Wednesday, 7 February 2018

My Top Ten Churchill Songs

Went to see the movie Darkest Hour last weekend. An excellent piece of entertainment - Gary Oldman is fantastic - though I wouldn't rely on it for its historical accuracy. The climactic scene (wholly made up) of Churchill riding the tube and getting down with the little people, while hugely emotional in the film, is also utter poppycock. Mark wrote an interesting piece last week about the canonisation of Churchill, recognising that although he may have been the right man for the job of winning WWII, his record before that was questionable at best. I've also seen other columnists commenting on how Churchill's current popularity ties into the post-Brexit "euphoria", which is pretty disturbing when you think about it.

So what do our favourite songwriters have to say about Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill? You may be surprised...

10. The Beautiful South - Have You Ever Been Away?

Let's start with Paul Heaton, a man who rarely has any sympathy with politicians, even "popular" ones. When I teach speech writing in English class, we discuss the use of the inclusive pronoun in Churchill's finest moment...

Your 'fight them on the beaches' speeches make me despair
'Cause if there's one thing we can guarantee is you will not he there
Tidying your room, making up your bed
And if your diary's full that week you'll send us lot instead
Send us lot instead, put a poppy by my lovers bed
We believe you when you say you've hurt your back
Have you ever been away
Where were you when we took Calais?
You don 't know, you don't care
You 're just glad that you wasn't there
Have you ever been away

9. XTC - War Dance

Written in the early 90s (almost 30 years ago, old folks!), though this seems particularly appropriate in post-Brexit Britain...

There's a cheap sensation
Keeping Fleet Street wide awake
Everyone wants a slice of
The jingoistic cake
And they're resurrecting Churchill
And bringing national service back
Fueling power and glory fever
Makes for a sicker Union Jack
Yeah, I'm talking about this war dance
A patriotic romance
And I know all you poets
Have seen it all before

8. Franz Ferdinand - Walk Away

Great song, no idea how Churchill fits into it...

The stab of stiletto
On a silent night
Stalin smiles and Hitler laughs
Churchill claps Mao Tse Tung on the back

7. Eels - Your Lucky Day In Hell

When E ends up in hell, this is what he finds waiting for him...

Waking up with an ugly face
Winston Churchhill in drag
Looking for a new maternal embrace
Another tired old gag
Am I just a walking bag of chewed up dust and bones

This was set to be released as a single the week after Princess Di died. The band were riding high on the back of two hits, Novocaine For The Soul and Susan's House. Radio pulled all airplay because it was seen to be in bad taste... all they played for the next three weeks was Elton John's Candle In The Wind. E's unlucky day in hell.

6. David Bowie - Quicksand

Of course, it's never really possible to tell from his lyrics what David Bowie thinks about anything, but I'll just leave this here and you can make of it what you will...

I'm the twisted name on Garbo's eyes
Living proof of Churchill's lies, I'm destiny
I'm torn between the light and dark
Where others see their targets, divine symmetry
Should I kiss the viper's fang?
Or herald loud the death of Man
I'm sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain't got the power anymore

5. Manic Street Preachers - Black Dog On My Shoulder

Churchill often spoke about the "black dog on his shoulder", a metaphor for depression the Manics just couldn't resist...

My dilemma but not my choice
Winston Churchill can you hear my voice?
Melodrama there in my kitchen sink
Double vision the way it is

Am I coming home to you again?
Or am I stupid just by design?
Does it matter if you really ever know?

This black dog is out of control
My mouth is so dry
My eyes are shut tight
There's a black dog a coming tonight
Black dog's a coming tonight

4. The The - Armageddon Days

That famous speech again, all twisted up in Matt Johnson's finest hour...

It's war, she cried, It's war, she cried, this is war
Drop your possessions, all you simple folk
You will fight them on the beaches in your underclothes
You will thank the good lord for raising the union jack
You'll watch the ships out of harbour
And the bodies come floating back

3. The Kinks - Mr. Churchill Says

You might expect Ray Davies, staunch icon of everything British, to see Mr. Churchill in entirely black and white terms. Yet in his even he wonders about the grey areas...

"Today's TV exposes weaknesses in politicians ... But I don't know about Winston Churchill. He may have been a bit more ruthless than we've been led to believe. When the battle's over and you've won, you always look good. But what was achieved by it?"

We shall defend our island
On the land and on the sea
We shall fight them on the beaches
On the hills and in the fields
We shall fight them in the streets...

2. Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry

OK, it's a Christmas song, but I could hardly leave it out, could I? There's Winnie in the opening line, for cripes sake!

Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here
To say we're doing splendidly
But it's very cold out here in the snow
Marching to and from the enemy...


1. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Oliver's Army

Not the best Churchill song on this list, but undeniably the best song - and Elvis's most famous tune. Written in response to seeing young boys from the British army standing on the streets of Belfast with loaded weapons, Elvis was particularly angry that 'they always get a working class boy to do the killing'. Churchill wasn't still calling the shots in 1979... but then, neither was Oliver Cromwell.

Oh, and Elvis nicked the tune from Abba's Dancing Queen. Class.

But there's no danger
It's a professional career
Though it could be arranged
With just a word in Mr. Churchill's ear
If you're out of luck or out of work
We could send you to Johannesburg

Good to see he got sent to a nice sandy beach for the video. Love the bit where he goes running through the surf with his guitar.

Any Winstons on your shelves?


  1. Went to see the film a couple of weeks ago - Great acting as you say and thoroughly entertaining but doubt if they ever lost him on the Tube. That was a long journey wasn't it when no-one got on or off but added to the drama.

    Great list as ever but hadn't realised that Oliver's Army borrowed heavily from Dancing Queen before. No more Winston songs from me.

  2. As soon as I saw the title I knew Elvis would be number 1.
    Haven't seen the film and am not in a rush to do so if I'm being honest although I am an admirer of Gary Oldman

  3. You could have had The Fall's Tempo House (Winston Churchill had a speech imp-p-p-pediment )

  4. Woohoo you posted it! Excellent :D Oh and ta for the link

  5. Winston's Diary from 1984 by the Eurythmics

  6. Smith, not Churchill, surely?

  7. Winston Smith Takes It on the Jaw by Utopia. Wait, this list has gone all wrong. Actually, top notch, Rol. One of your best.


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