Music Mondays: Endless Forms

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: evolutionary biology!

Here’s the Finnish heavy-metal band Nightwish, with Endless Forms – quite likely the only heavy-metal song ever to quote Darwin and mention Tiktaalik:

Beyond aeons we take a ride
Welcoming the shrew that survived
To see the Tiktaalik take her first walk
Witness the birth of flight

My parents would have assumed that every metal song is about drugs, sex, violence, or most likely, all of those at once. Endless Forms is an environmentalist song (Our floating pale blue ark/Of endless forms most beautiful”) that uses evolutionary biology to help express the awe we ought to feel for life on Earth. Is it a musical masterpiece? Maybe not*, but the band is having a lot of fun and I can’t resist a song that refers not just to Tiktaalik but to Panthalassa, the aye-aye, and the “shrew that survived”.

And this week’s I-just-like-it bonus: Miriam Makeba’s A Luta Continue. Makeba was a South African singer and anti-apartheid activist whose career spanned more than 50 years – from the early 1950s until her death in 2008. What I like about her music is her ability to be joyful and angry at the same time, to protest with seriousness but also grace and optimism.** Videos are in short supply, but here’s a live performance:

The world is a much better place for having had Miriam Makeba in it.

See you next week.

© Stephen Heard  July 19, 2021


*^Nightwish isn’t even my favourite Scandinavian heavy metal artist. That would have to be Yngwie Malmsteen . But I digress.

**^This seems to be a common feature of South African music of the period, and it’s a wonderful thing. There are presumably several PhD theses to be written about it, if they haven’t been already.

 

12 thoughts on “Music Mondays: Endless Forms

  1. laanisto

    Being relatively at home with black and pagan metal (a kind of darker world of metal music) – they sing a lot about nature, mainly about forests and vertebrates living in the forests. I would say that nature is the dominant element in the lyrics. For example a whole album by Ulver (wolves in Norvegian) about, well, wolves… “Nattens Madrigal” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nattens_madrigal). Or, to give an example from, there is a Californian one-man-band Botanist, whose last LP is calles Photosynthesis, and the songlist is as follows: Light; Water; Chlorophyll; Dehydration; Bacteria; Stroma; Palisade; Oxygen. The examples would be endless… Though, this awfully tasteless (well, in my mind) Nightwish song is the only one that is explicitly about the Origin of Species. However, I checked Spotify – there are at leat 38 musicians/bands whose name is exactly spelled “Darwin”…

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  2. albertonykus

    Glad to see “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” get a feature here; it’s certainly delightful. (Maybe my musical tastes aren’t all that “refined”, but we can’t all be perfect. 🤷) I blogged earlier this year about songs that reference my own field, paleontology, though many of the examples are parodies, written by scientists (or at least science-adjacent people) or intended to be educational, and so would probably be disqualified from this series.

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    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Ooh, thanks for that link – I’ll look forward to dipping into your post. No guarantees I won’t shamelessly rip you off by using one of the songs you have there…. my paleontology list is short. Although I’ve always thought Rush’s “Roll the Bones” is inspired by (if not quite about) the Cambrian explosion. Saw them in concert and the backdrops for that song made it very clear that Neil Peart had recently read Gould’s “Wonderful Life”.

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  3. Chris Mebane

    Thanks for these. Both wonderful in their different ways.

    I have moved Nightwish’s ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ in my nominations of best science songs by popular* artists, and best in class in the evolutionary biology category. For best in show, I still nominate Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “NaCl” from the physical science category followed by Brad Paisley’s “Geology” in the, well, geology category. Looking forward to more posts here or over on Dynamic Ecology (where aspersions of a squirrel steal were made, following the Friday music link feature over yonder). Looking forward to listening to lannisto’s links


    * Popular is a relative thing. Popular enough to have made a living at it

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      1. Jeremy Fox

        Whoops, that was supposed to be in reply to Stephen’s original post, not to you Chris.

        Re: best evolutionary biology song by an artist popular enough to make a living playing music, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is well down the list for me (YMMV). I put Nightwish behind (in no particular order) Bruce Springsteen, Gilbert & Sullivan, Cousin Joe, Elvis Costello, The Kinks, They Might Be Giants, Sam Hinton, Chris Smithers, Dave Carter & Tracey Grammer… See https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/evolution-music/. 🙂

        If you forced me to pick a single song from that post, I’d ask “Why?” 🙂 But if you kept forcing me, I’d go for “It’s A Long Way From Amphioxus” (a boringly obvious choice, I admit) or “Gentle Arms of Eden”.

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          1. Chris Mebane

            Great fun, how’d I miss that post? Unfortunately, Jeremy, the way I find most good back posts is when you link to them. A categorical browse would be awesome. Search is clunky and well, I’m a slacker on that.

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            1. Jeremy Fox

              We used to categorize our posts years ago, though only into very coarse categories. Never saw much sign that many readers used the categorizations. So I can’t see us bringing back categories, sorry. And finer-grained categories would be too much work for us.

              I suppose that, since I’m not posting much these days, and it’s not clear if Brian and Meghan will ever be able to find time to post much again, I should start linking to our back catalog more often. Reposts of old posts often seem to draw about as much traffic as new posts do.

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  4. Pingback: Friday links: science is “interesting” but not “awesome”, evolution of peer review, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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