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Capturing the idiosyncracies of England’s green and pleasant land is not a straightforward activity. You might have a tune and a set of lyrics which nails the essential rolling greenery, but does it also cast a shadow over the prehistoric mounds and rural customs? Are there morris dancers and maypoles and Punch and Judy tents and haybales and weird log-throwing sports and cider that’ll make you go blind?
Here are five songs that go some way towards describing that world.
XTC – “Love On A Farm Boy’s Wages”
Released in 1983, it’s hard to fathom that this is the same band that were blamming out herky-jerky post punk only a couple of years before this song came out. This is one of a clutch of Andy Partridge songs which are devoted to the art of maintaining a relationship without any money — one based in the springtime, when the sap is rising — and it’s an agrarian masterpiece, a veritable Constable’s Hay Wain of a song.
Laura Marling – “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)”
At the opposite end of the year, here’s a song about homesickness, among other aches, from someone who goes away a lot. And there’s something about the green fields and rambling hills, once they’ve been dusted with white, that inspires melancholy in a way that you just don’t get from a slushy city street. You do have to be sitting indoors, mind you, preferably near a nice warm fire.
Nick Drake – “Riverman”
Speaking of melancholy, here’s a song which brings it’s own dusk. A trip down a foggy river into a mystical landscape, passing through ancient and long-lost traditional rites and spells, and leaving a glowing fog in its wake. We could just have easily have picked “Northern Sky” or “Pink Moon,” but this has those astonishing strings, so it just edges ahead.
Bow Wow Wow – ‘Wild In The Country’
The British landscape is not all pastoral folk music and sitting around in a hazy reverie y’know. Sometimes you’ve got to embrace your inner child, hang a rope swing from a tree, smear some mud on your face and collect acorns to throw at the ducks. This, being both Swallows And Amazons AND The Lord Of The Flies in one three-minute pop song, is the soundtrack to that activity.
Pulp – “The Trees”
A song which seems to be as much about a fear of not belonging in your own landscape as it is about the dying embers of a relationship. Or rather, it’s a song which captures the dislocation of a love gone bad, so much so that you can’t even tell whether you belong in the middle of the natural world. At least the trees have got a job to do, but what about poor heartbroken Jarvis?
What’s your favorite song of the British countryside? Tell us here.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic