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”.