Mandolins, flutes, and dulcimers, O my!
Every summer I indulge in a personal tradition and favorite pastime — attending the New York State Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo Park, NY. I love everything about it: the costumes, the food, the jousting, the jewelry, and of course, the music. You’ll find a variety of musicians and singers bringing 21st-century America a taste of rustic charm from days of yore, delighting Faire-goers with their lutes and harps, and songs of brave knights and beautiful maidens.
In honor of this whimsical annual event, I bring you this weekend’s edition of JUKEBOX, 24 songs inspired by the sounds and magic of Renaissance Faires everywhere. Now, much like modern Faires, I’ve taken my liberties with this collection. Just as the events tend to embrace anything from the Dark Ages and 18th-century pirates, to Victorian-inspired steampunk fashion and contemporary fantasy series, this playlist brings together several “olde”-style elements in lyrics, instrumentation, and/or general ambiance to transport you to the past.
Within this JUKEBOX are modern renditions of traditional folk songs (by artists like Simon & Garfunkel and Jeff Beck [but no glam folk]), new folk with a medieval spark (Mike Oldfield and Donovan), a generous helping of prog rock (including the aptly-named Renaissance and Jethro Tull), a bit of romance (with the help of CSN and the Rolling Stones), some hard-driven battle cries (thanks to Queen and Led Zeppelin), and a touch of comedy (thanks to Monty Python with Neil Innes).
“Mad John” – Small Faces (1968)
Singer Steve Marriott tells the story of a misunderstood tramp called Mad John in this excerpt from Small Faces’ wonderful fairy tale concept album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. The tune is reminiscent of a troubadour entertaining a court, complete with lovely “la-diddy” fillers. Someone get me a turkey leg.
“Mood For a Day,” Yes (1971)
Who doesn’t love some straight-up classical guitar? Yes’ Steve Howe delivers a beautiful mandolin-esque track from the Fragile album with an Iberian flare. No lyrics are necessary for this song; the soul is in the strings.
“The Battle of Evermore,” Led Zeppelin (1971)
It’s no secret that Robert Plant was a bit of a Tolkien fan. This track is one of many Lord of the Rings-inspired songs by Led Zeppelin. The video features John Paul Jones as the second vocalist (with some interesting effects), but the original studio version included in this week’s JUKEBOX features singer Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention fame, who is also in our playlist.
“Jerusalem,” Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1973)
This is an interesting tune. The lyrics are drawn from an early-19th-century poem by William Blake called “And did those feet in ancient time,” and when put to music by Sir Hubert Parry, become “Jerusalem.” The song is full of Biblical and mythological allusions and has a distinct Crusade-type feel.
“Ogre Battle,” Queen (1974)
This track is more Renaissance in subject, rather than sound. Queen’s early albums are rife with fantasy and folklore, but with a hard rock edge. Their second album, Queen II, is perhaps their heaviest fantasy-themed album, containing songs about good and evil queens, ogres (like the video above), and a “fairy-feller.” Early Queen would have totally played D&D.
There’s a lot to discover, so grab some mead, your Game of Thrones DVDs, and enjoy.