A cheery song about nitro-glycerine

The Guns of Navarone was a movie which came out in 1961. It’s a stirring tale of derring-do, set in the Greek Islands during the Second World War. A small team of commandos blow up the eponymous guns, so that the Royal Navy can rescue stranded British troops. It is a great action adventure, and the film was a huge success. And it had a theme, which played while the final credits rolled.

GunsofNavaroneHere on Planet Vinyl, there is no such thing as bad music. There are, however, bad lyrics, and these are Herculean in their silliness. A literal-minded person armed with a rhyming dictionary basically summarises the plot. We learn that thousands of soldiers are trapped. So:

Now is the problem how to rescue them
From a crushing defeat
When high on the cliffs
The Guns Of Navarone blocks His Majesty’s Fleet

So in the face of odds impossible
Secret saboteurs in a fisherman’s skiff
Headed for the cliff.

After some extolling of the bravery of said saboteurs, we hear how:

Come from the sea with nitro glycerine,
Nitro glycerine and a ladder of rope
And a thing called hope.
Six flies climb the Nazi spider web,
Carefully set the charge and the fuse,
So little time to lose

Brother.

But, here’s the thing. It’s a good tune. And in Jamaica, they know a good tune, mon. A Kingston ska band, The Skatalites, turned “The Guns of Navarone” into a wonderful dance number. The tune entered the reggae repertoire, and many other fine bands have recorded versions, including The Specials – a politically radical UK band which made it into a protest song, about as far removed from the Dunkirk Spirit patriotism of the original as it is possible to imagine.

Check out the ska versions linked above, but first, listen to what they were inspired by. The capacity of music to morph, and of the human spirit to rework and reinvent, never ceases to amaze.

  • Artist: Mitch Miller and The Gang
  • Single title: The Guns of Navarone
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, mono
  • Label: Coronet
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: KS-468
  • Year: 1961

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