I’ve been conscious that lately, I seem to have been covering darker subjects in this series, and I began to wonder, maybe, I should do a more positive post? Right now many friends are striving, working, and hoping for something better in one way or another, so I put out a call for songs that are either about hope, are hopeful, or reference hope in one way or another.
/No Treasure But Hope
As is usually the way, they didn’t let me down, with an excellent set of suggestions and some really great songs that I’d not heard in a while within them. There were also, as always, a few bands new to me, too. The final ten selected, though, are all hopeful in one way or another, but I’m not convinced that all have an ultimately happy ending. But that’s the thing about hope, it doesn’t always work out in your favour.
171 songs were suggested, by the way, with fifteen of those used before. There were 158 unique songs, too, from 76 contributors. Thanks, as ever, to all of you that took the time to contribute.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Keep Hope Alive
This thundering track – from one of the few US entrants into the original round of “big-beat” electro artists in the late 1990s, and one of their early singles – is here partly because the title fits nicely (and it is a fantastic track), but also because of the source of the vocal samples. The samples – which pointedly reference hope and what might come next – come from Jesse Jackson‘s 1992 speech entitled You Do Not Stand Alone, where he reflected on the civil rights movement, how far they’d come, and what there was still to do in America (the LA Riots had happened literally weeks before). Jackson was only the second African-American to mount a national campaign for US President, and while he was unsuccessful on both occasions in the eighties, the hope that an African-American might have the chance as President remained undimmed – and was finally fulfilled in 2008 as Barack Obama was elected to Presidential office.
/Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Following the disturbing darkness of her previous pair of albums, in particular, the bright, guitar-led optimism of this lead track was quite a surprise when it first appeared. Did Polly Harvey ever sound this optimistic again? I suspect not, and this brash, melodic album still feels somewhat out of step with everything she’s done since, that’s for sure – but then, she has very much earned the right to do whatever she feels (and rightly so). This song has Harvey sounding like she’s in love, and loving life, and full of hope for what comes next. That she subsequently won the Mercury Music Prize and was lauded from all corners for this album, suggests her hope was not misplaced.
/Postive Songs for Negative People
Talking of artists who’ve become bigger stars than we might have expected, here’s another – I don’t think, fifteen or so years back, that we’d be talking about Frank Turner as an artist able to play and sell out huge venues all over, or be playing the pre-show of the Olympics opening ceremony in London. But his broadly positive, melodic folk-punk has often had a hopeful feel, as he’s resolutely upbeat and looking forward – only dwelling on his past when learning ways to improve, at least in song. So says this excellent song that heralded the bounce-back that was Postive Songs for Negative People (Tape Deck Heart for me wasn’t great), where the whole song sounds like a manifesto for Turner making himself better and leaving himself hope for what’s to come. Says he: “We can get better / Because we’re not dead yet“.
Incidentally, I could just as easily have used the glorious Eulogy, but I’ve already used that on /343/Song of Joy.
Not a band I’m particularly familiar with – although I do recall digging into the album Goths from a few years back out of sheer curiosity – but I’m trusting the various people who suggested the band, in that apparently they have an awful lot of songs that are relentlessly positive and full of hope, misplaced or not. This song is certainly one, a pretty acoustic song with piano leading the charge as the protagonist gets away, out of town, and makes plans anew, as things have clearly not been great up to now – “I’m going to make it through this year, if it kills me“. Oh man, I’ve been there. At the bottom it’s awful, but looking back, getting out of that hole felt great.
/Racing The Tide
/See You On The Other Side
Hope is an emotion that crops up frequently in Mercury Rev songs, which bearing in mind the difficulties the band have faced over their three-decade career, is admirable to say the least. This album was the first after Dave Baker had left the band, and as they were picking up the pieces. It would take a few years before they were able to regroup again, and that eternal hope emerged wide-eyed on the still-astonishing Deserters Songs, but back in 1995, there was still this tentative fear, I think, that it could all collapse again, and while the lovely Sudden Ray of Hope details the positive side, Racing The Tide takes on the flip side. This is the sound of Jonathan Donaghue and Grasshopper absolutely paralyzed by fear. They are hoping, crossing their fingers that everything is going to be ok, but things keep pushing them back as the title suggests. The symphonic crashes of the chorus, when they come, too, leave me speechless every time, they are so brilliant and dramatic.
/Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)
Yes, this is the fourth appearance of XTC in this series within the past year or so, but it is simply because their songs have just fitted in each time, and this is no exception. XTC were something of an anomaly, a band who weren’t really punk, post-punk, or pop, and perhaps were just poppy, indie rock years ahead of their time. This song is a perfect example of such – a jaunty, immensely catchy song where Andy Partridge imagines a DC Comics character giving him training on how to meet girls, as he’s hoping to find love, and the macho Sgt. Rock is clearly more attractive than he is…
/Hope Your Dreams Come True
But what happens if they don’t come true? What happens if your hopes come to naught? Well, trust Katie Jane Garside (later of the excellent Queenadreena, of course) to potentially puncture our plans, as this song grinds and snarls behind Garside’s sweet, thin vocals. It appears to detail a snake-oil salesman of sorts, promising everything and nothing, peddling belief and hope, and there’s a specific warning to consider what might happen if the bubble bursts. As always, this is astute advice. It’s also a reminder, too, that I ought to go back and listen to this band more, it’s been a long time since I did.
/Management vs. Labor
/Tomorrow Come Today
For many bands, seeing this title might have suggested “ah, they’ve gained a political edge”, but Boysetsfire were always political, and fighting hard. This song was released seventeen years ago, and pretty much, nothing has changed. Labour rights are still broadly in favour of employers – particularly in the US where this was of course written – and as a general rule, the rights of the individual getting better seem to be a pipe dream in 2020, never mind 2003. Still, there remains hope that the balance can tip, and this song is full of it.
/hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it
/Norman Fucking Rockwell!
It was rather amiss of me, perhaps, to not include this album in my 2019 wrap-up, but to be honest, it’s taken me some time to properly get into it and appreciate it. It is genuinely a brilliant album, that’s for sure. This closing track is the best thing on it, though, just Lana Del Rey and a piano, assessing her life, her future (and Sylvia Plath), and the hope contained within sears the words on the wall. Sadly it seems that many advances for women in recent years are steadily being undone by boorish white men who have issues with women having control or freedom, thus the concept of hope being dangerous. But I will continue to do my part and support women in their fight. We are all, or should be, feminists in that regard.
Context, as ever, with songs is everything. Consider this song – a lengthy song that is pretty much just bass, a ghostly synth and two voices, that is so much more than the sum of its parts. This is Gabriel and Bush inhabiting characters of the time. Written in 1986, right after the miner’s strike and as Thatcher’s policies began to truly decimate the north of England, it was seen as a comment on what had happened and what many people were going through at the time. It’s an extraordinary duet, too, one that could have sounded trite, but in reality is anything but.
It’s also a useful lesson for life. Keep striving, keep pushing on. Deal with adversity, keep a sense of hope and move forward. It will be ok.