This Day: February 21

February 21, 2010

The 21st of February is so rich in history, it is hard what to choose. Nina Simone was born and Malcolm X assassinated. In 1972 Richard Nixon becoming the first American President to visit China, though considering the event has spawned an opera, marking this event on this blog is too obvious. On a completely different tack the first Polaroid camera was demonstrated in 1947.

Instead we go back to 1431, the day the English put Joan of Arc on trial. This event influenced Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to add two songs – Joan of Arc, and Maid of Orleans – to their Architecture and Morality album.

Joan of Arc is a plea from an Englishman, who is trying to prevent her death by trying to distract Joan’s love of God and country. But as a song, Joan of Arc is partially lost in its own twee pop trappings: the bells and pulse bass undo the tension of the droning synths and voices.

On the other hand, Maid of Orleans marries epic, explorative ambience married with an unusual time signature, as later popularised by Dead Can Dance. The subtitle is The Waltz of Joan of Arc, but the drums and ‘bagpipes’ could just as well be a memorial march or battle tattoo. Now, the Englishman accepts martyrs have to die.

Andy McCluskey wrote the song on the 550th anniversary of Joan’s death at the hands of his countrymen – not one of their proudest moments. It’s easy to imaging the power of her story had something to do with the song’s rise to to #4 in the UK charts, though as a band OMD was already on the up. (And let’s fact it, the song was post-Oh Superman reaching #2, so experimental songs were not unknown at the time.)

We can also add the fact OMD already charted off the back of uncomfortable history, with the release of Enola Gay two years earlier. While that song is an outright attack on those who were responsible for the bomb, McLuskey laments Joan of Arc’s held her fate in her own hands:

She cared so much
She offered up
Her body to the grave


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