Murder By Numbers

The Police

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart

The video here is of The Police performing at the Oakland Coliseum, California USA on 10th September 1983. This chilling song had been omitted from what was to be their last studio album, Synchronicity, apparently for reasons of space on the vinyl release and it became instead the B side of the hit 45rpm single ‘Every Breath You Take’.

It was recorded in one live take at the AIR studios owned by legendary Beatles producer George Martin on the island of Montserrat. According to lyric-writer Sting, “A few years later this volcano would destroy half of Montserrat, but on this day it was just bubbling quietly and throwing up a strong smell of sulfur. The words formed in my head and that pungent smell of sulfur continued to cling to the song: Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist, publicly cited it as an example of the devil’s work. He condemned it colorfully while entirely missing its irony and its satirical content. The devil indeed!” Sulphur has long been associated with the devil and demons in folklore, suggesting the smell emanating from the fiery pits of Hell. [thanks for the help, Songfacts].

I love the unusual jazz style chord progression – I’d like to play the song but I’m not sure about BbMaj#11, nor indeed F#7#9! The guitar has a lot of flange effect on it which creates a slightly disturbing sense that the pitch is never quite right.

Much more disturbing are the lyrics and the message of the song. To my reading it is a clear criticism of the UK government and the way in which it’s policy had caused distress and even death. In 1982 unemployment stood at over three million partly as a result of Thatcher’s de-industrialisation strategy with whole regions blighted by decline and poverty. I think we are still living with the consequences forty years later.

Today I read desperate news headlines: migrants in small boats who have drowned attempting to reach safety in England, starving babies in Afghanistan and thousands dying from Covid in poor countries where the vaccines have not been made available. It’s not inevitable, or just ‘how it is’. It is because powerful governments and leaders have decided to make it so. It’s murder by numbers.

But you can reach the top of your profession

If you become the leader of the land

For murder is the sport of the elected

And you don’t need to lift a finger of your hand

Justice is a recurring theme in the Bible and I have selected only one passage to represent it all. The prophet is speaking to the whole nation and its leaders whose “hands are covered in blood” in the book of Isaiah chapter 1. God help us.

Hungry Heart

Bruce Springsteen

Everybody’s got a hungry heart

This song came out in 1980, but the video here is at a concert in Berlin in 1995. I like this song because it has something to say and I sometimes use it in my live sets (it’s also easy to play and in my vocal range!).

Hungry Heart is one of Bruce Springsteen’s concert staples, and you can find several live versions online. As his career progresses, you can see him playing in increasingly large venues and the song becomes a sing-along crowdpleaser where everyone knows the words.

I think it is interesting to contrast the happiness of Bruce on stage, and the enjoyment of the audience with the fairly grim confession and insight in the lyrics.

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack

Took a ride and I never went back …

For me, the song seems to connect with this gospel incident: Matthew 9:35-36.

Let The River Run

Carly Simon

note the New York World Trade Center twin towers in the background

When I first heard this song, I was so surprised and puzzled by the strong emotional effect it had on me that I wanted to look into it further.

It was written by Carly Simon for the film ‘Working Girl’, a romantic comedy set in 1980s New York. The plot has a young woman secretary who is unfairly treated find justice and achieve success. Here we see Carly Simon singing interspersed with scenes from the film’s opening where workers are making their commute by ferry across the river to Manhattan. In the background is the Statue of Liberty and ahead of them the ‘silver city’. On the surface then, it is about their aspirations to succeed in the big city – materially and maybe romantically too.

For me though, the song transcends this context and speaks of a yearning that goes beyond hopes for material wealth or security. The words ‘New Jerusalem’ immediately lead us towards religious ideas.

Let the river run

Let all the dreamers wake the nation

Come, the New Jerusalem.

Let The River Run was taken up as a theme by the international Women’s March in January 2017, held the day after the inauguration of President Trump in America to protest against his anti-women and anti-human rights policies. It seems to fit the great flow of humanity, joining together like tributaries into a mighty river surging towards justice.

The Bible has many references to rivers, but here is a famous quote from the prophet Amos:

… let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.

Amos 5:24

Credit to BBC Soul Music Series 27, broadcast on 23 January 2019

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000253j