Posts Tagged ‘History songs’

I was dreaming of the past… History songs

27 July 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Sometimes when the collective editorial brains on Pue’s get to storming, there’s no end to the great ideas that get churned out. So when Juliana suggested we do a list of historical songs or concept albums (we didn’t get very far on the latter), well…

The rules are simple: the song must have been conceived and written about a particular event or personality in history, so no folk songs (e.g. Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Partisan’, a raft of Dubliners or Planxty songs, Woodie Guthrie’s Oklahoma ballads) and no songs written about contemporary events (Bob Dylan’s ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, Christy Moore’s ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’, or a big chunk of Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue).

Here are a few to start things off. Additions, comments or corrections welcome in the usual manner (i.e. the comments box).

1. The Band, The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down (1969)

If you can excuse the occasional historical inaccuracy and the fact that it was written by a Canadian (though sung by an American: the brilliant Levon Helm), this is probably the greatest evocation of the American Civil War in popular music. Who else could sing the line ‘There goes Robert E. Lee’ and make it sound so cool?

2. The Decemberists, Shankill Butchers (2006)

This is a strange one. Based on a mother’s warning to her children to settle down at night – ‘The Shankill butchers want to catch you awake’ – the images it evokes of men ‘picking at their fingers with their knives / And wiping off their cleavers on their thighs’ are truly chilling. But it’s the lullaby melody that’s the real killer. Read More