Friday, 15 January 2016

My Top Ten Hymns

This week, I give thanks for ten fine examples of pop praise.

Specials mentions to Hymns and The Verve's classic album Urban Hymns.

10. The Charlatans - I'll Sing A Hymn (You Came To Me)

I came across a good haul of Charlatans CDs in a local charity shop recently and was able to stock up my collection beyond the obvious titles. This is from their 2004 album Up At The Lake, apparently the only Charlies album never to receive an American release (not sure why, but whenever they do release records in the US they have to stick a UK on the end of their name because of an obscure American band from the 60s). Iffypedia tells me this particular song was only available on the UK release of the album - again, not sure why, it's a perfectly decent laid-back, Stonesy groove.

9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Cannibal's Hymn
But if you're gonna dine with them cannibals
Sooner or later, darling, you're gonna get eaten
The above might seem like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but Nick still makes it sound bad-ass. 

8. Don Henley - She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune

I originally came across this song on Harry Nilsson's album Pandemonium Shadow Show but I hadn't listened to that in years, so it took me a while when I heard Don Henley's version (on last year's Cass County) to work out where I knew it from. It was originally written by Jesse Lee Kincaid, a member of 60s folk-rock band Rising Sons along with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal.

I've listened to the lyrics of this song a lot trying to work out what they're all about... there's a spooky, otherworldly quality to them. The People Who Are strike me as the sort you don't want to mess with.

7. The Decemberists - January Hymn / June Hymn

Two contrasting hymns from The King Is Dead album (Colin Meloy was always a huge Smiths fan). The first is an ode to shovelling snow, the second a celebration of pegging out your washing. Ironically, it's the latter which appears to steal its chords from Simon & Garfunkel's I Am A Rock (y'know, the one that begins 'A winter's day, In a deep and dark December...')

6. Roddy Frame - Hymn To Grace

Aztec Camera were a brilliant band, but I sometimes feel Roddy Frame has done better work since he packed in his famous job and turned solo. In the one-man-and-a-guitar stakes, he takes some beating.

5. The Magic Numbers - Hymn To Her

Kill all hippies.

No, I like The Magic Numbers. This is from their first album, when they showed the most promise. You have to wonder if, in our looks-obsessed culture, lead singer Romeo Stoddard's Steven Toast meets Giant Haystacks image prevented the band from getting on any magazine covers. Shame...

Of course, this wasn't the most famous song with that awful pun-title. I'm presuming Romeo stole it from the band at #3.

4. Hefner - The Hymn For Cigarettes

Hefner have written more hymns than Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts (look: if I can google them, you can). See also The Hymn For Alcohol, The Hymn For Coffee, The Hymn For The Things We Didn't Do, etc. etc. This one's my favourite. Although I've never been a smoker, I like the way Darren Hayman pays tribute to all his favourite cigarette brands, but mostly I like it because it contains one of the greastest questions in the history of pop...
How can she love me 
If she doesn't even love 
The cinema that I love?
3. The Pretenders - Hymn To Her

Written by Chrissie's old school pal, Meg Keene, this is as close as The Pretenders ever got to becoming Fleetwood Mac. Apparently there are pagan themes to the lyrics, which would have fit the White Witch, Stevie Nicks, very well. Chrissie even sounds like Stevie on this.

Before she became famous, Chrissie Hynde worked for the NME. Among others, she interviewed Brian Eno, Tim Buckley and David Cassidy. Not Nicks though... I wonder if she was a Mac fan?

2. James - Hymn From A Village

From their second EP, released in 1985 (their first record was out in '83!). It's still a pretty powerful mission statement from a band just starting out...
This song's made up, made second rate
Cosmetic music, powderpuff
Pop tunes, false rhymes, all lightweight bluffs
Second-hand ideas, no soul, no hate
Wasn't mean to be
Built on complacency
The nightmares ride away
When you refuse to play
Oh go and read a book
It's so much more worth while
Being a song-smith crook
Study death in style
Death in style
And thirty years later, they're still at it. Their 14th album, Girl At The End of the World, will be out in March.

1. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal

I bang on a lot on this site about how much I love storytelling songs and how important lyrics are to me, but I have to confess I've never really paid much attention to the lyrics of White Winter Hymnal. I know it's about something, and there's some wonderful imagery, but the effect the song has on me is purely down to the sound: the harmonies and the canon effect work together to make this a mesmerising piece of music. When something sounds this good, I don't need to know what it's all about.

As we move house next week, I'd be thankful if the white winter can stay away this year, please.

Which is your Lord of the Dance?



  2. Impressive - I would have come up with the first three and then would have been stumped

    1. I'd thought about doing this one for a while but wasn't sure I could find ten. Sometimes my collection has hidden depths.

  3. Replies
    1. Wrong post, but yes. Did you know there was a ska band who called themselves that?


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