Hearts in 50 objects: No.15 – The Hearts Song

The Hearts Song was recorded in 1958
The Hearts Song was recorded in 1958
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These days Hearts and Hibs fans can barely tolerate sharing two sides of the same city, let alone the same 7-inch vinyl.

Back in the 1950s, the two Edinburgh clubs were enjoying what is now generally regarded as their golden epoch.

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They dominated Scottish football, winning four league titles, three league cups and one Scottish Cup between them, and their respective forward lines were the envy of the land.

What better time, then, for each club to release their signature terrace anthems; the songs which are now played before the start of every single home match?

The man chosen to lend his shrill vocals to the now legendary recordings was Paisley-born club comic Hector Nicol, who had already cut a 7-inch single for Dundee and Dundee United.

In 1958, Hector and his group, The Kelvin Country Dance Band, produced their self-composed ditties for Hearts and Hibs. The single was released on Gaelfonn, a Glasgow label which specialised in traditional Scottish folk music, as well as the odd football song.

The Boys In Maroon – more commonly known as The Hearts Song – was the A-Side (naturally), while Glory, Glory to the Hi-Bees was on Side B.

Mr Nicol is credited with penning the lyrics for both songs. Musically, however, they were essentially re-workings of traditional folk melodies.

Nicol turned to William Steffe’s The Battle Hymn of the Republic to provide the basis for his tune extolling the virtues of Easter Road and the Famous Five.

The Hearts Song, meanwhile, lifted the main part of its melody from an old American ballad, Sweet Betsy From Pike. Written in 1858 – exactly 100 years before Nicol appropriated it – the song detailed the trials and challenges of a pioneer, Betsy, and her lover, Ike, who migrate from Pike County in Missouri to California during the Gold Rush.

Parallels can be made with the Hearts Song, which details the trials and challenges of Messrs Massie, Walker, Bauld and Mackay during the Jam Tarts’ own ‘gold rush’.

The equally sublime ‘this is my story’ middle section of the Hearts Song is thought to have been taken from the hymn Blessed Assurance.

Interestingly, video footage exists of Johnny Cash singing each of the original songs which Nicol used for Hearts and Hibs.

One line in the Hearts Song which often has the club’s supporters scratching their heads, is the one which makes mention of the Gorgie side’s tendency to sometimes ‘go down’ and then ‘go back up’. Hearts would not suffer relegation until 1977, so perhaps the line is not to be taken literally.

The Boys in Maroon was re-recorded in 1986 by singer Colin Chisholm, The Glasgow Branch, and the entire Hearts squad, just as the team looked dead-certs to secure what would have been a historic league and cup double. Excruciatingly, their bid to recapture the spirit of Hearts’ fabulous fifties era ended with the record ...

• See more great items from Hearts’ history at the club’s museum. For opening times, go to www.heartsfc.co.uk/pages/museum