Maconie is on a musical voyage

U2's work features in Maconie's list of music anthems. Photo: Anthony Harvey/PA Photos.
U2's work features in Maconie's list of music anthems. Photo: Anthony Harvey/PA Photos.

What’s an anthem? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body or cause.

Stuart Maconie defines it slightly differently.

“An anthem has to have a very whistle-able tune, memorable and easy, with quite vague lyrics,” he says.

The long-time journalist, broadcaster and author has given the subject a lot of thought over the past few years, so it’s probably wise to take his word for it.

He was approached last year by a cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean International, who are launching a new ship next year called Anthem Of The Seas. To accompany the announcement, they asked him to carry out some research to find the country’s favourite anthemic songs.

Maconie says he can’t abide musical snobbery, and approached the task with as open a mind as possible. He put together a long list, and then asked the public to vote to produce the top five.

While One Day Like This by Elbow and Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run were on there, the final five consisted of The Beatles’ Hey Jude, Robbie Williams’ Angels, U2’s Beautiful Day, Nimrod by Edward Elgar and Jerusalem, which consists of William Blake’s short poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry.

“Robbie Williams’ Angels is not a song I would ever play for fun at home, but I can see some craft there, it punches all the right buttons for people,” says Maconie. “The same with Beautiful Day by U2, although as a piece of stadium rock I can appreciate why it’s brilliant.

“Hey Jude is on the list because it was the first song to feature the long, drawn-out chorus at the end that everyone can sing along to.”

Maconie tends to go from one project to the next; a conversation at the BBC has led him to an interconnecting radio programme examining anthems in classical music.