Musical Analysis

Song: Violet Hill by Coldplay

Violet Hill (single) Artwork

Click here to listen to the song: Violet Hill (audio)

Coldplay is one of the leading alternative bands in the music industry.  Winners of 7 Grammys and having 20 Grammy nominations, the band is widely accepted amongst music lovers including myself.  They managed to have success with all their albums thus far.  For my analysis I would like to discuss the song, Violet Hill.

This was the first song off their fourth studio album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends which was released by EMI Records in UK in conjunction with Capitol Records in the US.  It was the first single off this album and it is worthy for analyzing.  This was meant to be a protest song according to lead singer Chris Martin.  It was the band’s first attempt at recording a protest song.  The song title, Violet Hill is an actual street which joins with Abbey Road.  Many should be aware that the title was a nod to the Beatles (one of their musical heroes), as that road was known to be associated with them.  What they are protesting can be left for interpretation and elaboration.  Coldplay’s music raised many questions as to what genre they belong to.  Some would say pop-rock, and some would say alternative rock.  For the purpose of this argument its best to consider the band as alternative.  (NOTE: iTunes classifies them as alternative.)

Violet Hill has a mellow and peaceful start.  It gives the listener a moment to reflect on anything he or she wants.  A soothing synthesizer begins playing.  There are no lyrics until around the 35th second.  The piano eventually begins to play a rather serious melody indicating the beginning of the Chris’ introduction of the lyrics:

It was a long and dark December

From the rooftops I remember

There was snow, white snow


The song introduces the setting as a cold dark day in December where snow covered the person’s house.  It sounds likea first-person narration to the listener or to somebody he loves (e.g. A story; reminiscing about this day).  It makes me feel solemn, the song itself makes me feel calm but a serious kind of calm.  It’s a kind of alerted peacefulness experience so far.
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The piano melody continues as it gets pushed to the background once the guitars begin playing (0:47).

Clearly I remember

From the windows they were watching

While we froze down below

At 0:47, the (electric) guitar joins the scene as Jonny Buckland (lead guitarist) starts his role in the song.  This could be the introductory door to the song, and it’s now opening and unraveling as the song continues.  The lyrics here indicate that this was no dream.  The people froze (psychologically) when they experienced this cold dark December day.  This is an analogy for what comes next in the lyrics.

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By the 49th second, the track starts to get denser filled up with the entire band playing:

When the future’s architectured

By a carnival of idiots on show

You’d better lie low

If you love me, won’t you let me know?


Chris sings that question in a falsetto manner.  It’s like a cry out, a pleading to the world what the song is going to be about.  In lyrical terms, this is the part where Chris begins to recite one of the crucial messages and the analogies the lyrics depicts.  The future being architectured indicates that with the current state of world we live in, our future is being built up.  Normally, it’s the unknown, and when someone tries to play and ‘design’ the future, that’s a bad thing.  Why would we want to be living in a future that was already predetermined?  The carnival of idiots is a reference to the people the band criticizes who built that future, and Chris is warning the rest of the world to shield themselves.  This is indicated in the instructions, you better lie low.  The main question of the song, if you love me, won’t you let me know, is an ode to those ‘idiots’ if they ever come to their senses and stop with what they’re doing, then kindly tell us.

At 1:20 until 1:25 before dissolving back into a regular drumming beat, the drums played by Will Champion are banging throughout nine times:

Was a long and dark December

When the banks became cathedrals

And a fox became God

Priests clutched onto Bibles

Hollowed out to fit their rifles

And a cross held aloft

Bury me in armour

When I’m dead and hit the ground

My nerves are poles that unfroze

And if you love me, won’t you let me know?

The falsetto repeats again and only for the question.  Chris really wanted to express his vocals that way to get the message out there.  He did it in such a high-pitched way so as to get all who listens, the pleading message.  This would repeat once more later on.  Meanwhile, the beating of the drums could represent something exploding left and right.  Something controversial (Going into combat for unnecessary reasons) is being told as the drumming beats were placed right after the all important lyric “If you love me, won’t you let me know”.  You can hear the cymbals too, as cymbal beating usually indicates a military, or marching song according to Drum Solo Artists’ webpage on drum anatomy.  This agrees with the song since the military is involved in the notions expressed in the song.  By the 1:51 mark, the guitar changes chords as you can hear the distinct sounds compared with the beginning of the song throughout this segment of the lyrics.  This is a break from the normal guitar melody and lasts until the 2:02 mark.

In terms of lyrics, the line, was a long and dark December repeats again to reiterate that the person from the beginning is still reciting his story.  There are changes going on the world, mostly with negative effects, as indicated by banks becoming cathedrals, and a fox becoming God.  Foxes are known to be sly and devious.  So this is comparing the ‘idiots’ to the fox.  They think they are God now, and could do anything to us citizens.  The part about priests having Bibles that are hollowed out for a rifle to be placed instead is a tricky picture to paint.  It probably meant that even the priests can’t control the situation, that they too are subjected to the ‘idiots’ (fox’s demands).  The rest goes back to the personal point of view where the idiot’s deeds are going to get the person killed.  So it’s best to die with the armor they put you in, to signify what pride you have left.  This is a very tense part of the lyrics, as that question is reiterated once more.  It’s signifying to the ‘idiots’ again, anytime you change your mind, please tell me because you know that you love me.  Stop playing games, or the tortures will continue.

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The percussion (drums) would start to be in the spotlight by 2:08.  This is to show the emotions of the message as drummer Will Champion pounds the drums to be clear to the listener.  This lasts until 2:13.  By 2:14, it becomes layered again, with Jonny playing a spotlighting guitar solo riff and the background drums continue.  There are no lyrics from 2:08 and 2:39, as its all instrumental at this segment of the song.  This could well be the intermission of the song, where the exciting conclusion will arrive soon.  No actual words are heard here, except for the expression Chris says at 2:36 (“Woohoo”).  He probably did that to keep the energy going and to keep the listener engaged before the final part of the song is played.  Otherwise, this section of the song was inventive, appealing, and fun to listen to.  It sets up for the remaining seconds of the song.  It’s the bridge to a conclusion, to get the listener to the final part.

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By 2:40, the lyrics continue as the guitarist, Jonny Buckland plays a different chord.  This correlates to the lyrics Chris was singing (“I don’t want be a soldier…” up to 2:50 where it goes back to the main melody)

I don’t want to be a soldier

Who the captain of some sinking ship

Would stow, far below

So if you love me, why d’you let me go?

The lyrics at this point interpret to the listener to not go into war because the end result is tragic like a sinking ship going down below.  The question if you love me, why d’you let me go, is a slight variation off of the earlier one.  However this question is addressing the ‘idiots’ who sent the soldier to war, if they truly love their country, why send out the soldiers out to a cruel punishment which can lead to early death.  It’s like they set your fate and it’s not fair because it’s like killing your own people.    It’s unnecessary for war to happen.  So the question is pleading for mercy. This is truly to the point where the soldier is pleading for reasons why the ‘idiots’ did this.  The final question is heard in a falsetto way for the last time and it ultimately made me feel that this song reached a point of climax.  It is evident with the the delivery of Chris’ voice at this last line of this segment of the song.  It illustrated a soldier with his or her last gasp of air, to the point where he or she is on his or her knees with the final pleading.  The falsetto was only done for the questions in this song in order to break away from the normal delivery of the song which was to convey its complex lyrical meaning.  The questions up to this penultimate segment was all in falsetto.  It stood ground on its own and ultimately should impact any listener who listens critically.

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By 2:57, the instrumentals appear in the spotlight once more which would last until 3:03.  By 3:04, Chris sings the final lyrics while the piano becomes the only instrument being heard.  This settles down the song as it first introduced it; all calm and collected.  That last piano note can be heard until about two seconds before the song ends.

I took my love down to violet hill

There we sat in snow

All that time she was silent still

Said if you love me, won’t you let me know?

If you love me, won’t you let me know? (x2)

Lyrically, the song wraps up by telling of this person who took his love (wife) where they sit down quietly, much like the piano’s melodies which is softly closing the song.  That important question appears again, thus reiterating the whole message of the song to the listener.  If you love your fellow citizens, why tell them what to do and send them off to war.  It’s wrong, and it should be addressed so that future citizens can understand what they faced.  Overall, this last bit of the song made me feel at peace again just like the beginning of the song.  So the band succinctly told their “story” if you will and started and ended in the same manner.  This illustrates how real stories are like especially children’s stories where you start off a story, then the conflict occurs, and events take place which ultimately reaches a peak point (climax), then slowly falls and concludes with an overall resolution (the end of the song).

Violet Hill is an important song in the history of the music industry.   It was quite different from the other songs they recorded in their previous albums, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y. The main difference was the major fact that this was their very first protest song.  No other song they recorded had the protest theme.  The song speaks to any generation dealing with problems that can’t be readily solved, but particularly those deployed for war.  This song was written after Chris was watching The Bill O’Reilly Show and it inspired him to write this song.  It was meant to ridicule people like Bill O’Reilly and to question government and its influence on war.  Seeing that this song was recorded during President Bush’s term, this song speaks towards the War on Terror, which had two ongoing wars at the time.  The war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan were the crux of this song.  This song questions those ‘carnival of idiots’ as Chris sings in the middle of the song.  This is addressing those people in the media whether its government officials like the President or political TV show hosts.  The major focus was to get the song out there to raise more awareness of the country’s status at war.  After a few years of the recording of this song, it’s safe to say changes have been made around the world because this song was released.  Ever since George W. Bush left office, and Barrack Obama came in, the war in Iraq has slowly deteriorated.  The combat portion of the war was declared over just this year.  The awareness of the song helped fuel the changes needed for an improved present state of living.

Works Cited:

“Coldplay.” Coldplay, 12 06 2008. Web. 3 Oct 2010. <http://coldplay.com/recordings.php>.

“Drum Set Anatomy.” Drum Solo Artist – All about Drum!. Drum Solo Artists, n.d. Web. 3 Oct 2010. <http://www.drumsoloartist.com/Site/Drum_Set_Anatomy.html>.

Gregory, Jason. “Chris Martin: ‘Coldplay’s ‘Violet Hill’ Inspired By The Beatles’.” Music News, Photos, Gig Tickets,   Videos, Forum, Reviews, Features, Festivals. Gigwise, 18 12 2008. Web. 3 Oct 2010. <http://www.gigwise.com/news/48307/Chris-Martin-Coldplays-Violet-Hill-Inspired-By-The-Beatles>.

Willman, Chris. “Viva La Vida | Music | EW.com.”Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com. Entertainment Weekly, 13 06 2008. Web. 3 Oct 2010. <http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20206310,00.html>.

TIDBITS:

Single release: May 9, 2008

Chris Martin (lead singer)
Will Champion (drums)
Guy Berryman (bassist)
Jonny Buckland (lead guitarist)

It was a rare gift to their fans when they released this single for free off of their website the week before the album dropped in stores.

The song had the first line of the lyrics completed awhile ago before finishing it up and recording it for this album.

UK Singles Chart 8
US Billboard Hot 100 40
US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks 9
US Billboard Pop 100 38

Further Questions to Think About:

Could this song be interpreted in a different way?  If  so, how and what way?

Do you think this song will inspire future artists with their own protest song(s)?

Does the overall question (If you love me, won’t you let me know?) have a universal answer?

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