Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Soldier's Song: Song Review

Song: Soldier's Song
Artist: The Hollies
Songwriter: Mike Batt
Year: 1980
Nationality: British

Classification: 
Ballad
Theme:
war, coming of age



What's it about?
This is the story of a young soldier who has been drafted to war. On the way to serve his country he comes across a farmhouse and 'becomes a man'. The next day he is off to war and it changes his perception and feelings. Once the war is over he returns only to find nothing remains.


Embrace
From a music standpoint this song has one of the most diverse scores I have heard. It goes from being sad, to dramatic, to forlorn in a few short minutes. The range of instruments used and the effect to which they are used to tell the story is also quite unique. The music is as much a part of the song as the lyrics themselves.

This is probably one of the strongest vocal pieces I have heard...ever. Allan Clark definitely nailed this and is you are looking at focusing on your students not just singing but conveying through their singing then this is a must for your classroom.

Beware
A word of warning regarding the contents. While this song has no profanity it does deal with some disturbing behaviours including rape, murder, stealing and general anti-social behaviour.

Thoughts
Okay so this is my first post in a while and I chose this song basically because I love it. I have always been a little partial to The Hollies but only heard this song for the first time a few years ago and it is a difficult song to shake once you hear it. This song is not for use with younger classes. The content and themes are designed to challenge and be thought-provoking for students who are maturing into adults.

From a lyric standpoint this one follows a fairly standard stanza pattern of AABC for most verses - though there is one that is an ABBC pattern...but the point is that there are rhymes in there that give the song a smooth progression. 

Continually about the lyrics...this is a ballad that on the surface comes across as a simple love-song but if you delve a little deeper and study the lyrics you'll find that the song is rather more complicated that it seems. The young soldier is not in love...he comes across a farmhouse and the woman gives him shelter for the night and a bit more intimate contact as well. For me this draws a lot of parallels about the stories of the young men going off to war losing their virginity before they went...in case they never came back. As I wrote though, he clearly isn't in love...maybe he was a little fond of the woman he just met....but that's about it. 

He goes off to war the next morning to see, feel and hear things he could never have imagined. One particular line "And in that day I aged ten years and died a thousand deaths" should be a particular focus in your classroom. Focus on the meaning behind the lines: What could he have seen to make him grow so old so quick? In what way did he age (mentally/physically)? How could he have died more than once? What does that mean? 

Moving on with the lyrics another line that stands out to focus on is "...when the dice of war were thrown and victory was won", This line is really focusing on the reasoning that war is won by chance rather than anything else. One side ultimately 'wins' but a simple act could have reversed the outcome. If you're looking to use this song to tie-in with history - such as World War 1, 2 and the Indo-China (including Vietnam) Wars - then this line can really prompt an open and lively discussion as to the merit of how true it is (in the student opinion) as well in historical circumstances. 

The last part of the lyrics I want to draw attention to is the section directly after the last line quoted. It talks about how his compatriots went out in victory and basically ransacked and burnt the houses down, and acted like entitled...well, you get the picture. The woman is a victim as well as the narrator points out that "In the hands of those brave friends of mine she suffered and she died". It's a rather sad statement and while nothing is specifically stated a lot can be implied from it. It is an important line to focus on if you are looking at the ethical behaviour of soldiers during war time periods. As a further note on ethics please ensure that if you are teaching the historical context of behaviours in war that you do so with a balanced perspective. Often I have seen an unfair focus on the behaviours of German and Japanese soldier during war time but other countries had soldiers who behaved just as unethically - so make sure you do not stereotype any race with how "they" behaved but rather focus on the cultural motivations and individual groups that perpetrated such atrocities. 

Below is a link to the songwriter also performing the same song. I included it as that rendition is quite different from The Hollies version and could be used to look at the power of using different musical instruments has with affecting the ambiance of a song and its meaning.

On a side note, if you are using lyrics found on the internet to use in the classroom can you please ensure you have the correct ones. In the course of writing this I found no less than 3 versions of the lyrics that predominately varied with the one line. Thanks to songwriter, Mike Batt, for quickly clarifying for me that the correct lyrics to the last verse, line 2 is: "But I found her by the trail along the lonely mountainside" (which incidentally is the line before the last one quoted above and discussed), 

As always I will link to some resources, but the songwriters and singers deserve their royalties so please ensure you purchase the song either on a CD or from iTunes. 
Resources

SONG
You can purchase a live version of the song for a small fee on iTunes.

If you're looking for a CD version then I recommend this 2-CD set (as it's the only CD I've ever found it on) pictured to the left.




VIDEO

Finding a good quality video clip proved rather difficult for this song but this version is worth watching despite the less-than-perfect quality.

Below is singer-songwriter, Mike Batt, singing the song with the
Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra

FACEBOOK
The Hollies have a page HERE

Mike Batt has a page HERE.

Soldier's Song lyrics are (c) Song/ATV Music Publishing LLC. 
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