The of original songs written by various

The album Hymns of the 49th Parallel is a
collection of 11 songs performed by Canadian singer-songwriter, K.D Lang. The
album is a compilation of covers of original songs written by various Canadian artists
such as the late Canadian musician and poet, Leonard Cohen, as well as the
Alberta native singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell. The title Hymns of the 49th Parallel is symbolic, as a ‘hymn’ itself refers
to a religious song of worship, joy, and praise, which is evident in all the pieces
within the album through biblical references, and an overall perceived theme of
spirituality. Using the term “The 49th Parallel” is also
symbolic, as it is a commonly used term for the border separating Canada from
the United States.

 Lang’s choice to title the album Hymns of the 49th Parallel is
significant because she is associating the works featured on the album to songs
of joy, celebration, and praise, all originating from Canada, hence, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. In accordance with the views of religious studies
scholar, Émile Durkheim and his view of religion acting as a primary source of
social cohesion, the songs on Lang’s album are used to deliver a unified message
and create social solidarity. Durkheim’s theories demonstrate how through various
forms of religious representation and imagery within the album, Lang’s decision
to call these songs hymns is an example of using totemism to facilitate identity
and unity within a group.  

The 6th track on the album is
Lang’s cover of Leonard Cohens “Hallelujah”. The religious term ‘Hallelujah’ is
“used to express praise, joy, or thanks” (Merriam-Webster, n.d) This song is a
direct reference to the allegory of King David in the Bible. As the story goes,
King David was hand selected by God to become Israel’s greatest king. David,
who was a profound musician, had written many of the Psalms featured in The
Book of Psalms. (“David”, 2001) This allusion to King David being a musician is
evident in Cohen’s lyrics:

            “Well I heard there was a secret

            That David played and it pleased the

            The baffled king composing
Hallelujah” (Cohen, 1984).


apart from being a great musician and poet, King David also had some conflicts after
committing adultery with a woman named Bathesheba. In the Bible, David “saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the
woman was very beautiful”. When David asked about the woman, he was informed
she was the wife of a man named Uriah. Despite David knowing Bathesheba was
married, “David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay
with her” (2 Sm. 11:1-27 NIV).

This portion of the story is depicted in Cohen’s song when he sings:

saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” (Cohen, 1984).


As theorist Emile Durkheim has described in
his book The Elementary Forms of the
Religious Life “Religious representations are collective representations
which express collective realities” (Durkheim 1912, 10). Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”
has many religious representations, which as Durkheim states, expresses a
collective reality as well as a group identity. This representation is a form
of totemism, the lyrics containing biblical symbolism are acting as a totem “ultimately
a symbol of the clan itself” (Klassen 2014, 10). Durkheim also pointed out that
“religious force is nothing other than the collective and anonymous force of
the clan” (Durkheim 1912, 221) which reflects how “Hallelujah” is acting as a
religious force in this context.

Another example of religious representation
within Lang’s album is track number 9, “Jericho”. Originally performed by Joni
Mitchell, this song reflects the biblical story of the battle of Jericho where
Joshua and his army concurred the city by ordering his men to play trumpets and
march around the city for 7 days as instructed by the Lord. On the 7th day “When
the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet,
when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged
straight in, and they took the city” (Jo 15:13-16:27 NIV). Mitchell’s lyrics mirror
this story when she sings:

like Jericho’ I said
 ‘Let these walls come tumbling down’…

like Jericho
these walls come tumbling down now
them fall right on the ground” (Mitchell, 1977)


Track 11, the final song of the album is Lang’s
version of Jane Siberry’s “Love is Everything”, a soulful ballad which references
the line “your kingdom come, your will be done” from Bible verse Matthew 6:10 –
the Lords prayer (Mt 6:10 NIV). This line is referenced in Siberry’s lyrics:

can’t wait ’til you make the whole kingdom come

I’m leaving” (Siberry, 1981)


view that “religious force is nothing other than the collective and
anonymous force of the clan, and since this can be represented in the mind only
in the form of the totem, the totemic emblem is like the visible body of the
god” (Durkheim 1912, 221) is useful in understanding why these songs, when
covered, were labelled as ‘hymns’ by Lang. This belief that “any social good could
take the role of the religious symbol” describes how referring to these modern,
popular culture songs as ‘hymns’ acts as a way of dividing the sacred from the

            The significance of K.D Lang calling
the songs in the album Hymns of
the 49th Parallel,

that all these songs illustrate the connection with man, nature, and himself on
his journey within society. They provide a bridge between heritage and faith,
and sing praise to Canadian landscapes, popular culture, and most importantly- a
connection to each other and the power of the collective. These songs are both hymns to Canada, and hymns from Canada.

This album acts as a totem, symbolizing shared beliefs and a representative for
a group. As Durkheim would argue, the naming the title Hymns of the 49th Parallel “formalizes a
collective identity that promotes moral guidance to the individuals involved” (Klassen
2014, 10).


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