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“Eternity was in our lips and yes, bliss in our brows bent” said William Shakespeare in his 1623 tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. Egypt, well more specifically romantic notions of its ancient past, has always leant itself to reference and tales within the arts. As ahead of his time as he was, it’s highly doubtful that Bill was referring to popular music when he wrote the quote that began this paragraph, but it’s wonderfully fitting for a post that takes a look at Egypt being referenced within the art.
Walk Like an Egyptian – The Bangles
Where better to begin than with one of music’s preeminent guilty pleasures? Walk Like an Egyptian was a number three hit for The Bangles in 1986. The lyrics were inspired by songwriter Liam Sternberg witnessing people struggling to walk on a swaying ferry. To this day Walk Like an Egyptian creates a floor full of sand-dancers when Michael Steele’s iconic bass kicks in.
Remember the Time – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time makes no reference to Egypt, Ancient Egypt or anything associated with the country. It does however soundtrack one of MJ’s ostentatious feature-length music videos, in which the King of Pop seduces a Pharaoh’s – played by Eddie Murphy – Queen and just about manages to escape from the wrath of the jilted Pharaoh, Queen in tow.
Egypt – Kate Bush
The first woman to have a number one with a self-written song, Kate Bush’s Egypt is probably the most fitting song on the list. Kate herself explained that the song is all about people becoming so obsessed with somewhere or something that they end up seeing only what they want to. Egypt was used as the allegorical subject matter because of its reality not living up to her romanticised vision of the land. It appears that Kate Bush was moaning about Egypt long before Karl Pilkington was forced to visit.
Egyptian Tomb – Mighty Baby
Mighty Baby were a band formed from the ashes of Mod outfit The Action. Like many Mod acts in the late ‘60s, The Action wanted to move their music in a Psychedelic direction but were either unwilling; for fear of alienating their fanbase, or unable; because of record company pressures. Whatever the reason, they regrouped and rebranded as Mighty Baby, and released the song Egyptian Tomb; a trippy, sax-lead, rock song whose opening line tips its hat (in both lyrics and melody) to the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Isis – Bob Dylan
Named after the Egyptian Goddess and appearing on his 1976 album Desire, Isis is a Bob Dylan folk song that grew in popularity after he reworked it into an uptempo rock number for live performances on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The song is about the power of a woman’s lure. The narrator marries the eponymous woman, only for her to leave him and as a result the narrator embarks upon activities, including tomb-robbing, until she wants him back again. “What drives me to you, is what drives me insane.”
There are many more examples of the land of the Pharoahs being mentioned either in song titles or lyrics throughout the course of popular music history. Earth, Wind & Fire notably used a lot of Egyptian symbolism on their promotional artwork, while American band Nile are named for the country’s mighty river and their songs focus upon its mysticism, history and art. Describing their death metal output as “popular” music may be stretching it however. Take in cheap egypt holidays and see how accurate these songs actually were!
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Cal is a scribe who’s comfortable writing about any one of his passions, but not himself. A player of several instruments, Cal’s fondness for music is equated with his love of football, writing, drawing and travel.