Behind The Song: The Lumineers, “Ho Hey”

Years from now, when those who do such things look back on the cultural phenomena that gripped the attention of our nation, it will be impossible for them to avoid “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers. And why would they ever want to avoid it?

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There’s a reason the song has become so ubiquitous in the time since it humbly made its national debut on the CW drama Hart of Dixie back in 2011. From there, it worked its way into commercials and movie trailers, got covered on the ABC show Nashville and in concert by Taylor Swift, and even received the ultimate tribute: A late-night parody from Jimmy Fallon and friends in chicken suits.

The song rolled to #3 on the US charts and was a Top 10 hit in countries all over the world, which is quite remarkable considering the simplicity of that chant-along title that anchors the song. Indeed, it harkens back to the golden days of rock and roll, when songs with nonsensical titles like “Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp),” “Tutti Frutti,” and “Do Wah Diddy” sounded like the most profound poetry to radio listeners.

Make no mistake though: “Ho Hey” is not a novelty song. Although the lyrics don’t follow any kind of linear storyline, they’re full of passion and heart. Lumineers frontman Wesley Schultz sings them with a unique combination of vulnerability and force, putting not just his heart but also his guts on his sleeve. “Love we need it now,” he sings. “Let’s hope for some/’Cause oh, we’re bleeding out.”

It’s almost impossible for this song to fade into the background, which was just as Schultz intended when he wrote it back when he still lived in New York, before his disillusionment caused him to move to Colorado. In an interview with American Songwriter in 2012, he explained just what he was trying to achieve. “That song was an effort to get under people’s skin at shows in Brooklyn, where everyone is pretty indifferent,” he said. “And I figured if we could punctuate it with shouts we might get someone’s attention.”

Well, not only Brooklyn, but the while world paid attention to the song, so mission accomplished. All too often, the songs that get played endlessly in a certain span of time wear out their welcome pretty quick. For all its ubiquity, The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” still sounds fresh. Wesley Schultz sings early on in the song, “I can write a song.” Man, was he not kidding.


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