"I Am The Walrus": Historical Figures In Rock

You're history! The great songwriter has often taken the name of the great figure from history as inspiration. Here are some of Radio X's top namedrops.

Joan Of Arc

The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again

"Now I know how Joan of Arc felt," quoth Morrissey, likening his social faux pas to the fate of the "Maid Of Orleans", who was martyred in 1430 after being accused of heresy. She was burnt at the stake. Nasty.

 

Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen

Queen Elizabeth II

Johnny Rotten was referring, of course, to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who in 1977 was celebrating her Silver Jubilee, that is 25 years since her ascension to the throne. Take that, ma'am!

 

David Bowie - Suffragette City

Suffragettes

The Suffragettes were the women who campaigned vigorously for the right to vote at the turn of the 20th century, sometimes being imprisoned, going on hunger strike and, in the case of Emily Davison, dying for the cause when she threw herself under the King's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. What this has to do with Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders From Mars is still unclear.

 


The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil

John and Robert Kennedy

"I shouted out, who killed the Kennedys? When after all, it was you and me." Jagger - in the guise of Beelzebub - claims that we're all responsible for the assassination of first John F Kennedy in '63 and his brother Bobby in '68.

 

 

The Beatles - I Am The Walrus

 Edgar Allen Poe

"Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe," claims John Lennon in this psychedelic surrealist masterpiece from 1967. What the American author or horror and mystery tales had done to deserve such a harsh review was not elaborated on. 

 

The Stranglers - No More Heroes

Leon Trotsky

Where do we begin? Hugh Cornwall's 1977 punk opus namechecks the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Shakespeare, Nero ("They watched their Rome burn") and - possibly - Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory. He also mentions Sancho Panza, but as that's a character in the book Don Quixote, it doesn't count.

 

Supergrass - Richard III

richard iii

The King Of England. Came a cropper on Bosworth Field in 1485. Ended up buried in a car park in Leicester. Shakespeare wrote a play about him. Britpop's premier cheeky chappies wrote a song about him too. Kind of.

 

The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Your average British punter on the street probably wasn't that aware of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary until Jerry Dammers wrote a song about his imprisonment. After 27 years in prison, Mandela was finally released in 1990.

 

R.E.M. - It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Lenny Bruce

This rapid-fire 1987 track is a stream of consciousness based on a bizarre dream that Michael Stipe had. In it, the singer was at a party that was attended by famous people whose names all began with the initials "L.B." , hence the mentions of composer Leonard Bernstein, former Russian premier Leonid Brezhnev and controversial 1960s comedian Lenny Bruce, who also gets a namecheck in No More Heroes (see above).

  

Pixies - Alec Eiffel

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel

Black Francis is a fan of the obscure reference in his lyrics and one of the more notable examples is this 1991 song about the building of the Parisian tower by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel: "They didn't want it, but he built it anyway."

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