Minds Music Monday (On A Wednesday!) – 20th Century Promised Land – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

As “the speed of light is moving on“ and we are now less than three weeks away from the anniversary of the release date of Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, I still have “something to prove and much to present” (to paraphrase the song being highlighted today). So, today I present a special midweek edition of Minds Music Monday!

It’s a mystery, this track. A track from the Sister Feelings Call album that has never been played live, has hardly ever been talked about by Jim or any of the other band members, but is a firm favourite amongst the “diehard” set.

There are lines within the lyrics that Jim didn’t write himself. Lines that are from a play by Bertholt Brecht called the Life of Galileo – Andrea: Unhappy the land that has no heroes. Galileo: No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

Reading the synopsis of the Life of Galileo – those words are at a pivotal end point of the play. Andrea is one of Galileo’s former pupils and he sees Galileo’s actions on the replication of the telescope, and of his celestial discoveries, as well as his defiance to the Roman Catholic church as acts of heroism. “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” – ie: Italy is an unhappy land for not seeing Galieo’s actions as heroic. Galileo counters this notion with “No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.” – ie: Galileo does not see himself as a hero and Italy’s happiness (nor any other country for that matter) as a nation should not hinge upon having heroes.

One wonders how Jim got exposed to the Life of Galileo? Another question I would love to ask him, but there is little opportunity for such things these days. I lament.

Perhaps he obtained a copy of this from somewhere? A book of a selection of Brecht’s work was re-published in 1980, the play having first been published in 1955. The book is called “Brecht – Selected Plays Five – Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and her Children”. 

It is obviously something that he ruminated on, for he’d used the lines previously in the demo of Life In Oils – a Simple Minds song that never advanced beyond its demo recording in early 1981, much to John Leckie’s consternation (mine also, it has to be said). The lines certainly must have resonated strongly enough to transfer their use onto 20th Century Promised Land.

So…what is the song about? It’s rather ambiguous in tone. And I have spent time dissecting it with a few other fans in the past. Is it about war? Or the consequences of war? The general tumult we find ourselves in during the late 20th century? Europe was still in quite a bit of upheaval during the early 1980s. Conflict in Afghanistan with the U.S.S.R. Berlin is still divided by the wall. Communism is the oppressor of many in Eastern Europe. Nicolae Ceaușescu is firmly in control in Romania. 

Jim may have used some Brecht lines, yes, but all the other words in the song – all he has written have deep potency to them as well. Just read the lyrics! Take them in. It may not be immediately apparent what his lyrics are conveying – and of course they are open to interpretation and people will interpret different meanings – but there is no denying their power to make you think and ponder. 

THIS IS WHY I LOVE JIM KERR AS A LYRICIST! He’d be somewhat flippant and dismissive of the words he’s written in this song “They’re just words. I don’t really know where they come from…” etc, etc. Almost as if he is embarrassed to admit his own intelligence. Probably due to fear of looking “pretentious” or up his own arse. Well, fuck that!

Anyway…the lyrics. Read them!


Stories came like the wind,
Joining every bridge in the world.
Ringing out footsteps,
Calling out steel-heels.
I give voice,
I give breath,
Count out evenings and stars.
How fast can these things move on,
Taking roots back to yourself,
And the reason for fear was moving on,
And on.
Some time,
Great times,
Troubled time,
Fire for the times,
Ringing out footsteps,
Calling out steel-heels.
Promised land,
Great times in commotion.
Here comes every day,
It only lasts an hour,
Unhappy the land that has no heroes,
No! Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

And the reason for fear was moving on,
The speed of light was moving on.
Don’t cry,
Tears are only wasted water.
Some say God only loves the proud,
Be damned on luck,
But not disheartened,
Nothing to prove,
And nothing to present.
I give voice,
I give breath,
Catching wind in my hand,
My hand.

Some times,
Great times,
Troubled time,
Catching wind in my hand.
My hand,
Some times,
Great times,
Troubled times,
Fire for the times,
Ringing out footsteps,
Calling out steel-heels.

Promised land,
Great times in commotion,
Here comes every day,
It only lasts an hour,
Unhappy the land that has no heroes,
No! Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

I’ll call you out,
I’ll scream you out,
And I don’t care if you’re afraid,
When city sounds invade the air.

Catch the wind in their hands,
Promised land.
Catch the wind in their hands,
Promised land.
Promised land.
Promised land.
Great times in commotion.


Those words are just so wonderful! Both clear and yet opaque, both relevant and yet timeless. And that quintessential element of the truly great when it comes to Simple Minds songs – the “dark light”. That kind of dour centre, the deep aspect that ultimately lifts and becomes bright. Hope. Present within lines like “don’t cry – tears are only wasted water” and “be damned on luck but not disheartened” and “the reason for fear was moving on”. And there is also something ultimately uplifting in the lines “catching wind in my hand/catch the wind in their hands”, and “great times in commotion”. A statement that says “be in the moment, be present, and enjoy what life gives you…if you can.”

He’s as sharp as a tack, that boy. A sharp intellect. A great mind.

As for the musicality of the song? Well, it seems reading up about it on Dream Giver that not even the band members quite know how they arrived at it, with Charlie Burchill quoted as saying, “We stumbled across those chords. It wasn’t just the chords that made the whole thing, it was a combination of the chords, what the bass was doing, what I was doing. As soon as we hit it everybody went ‘Right, that’s it,’ and we had to work in reverse and figure out what we’d done – we didn’t have a clue what had happened.”

Rhythm is always integral to Simple Minds songs, and this is no exception. Such a short, sweet melody from Mick, but underpinned by a subtler Forbes bassline than usual. The time signature of it too. It’s in 4/4, which is a standard time signature for the majority of popular songs. But it doesn’t sound like a regular 4/4 time signature to me? Perhaps Brian plays it on the back beat? Whatever it is, I love it. Actually – I just counted it and what he does is play the snare on beat one of the first four bars and beat three of the next four bars. From my limited exposure to drumming – that would fuck me up! Charlie’s guitar riffs are wonderful too.

And there is Jim and that vocal performance. He just sells everything perfectly on Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. Just…everything. The nuances to his voice, the way he articulates and enunciates words. Perfection. 

The song has never been performed live, which is a shame, but I guess it is inevitable with a catalogue as rich as Simple Minds’ that not every song in their catalogue could or would get a live airing. Surprising it never got a look in even during the 5×5 Live Tour? Perhaps then it might have been considered briefly? Who knows? There is just such a wealth of riches to mine from the Sons/Sister albums. 

So all I have to offer in terms of listening experience is the track as it appears on the album. (Which album that is is dependent upon whether you have the Canadian version or not.)

It appeared on the B-Side of the Sweat In Bullet single, appearing on all formats – the lone 7” single – the double pack gatefold 7”, as well as the 12” single. 

This song is special and sounds very unambiguous to the uninitiated, but try to explain to someone what it’s about and the realisation of its ambiguity dawns. Any lyricist that can deliver that is just perfect in my eyes. If you’d like to share your theories on the song’s meaning, or your interpretation of it, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Minds Music Monday (On A Wednesday!) – 20th Century Promised Land – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

  1. Wow, good reporting Priptona, These are quite the lyrics. He must of been channeling something that he was unaware of or was he? You know Bob Dylan wrote things that he says he does not know where it came from. Interesting. Would be nice to hear what it would sound like now if Simple Minds would rework it…. What do you think?

    • Hi Sage, yes, it could be very interesting indeed. I’m sure not even Jim knows for sure where all his ideas and words come from. It still leaves me fascinated though.

  2. I love bonus days! Today was “donut cheat day”here…So I’m thinking this tune is a perfect example of Jim’s swirling lyricism, and very much open to interpretation….I think its a question of hope in a time when there was very little..Also, a question of authority upon who we chose to call, a “leader” or a “hero”…Its a quirky tune but fits nicely with the rest of SFC….Cheers Larelle!

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