TOP TEN EARTH SONGS
By B SHAWN CLARK
As with Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, Sir Elton John joined the elites of pop music to reign more so over a landscape in tune with an as-built environment by and for humankind, than a world of humans seeking their rightful place as part of the natural one, either as creatures granted dominion over other living things, or as higher life forms populating the Animal Kingdom – who just happen to also be at the top of the food chain.
Not surprisingly, he has no music listed on the Wiki Master List of environmental songs and the way in which he masterfully (and in less than 2 hours of studio time) put music to the wonderful lyrics of Tim Rice in his rendition of Circle of Life (1994) most likely appears for the first time here, at number 8, on any list of the best songs about Earth Day and the environment.
The reason may just be, as with other music with this sort of message that gains traction on the charts, deeper meanings that may come across as too much of a lecture or a call to become part of the environmental movement (as opposed to just being about the natural environment) must be obscured behind lyrics and imagery that listeners can more easily digest:
It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through Faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of life
Indeed, a harbinger of the way in which education about the natural world had to be sugar-coated as pure entertainment, spoon fed as such to children (and their parents) came with the work starting nearly seventy years ago by Walt Disney himself who, fearful of being exposed as a closet conservationist, tried mightily to convince people that work such as the True-Life Adventures series he authored was just some fun looking at animals in the wild – and not a subversive effort to make a statement, or teach anybody anything about the nature of the natural world.
Decades later the company bearing his name came out more overtly in favor of things that sound a lot like they are Earth-inspired with the release of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) that, while also having nothing from its soundtrack making even a mention on any known list of Earth Tunes, does have some serviceable music from the likes of Johnny Clegg, Tone Loc (If I’m Gonna Eat Somebody, it Might as Well be YOU) and Sheena Easton, along with such imminently forgettable work as Some Other World by Sir John himself.
Staying under the radar of a conscious (and conscientious) embrace of themes designed to inspire the music and film-going consuming public to lighten up on their ravenous appetite to use, and then throw away – if not burn – everything in sight that might have a tendency to grow, allows Circle of Life to become commercially (and perhaps musically) successful, clawing its way up the food chain of consumable music that has a modicum of a hidden message to save some room for desert or, better yet, to go on a steady diet of leafy green vegetables or even go completely vegan.
The song reached number 11 on the UK charts, number 18 in America, and earned an Academy Award nomination for best song in 1994 (eventually bowing to another Lion King song, Can you Feel the Love Tonight, also by John and Rice, that appeals more to a hunger for songs of a more prurient interest than ones about conservation – and honestly is a better song), a reflection on the merits of Circle of Life as a fine piece of music, and recognition of it as yet another fine work of art by Sir Elton John by his adoring subjects.
These accolades allows Circle of Life – despite shaky credentials as truly about conservation of Mother Nature (as opposed to just making observations about her) – to claw its way into the bottom tier of the Ten Best Earth Day Tunes.
There it is unlikely to move up a notch or two, for, although the bench is not very deep on this Best-of List, the cream at the top is as thick and rich with talent and content that tree-huggers as well as your garden variety human carnivores love to lap up. Circle of Life will never be so delicious.
B Shawn Clark is a conservationist and attorney turned freelance writer who is attempting to reprise the role of Thoreau in shaping human thought and reflection through life in nature. He is currently holed up in the seaside town of Englewood, Florida at a self-styled “Man Cave” in a wooded area populated by wildlife (not counting those kids next door) beside a creek reminiscent of Walden Pond, where he continues to ponder the law, and the law of human nature.