A minor miracle of a modern Country song, this one grabbed me by my collar while riding in the car on the way to the grocery store – there’s nothing like that ecstatic moment of hearing a great song for the first time, is there? It’s the sort of pop tune that becomes an old friend about a minute into your very first listen, and the video, showcasing light streaming into interior spaces at low angles, strings of electric lights pulsing in time to the rhythm, and illuminated strips of coloured paper falling like confetti, as befits a band called “Lumineers”, is warm, happy, and full of positive energy. I just love that delicious chord shift that occurs near the end of each verse (during the words “I been sleepin’ in my bed”, “but I can write a song”, and so on), and I’m also taken with how it feels like a real love song, filled with genuine passion – when he sings “my sweet-har-art”, you really feel like he means it, that he just knows he’s the one who’d do right by the object of his affections, not that lout she’s with now:
I don’t think you’re right for him
think of what it might’ve been if we
took a bus to Chinatown
I’d be standin’ on Canal
she’d be standin’ next to me
The reference to the intersection of Canal and Bowery, at the heart of New York City’s Chinatown, seems curiously urban and Northern, given the musical context. Both streets are familiar to anyone steeped in the culture and mythology of the Big Apple, which is to say pretty much everyone, yet in looking it up I half-expected to find it was also some place in Nashville, or Memphis, maybe. Not at all. So why this corner in lower Manhattan? It used to be the epicentre of the city’s famed Diamond District, though it isn’t anymore, so that’s not it (maybe he was talking about buying an engagement ring, was my theory). Its most prominent landmark these days is a beautiful old bank building, now designated a historic site, built in the 1920s, which likewise doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. According to some chatter I’ve found on the internet, the area is also the terminus for several out-of-town bus routes, and the song is an autobiographical expression of regret at having to leave Manhattan without the woman he loves: Imagine what could have been, if only you’d come with me instead of staying with him. That’s a nice way of looking at it, but who knows, really? Speaking to American Songwriter magazine, frontman Wesley Schultz did confirm that he wrote Ho Hey in a moment of disillusionment while staying in New York, prior to moving away to Denver, Colorado: That song was an effort to get under people’s skin at shows in Brooklyn, where everyone is pretty indifferent. And I figured if we could punctuate it with shouts we might get someone’s attention. O.K., but there’s more going on here than a stunt aimed at rousing typically jaded NY concert-goers. During the bridge – a model of its kind, succinct, tuneful, and artfully transitional – he sings straight from his wounded heart: Love, we need it now, let’s hope for some, ’cause, oh, we’re bleedin’ out, which, well, Amen to that, brother.
During the final chants of “ho hey”, you hear the singer instruct the crowd last one, and that’s that, barely more than two and a half minutes in, all wrapped up, crisp and tidy. That’s the best thing about it, I think. This is one of those rare songs that gets in, says what it wants, then gets out before you’ve had enough, leaving you wishing for another verse, and ready to hear it again right away. They hardly ever write them that way any more.