A new book The Song Remains the Same – 800 Years of Love Songs, Laments and Lullabies, will be released on 2 December. The book can be preordered on the Black Inc. website, and the accompanying playlist of the songs discussed can be accessed via Spotify.
Often today, the word ‘song’ is used to describe all music. A free-jazz improvisation, a Hindustani raga, a movement from a Beethoven symphony: apparently, they’re all songs.
But they’re not. From Sia to Springsteen, Archie Roach to Amy Winehouse, a song is a specific musical form. It’s not so much that they all have verses and choruses – though most of them do – but that they are all relatively short and self-contained; they have beginnings, middles and ends; they often have a single point of view, message or story; and, crucially, they unite words and music. Thus, a Schubert song has more in common with a track by Joni Mitchell or Rihanna than with one of Schubert’s own symphonies.
The Song Remains the Same traces these connections through seventy-five songs from different cultures and times: love songs, anthems, protest songs, lullabies, folk songs, jazz standards, lieder and pop hits; ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ to ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘Jolene’. Unpicking their inner workings makes familiar songs strange again, explaining and restoring the wonder, joy (or possibly loathing) the reader experienced on first hearing.