Monday, 16 November 2009

Dear God

There are some subjects that are decidedly dodgy when it comes to writing a song. Anything to do with Yellow Ribbons and dogs named Boo immediately spring to mind, but there are others. Death was a bit taboo until The Beatles gave us the sublime ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and once upon a time sex would’ve been in the same bag – but you wouldn’t know that today. In fact, these days just about anything goes, as the song says, …except perhaps religion which still has the power to start wars.

I’ve been playing XTC’s ‘Dear God’ of late and wondering quite why it didn’t cause a heap more fuss than it did back in 1987 when it was first released as a single following the ‘Skylarking’ album. After all, see what happened to John Lennon after his ‘More famous than Jesus’ comments. Certainly there were music shops in the UK that refused to stock it as they feared a religious backlash and there was the usual contempt from some hard-line Christians but in the final analysis it became so popular with American DJs that ‘Skylarking’ was re-released in the US to include the song (to the detriment of ‘Mermaid Smiled’ which was dropped – only so much space on a vinyl disc!)

So what was all the fuss about? Andy Partridge, the writer, has said that it didn’t go far enough to express his anger but it still does a pretty good job of examining the age old question that dogs religion, if there is a God why does He allow wars, famine, disease and suffering in general? Partridge rants convincingly about his doubts of the existence of and benevolence of God in the middle of the song but the beginning and end are sung with a child’s innocence by the then 8 year old daughter of a friend of producer Todd Rundgren, a device which underlines the poignancy of the questions being asked of the deity.

Despite being such a hot potato, the song has been covered several times by a wide range of artists from Sarah McLaughlan to Tricky and was once referred to on Australian TV by native comedian, John Safran. Its popularity has traversed the globe and even today it pops up on ‘best’ lists and in blogs.

What it all comes down to is that it is a good song. It has a strong melody and a passionate lyric and that is what great music tends to have irrespective of subject matter. This song has proved that art can surmount its content and be counted as an achievement.


j said...

Martin, Great writing! Happy to stumble on to your blog here. You write very eloquently and I dig your variety!
A feeling crept over me reminding me that my latest recording is about death. It's about a "past-life" experience I dreamt of as a child where I was murdered. You can hear it here:
Would love to hear your take on my tunes!
Looking forward to reading more from you!

Cheers Martin!


musicobsessive said...

Hi j! Thanks for stopping by. I've had a quick listen to some of your stuff and it is quite interesting - a sort of cross between Julian Cope and the Doors in style. Anyone interested in this sort of genre should check out j's website given above.