My top 5 Egyptology songs

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Egyptology is a serious academic discipline. Institutes across the globe are involved in research into this most wonderful of ancient cultures, looking at everything from pottery to temple architecture to the finer points of the language’s grammar.

However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a bit of fun with it, as well. Fascination with the ancient Egyptians has spilled over into popular culture for a long time now. The decipherment of hieroglyphs in the 1820s and the discovery of Tutankhamun in the 1920s spawned all manner of Egyptomania, for instance.

And Egyptology continues to appear in modern culture in all manner of ways, such as movies, architecture, fashion and music. Here, I’ve chosen to honour Egyptology in our musical cultures, so I’ve put together my top five Egyptology songs.

Enjoy!

5. The Fiery Furnaces, My Egyptian Grammar

I couldn't remember the 15 minutes before.
A white-haired half Samoan girl from Darwin
Gave me a ride, it seems; she let me the car in.
But what it was she said, I couldn't say.
Now, that clearly didn't happen. I consulted my Egyptian Grammar.
On p. 333 was the hieroglyph for motorcycle helmet.
I combined this with a leather-back's shell as I was I felt instructed.
I Xeroxed it and posted it down by the bike lock-ups at the Oriental Institute.

The Fiery Furnaces are, for the most part, a brother-and-sister duo, who were releasing albums for most of the first decade of this century.

My Egyptian Grammar featured on their sixth album, Widow City. This song is right up there for its fun factor and is particularly reminiscent for those of us who’ve spent hours with our heads buried in Egyptian language and grammar books. I like the reference to the Oriental Institute too.

4. Blue Murder, Valley of the Kings

In a distant place in time a pharaoh wandered
In his mind he could see a kingdom
With this king they could not reason
Enslaved in the wish and the dream of a man who's planned their destiny
There is no way out, there can be no doubt
All he wants is his dream fulfilled and until the day
When the kingdom's built
There is no way out, there can be no doubt

Pompous, comically dramatic, perms that put Bon Jovi to shame and, I must admit, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Yes, it’s confession time: I love a bit of 80s glam rock.

Blue Murder were formed by ex-Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes in the late 1980s and lasted only three albums.

The song itself is about a pharaoh ‘building’ the Valley of the Kings and the thousands of enslaved people forced into brutal labour to enable this tyrant to fulfill his wishes for a grand and treasure-filled tomb.

They’ve used a little … ahem … artistic licence with the details (hmmmm …), but it’s a fun song, and I love it!

3. World Party, Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Buried deep within the mountain,
In the Valley of the King,
There's a passage way that leads there,
Where the wind whistles and sings
Of a time so long forgotten,
But it seems like yesterday,
When the queen was in her palace,
And the king was on his way
To the bosom of his family.
To the holy golden womb.
What was that love?
That's the curse of the Mummy's tomb.

World Party, aka Karl Wallinger (the band was virtually a solo project), was founded in 1986 after Karl left The Waterboys, and continued to release albums through to the end of the 1990s. The music’s best described as alternative rock, and you might be familiar with one of the other songs from the Egyptology album – She’s the one – later made famous by one Robbie Williams.

The song itself seems to be about discovery and exploration, and the magic and mystery of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

2. The Bangles, Walk like an Egyptian

All the old paintings on the tombs
They do the sand dance don't you know
If they move too quick (oh whey oh)
They're falling down like a domino
All the bazaar men by the Nile
They got the money on a bet
Gold crocodiles (oh whey oh)
They snap their teeth on your cigarette

OK, I’m probably as surprised as you are that this didn’t make the top spot.

The all-female band was formed in 1981, and Walk like an Egyptian was one of the singles taken from their 1986 album Different Light.

It’s the eponymous Egyptiana song of a whole generation. Fun, jangly and just a little bit crunchy, I find it near-impossible to not tap my feet when this song plays. I’ve been a big fan of The Bangles ever since this song was in the charts, and it still never fails to put a spring in my step.

It was a tough decision to make as to whether this should’ve been Number One, and part of me still wonders if I made the right decision.

1. Josh Ritter, The Curse

He opens his eyes
Falls in love at first sight
With the girl in the doorway
What beautiful lines
Heart full of life
After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to
He holds back a sigh
As she touches his arm
She dusts off the bed where 'til now he's been sleeping
Under mires of stone
The dry fig of his heart
Under scarab and bone
Starts back to its beating

Released on Josh’s 2010 album, So Runs Away the World, this is, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

It’s about an Egyptian mummy, brought back to life by an Egyptologist, and their ensuing love affair. Josh Ritter uses 3/4 time (think of a waltz) to bring a lilting, rhythmic feel to the song. It’s atmospheric and more than a little haunting; I could listen to it over and over.

It’s a song of love, of discovery, of loss, and, what we as Egyptophiles can only ever dream of doing: communing with a real ancient Egyptian (He learns how to read from the papers that she is writing about him and he makes corrections).

The video itself is not ‘official’, but was created by puppeteer Liam Hurley and, in my humble opinion, really adds to the beauty of the song.

So, there you go. Whilst I have an eclectic taste in music, and my top five is a bit of a mix, I hope there was something you enjoyed.

And, although they didn’t make it to my top five, I think the following songs also deserve a mention:

  • Kate Bush, Egypt
  • Iron Maiden, Powerslave
  • Toyah, Sphinx
  • Mother Feather, Egyptology
  • Horrible Histories’ Cleopatra

All these and more are on my YouTube playlist.

Which one is your favourite? Do you have another recommendation? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it to the playlist.

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