Song of the Week: “O Children” – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Who would have thought that one of the most touching moments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 would come courtesy of Nick Cave?  Yet there it is: Cave’s “O Children” coming through the transistor radio offering a bit of comfort for Harry and Hermione.

At first, the song is playing softly in the background.  It’s slow and melancholy, but not entirely depressing.   As the two draw closer, and awkwardly dance, for  brief moment their problems seem to fade. There’s an underlying hope in the Gospel-like voices of the background singers: “hey little train, wait for me.  I once was blind but not I see.”

As presented in Deathly Hallows, “O Children” brings some much needed happiness.  As for the song itself, Cave twists a tale of murder and betrayal. The children that are asked to lift up their voices have actually been murdered at the hands of their own parents. The song even begins ominously: “pass me that lovely little gun, my dear, my darling one.”  The murder is meant to be quick – the cleaners are already on their way.   Once the deed is done, the children are asked for forgiveness and the parents lament that: “it started out as a bit of fun.”

Lyrically, the song is quite startling, but musically the song never suggests the turmoil underneath. The background singers lift the song to lofty heights, and bring a bit of tenderness.  As the song builds in intensity, the singer’s voices grow louder (the part used in the movie), finally revealing what the dead children have to say:

Hey little train! We are all jumping on
The train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun
And the train ain’t even left the station

Hey, little train! Wait for me!
I once was blind but now I see
Have you left a seat for me?
Is that such a stretch of the imagination?

How did strange tale end up in a Deathly Hallows you’re wondering?  According to the Los Angeles Times, musical supervisor Matt Biffa came across the song, connecting the lyrics and finally convinced director David Yates to use it.  Cave as it turns out, was happy that a more obscure track was used for the movie.

Still, it might seem strange that a song about parents murdering their children would be in a Harry Potter movie. Of course, the entire series revolves around the murder of Harry’s parents.


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2 thoughts on “Song of the Week: “O Children” – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

  1. ShenaniTims

    Cave is always at his best when writing tales of murder. Hence the infamy of his “Murder Ballads” album. And just about every single before or after.

    I believe you mentioned this earlier on twitter once. This song was the one point where I stopped zoning out the movie.

    1. Matt Satterfield Post author

      Yeah I did mention it – it’s a great song. I get what you’re saying about the movie – it does tend to drag a bit in that part but as a fan of the book I really liked the desolation and despair it was trying to capture.

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