With the killjoy minor tragedy of no bagpipes allowed into Rugby World Cup games, we had a rip-roaring discussion on Newstalk ZB that spanned not one, but two mornings, on the finest bagpipe songs of all time. This was much to the screwed-up face scorn of Mike Hosking’s producer Glenn who is “suspicious of all bladders,” but was fun none-the-less.
I couldn’t believe how many ZB listeners awake in the wee small hours love AC/DC, nominating It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock ‘n’ Roll as the best use of the pipes. Nervous it might be a career-limiting move to play an entire AC/DC song at 3am on ZB, due to regular and firm requesting from the audience I compromised by playing a decent clip or two of the Bon Scott-led ode to tartan-rock.
What was more expected was the nomination of Amazing Grace as the most chilling song you could possible hear on the bagpipes, though this came with a twist for me. A caller said Glen Campbell does a version of Amazing Grace where low and behold, he plays the pipes himself. An American who plays the bagpipes? I had no idea. Looking up the clip and then playing it on-air, I was blown away. In fact, so too was the ZB audience, with dozens of calls and texts from people saying they’d been moved to tears.
What is it about the bagpipes that can do that to people, myself included? Mull Of Kintyre is the same for me and melodically, structure-wise and even tempo, Paul McCartney’s biggest ever hit is a close musical cousin of Amazing Grace – surely no accident. When the bag-pipes kick in on Mull Of Kintyre, the simple three of four chord song all of a sudden becomes something so much more. With Amazing Grace, that is amplified further by the humblest and most moving of lyrics which have crossed religious and secular boundaries arguably better than any song in history.
What elevates Glen Campbell’s version even higher is the fact he is the one playing the pipes: