Saturday, 9 April 2016

My Top Ten Elephant Songs

I was genuinely surprised by how many elephants I found in my record collection. So many great songs featuring playful pachyderms, I couldn't even find room for 'When I See An Elephant Fly'...

Special mentions to Cage The Elephant, The White Stripes (classic album) and to Elephant Elephant by Evelyn Evelyn which, much as I love Amanda Palmer, is a bit too quirky even for this blog...

10. Boomtown Rats - The Elephant's Graveyard (Guilty)

After two classic albums and a well-regarded debut in three consecutive years, the Rats took a year off and let the quality slip on their fourth, 1981's rather muddled Mondo Bongo. It was the beginning of the end for a once-great group, and the second single, Elephant's Graveyard, ably demonstrates why. It's not a bad song - but neither is it I Don't Like Mondays or Rat Trap. The ridiculous B-movie is an object lesson in record company excess ripping the soul from a band as it pours on the cash.

9. Vashti Bunyan - 17 Pink Sugar Elephants

Some debate recently over on Charity Chic's blog when he had the temerity to throw a bit of Vashti Bunyan on the playlist. A bit too hippy-dippy, twee-diddly-dee for some, but I always liked this one myself.

Bad Seed Mick Harvey also did a song called Pink Elephants as the original title track of his excellent album of Serge Gainsbourg covers. Can't find a link for that though.

8. The Stone Roses - Elephant Stone
Down through the heavens
Choke in the cotton clouds
Arctic sheets and fields of wheat
I can't stop coming down
Your shrunken head
Looking down on me above
Send me home like an elephant stone
To smash my dream of love
Who says the drugs didn't work?

Apparently, the Roses are currently in the studio recording their first new material in 20+ years. That should be interesting...

7. Bo Diddley - Elephant Man

From 1970, so pretty damned late in Bo's career; this is interesting because it takes the familiar Diddley guitar sound (which, let's face it, had a pretty big hand in the creation of rock 'n' roll), then wraps it in a kind of Steppenwolfy organ of the day. The lyrics tell of how Bo actually created the elephant... which, as we've just established, isn't too far off the truth.

See also Elephant Man by Suede: not bad, but not quite up to Bo's standards.

6. Bobby Goldsboro - Me & The Elephant

Lesser spotted hit from the man who sang Honey, the song Tony Blackburn used to dedicate to his wife Tessa while their divorce was going through (cruelly parodied years later by Smashie & Nicey). When I was putting the longlist together for this post, I didn't think this track stood a chance. Then I listened to it again. Just call me an old romantic...
Well, the monkey forgot you
The hippo forgot you
And so did the kangaroo
But me and the elephant,
We'll never forget you...
5. James McMurtry - See The Elephant

On first hearing, this is a song about a kid wanting to go see the elephants at a travelling show. The commentators on youtube claim that it's also a metaphor for a young soldier going off to face battle in the Civil War. By the end of the song you start to hear more hints of that as Pete and Johnny are "dressed up in their navy blue". "Seeing the elephant" is an American expression for growing up and realising the world's a bit of a shitty place, really.

4. Tame Impala - Elephant

A lot of fuss was made about Tame Impala off the back of this single: understandably as it's a classic slice of fuzzy glam that owes more than a little to the Doctor Who theme tune. Couldn't get into the album though. I'm coming around to the idea that I'm getting too old for a lot of this stuff now...

3. Henry Mancini - Baby Elephant Walk

You may think you've never heard this, but if you're over a certain age (I dunno, 29?), chances are you'll know it very well. It was written for the movie Hatari, which I've never seen, but I always loved the tune.

2. Jason Isbell - Elephant

I've been looking for a way to get some Jason Isbell on this blog for a few weeks now as his latest album, Something More Than Free, has been a firm favourite in my car since I bought it a couple of months back. Typically, when I do get the chance, it's a track from his previous album, Southeastern, that fits the bill. But as an example of why he's making serious waves in Americana at the moment, this'll do fine... a heartbreaking story about a guy who falls for a woman with cancer. A sensitive subject, but Jason pulls it off with class.
But I'd sing her classic country songs and she'd get high and sing along
She don't have a voice to sing with now
We burn these joints in effigy and cry about what we used to be,
And try to ignore the elephant somehow, somehow
1. R.E.M. - The Great Beyond

In which Michael Stipe pushes an elephant up the stairs to give REM their biggest UK hit. Taken from Man On The Moon, the biopic of Andy Kaufman, and one of the very few Jim Carrey films I can bare to watch (see also Eternal Sunshine & The Truman Show). What's it got to do with elephants? Why is Stipey pushing one up the stairs? As with all R.E.M. lyricism you'd be better off looking for answers from the great beyond...

Which elephant song will you never forget?


  1. What? No Nelly the Elephant by the Toy Dolls? A shocking omission!!

    1. Yeah. Until you actually listen to it more than once.

      At which point it becomes VERY, VERY annoying. ;-)

  2. "Effervescing Elephant" by Syd Barrett.

    1. Never heard it before, but that's pretty cool. We need more tuba in rock music.

  3. Sorry to be the guy who shows up every now and again to suggest metal songs / bands, but if ever a list needed a Mastodon track on it, it was this one. If you insist on the elephant being in the title of the song, there is an instrumental track on one of their albums called Elephant Man, and an instrumental track on the album that followed that called Joseph Merrick (do elephant men count?).

    1. Your metal is always welcome here, Rob, and Elephant Men definitely count, #7 proves. But I always thought Mastodon was what Donald Trump did when he was alone in bed at night (while picturing nuclear launch codes in his mind's eye)...

  4. Well you learn something new everyday...Henri Mancini, I had no idea. Loved the Vashti Bunyan which I'd never heard before. Bit mention for Fleetwood Mac Tusk....

    1. Damn it, I should have remembered Tusk. I love that. How the hell am I going to get that into any other post?

    2. Damn it, I should have remembered Tusk. I love that. How the hell am I going to get that into any other post?

  5. L'Elephant by Tom Tom Club. As for Tusk, wasn't it supposedly a euphemism for penis? Have you done THAT list yet?

    1. There's more than one song about penises? Surely not!


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