Jul 10

ENYA – “Orinoco Flow”

FT + Popular95 comments • 7,803 views

#618, 29th October 1988

Brian Eno famously used to write his lyrics – or claim he did, at any rate – on the basis of sound rather than meaning: if the phonemes danced in service to the song, that was good enough for him and what they actually said could go hang. I get something of that vibe from “Orinoco Flow” – the arrangement’s pert staccatos bubbling up into Enya’s cute, clpped phrasing. But she corrals her syllables into something that does make sense: a hymn to travel and motion for their own sake.

If you’re going to delight in the way words sound, the Atlas is a good place to start, a great soup of bizarre and evocative names. Some excellent tracks centre themselves on lists of places – Saint Etienne’s “Girl VII” and the JAMS’ “It’s Grim Up North”, Ian Dury’s “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”. “Rhythm Stick” is a kind of lairy, deliciously dangerous cousin of “Orinoco Flow” in the way it’s a travelogue of teeth, tongue and lip as much as of place. “Flow” also reminds me of Kate Bush’s “Sat In Your Lap”, particularly the urgent finale – “A trip to Mecca! Tibet or Jedda!”

These are rich comparisons for a song to live up to, of course – and they’re meant to indicate that “Orinoco Flow” is interesting and unusual, not imply it’s a masterpiece. But it’s better than I thought it was. My lazy man’s impressions of Enya heavily feature ideas like “Celtic”, “hippy-dippy”, and “wind chimes” but here it’s only the mist of backing vox that put me off: when the song loses its light rhythmic impetus on the middle eight they help bog it down, and it never totally recovers.

All the mouthplay on “Orinoco” is in the service of simple, relaxed prettiness, and over repeat listens that can lose its appeal. But the song has plenty of ideas, and an airy freshness which must have been a pleasant surprise on 1988 radios. An admirably playful record, even if it’s not one for everyday use.



  1. 1
    punctum on 21 Jul 2010 #

    The obverse of wanting to be a supreme individual, as expressed in “One Moment In Time,” is to be no one at all, or possibly everyone. Enya has routinely cautioned against labelling her music as New Age, and not unreasonably; the tissues of fluffy pabulum floating down from the George Winstons and Marden Hills of that world were the equivalent of a flotation tank or bubble bath in which yuppies could pretend to meditate for twenty minutes before striding back out onto the trading floor and shitting upon everyone else, mostly each other, a simulacrum of escape.

    The case of Enya is more complicated, perhaps even more so than Kate Bush; having graduated from the junior ranks of Clannad via documentary soundtrack work, she now finds herself in the position of being the most self-enclosed artist in all of popular music; rarely venturing from her Dublin castle, she sings and plays every note on her periodic releases, all of which sell in sufficient quantities to enable her to carry on regardless. She purposely distances herself from practically everything else going on. She appears wholly (or holy?) self-contained.

    Yet her career has been micromanaged by ex-Clannad manager Nicky Ryan and his wife Roma, who writes all of Enya’s lyrics; thus her voice is not, strictly speaking, her own, but her art for all desired purposes is utterly of and from her. In “Orinoco Flow” she sings of fantasies of travelling, mixing the actual (Bali, Tripoli, Tiree) with the mythical (Avalon, Babylon, the “island of the Moon”) from the perspective of someone dreaming while gazing out of her bedroom window – but she still finds space to insert in-jokes about her record company boss (“With Rob Dickins at the wheel”) and her producer (“We can sigh, say goodbye, Ross and his dependencies”).

    So is the art of Enya all an elaborate conceptual prank? The music of “Orinoco Flow” is bustling, mobile, purposeful and fairly regal, like the waves on which she dreams of sailing away…but from what, or whom? The “let me sail…/let me reach, let me beach” refrains suggest frustration to the point of agony, a polite scream for liberation from a crappy non-life. But there is something about the drive (the journey?) of the multiple synthesisers and keyboards, and the piano strewn with red roses when she performed the song on TOTP – maybe even that little touch of OMD harmonies in the bridge – which arouses the siren song of 1967, a sideways return of psychedelia, a hazy, not-quite-all-there, dreamlike drift.

    No doubt its success, and that of its parent album Watermark, could be superficially viewed as the parallel of Dido’s success in more recent times; a quickly soothing but non-lasting balm for thrusting Thatcherkids. But I think there is more to Enya than this; consider the fact that she has invoked the Kyrie Eleison in her songs more than once, think of the parallel developing worlds of women who were glad not to have to fit into a certain mould of 1988 – Jane Siberry’s The Walking, Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America, the triumphant return of the Cocteau Twins with Blue Bell Knoll, not to mention Bilinda Butcher passim – and it is not beyond the realms of probability that this is where someone like Judee Sill might have ended up had she been stronger and lived to tell some more tales; a devotion, a vision which wasn’t that rare in the best of 1988’s music (Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden also comes to immediate mind) but in the context of the shameless grubbiness of the number ones which bookended “Orinoco Flow,” the record’s triumph in itself appears something of a miracle. Less a bubble bath, more a serene waterfall with the potential to transport its travellers to somewhere…better? Think, finally, of Saint Etienne’s “How We Used To Live” and its threefold explorations of what it means to “sail away,” and also the moment in Thoreau’s “Week On The Concord River” where he begins to rhapsodise to the point of abstraction when his home village vanishes from view, though always in the knowledge that he can return. Somewhere better…within ourselves? As for Enya, she is the nearest equivalent I can think of to a pop Jane Austen – she works confidently within her own two square inches of ivory, and fills them up with purpose and quiet wonder.

  2. 2
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #


    “By the last decade of the century it seemed that everything possible in electronic rock had been achieved. Then along came Enya with a new sound.”

    This is from Mark Prendergast’s The Ambient Century, which I thoroughly recommend if you are a fan of lapidary bathos.

  3. 3
    CarsmileSteve on 21 Jul 2010 #


  4. 4
    Tom on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #3 Never mind the Orinoco Flow, it’s the Tobermory Beats that make this one.

    #1 Love the take on Enya, but oddly I think you’re being a bit unfair on new age culture here – it’s always seemed to me it’s not a yuppie fad but something mostly taken up by people hustled out of the rat race: an escape route for the bruised and left behind.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 21 Jul 2010 #

    It’s alright but it’s not ‘Tribal Base’

  6. 6
    Tom on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #5 AARGH! God almighty Steve, you could warn us before exposing us to Nicky Campbell with no warning.

    Has there not been a hip-hop or R’n’B song recently which samples “Orinoco Flow” very prominently?

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    I like how this one builds subtly. By the end of the song, it’s muted pandemonium, like 1000 librarians going “ssshhhhh”.

    I hear Enya and I think of Clannad and their very excellent “Theme From Harry’s Game”.

  8. 8
    Tom on 21 Jul 2010 #

    The score is a shiny 6, now up on the post – I’d forgotten to tick the box telling the site it’s a Popular post.

  9. 9
    MikeMCSG on 21 Jul 2010 #

    I always think of this as being the first number one of the 90s. Taken together with other developments at the time, the temporary success of All About Eve, Dukakis recovering some ground for the Democrats, the promotion of two young tyros on Labour’s front bench and Thatcher’s enviromental speech (no credit to her but at least her speechwriters recognised a shift in mood) it suggested that at last some softer, more human values were taking hold.

    I share Punctum’s scepticism about New Age as an alternative religion for yuppies – none of that inconvenient “eye of a needle” stuff in the crystals – and its certainly arguable that Enya is an effete princess shielded from the outside world first by her extended family and then her wealth but this was undeniably refreshing.

    I think “Carribbean Blue” is a better song though.

  10. 10
    lex on 21 Jul 2010 #

    This is the first No 1 I remember from the time! I have a very specific memory of doing PE to it in primary school. I think we might have been asked to pretend to be flowers growing out of the floor.

    I think Enya is terrific, she is a mad recluse who lives in a CASTLE and like a Celtic Sade makes records every decade or so that essentially sound identical. Also the whole “I am going to make music entirely made out of layered vocals” is the kind of thing that would gain an artist immense cult/critical plaudits if couched in the right context (ie not Enya’s) – this is basically My Bloody Valentine with vocals instead of guitars.

    That said I neither own nor particularly wish to own any Enya records, I just relistened to “Orinoco Flow” for the first time in years and enjoyed it but I suspect it’ll do me for another decade.

    #6 – not “Orinoco Flow” and indeed not that recently, but any more discussion is bunnied I believe. Unless there HAS been one that samples “Orinoco Flow” cuz let’s face it there should be.

  11. 11
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #6 There’s a remix of Yo Majesty’s ‘Club Action’ which is actually one of the best things in the world EVER.

  12. 12
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    I absolutely adored this at the time btw. I will have to blog the video separately!

  13. 13
    lex on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Though a swift Google has revealed this unexpected Nicki Minaj quote:

    Q: Is it true that you’re a big Enya fan?

    A: Who doesn’t love Enya? Whenever I’m in a trying time, she is the calm in the middle of the storm. If I put her on, I’ll be in this crazy peaceful state. I love her style. And her harmonies are freaking genius.

  14. 14
    Alan Connor on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Something I have to put out of my mind is watching a late-night ’00s ITV screening of the World Music Awards and my flatmate and me realising this was not about “world music” but in fact territories, third quarters and emerging markets. ISTR many of the artists who would soon be conveyor-belting Country and Bollywood versions of their product giving major props to Enya for her staggering amount of unit-shiftage. I don’t think she was in person in Monaco or wherever to respond to these pecuniary accolades and I kinda hope she wasn’t.

  15. 15
    punctum on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #4: People hustled out of the rat race tend not to have time for culture, new age or otherwise (if you can call new age a culture rather than a marketing tool); they’re too busy worrying about how to pay the bills, feed their family etc. The ones who opt out – rather than being hustled out – tend to be those who can afford to do so.

  16. 16
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #

    By the end of the song, it’s muted pandemonium, like 1000 librarians going “ssshhhhh”.

    ^^^ACTUAL greatest sentence in music-writing history!

  17. 17
    MikeMCSG on 21 Jul 2010 #

    # 15 I’m with you there Mr P, such people are more likely to be picked up by the JWs or God help them, the likes of Jim Jones and David Koresh that offer some community and/or expectation of a dramatic change than the inward-looking self-help therapies of New Age.

  18. 18
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #

    “Hippy culture” — as distinct from “New Age” culture, which overlaps but is not the same — functions as a counter-ratrace project at more than one level, from punctum’s first target (actual stock-market monsters taking a breather) through his slightly revised target at @15 (well-off people opting out of same, because they can’t hack it or because they actually hate it) down through all kinds of odd bohemian and antinomian drop-out and refusenik layers…60s working-class alternopop-cultural escapism certainly hadn’t been stamped out at this stage, and crusty festivals also had crystals tents and straitened yoga options

    (Not to mention the Brewing Rave Explosion, which was certainly NOT primarily City-fuelled…)

    (I’m rereading E.P.Thompson’s “Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law”, which very much makes a point of distinguishing between the Quietist Upper-Layer Hermetic Tradition, as indulged by Polite Society, and the more engaged, eccentric anti-rational anti-academic resistance layers that Blake came from… 1988 certainly saw a massive joyous flare-up of the latter.)

  19. 19
    wichita lineman on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Unfortunate first hand experience of a near father-in-law who loved Enya and some New Age thing called Deep Breakfast in his downtime, but was more than happy to pay workers in his Chinese factories peanuts: “what would they do with the extra pay? They’d go mad!”

  20. 20
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Also “Book Of Days” from 1992 is totes underrated – not quite as forging as OF but very good as soundtrack for horses running across prairies to rescue Tom Cruise from down a well.

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Well, this is better than I remembered it being. It has a sense of playfulness that’s rather appealing. Odd though, that I have no desire to investigate the rest of the Enya canon, however attractive the idea of her being a castle-dwelling recluse is. I guess that there are just some artists who just function best in popular memory as one-hit wonders – even if they technically weren’t.

    Also, wasn’t this used in an advert, if not at the time then fairly soon after? Aqua Libra would be the perfect period fit of song and product…

  22. 22
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Haha amazing Youtube comment on the video to Book Of Days:

    “This music inspires us to live life to the fullest I am not really into Death Metal or Gangsta Rap all they do is curse, say the Lords Name in Vain and Brag about being PUNKS Enya and the stuff from the 80’s is worth watching”

  23. 23
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Number 2 Watch: Three weeks of Kylie’s rather lovely ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Porquois’ – the third in a trilogy of consecutive Minogue runners-up. An endearingly gauche first attempt at grown-up sophistication.

  24. 24
    Chris Gilmour on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, we’re well into a dreary run of MOR chart toppers now, at complete odds with some wonderfully exciting records in the lower reaches of the chart like ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Can You Party’. These, along with ‘Introspective’ and Pete Hammonds PWL mixes of Euro hits, were never off the 70’s hi-fi centre that I’d commandeered from the front room and moved to my bedroom. I was finding anything dance music related incredibly exciting, and had discovered Record Mirror which opened up a whole new world for me, so obviously poor old Enya never got a look in.
    I remember her playing on a piano covered in roses for Xmas TOTP; alas, on my recording, all you see is a long shot of her at the end as I cut her out, along with Fairground Attraction and one other forthcoming entry. Oh, well, it’s fine if you like that sort of thing. Three.

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Enya performed Orinoco Flow On the Top Of The Pops broadcast on October 20 1988. Also in the studio that week was Kylie Minogue. Steve Wright & Caron Keating were the hosts.

  26. 26
    Erithian on 21 Jul 2010 #

    A lovely, refreshing, calming sound to have at the top of the charts – sumptuous overlaid vocals, and the recitation of faraway places with strange sounding names is beautifully evocative while meaning virtually nothing. But the question to be asked is – is this the only number one to namecheck a place (i.e. Tiree) that features in the shipping forecast? Until Blur release “This Is A Low” as a single, perhaps.

    Travel fact: at the time this reached number one, Michael Palin was travelling through India while filming “Around the World in Eighty Days”.

  27. 27
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #26 I’m sure Willy Fogg had already got to Yokohama by then.

  28. 28
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #

    “By the first decade of the century it seemed that everything possible in video reviewing had been achieved. Then along came Kat with a new new entry

  29. 29
    thefatgit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Of course, at this point in 1988, “Straight Outta Compton” was competing with “Introspective” for my affections. My Walkman had never been so busy.

  30. 30
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #

    The best bit in the vid is when the little stockhausen-loving frog SETS SAIL FOR THE SUN at c.0.40

  31. 31
    Tim on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #1: wait, did Marden Hill have a (ahem) “fluffy pabulum” phase? I recall them as El Records sophistopop (with a lean towards Bond soundtrack acid jazz a little later). I was very fond of the odd song of theirs. Was there another Marden Hill?

  32. 32
    punctum on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Whoops, Marden Hill – I meant Windham Hill. Clearly it’s a Freudian thing.

    #29: Where did you get your copy of the NWA album? I didn’t find one in the import racks (Intoxica! of all places) until spring ’89.

  33. 33
    Tom on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #18 – This is a good point – one of the interesting things about the early 90s is how a whole load of strands (rave, ‘green’, new age, old-school hippy) got shaken up together and crossed over, so that – for a given individual – any one might well be a vector of transmission for a lot of the other stuff.

    Any direct experience I’ve had of people into new age stuff came after that point of intersection, so I guess it’s quite possible that new age was initially a scam for shark-eyed city professionals.

  34. 34
    thefatgit on 21 Jul 2010 #

    #32 Tower Records, but if specialists were not supplied until spring 89, then what the hell was I listening to in autumn 88? Maybe I’m misremembering, but there was something “controversial” on my Walkman about this time…”Smoke Some Kill” maybe.

  35. 35
    MBI on 21 Jul 2010 #

    This song will forever be defined in my mind by that scene in the first season of “South Park” where Stan’s grampa tries to convince Stan to help him euthanize himself — he plays this song for Stan and says “this is what it’s like to be me.”

    Stan (panicking): Oh god! This is horrible! This is so cheesy and lame — yet somehow strangely soothing — Grampa turn it off!

  36. 36
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jul 2010 #

    I enjoyed this more than I expected to based on my vague memories. Punctum does a fantastic job of putting it in a context of other female artists of that time who were similarly singing in tongues but I much prefer Mary Margaret O’Hara or Liz Fraser. This lacks the passion of those two – perhaps because she’s singing someone else’s material.

  37. 37
    wichita lineman on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Does anyone else have much time for Clannad? Their first 2 albums aren’t – from memory – a million miles from Trees/Loudest Whisper acid folk (I’ve never explored beyond Clannad 2).

    I spent hard earned cash on the theme from Harry’s Game and follow-up Newgrange, the chorus of which Radio 2’s Ray Moore ‘misheard’ as “rum te tum, pass the Erinmore”. Or maybe they really were subliminally plugging pipe tobacco?

    Not much NWA on my turntable, as you can imagine.

  38. 38
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Ro-o-bin! The Hooded Man!

  39. 39
    anto on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Having grown up in a house where this kind of music – which I think of as Celtic mysticism?!? rather than new age – was being played frequently I’m probably too accustomed to listen to it anew.
    If there is any romance to having Orinoco Flow at #1 maybe it’s because in a year that was generous to pops extroverts (Tiffany, Kylie, Mark Moore, Eddi Reader, Pellow, Bros, Bono)this one marked a victory for an introvert.
    I’m not entirely won over though. I agree that a track like this is not a million miles from what certain indie voyagers were producing in 1988, but I would suggest the difference is that whereas listening to the Cocteaus, Mbv at their best can be as thrilling as standing in an artists studio watching them create wonderous pattens on a canvas there and then, with Enya it’s more akin to going into an art shop and seeing an attractive landscape already neatly framed and thinking “ooh thats nice”.

  40. 40
    Alan Connor on 21 Jul 2010 #

    “Does anyone else have much time for Clannad?”

    Cor, not half. I can’t find the flares-wearing inner gatefold image online, but Clannad In Concert (£1 in Woolies, 1989) has, among the workouts, the first recording I heard of Down By The Salley Gardens, for which I shall be forever thankful.

  41. 41
    brian in canada on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Enya and her sister Moya cut there chops ( if you will ) at their fathers Pub, Leo Brennan’s , in Crolly , Donegal. They both show up occasionally. If you are in Ireland – drop by. Glen Hansard was a recent guest , I think some photo’s are up at


  42. 42
    swanstep on 21 Jul 2010 #

    The hot keyboard of 1988 was the Roland D-50, which is most of Enya’s sound (my understanding is that she still uses it). Its most famous preset, #44, was called Pizzagogo. It’s featured prominently in OF and most other Enya hits, and as a result those in the know referred to OF as ‘Pizzagogo Flow’ ever after (see this vid for one of many demos). Tom’s speculations about bubbling syllables may be right, but keyboard mavens think they know what the germ of the title phrase was!

    The pre-pizzagogo Boadicea from her previous (first?) album, is probably my favorite Enya track (others agree – it’s been sampled a lot apparently), but there’s definitely pleasure to be had from this later stuff. 6 seems about right to me for OF(would give 7 to either book of days or the storms in africa stuff used at the end of Green Card (go about 5-6 mins in) – check out Depardieu and Andie McDowell wittily blundering through the gay cruising area of Central Park! I wasn’t clued up enough to notice this in 1990.).

  43. 43
    TomLane on 21 Jul 2010 #

    One of those songs that I couldn’t stand while it was charting. As years went on, my feelings changed. Not sure why, maybe it was the New Age tag that Enya got labeled with. A #24 peak in the States.

  44. 44
    Alan on 21 Jul 2010 #

    Clannad Legend – The Robin of Sherwood album (see #38) was indeed the first vinyl album I bought for myself. FACT. Not one I am proud of in general, but one I am more than happy to admit too as often as is necessary. Which is very often.

    I did not like Orinoco Flow.

  45. 45
    weej on 22 Jul 2010 #

    My wife is Chinese and was exposed to very little in the way of ‘Western’ music growing up. She says this song changed her view of music – she’d never heard anything like it before. I hadn’t either, I suppose, and it sounded amazing to me too at the age of 10, but now I find it hard to take it as seriously. I suspect it’s some kind of indie snobbery towards ‘new age’ which I have to get over, as I’ll be exposed to it a lot more in the future.

  46. 46
    Alan Connor on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Another category this falls into: 

    Around now, I started looking through the music of my friends’ parents. Common suburban tapes were this song’s parent album, Full Moon Fever, Traveling Wilburys Vol 1, Graceland and Tracy Chapman. 

    I was reminded of same c2003 when an actor friend was in digs and made small talk asking her landlady’s surly teenage daughter what she listened to. “Mainly Tracy Chapman. It’s my mum’s.” Not, like, 50 Cent? “NO. 50 Cent’s gay.”

  47. 47
    punctum on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I’m bothered about this “passion” meme which keeps bobbing up like Timmy Mallett’s mallet on Popular. The Top 40 isn’t La Scala and unfortunately people seem to confuse extroverted expression of emotion with genuine emotional commitment on the part of those of us who don’t feel that we need to shout or bleed what we feel.

  48. 48
    wichita lineman on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Whereabouts? Without checking back in detail it feels like most people are suspicious of volume + pained expression = genuine emotion.

    Good spot on the Rob Dickins line. It makes me like this synthetic bauble a lot more.

  49. 49
    MikeMCSG on 22 Jul 2010 #

    # 48 Are you jumping the gun there WL ? Seems like a comment on the next entry !

  50. 50
    Gavin Wright on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Like others above, I’d say Enya is an artist I respect and appreciate rather than actively listen to. I remember clearly her brief run of hits circa 1991/92 – this was around the time I was first properly paying attention to the charts and those songs stood out a mile from anything else sonically. I’m sure a couple of them even made their way onto my recorded-off-the-radio compilation tapes, ‘Caribbean Blue’ certainly (in fact that’s the one song of hers I’d be interested in re-listening to now).

    As for new age music, the yuppie connection obviously didn’t register with me at such a young age but it seems clear now. I’ve no idea whether any of it has any merit musically but I’d like to see someone trace its origins and development nonetheless.

  51. 51
    Rory on 22 Jul 2010 #

    A great thread, which sums up most of my own reaction to this: this was indeed a pleasant surprise in 1988, and doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with the new-age imitators it spawned. It does lose its way for a bit in the middle, perhaps because it’s a one-minute idea stretched out to four, but that doesn’t fatally undermine it.

    I taped Watermark from a friend at the time, and thought I would be keeping up with Enya’s future releases, but that didn’t happen. I’m happy enough now to think of this as one of the better singles of the late ’80s, worth hearing once a decade as a reminder, and to leave it at that. A well-deserved 6 (which is where it peaked in Australia in early 1989).

    @46 – good list. I would add Michael Penn’s March as another suburban-friendly album of this period – and like Enya’s, another harbinger of the 1990s.

  52. 52
    Alfred on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I bought this on 45 when the single broke in America the following year, in large part because of its novelty. I prefer “Caribbean Blue” these days. Anyone agree?

  53. 53
    Matthew K on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #2, disappointed you got little response to what surely is one of the greater insights into electronic rock. A book I’ll look out for.

  54. 54
    Matt DC on 22 Jul 2010 #



  55. 55
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Both this and ‘Caribbean Blue’ sound so distant from the places they evoke literally – or is this just lazy sonic stereotyping? Either way can anyone think of other examples?

  56. 56
    Alfred on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Steve: That’s why I’m perplexed by even the tepid enthusiasm for Enya. Hers is the kind of exoticism that conflates the Orinoco River and the “Caribbean” into an undulating, sinuous meaninglessness.

  57. 57
    Tom on 22 Jul 2010 #

    That’s kind of why I mentioned atlases – it’s a fantasy of travel in the absolute abstract, gorging yourself on exotic placenames without really wanting to go there.

  58. 58
    wichita lineman on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Good point Steve. The mid fifties was flooded with hit records that sounded ‘exotic’ – In Old Lisbon, Portuguese Washerwoman, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Swedish Rhapsody, In A Little Spanish Town. Lou Busch’s Zambezi (which cropped up on Lena’s blog) was another tune about a mighty river in the southern hemisphere, catchy and fun, but it hardly evoked Africa. All foreign innit. Never seen the Orinoco flow but doesn’t this sound more like Antarctica than South America?

    Tom, I don’t think it’s about not wanting to go there. More that they are places you can imagine without having been, as their names are so evocative.

    I don’t have a problem with factually incorrect exotica. The dreaminess of Petula Clark’s Majorca from 1955 contrasts nicely with the image of drunken Brits in cheap high-rise hotels.

  59. 59
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve got my list of songs that are just the name of a country (where South America proves particularly popular). But have FSOL even been to Papua New Guinea etc.

  60. 60
    Rory on 22 Jul 2010 #

    @46 “Hers is the kind of exoticism that conflates the Orinoco River and the “Caribbean” into an undulating, sinuous meaninglessness.”

    Undulating, sinuous meaninglessness is what many people associate with tropical waters, isn’t it?

    In 1988 I expect it largely came as a relevation that “Orinoco” meant anything other than our snuffle-nosed friend from ’70s TV. If Enya helped reclaim the word for geography, then good on her. I’m not sure how that would have been helped by swapping the backing for the Rhythm of the Saints. (Or perhaps Aguirre?)

  61. 61
    Rory on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Um, revelation, not relevation. (Edit, damn you, edit!)

  62. 62
    Rory on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Mulling over this notion that music that refers to exotic (non-Western?) places ought to reflect the indigenous music of that place… so the only valid musical response to a landscape is that of the people who got there first? Or those who lived there first? Or those who live there now?

    What about all those Celtic music CDs with standing stones on their covers, which probably sound nothing like the music made by their neolithic builders, and probably weren’t recorded in Orkney?

    I can’t hear a single tin whistle in “How to Disappear Completely”. They probably never actually floated down the Liffey, either.

  63. 63
    thefatgit on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #55…your comment got me thinking, but unfortunately my brain bubbles up with movie music like Max Richter’s “Sarajevo” or Ry Cooder’s “Paris,Texas” which is unhelpful because they evoke visual memories from their cinematic sources. But these images are projected ideas from someone else’s interpretation of a place, rather than first-hand experience, so maybe they count after all.

  64. 64
    thefatgit on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #62 Now my mind is awash with the possibilities of what might have been if The Chieftains had access to an ondes martenot.

  65. 65
    katstevens on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Ecuador by Sash! is clearly the best example of this sort of thing (surely already on Steve’s list). I am going to spend the rest of the afternoon listening to Sash! I think.

  66. 66
    Tom on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #62 “the music made by their neolithic builders” – I’d guess Julian Cope had a stab at this at some point.

  67. 67
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I’m all for creative misinterpretation of exotica – whether it be Henri Rousseau painting jungle scenes in his room in Paris, tribesmen worshipping the Duke of Edinburgh or Talking Heads trying to create a Joy Division song based on an idea of what the British quartet might sound like based on descriptions in the music press

  68. 68
    MikeMCSG on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I think Boney M’s “Belfast” is the ultimate winner here.

  69. 69
    Erithian on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I’ve been humming “Valparaiso” by Sting after reading the last few posts… don’t mock, it’s a bloody lovely song.

  70. 70
    Tom on 22 Jul 2010 #


    I’m reorganising the links on the side – in the long run I’m creating a “Similar Blogs To Popular” category to promote Marcello and Lena’s (and Sally O’Rourke’s and Jonathan Bogart’s projects) – for now those two linked ones are up on the “Links For Popular” section and if there’s anything else similar out there I’d love to know about it.

  71. 71
    punctum on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Wow, the Sally O’Rourke one looks fantastic!

    (P.S.: does anyone know whatever happened to Mike Daddino’s Billboard #1 project; did it just fizzle out?)

  72. 72
    Tom on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Yes, huge apologies to Sally – I thought I’d linked to it ages ago and was mortified to see it wasn’t on the sidebar.

    Sally’s one I think picks up where Mike’s ended, just after Rock Around The Clock – his old stuff is still up in an archive on his site I think?

  73. 73
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #65 ‘Ecuador’ does aim for some sort of connection with the land tho via yer man Rodriguez. Whereas all you get from Oasis ‘Colombia’ is pretty much just ‘lol coke’ (still one of their better tracks tho).

  74. 74

    Eno is someone who belongs in this list, alone or in collaboration! To quote MYSELF (as quoted in Geeta Dayal’s excellent* little book on Another Green World), and to return us somewhere close to #2: “Fabulous geography is his business– territories explored, Fourthworld maps made: ‘On Some Faraway Beach’…., ‘Over Fire Island’, ‘By This River’, ‘Through Hollow Lands’, ‘Inland Sea’, ‘Lizard Point’, Warszawa’, ‘Neuköln’, ‘Moss Garden’, On Land, The Plateaux of Mirrors, Dream Theory in Malaya…”

    *ie it quotes me!

  75. 75
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jul 2010 #

    re 70 ‘if there’s anything else similar out there I’d love to know about it.’


  76. 76
    Paytes on 22 Jul 2010 #

    #65 Isn’t the Oasis song Columbia (as in District Of, British etc.) the (very) old name for America?


    … Geography geek

  77. 77
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2010 #

    I stand corrected both on the spelling and the reference (Columbia Hotel apparently? And the song can/may be as much about their rise to fame or big discoveries as much as anything else). It’s been a day of errors.

  78. 78
    Alfred on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Mulling over this notion that music that refers to exotic (non-Western?) places ought to reflect the indigenous music of that place… so the only valid musical response to a landscape is that of the people who got there first? Or those who lived there first? Or those who live there now?

    Rory, that’s not what I said. To Enya, “Orinoco” and “Caribbean” signify on exactly the same sonic level. Like lonepilgrim wrote in post #67, I’m all for getting a place wrong, especially if it grabs me; but Enya doesn’t distinguish between the two “places” or states of mind conjured by Orinoco and Caribbean.

  79. 79
    swanstep on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission was widely listened to and liked at about this time (it’s around on youtube now if you don’t know it). Dreamy/Breathy female vocals sort of knocking off This Mortal Coil’s Song for the Siren cover had been bubbling up out of David Lynch and his collaborators since Blue Velvet. Now D-50 all over that. Buy castle. Repeat.

  80. 80
    Alfred on 22 Jul 2010 #

    Oh boy do I know it — I used to cue songs from the soundtrack during chapel.

  81. 81
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jul 2010 #

    the lure of faraway places also featured in an earlier Number 1 – almost the earliest:


    I gotta say I prefer the Bob Dylan version

  82. 82
    swanstep on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Thinking a little more about Alfred’s criticism of Enya, it seems clear that he’s right but that, as it were, no one was ever fooled: you ride away with enya to quasi-celtic faerie-land, end of story.

    It’s interesting to think how people like Aphex Twin (who does have a touch of the pizzagogos in some of his more tuneful moments like xtal) kind of solve the problem: witter on if at all about strictly invented alien, indigene-free landscapes with the completely clear understanding that, as it were, listening to AT is really just entering a portal into Richard James’s head (after 30 minutes or so you’re deposited somewhere on the cornish coast).

  83. 83
    Erithian on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Well, here’s part of the lyric of “Valparaiso” (see #69) – more of a seafaring tune, with the placename probably chosen because it sounded good, but at least there’s extra local colour in the use of Cape Horn. It may be what Tom describes as an abstract fantasy of travel, but it did get me intrigued by the place (with no prospect of going there) and particularly interested when I read the chapters in “The Voyage of the Beagle” where Darwin spent a few weeks there.

    Chase the dog star over the sea
    Home where my true love is waiting for me
    Rope the south wind, canvas the stars
    Harness the moonlight so she can safely go
    Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso …

    If I should die and water’s my grave
    She’ll never know if I’m damned or I’m saved
    See the ghost fly over the sea
    Under the moonlight, there she can safely go
    Round the Cape Horn to Valparaiso

    Off the beaten track as South American place names go (cf Rio…) Cf also;
    “Come fly with me, let’s float down to Peru / In llama land there’s a one man band and he’ll toot his flute for you…”

  84. 84
    vinylscot on 23 Jul 2010 #

    We had heard Enya before with Clannad, so to me this just sounded Irish, not exotic in any way, and thankfully not “world” music. While the place names featured may conjure up images of faraway lands, etc, is it not just as (or more) likely that they were chosen just because they were phonetically pleasing, similar to the BeeGees “Massachusetts” (according to a recent comment on that thread).

    This was pleasant but nothing more, and it’s unfortunate that Enya was adopted by the Abigail’s Party set of the time, as it rather devalued (in advance) anything she did from then on.

  85. 85

    incidentally the “shores of tripoli” phrase is lifted straight from the Hymn of the US Marine Corps, which begins (rather awesomely IMO, if somewhat imperialistically): “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli” <--- the latter being a reference to an anti-piracy campaign undertaken off the barbary coast, iirc

  86. 86
    swanstep on 23 Jul 2010 #

    @lord sukrat. Interesting, Def Leppard’s ‘Gods of War’ (on Hysteria) was widely played at the time, which features audio of Reagan and Thatcher defending their bombing of Tripoli in 1986 (allegedly in response to a bombing of a disco in berlin IIRC). 1988, best year for Libya in the charts ever?

  87. 87
    Lena on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Around this time my mom started to work on her side of the family’s genealogy, and it turns out she (and thus me) are directly related to some folks in Donegal, though not Enya’s family precisely. So I took this song/album as being almost shudderingly familiar (uncanny) as opposed to electronic exotica, though it is that too. (It was the time of a Celtic revival for me, as I saw U2, The Pogues, Hothouse Flowers, The Chieftains, Luka Bloom at this time and a bit after, and Irish Heartbeat was one of my albums of the year.) While reflecting her roots Enya stand as the soft end of the overwhelming sonic style of her unwitting (or maybe not) sisters in My Bloody Valentine, who are just as oceanic as her, just with different instruments and at a louder volume, obv. (Overwhelming too in her own way is Sinead O’Connor, of course.)

  88. 88
    Lena on 23 Jul 2010 #

    I also should note that this is the first number one that is so New Pop it actually mentions its producer; given the gentle solemnity of the album itself it’s almost like a commercial, or something…

  89. 89
    Rory on 23 Jul 2010 #

    @78 – oh, I see. I don’t really remember “Caribbean Blue”, so I tend to think of this track in isolation. A fair comment, although doesn’t the Orinoco flow into the Caribbean? So it’s not as if she used the same music for the Yangtze and the Mediterranean.

  90. 90
    Jimmy the Swede on 24 Jul 2010 #


    It must have been about 1994 and we used to, as a matter of course, routinely target flights from Amsterdam. It was our practice to arrest even for “personal use” and porny vids back then and clearly The Dam was a rich source of both. Nowadays, we simply wouldn’t bother with tiny bits of herb, simply take it, and obviously the advent of the internet has seen importation of porn in the shape of tapes and jazz-mags grind to a halt pretty much. This particular day, I had my eye on four scruffy looking guys entering the Green Channel (the Blue EU Exit wasn’t there then). I corralled them up and asked for their passports. All of them were Irish. I questioned them further and their story was that they were “musicians” and were on their way to Brighton to perform in a concert. At this point, I noticed a couple of colleagues looking across at me, which I thought was rather odd, and at this precise moment a smiley female passenger came bounding over to join us at the bench:
    “What have you bad boys been up to?” she said, gently chiding them.
    “Hello. Are you part of the group?” I asked her.
    She was.
    It was Clannad. Sans gear.

  91. 91

    I concur with Lena’s essence-of-new-pop description: and would happily tie up Enya’s “sail away into imagined territories” shtick (lyrical and sonic) with Byrne/Eno’s shimmering* ur-NuPop dreamscapes in Remain in Light and Bush of Ghosts, which neatly and image-rushingly avoid the messy Post-Colonial issues of actual sailing to actual other continents and actually meeting interesting new peoples and, well (as the old army recruitment gag concludes) killing them!

    *Tom noted in the pub a couple of days ago that a GOOD CRITICAL EXERCISE when discussing a lot of this music is to NOT USE the word “shimmering”. He is right but it is hard.

  92. 92
    Joe Kay on 26 Jul 2010 #

    #6, Buccaneer samples this on Fade Away.

  93. 93
    hectorthebat on 25 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 1023
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 15
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  94. 94
    Ben Gould on 20 Oct 2020 #

    Sadly this song will never be the same for me after that torture scene in David Fincher’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake. (The standout scene from an otherwise unmemorable film.)

  95. 95
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    Another relaxing single and another 7/10 from me.

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