Readers recommend playlist: songs about kings

A regal list this week includes songs from Richard Thompson, Gilbert and Sullivan, Boy George and the Proclaimers

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of your suggestions last week. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

This week’s callout produced a great number of nominations: songs about kings, songs about the King (of which more later) and a large number of songs that made me think the phrase “king of...” is somewhat overused by lyricists. So many great songs were eventually discarded, but thanks for nominating them. Do trawl through the suggestions and listen to as many as possible – this has been my favourite topic so far.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

Let’s start with an instrumental piece, Requiem for the Static King, by Belgian duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen. I kept coming back to it, so it had to make the list. Next, the Unthanks tell the story of The King of Rome, a famous racing pigeon. This song has appeared before (June Tabor’s version in our “victory” playlist) but I liked the addition of the second voice here.

Numerous songs about historical kings were nominated, but only two made it to the list. Harry Belafonte recounts how it was Love, Love Alone that led to the abdication of Edward VIII. And moving to the beginning of the previous century, John Tams tells us how “King George commands and we obey” in his setting of a traditional British Army song – Over the Hills and Far Away – used for the television series Sharpe.

We also have two songs that may or may not be about actual historical kings. Steeleye Span’s King Henry is a horror story with a happy ending, and I would imagine the title of King and Lionheart from Of Monsters and Men was inspired by Richard I, even if it’s not about him.

Moving to the world of classical music, the list would not have been complete without Grieg’s iconic In the Hall of the Mountain King. Meanwhile, if you are going to be a king, why not be a pirate king? “Better far to live and die / under the brave black flag I fly” – at least, that is, according to Gilbert and Sullivan in Oh, Better Far to Live and Die, from The Pirates of Penzance.

No list of songs about kings would be complete without the King, Elvis Presley. Only one Elvis song was nominated, but it wasn’t one of his best, and my original two choices turned out to be zedded (for the topic Elvis!). So here is Richard Thompson’s story of the woman who loved Elvis so much she travelled From Galway to Graceland.

There were a number of nominations on the subject of God as king; my favourite was Papa Levi with My God, My King. Probably the only time “The maddest comedian Kenny Everett” got name-checked on a reggae track.

Many “king of” nominations were metaphors for love and heartbreak. The standout track was Boy George’s stark look at an alcoholic, King of Everything. Meanwhile, the Proclaimers take on King of the Road, which is one of those songs that can instantly cheer me up. I felt much the same about Bap Kennedy’s song, in which he dreams (unrealistically, he knows) about giving it all up and becoming the King of Mexico.

Marillion took the lines from the folk song Lavender’s Blue and reworked them into a successful love song in Lavender, our penultimate track. Finally, we bid goodbye to male monarchs. Or, as Rush would have it, say A Farewell to Kings.

Not all songs appear in the Spotify playlist because some are unavailable on the service.

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Chaz Cozens

The GuardianTramp

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