the media.  “I shout but he don’t hear, Just put down the page, Darling spare me your tears, Dear God please send me the light of day, I can feel his, Heart wired, Heart like, Gunfire …” continues Harvey in the guise of a war correspondent watching a soldier losing hope in the face of the brutality he is facing.  By the end of Civil War Correspondent, the soldier’s mind and spirit has been consumed by the war and he cannot escape the gunfire anymore than he can escape his own heartbeat.

On her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Harvey had been inspired by her love of New York City.  Take for example, Good Fortune, with its references to China Town, “In China Town, hung-over, you showed me just what I could do” and Little Italy,  “When we walked through Little Italy, I saw my reflection come right off your face”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea also includes the highly prophetic song One Line, which includes the lyrics, “I’m watching from the wall, As in the streets we fight, This World all gone to war, All I need is you tonight”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize, the ceremony for which was held on September 11th, 2001, the infamous day as the terrorist attacks on the USA.  Harvey was in Washington DC and had witnessed the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon from her hotel room window.  When she was announced as the winner, she made her acceptance speech by telephone, saying, “It has been a very surreal day.  All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned”.

Following the September 11 attacks, the USA announced its War on Terror, a term coined by President George W. Bush.  The USA, backed by its close allies, including Britain, invaded Afghanistan.  The war followed the Afghan Civil War phase (1996 – 2001) and public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base in operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

Additonally, in 2003, the USA, with assistance from the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq, signalling the start of the Iraq War, which aimed to and succeeded in toppling the government of Saddam Hussein.  The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraq government.  The USA and United Kingdom officially withdrew from the country in the 2011, the year of Let England Shake’s release but the insurgency and various dimensions of the civil armed conflict still continue.

After witnessing the horror of the September 11 attacks which sparked off the Afghanistan War firsthand, it is no wonder that Harvey would at some point in her career feel compelled to compose more songs pertaining to war, this time using the subject of war to create a concept album.  Harvey began writing the lyrics for the album before setting the words to music.  She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dali and Francisco de Goya and the music of The Doors, The Pogues and The Velvet Underground.  She also researched the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli Campaign, and read modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of the musical content on Let England Shake, Harvey makes full use of the autoharp which she began to play in concert some years prior to working on the album.  She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2001:  “I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breath of sound that the autoharp gives.  It’s quite a delicate sound, but it’s also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips.  I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years) … my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with”.

In order to tell the tales of war which make up Let England Shake, Harvey adopted a very different vocal style to that used on previous works.  Harvey commented in her 2011 interview with Bridport News that “I couldn’t sing [the songs] in a rich mature voice without it sounding completely wrong.  So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator”.

Let England Shake is a wonderfully executed suite of war-inspired songs.  The title of the album and its opening track can be interpreted in two ways with respect to the two different periods of time which inspired the songs.  Firstly the opening line of the title track, “The West’s asleep, let England shake” refers to the past, before World War One, when England appeared to be a perfect epoch for peace and prosperity.  The Western world was asleep, overconfident in its own power, economy and technological development.  The brutality of both World Wars proved the opposite and England was one of the countries which suffered the cruel and tragic consequences.  Secondly, the same line also refers to the present, where we find Harvey pondering as to whether England is now, once again, overconfident and whether the Western world is, once again, on the brink of collapse.  Therefore, based on historical evidence, England will, indeed shake again.  Interestingly, shortly after the release of Let England Shake, a series of riots occurred across England, breaking the deceptive state of calm.

Additionally, Let England Shake features the lines “I fear our blood won’t rise again, Won’t rise again”, an observation about death.  In this line, Harvey is saying that if our blood doesn’t rise again, from the graves that contain our corpses, then there is no hope.  The line also poses an attack against the teachings of Christianity, which has justified the most horrendous actions against humanity throughout history, such as Crusades, Inquisition, paedophile networks and torture practices.  Christianity states that we are going to be saved by Jesus after death and this life is not a real one, for only in resurrection will we be reunited with divinity and eternal life.

Further into the album, we find the song This Glorious Land, the third track and the second single to be taken from the album.  The lyrics of This Glorious Land refer to the military and the ongoing Afghan War, told from the perspective of the locals in a country invaded by England and America (“Oh, America, Oh, England”).  The song tells of how such interventionism often exploits those being invaded, removing their culture and ability to be a contender in the world economy:  “How is our glorious country ploughed, Not by iron plows, Our land is plowed by tanks and feet, Feet, Marching”.   The people of the invaded country are also often forced to exploit their own children in order to survive.  The lyrics in the final refrain allude to the disastrous effects of war:  “What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is deformed children, What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is orphaned children”.   Whilst the song was primarily inspired by the conflict in Afghanistan, it could also refer to the bombing of Japan by America and Britain during the Second World War.

The fourth track on the album and its first single, The Words That Maketh Murder, is also about the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan as well as the World Wars, the First World War in particular.  The lyrics also criticise diplomacy, particularly in the final refrain, “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?”  which, with dark humour, finds the subject of the song, who has experienced the unimaginable whilst involved in the conflict such as “soldiers fall[ing] like lumps of meat”, looking to the international peacekeeping body for help.  The refrain is based on a lyric from Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (1958), where he sings, “I’m gonna take my problems to the United Nations”.

The reference to the United Nations places the song’s setting in the modern day, i.e. the Afghanistan War, as opposed to the First World War, as the United Nations did not exist until 1945.  The League of Nations, the United Nations predecessor, was regarded as powerless and content to allow the strong to bully the weak and, two decades after the First World War, failed to stop the outbreak of the Second World War.  The United Nations has been slightly more successful but has also often ignored, as recently as the Invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain.

In the lead up to the catchy and beautifully conceived refrain, Harvey paints a bleak picture of battlefield carnage.  “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget, I’ve seen soldiers falling like lumps of meat, Blown and shot out beyond belief, Arms and legs were in the trees”.  The lyric “Longing to see a woman’s face” finds the subject of the song missing the comforts of home, perhaps his wife or just female company.  “Instead of words that gather pace” is likely to refer to the Treaties and threats that tipped Europe into the First World War in 1914.  After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is Sarajevo, all of the world’s major powers were pulled into the First World War one by one.

The chorus of the song, “The words that maketh murder, These, these, these are the words, The words that maketh murder …” are a further attack on the diplomacy which surrounds war.  By referring to war tribunals as “The words that maketh murder”, Harvey is discussing the way in which killing on the battlefield is seen as legitimate but when investigated by war tribunals, it can be classified as a war crime.  Whilst the work that the soldiers carry out is important, killing, regardless of circumstances, is still murder.

Following the first chorus, we find the line “I’ve seen a corporal whose nerves were shot”, a reference to Post Traumatic Stress (shell-shock), which is a common ailment suffered by soldiers who have fought in wars.  The line “I’ve seen flies swarming everyone” and later lines “Death lingering stunk, Flies swarming everyone, Over the whole summit peak, Flesh quivering in the heat” refer to the way in which war was often conducted in extremely unsanitary conditions and disease was as big a threat to the soldiers’ survival as the opposing side.  The repetition of lyrics about soldiers falling is most likely an expression of shell-shock related flashbacks.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder’s single release in January 2011 was directed by Seamus Murphy, who also created videos for the other eleven tracks on Let England Shake.  Harvey contacted Murphy after seeing his “A Darkness Visible:  Afghanistan” exhibition in London in 2008.  In her interview with Bridport News, she said that she “wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan”.  After an initial meeting, a collaboration grew with Murphy taking charge of promotional photographs for the film in July 2010 and completing the promotional videos in January 2011.  The resulting videos were screened at various UK festivals between the 14th and 17th July 2011 and released on the DVD Let England Shake:  12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy on the 12th December 2011.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder features Harvey practicing the song on the autoharp.  The opening scene features lights shining through a car windshield, followed by imagery of warfare such as a soldier walking through an open field.  Later in the video, the soldier is shown dead in the middle of the road during the lyric “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”.  Additionally, the video shows soldiers dressed in formal uniform and children playing a war-related video game.  Other scenes show a funfair and slips from a rock concert as well as a ballroom scene filmed in Blackpool, a still from which was used as the single’s artwork.

Let England Shake was named Album of the Year in no less than 16 different publications, including Uncut, Mojo, NME and The Guardian.  In September 2011, ten years after winning the Mercury Music prize for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, she won the Mercury Music Prize for Let England Shake.  This win marked the first time in the award’s history that it had been awarded to the same artist twice.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Five). “They Killed the President”.

“We start from different ideological positions.  For you to be a communist or a socialist is to be totalitarian; for me no … On the contrary, I think socialism frees man”.

– Salvador Allende.

El President, from the 1998 album White Magic for Lovers, is a collaboration between Drugstore and Thom Yorke, singer of Radiohead.  The song, released as the second single from the album and, much due to Yorke’s involvement, reached number 20 in the UK singles chart, giving Drugstore the biggest hit of their career.   El President tells the story of the death of the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende during the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The coup was a watershed moment in both the Cold War and the history of Chile.  Following an extended period of social and political unrest between the conservative-dominated Congress of Chile and the socialist President Salvador Allende, together with economic warfare ordered by US President Richard Nixon, Allende was overthrown by the armed forces, led by Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, and national police.

Up until the 1960s, Chile had been known for its stability in Latin America, particularly compared to its neighbours.  This all change when Chile began to be affected by the Cold War and Chile became part of the Alliance for Progress.  The alliance was meant as a way to keep socialistic revolutions from taking hold in Latin America.  However, the Alliance for Progress was scorned by a majority of the countries that signed it, including Chile.  At this time, the president of Chile was Eduardo Frei.  Frei was endorsed by the Johnson administration and sought to pass radical reforms.  However, as Chile became more industrialised, the more Labour unions demanded higher wages.  Due to the Labour unions’ dissatisfaction with the wages that they received, prices and inflation soared.  The Chilean youth adopted a Leftist view and started to protest against the government with Labour unions, with both leaning towards Chile’s Communist Party.

In 1970, the Socialist Party won the presidency.  New president Salvador Allende promised the people of Chile a republic and said that he would make the working class more equal.  Meanwhile, in America, President Nixon, in conversation with his advisors, namely Henry Kissinger, scorned Allende and wanted him out of power.  The viable method of removing Allende would be by way of a Chilean military uprising.  Kissinger sent a cable to the CIA office in Chile saying that agents were to continue instigating a military coup.  However, this wasn’t entirely necessary as after three years, the Chilean people were standing against the president.  Allende nationalised the copper industry and other industries as well as freezing prices and raising wages in order to stop inflation.  During these reforms, the CIA was busy running propaganda against the president.

By 1973, the Chilean Congress and Judiciary stood against Allende, claiming that his government went against the Chilean constitution.  On September 11th 1973, shortly before the capture of the Palacio de La Moneda by military units loyal to Chilean Army leader Augusto Pinochet, President Salvador Allende made his famous farewell speech to the Chilean people on Radio Magallanes.  The President spoke of his love for Chile and his deep faith in the future.  He continued to tell of how much he was committed to Chile, so much so that he refused to take the easy way out or be used as a propaganda tool by those he referred to as “traitors”.  Throughout his radio broadcast, gunfire and explosions could be heard clearly in the background.

Shortly afterwards, an official announcement was made declaring that Allende had gone to war with an AK-47 rifle.  The rifle was reportedly given to Allende by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and bore a golden plate engraved with the words, “To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals”.

What happened next has been the subject of much speculation.  At approximately 1.50pm local time, Allende ordered the defenders of the La Moneda Palace to surrender.  In response, the defenders formed a line from the second floor, down the stairs and onto the Morande street door.  The President walked along the queue, from the ground floor up the stairs, shaking hands and thanking each of the defenders personally for their support in that difficult moment.

The President went into the Independence salon, located in the north-east side of the Palace’s second floor.  At the same time, Doctor Patricio Guijon, a member of La Moneda’s infirmary staff, was on the second floor of the palace recovering his gas mask as a souvenir.  Guijon heard a noise and opened the door of the Independence salon in time to see the President shoot himself with the AK-47 rifle.  At the other side of the salon, Doctor Jose Quiroga; Arsenio Poupin, a member of the cabinet; Enrique Huerta, a palace functionary; two detectives from the Presidential security details and various Presidential Security (GAP) members were able to either see the moment of death, or arrive a few seconds afterwards, attracted by the noise.

Despite these witnesses to Allende’s apparent suicide, many of Allende’s supporters have always upheld the presumption that he was killed by the forces staging the coup.  On the 28th September 1973, just two weeks after Allende’s death, Fidel Castro told the Cuban crowd in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion that Allende had died in La Moneda wrapped in a Chilean flag, firing at General Pinochet with Castro’s rifle.  Castro continued to tell his version of events to the Cuban people for the next few decades.  In his 1975 book The Murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, Robinson Rojas agreed with Castro’s version of events and claimed that Allende was killed by Pinochet’s military forces whilst defending the palace.

Despite the speculation as to what actually happened to Allende, the end of the military junta in Chile in 1988 and different testimonies becoming available in news and documentary interviews have made the verdict of suicide the more accepted version of events.  Members of Allende’s immediate family have never disputed that killed himself.  However, there are some who still argue that Allende was murdered, including Chilean doctor Luis Ravanal, who in 2008 published an article in El Periodista magazine claiming that Allende’s wounds were incompatible with suicide.  In response to the article, Isabel Allende, the daughter of the President said that the correct version of events was suicide.

In January 2011, a Chilean judge opened an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, as well as hundreds of other possible human rights abuses committed during the 1973 coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power.  In May of the same year, Allende’s remains were exhumed by order of the Chilean court in furtherance of a “criminal investigation into the death of Allende”.  On the 31st May 2011, shortly before the autopsy had been completed, Chile’s state television reported that a top-secret military account of Allende’s death had been discovered in the home of a former military justice official.  The 300 page document was only found when the house was destroyed when the house was destroyed by the 2010 Chilean earthquake.  Following a review of the document by two forensic experts, findings revealed “that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated”.

The results of the autopsy were officially released in July 2011.  Medical experts who conducted and reviewed the autopsy results confirmed that Salvador Allende had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, indicating that Allende had died after shooting himself with the AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro.  The report continued to tell of how Allende had died from two gunshot wounds fired from the rifle, which was held between his legs and under his chin.  The rifle was set to fire automatically.  The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.  The conclusion made by the forensics team was unanimous, stating “We have absolutely no doubt” that Allende committed suicide.

On Drugstore’s El President, singer and songwriter Isabel Monteiro, in a duet with Thom Yorke, upholds the belief that Allende was murdered by Chilean armed forces in a US-backed coup:  “I’ve seen the masterplan, Kill the president, They killed the president …”

The song tells the tale of the arrival of military advisers, fighter jets and bombs to carry out the coup, “It came from the skies, In all shades of green”, with the “green” being camouflage.  The song goes on to tell of Allende’s refusal to surrender and his final address to the nation in the lines “I’m not giving in, All the people understand, ‘Cause they all fell down and prayed, I know …”

Further to this, the song criticises the West’s involvement in the coup with the lines, “We can always justify, We can measure up your dreams, I know; I’ve seen the masterplan”.  And of course, we all know what happened due to this masterplan:  Democracy died along with Allende and Chile, under the new rule of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, became a hotbed of repression, torture, forced disappearance, and for many Chileans, exile.

Propelled by Ian Burdge’s stunning cello playing, dramatic piano interludes and Daron Robinson’s strummed acoustic guitar, El President is a brief but beautiful retelling of the events of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The song was coupled with an equally wonderful video featuring Monteiro and Yorke singing the song in a small room whilst the rest of Drugstore are projected on the walls around them.

Note at the end of the video, upon Yorke singing the line “I’m just a man”, he points two fingers, symbolising a gun, to his head, perhaps inferring that Allende’s death was suicide.  Therefore, what the song is saying is that even if it was suicide, he was still driven to it by the events of the 11th September 1973, the Chilean army and the US.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Four). “I’ve Got My Spine, I’ve Got My Orange Crush”.

Orange Crush, the first single taken from REM’s sixth album Green (1988), takes its inspiration from the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical for the US department of defense.  It was used in the Vietnam War (1st November 1955 – 30th April 1975) as part of the USA military’s herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, between 1961 and 1971.

Orange Crush is one of REM’s most political songs.  Singer Michael Stipe explained in an appearance on the TV show Last Call with Carson Daly that the song is about a young man from America who played football but left to serve in Vietnam.  During the Green Tour to accompany the album, Stipe often started the song by singing “Be all you can be … in the army”, a reference to the US Army’s recruitment slogan from 1980 to 2001.

REM were already no strangers to producing overtly political songs.  Take for example, the song Exhuming McCarthy from their previous album, Document (1987), which makes an explicit parallel between the red-baiting of Joe McCarthy’s time and the strengthening of the sense of American exceptionalism throughout the Reagan era, particularly in the Iran-Contra affair.

The Iran-Contra affair was a political scandal which occurred during the second term of the Reagan administration (1983 – 1988), in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sales of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.  It was hoped that the sales of arms would secure the release of several US hostages and the money would fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua.  Under the Boland Amendment, the name given to the US legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting the US government assistance to the Contra’s militants, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.  Another motivation on the part of some officials was to press for renewed ties with the Islamic Republic. The argument for developing ties with Iran was based on the traditional Cold War concern that isolating the Khomeini regime could open the way for Moscow to assert it’s influence in a strategically vital part of the world.

In 1950, McCarthy had become the most visible face of a period of intense anti-communist suspicion inspired by the tensions of the Cold War.  McCarthy made claims that there were large numbers of Communist and Soviet spies and sympathisers inside the federal government and elsewhere.  The term ‘McCarthyism’ was coined in 1950 in order to refer to McCarthy’s practices and was soon applied to other anti-communist pursuits.  The song includes a sample from Joseph Welch’s rebuke of McCarthy from the Army-McCarthy Hearings on the 9th June 1954:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator … You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?  Have you no sense of decency?”

The Vietnam War was highly significant in the Cold War.  Neither the United States of America nor the Soviet Union could risk all-out war against each other, with the nuclear military of each nation being too great.  However, when it suited both, the United States of America and the Soviet Union had client states which would carry on the fighting on their behalf.  In Vietnam, America actually fought, meaning that in the Cold War ‘game’, the Soviet Union could not.  However, to support the Communist cause, the Soviet Union armed China, a fellow Communist state.  In turn, China would equip the North Vietnamese who fought the Americans.

Other REM songs to deal with the subjects of communism, war and politics include The Flowers of Guatemala from the band’s 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant.  In the song, the flowers cover the graves of the people killed by the US-backed military regime in Guatemala.  In 1954, the US government backed the Guatemalan coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected government.  This government was then replaced by a fascist dictatorship.  The coup d’etat laid the foundations for the Guatemalan Civil War, which ran from 1960 to 1996.  The Civil War was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethic Mayan indigenous people and Landino peasants, who together made up the rural poor.  The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala during the Civil War and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.  The Flowers of Guatemala is about the violent right-wing government in Guatemala and the devastating effect it had on the Guatemalan people.  In The Flowers of Guatemala, “Amanita” refers to the genus of several exceptionally deadly mushrooms, including one commonly known as the ‘Destroying Angel’, serving as a metaphor for the US as a destructive force, a ‘destroying angel’.

For the Green album, the band explored political matters and their condemnation of the US government still further.  The album’s opening song, Pop Song ’89 sets the scene for the political subject matter incorporated into the album with the lines, “Should we talk about the weather?  Should we talk about the government?”

The song World Leader Pretend uses war imagery as a metaphor for the war of self-doubt that the singer wages on himself:  “I sit at my table and wage war on myself, It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing, I know the barricades, And I know the mortar in the wall breaks, I recognise the weapons, I’ve used them all”.

On Orange Crush, the theme of war on the Green album takes a literal turn and further explores the subject of Communism first addressed on Exhuming McCarthy.  The US government viewed its involvement in the Vietnam War as a way of preventing a Communist takeover of South Vietnam.  This was part of a wider containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism.  The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam under communist rule.  They viewed the conflict as a colonial war, fought initially against forces from France and then America, and later against South Vietnam.

Of Orange Crush’s lyrical content, the song opens with its chorus and the reoccurring motif “Follow me, don’t follow me”, referring to the frequent situations in the Vietnam War where one soldier was sent ahead of his troop in order to check for danger or ambush.  “Follow me”, therefore, is a cue for the troops behind the leading soldier to advance on his position.  Alternatively, the command “don’t follow me” means to cease movement and observe.

The lyric “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” refers to the assurance that soldiers fighting in Vietnam were given that Agent Orange would have no effect on them.  However, on returning home, the soldiers experienced an array of illnesses ranging from several forms of cancer to their wives suffering miscarriages.  Another effect of Agent Orange was Spina Bifida in the children of soldiers exposed to the chemical.  Therefore, in this line, the soldier says “I’ve got my spine”, believing that he is unaffected by the chemical and that his children won’t be affected either.  With the lyric “I’ve got my orange crush”, the soldier may also be referring to the ability to call upon air attack measures in the event that whilst being sent ahead of his troop, he runs into trouble.

The following line, “Collar me, don’t collar me” is a further reference to Spina Bifida.  The deformation of their spine caused by their fathers’ exposure to Agent Orange meant that they were often required to wear a special brace, or “collar”.  This line refers to the uncertainty of deformation and the fact that the father of the deformed child was unsure about the negative effects of the chemical.

“We are agents of the free” is a play on the word ‘agent’ in Agent Orange but also alludes to the American ideology of spreading democracy throughout the world.  The Vietnam Conflict was a war against Communism and this line finds the soldier taking the stance of somebody freeing the Vietnamese from the evils of Communism.

In the line “I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to serve your conscience overseas”, we find the soldier telling of how after having his fun playing football whilst living in Suburbia and living the American Dream, he now feels it is his duty to serve his country in the war.

Following this, “Over me, not over me” finds the soldier on the battlefield intoning that he hopes the pilot of the aircraft above him to drop the Agent Orange further ahead of him as opposed to on top of him.  The next line, “Coming in fast, over me” refers to the aircraft about to deploy the chemical flying quickly above him.

After two choruses, the first line of the verse, “High on the booze, In a tent” tells of how the soldier and his comrades pass the time in their tent drinking, whilst the following line, “Paved with blood” adds a dark twist, with the tent most probably being covered in blood from the fighting.  In this verse, the soldiers repress the atrocities that they have seen on the battlefield by finding enjoyment in alcohol.  The “Nine inch howl” that the soldier refers to is the sound of artillery firing, with “nine inch” being the artillery barrels.  In the following line, “Brave the night”, the soldier is hoping to make it through the night as the Viet Cong were known for setting traps and ambushes, whilst “Chopper comin’ in, you hope” refers to the soldier hoping for a helicopter (“chopper”) to come in and take him home, away from the battle.

The songs middle section is spoken by Stipe through a megaphone, an element of the song which worked to great effect when played live.  The singer has said that this part of the song is merely a series of random thoughts sewn together.  Despite Stipe’s assertion that these lines are nonsense, they do have significant connections to war, and specifically Vietnam.

Trying to make some sort of sense of the middle section, these lines appear to tell the story of the soldier arriving in Vietnam and being lost in a strange land (“We would circle and we’d circle and we’d circle”); fixing the army vehicles ready or warfare (“Stacked up all the trucks and jacked up and our wheels”); enjoying the beauty of Vietnam whilst not fighting (“It’s just like heaven here”) and finally heading home in the helicopter (“Then this whirlybird that I headed for, I had my goggles pulled off”), realising that after so long in Vietnam, he now knew the place like the back of his hand (“I knew every back road and every truck stop”).  Alternatively, If we were simply to see these lines as nonsense as Stipe suggests, they could be seen to denote the soldier suffering from shellshock, which is likely to cause him to have random flashbacks and mutter random occurrences.

The megaphone used in Orange Crush could be seen as significant to the subject matter of war in the song, perhaps being an allusion to the amplification of commands given over the noise of the battlefield or, more likely, to the way in which if negotiations between countries or parties are held through press releases and announcements, they are termed ‘megaphone diplomacy’.  The aim of ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is to force the other party into adopting a desired position.

Therefore, the use of the megaphone may refer to the war announcements made by the US and Vietnam through the media and the pivotal role that the media played in the Vietnam War.  At the beginning of the Second World War, television had gradually become familiar to the public but by the end of the war, it began to be manufactured on a large scale.  In the 1950s, only 9% of American homes owned a television, a figure which rose dramatically to 93% by the mid-sixties at the height of the Vietnam War.  A survey conducted in 1964 suggested that 58% of respondents received their news from television, making the medium the most important source of news for the American people during the Vietnam Conflict.

Additionally, the idea of the use of a megaphone is also addressed on the song Hairshirt, a song of self-repentance which compliments both Orange Crush and World Leader Pretend.  A hairshirt was a scratchy woolen undergarment worn by religiously repentant people between the 13th and 15th century, who believed that suffering brought you closer to God.  In Hairshirt, the lyric “I can swing my megaphone, And long arm the rest, It’s easier and better, To just beat it from the chest, Of desire” finds the singer pondering over the importance of the messages that he delivers in his lyrics and his significance as a songwriter.

Linking Hairshirt to Orange Crush, the use of music in war and other political matters has been highly significant over the years.  During the Vietnam War, music and particularly the protest song, was highly important, with artists such as The Doors (take for example, The Unknown Soldier from Waiting for the Sun, 1968) …

… and John Lennon (take for example, Give Peace A Chance, 1969) using their music to express their disdain for the conflict.

Orange Crush was obviously written long after the Vietnam War ended but deals with the after-effects of the conflict and the continuing damage caused to those who fought and their families.  Thus, Orange Crush proudly takes its place in the pantheon of songs addressing the conflict and of anti-war songs in general.

The Green album was both commercially and artistically a turning point for the band.  In a 1988 interview with Elianna Halbersberg for East Coast Rocker in November 1988, Peter Buck described Green as an album which didn’t feature any typical REM songs.  He described the band’s previous output as “Minor key, mid-tempo, enigmatic, semi-folk balladish things” and said for Green, the band “wrote major key rock songs and switched instruments”.   In conversation with the band’s biographer, David Buckley for the book Fiction:  An Alternative Biography (2003), Michael Stipe stated that he told his band mates to “not write any more REM-type songs”.  This was an experiment that REM would later repeat on the 1994 album Monster, a move away from the sound of the albums Out of Time (1991) and Automatic for the People (1992), which following the embryonic commercialism of Green, gained the band even further commercial success.

With the change of direction on Green, it is no surprise that REM’s war anthem Orange Crush was given the full rock treatment.  Orange Crush is an upbeat pop song full of jangling guitars which sound like the artillery fire talked about in the lyrics, complete with that middle section which places the listener in the centre of the battlefield and further compliments the images of helicopters deploying Agent Orange in the song and the intensity of battle.  Orange Crush, and the rest of the Green album, finds REM exploring sonic directions in order to paint pictures to accompany Stipe’s increasingly cinematic lyrics.  Bassist Mike Mills, in conversation with David Buckley, said of the Green album in conversation that it was an experimental record, resulting in an album which was “haphazard, a little scattershot”.  This haphazard and scattershot approach though is exactly what makes Orange Crush so wonderful and one of the many highlights of an often underrated and overlooked album in REM’s canon, with the, at first nonsensical sounding lyrical content conjuring up images of the confusion and mayhem on the battlefields of the Vietnam War.

When it came to producing a video for Orange Crush, REM turned to director Matt Muhurin, who is also responsible for videos for singles by U2, Queensryche, Metallica, Tracy Chapman, Tom Waits and Alice in Chains.  The video for Orange Crush won REM their first VMA award for Best Post-Modern Video.  Orange Crush was the first song to win in the category.

Orange Crush was later covered by Editors and used as the B-side of their Blood single in 2005.  The Editors cover version is fairly faithful to REM’s original in terms of its musical content but starts with a stripped down piano led interpretation of the line “I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush” and adds the band’s own lyrics “High on the roof, Thin the blood, Another one on the waves tonight, Comin’ in, you’re home”.  The latter change to the song not only links the cover version with A-side of the Editors single with the use of the word “blood” but also adds an extra-dimension and shows the malleability, longevity and brilliance of the song’s composition.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Three): “He Smoked German Cigarettes on Christmas Day”.

Indie rock music has had a longstanding fascination with the war, and particularly the World Wars.  This trend that is no small part due to the influence of Joy Division, the achingly cool and much lauded band who took their name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633.  The influence of war and the grim House of Dolls on the band can be seen on songs such as No Love Lost, from their An Ideal For Living EP (1978), which takes its spoken word section directly from the novel.

Move forward almost thirty years and a band who had obviously studied History at GCSE was GoodBooks, who penned the song Passchendaele for their 2007 debut album, Control.  Maybe it is mere coincidence that the name of GoodBooks’ album shares its name with Anton Corbijn’s film about the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, released in the same year.  GoodBooks continue the World War referencing trend started by Joy Division in the late 1970’s but this time, whilst with the title Passchendaele, you may expect the song to be set in the First World War, the song actually spans both World Wars and every war that Britain has fought “the cause” in since.  Despite the links that could be forged with Joy Division, Passchendaele is perhaps more akin to Jona Lewie’s anti-war behemoth Stop the Cavalry (1980), complete with lines such as “He smoked German cigarettes on Christmas day”.  GoodBooks’ Passchendaele is perhaps the Noughties indie rock equivalent of Lewie’s pop classic.

The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was a campaign of the First World War fought by the Allies against the German Empire.  The battle took place on the Western Front between July and November 1917 for the control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.  Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 miles from the railway junction at Roulers, which was vital to the supply system of the German 4th Army.  The battle is known for its horrific bloodshed, with 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties, and is one of the most talked about battles of the First World War.

In GoodBooks’ Passchendaele, the band tell the story of a First World War soldier named Jack who was “born towards the end of the 19th century”.  The song continues to tell how Jack, “married his sweetheart at the age of 23” but “Shortly before the birth of their first child, He answered the call of duty”.  And most importantly, how “he never made it past 25, he died at Passchendaele”.

The strength of Passchendaele, much like Stop the Cavalry is the plainness in which the tale is told.  Singer Max Cooke delivers the song in an almost monotone and very English manner which is also akin to the way in which Jona Lewie delivered his war story, complimented by lines such as “He carried English bayonets in an English way”.  Cooke gently tells of how the young soldier, with his wife (his “Mary Bradley” if you will) and child waiting for him at home, fights “In the war to end all wars” and loses his life in the process.

The song goes on to tell of the war’s influence on the dead soldier’s family, moving forward to the Second World War where “His son fell from a Spitfire in 1944” after following in his father’s footsteps.  In the same verse, we begin to see the anti-war element of Passchendaele, with lines such as “Well, Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?  And what did we learn the second time around?  Never again …”

Passchendaele is a song about the futility of war and effects of its seemingly endless cycle:  The First World War was supposed to be, as stated in the song’s chorus, “the war to end all wars”, yet two decades later, Britain would be involved in yet another World War and “still we keep on fighting”.

GoodBooks’ Passchendaele may have had less of a chart impact than Stop the Cavalry, and it will almost definitely never be seen to be as ‘cool’ as Joy Division’s No Love Lost, but what Goodbooks do achieve on Passchendaele is to place such an horrific scene of bloodshed to an upbeat pop backing which will keep you humming all day long.  One can only dream of how different the career of Goodbooks, who split in 2009, would have been if their war song’s success had matched that of Stop the Cavalry’s or if they had gained the same ‘cool’ status as Joy Division.  And it would have been deserved too because Passchendaele is arguably GoodBooks’ finest moment.