Catching up on forty years. 1985: The Queen and The Soldier – Suzanne Vega
Never underestimate the power of the story in a song.
Shyly, coyly Suzanne Vega crept in to our musical lives in 1985. I immediately bought Marlene on the Wall and played that and the B side Small Blue Thing in to the ground. When the self-named album came along that also went on permanent spin, each song being scrutinised and disssected.
One song still gets played (and hence, I guess, has won the test of time) and that is The Queen and The Soldier. A metaphorical tale of battling against change, it tells the story of a conversation between a young queen and one of her soldiers. He tries to challenge what she has always accepted – that queens fight battles and send soldiers to their deaths. She wavers, but in the end goes with convention, what has always been the accepted. The story ends with the soldier being killed waiting for her response. This is a ballad using all the traditional motifs of young queens, battles and hints of young love and yet it works so well for us today.
Suzanne Vega was in stark contrast to much of what I was listening to at the time. Working on a farm, I was being fed on the pure pop fodder of pirate radio, so I can still sing along to every top twenty song from this year! In the car and at home it was different fare – Marillion, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, U2 – but this was a song for those reflective moments, so therefore should be in the list purely for in-between times. Below, performed by Ms Vega in 2004 – but if you want a really surreal experience you can track down on youtube a ‘live’ performance of the song on Second Life. Bizarre.
As an aside, my one experience of seeing her live a few years after this showed that she could be far from shy and coy if she needed. Some petty heckling from the audience. The sharpest of put-downs showed as always that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!
Probably, the most important event of the year for me personally was the eventual completion of the M25, making my impending journeys to Birmingham for university that little bit easier. By the end of the year, some different music will come along for me that will change all the rules…