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Four Famous Pop Songs Featuring Harpists

As an intricate and often somewhat unearthly sounding instrument, harps are fairly rare in the world of pop music. However, they do appear sometimes – and when they do skilled musicians and songwriters can use them to great and popular effect. From contemporary folk artists to bombastic folk-pop arena fillers, left-field electronic remixes or the classic strains of Sgt. Pepper’s, there’s always been a niche little space for the harp in the last 50 years of modern popular music. These are just four of the best examples.

Cosmic Love – Florence & The Machine

Probably the foremost proponent of the harp in the last decade or so of truly popular artists, Cosmic Love, from their breakout 2009 album Lungs, was a huge hit for Florence & the Machine. With over 60 million views on YouTube for the official video – and another 39 million for this stunning harp-centric live version – Florence Welch has brilliantly brought this classic instrument into a contemporary song-writing structure.

She’s Leaving Home – The Beatles

Although The Beatles more experimental forms of pop music saw them bring the harp in many times, it was often only part of the background orchestra – helping to create a fuller sound but not necessarily taking centre stage in any particular song. However, on this classic number from their seminal 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band, the harp is basically solo for the first few bars of the song and retains a prominent role throughout. Interestingly, the harpist Sheila Bromberg, was the first female musician to appear on a Beatle’s recording at the time. She’s Leaving Home is also one of the only Beatle’s song where none of the band play instruments – John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote and sang it but hired session musicians to play the orchestral parts.

Passion Pit – Sleepyhead

Passion Pit were (at the time of this song’s release back in 2009) a fresh faced electronic-indie-pop band out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. So it was a bit of a curve ball choice when they decided to sample ‘50s Irish harpist and soprano singer Mary O’Hara for the main melody of their debut single. However, with its bouncy drums and ethereal candy-floss vocals, the tinkling harp in the background blends nicely with the rest to create a relentlessly upbeat and entirely unique three minutes of pulsing electronic pop.

Joanna Newsom – Sprout & the Bean

Joanna Newsom – Sprout & the Bean
Joanna Newsom – Sprout & the Bean

How could we mention modern day harpists and pop music without bringing up the belle of the ‘00s folk music revival (sit down Mumford & Sons) Joanna Newsom? With one of the most individual and distinctive voices in modern music, let alone pop, this enchanting debut release from the mysterious Newsom is an absolute pitch-perfect capture of what a great modern songwriter can do with a harp.

Understandably her vocal style might not be for everyone, but if you enjoy the haunting melancholy that only a skilfully played harp can provide – then you’ll love this standout song from Newsom’s 2004 album The Milk Eyed Mender. Funnily enough, the opening harp parts of this particular track would years later be used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial of all things.