“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport.”
— George Winters
Rockers have traveled to every corner of the earth – if not by plane, train and automobile then in their imaginations – to compose our Top 11 Songs About Faraway Places. Some songs celebrated their exotic locales; others protested dire conditions caused by war and poverty.
Do you have a favorite that we’ve left out? Leave it in our Comments section below.
11. Africa by Toto
In the early 1980s, instruments like congas, jingle sticks and shakers were rarely heard in rock music. Toto keyboardist/vocalist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro co-wrote Africa before World Music was popular. “This is before samples, so we’re actually using bass marimbas and all of those different kinds of great organic instruments,” Paich told MusicRadar. “It was a fertile time to make music with new sounds, and that kind of defined that song… Its first inception came when there used to be UNICEF commercials on TV, showing children and families living in poverty. The first time I saw that it affected me deeply.”
When Africa reached number one in 1983, no one was surprised more than Paich. “We never dreamed in a million years that that would become a hit record!… We ended up putting it on thinking, ‘It might make a nice little cut for the end of the album – it’s a little bit different.’ And then it popped off there and everybody’s looking around going, ‘You have to be kidding! This song came off?’ We thought we had an album full of hits and that this was just the obscure one!”
Africa by Toto
10. Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills and Nash
In 1966 Graham Nash was still a member of the Hollies when he took a vacation trip that resulted in a beloved hit song. “I’d been reading books on the beat poets. You know, on Allan Ginsberg and William Burroughs,” Nash told WNYC Radio. “When you analyzed everything that they were doing it appeared that all they were doing was smoking dope every day in Marrakesh and writing poetry. That sounded really appealing to me. I decided to retrace that journey. So I did take the train from Casablanca down to Marrakesh.
“I was in the first class compartment with two five-foot older ladies with their gray hair dyed blue. Me going back to the third class compartment where it was really happening – dogs and pigs and chickens and people lighting fires and cooking food. That’s where it was happening. Then I went back to my first class compartment and wrote Marrakesh Express.”
Nash left the Hollies in late 1968 after they’d rejected the song. A few months later he joined David Crosby and Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Marrakesh Express would become the supergroup’s first single and a concert favorite. “I thought it was a funny song when I wrote it,” Nash recalled in Classic Rock.
“It’s not the greatest song in the world, but people still really like it whenever we sing it live. Whenever we need a little light-hearted, up-tempo thing, that’s what we reach for.”
Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills and Nash
9. Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles
The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian was one of the biggest hits of 1987 but there was a time that the all-girl group had doubts about its potential. “We love the song and appreciate what it did for the band, but there definitely was a period where we worried that we would only be seen as the band that did that ‘wacky song,’” guitarist/singer Susanna Hoffs revealed in PlanetOut.
“At the time we recorded it, we knew it was different than our normal repertoire of our ‘60’s-influenced songs, and we knew it was also a quirky lyric and everything. We definitely wanted to downplay the dance because people would come up and say, ‘Hey! Walk like an Egyptian for me!’ and we’d get embarrassed and stuff.”
The song owes its distinctive sound to humorous lyrics by Liam Sternberg, the incessant beat of an Alesis drum machine and offhanded lead vocals shared by three of the Bangles. “There was an aspect of fun and light-heartedness, and I think Egyptian kind of epitomizes that part of the ‘80s,” Hoffs told Mix.
“It’s hard to go in and say, ‘I’m going to write a song like that.’ It was a magical thing and no one could have planned or predicted it.”
Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles
8. Scarborough Fair/Canticle by Simon & Garfunkel
The BBC called Scarborough Fair “probably the most widely-heard folk song of all time” after Simon & Garfunkel’s arrangement was included in the soundtrack of The Graduate. The song describes a centuries-old trade fair held in the English resort town of Scarborough. Paul Simon, who lived in London in 1965, learned the ballad from friend and folk singer Martin Carthy. Simon & Garfunkel combined Scarborough Fair with an original tune, Canticle, but upset Carthy and folk purists by claiming writing credit instead of listing the ancient ballad as “traditional.”
Simon smoothed things over in 2000 when he invited Carthy to perform Scarborough Fair at a London concert. “We had a big discussion that night that was long overdue,” Simon told The Independent. “When he sang it, it was striking to me how beautiful it was. Martin Carthy was a big guy in my life when I lived here. I took his flat in Belsize Park when he moved out. I liked everyone here at that time. It was one of the best times in my life.”
Scarborough Fair/Canticle by Simon & Garfunkel
7. I-Feel-Like-I’m Fixin’-To-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish
I-Feel-Like-I’m Fixin’-To-Die Rag, perhaps the greatest protest song of the ‘60s, was written by Country Joe McDonald as the Vietnam War raged. Lyrics that encouraged parents to “be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box” enraged supporters of the war. “We performed the song on the David Frost TV show and they got a lot of letters from people saying that we should be sent to Russia, that we’re disgusting, that ‘bring your boy home in a box’ was unspeakable, and they’d never watch his show again,” McDonald told Rock Cellar Magazine.
McDonald, a Navy veteran, said, “It’s not anti-soldier, it’s from a soldier’s point of view. I had been in the military. The humor is what we call ‘GI Humor,’ black humor… For combat veterans, that’s just shop talk. But for civilians, who like to think that war is a noble cause and most people in combat are there because they wanna be and they’re patriotic, it flies in the face of that mythology, which is still active and alive today.”
I-Feel-Like-I’m Fixin’-To-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish
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