You can read the last two instalments of this series here:
This post can be found here.
You can read this post here (as I am still boycotting WordPress!)
This post can be found here.
You can read this post here.
This week’s playlist captures Smith’s self-referential moments…
…but it’s not here, because WordPress has become impossibly frustrating to use.
After last week’s slightly controversial topic (although it didn’t cause quite as much consternation as I thought it might) I’m heading for safer ground…
It’s not that MES was in the habit of hanging out with celebrities. In fact it was quite a challenge to find a picture of him with anybody famous other than fellow musicians (I had to – not for the first time – ask dannyno for assistance in finding the one above). His lyrics, however, were peppered with random celebrity references.
The YouTube playlist is here. For those who prefer Spotify:
Fit And Working Again
And I feel like Alan Minter
I just ate eight sheets of blotting paper
And I chucked out the Alka Seltzer
Minter (who died, aged 69, between me writing and publishing this) was world middleweight boxing champion for sixth months in 1980. His precise role in the narrative of this Slates track is unclear.
The spawn of J. “Loaded” Brown and L. Laverne crawl around
Smith undertook a famously well-oiled and antagonistic interview for James Brown’s Loaded magazine in 2008. He called interviewer John Perry a c*nt, tried to stub a cigarette out in his face, described John Peel as ‘a bastard’ and abused Tim Wheeler of Ash, who happened to be in the pub in which the interview took place. A year earlier, another awkward interview – this time on TV show Transmission – saw Lauren Laverne ask, ‘your missus is still in there, and she was in the last lot, right? Did you ever think about, sort of, maybe replacing her and then think, oh, I can’t go that far?’ MES, deadpan, replied ‘don’t get funny now’.
A Lot Of Wind
Then they have Carl Lewis on
He’s got a ponytail and he’s a vegan
Not only does Smith’s account of mind-numbing daytime TV mention Olympic gold medal winner Lewis, the ‘weatherman… [who] used to teach all our friends’ refers to Fred Talbot, a teacher at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys which Simon Wolstencroft attended.
Dedication Not Medication
Pierce Brosnan how dare you prescribe
Sad grief and bed wet pills?
One of Smith’s most startling opening lines refers to ex-Bond actor Brosnan’s role in promoting Indian chewing tobacco Pan Bahar, one of the side effects of which is incontinence.
Dr Bucks’ Letter
Cheer myself up: put the radio on, get the magazine out
And read about ‘The Essence of Tong’
Tracking down the source for this passage, which took him nearly twenty years, is dannyno’s proudest Fall detective moment. It comes from Hot Line, ‘the complementary magazine for Virgin Trains passengers’, no 8, Autumn 1999.
The Wright Stuff
Eccentric lad: he keeps false, plastic women’s bosoms under his TV desk and dressing room
Growing up, his family had no problems with nudity
In fact, this held his dad in good stead on ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’
Probably refers to Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright, although of course Paul Gascoigne has a stronger link with plastic breasts. As ever, The Annotated Fall has a detailed analysis.
Cary Grant’s Wedding
Cary Grant’s wedding
Buster Keaton he turned up
He was an old woman
He didn’t take hallucigens
First appeared on Totale’s Turns, recorded in Bradford on 29 February 1980. Played only a dozen times 1979-81 and never got a studio recording. One contributor to The Annotated Fall suggests that Keaton was being mocked for ‘his avoidance of LSD’. Random fact: the first film ever shown at The Regal Cinema, Hitchin (where Hex Enduction Hour was recorded) was Gunga Din, starring Cary Grant.
The Littlest Rebel
Hips like Shirley Temple
She’s the littlest rebel
Child star Shirley Temple appeared in The Littlest Rebel in 1935.
Roll the chubby round jowls
And Burton is weeping
His shares are weeping
God damn the pedantic Welsh
Glamorgan-born Richard Burton played Winston Churchill in the 1974 biopic The Gathering Storm: ‘Winston Churchill had a speech imp-p-p-pediment / and look what he did / he razed half of London’.
As those of you who follow on Twitter / Facebook will know, the second draft of You Must get Them All went off to the publishers recently. Fingers crossed – and many thanks, as ever, for all your support.
Next week, we’ll be looking at those moments where MES got a bit self-referential…
Over the last two and a half years I have spent a large chunk of my life writing well over a quarter of a million words about The Fall. I know that nobody forced me to do this, and I only mention it to put this post into context. I love The Fall, but any artist putting out 500+ songs on 150+ albums over 40 years is bound to make the odd misstep. One of the many joys of The Fall is that, although their best work is thrilling, challenging, innovative and unique, when they produced a duffer, it was a proper duffer. This is also true of their live performances. Although there were both rough patches and runs of outstanding gigs, they could also veer back and forth between the two in the space of a week. (The review above is of their 8 October 1996 performance at the Assembly Rooms, Worthing, regarded by many as their worst ever gig.)
Another rewarding aspect of being a Fall fan is that hardly any of us can agree about anything. I’m not claiming that this is unique in itself – ask a Beatles, Dylan, Neil Young or Prince forum what that artist’s best ten songs are and you’ll surely get some sparky debate – but if you ask a group of Fall fans to rank five specified tracks, you’ll get a hundred different answers. (This might seem mathematically impossible, but trust me – they could do it.)
“Having two drummers was a shit idea.”
I gave advance warning of this post on Twitter and Facebook last Friday, and asked for people’s thoughts about the group’s worst moments. Within a few hours, about a quarter of the group’s back catalogue had been nominated. Most were the usual suspects (several of which appear below) but even ‘The Classical’, ‘The Container Drivers’ and ‘Hip Priest’ had their backers. One went so far as to disparage the whole notion of having two drummers as ‘a shit idea’.
One poster was upset about the ‘negativity’ of the whole idea of identifying the group’s worst songs. I understand their viewpoint, and if you also feel this way then I suggest reading no further. I’m sorry for any offence caused – especially to any ex-Fall members reading this! – but this is, after all, just a bit of fun – and a bit of fun borne out of love.
I know that most (perhaps all) of the songs below will have their defenders. Judging by the frequency with which they cropped up on social media over the weekend, there will also be a few whose absence some people will find perplexing. So, here are my ‘bottom ten’ picks, which will undoubtedly be different to every other Fall fan’s list – and that’s all just part of the joy…
[‘Outro’ isn’t on YouTube, so ‘The City Never Sleeps’ steps up from the subs’ bench.]
In the late 90s, the Receiver label released what felt like a hundred compilations. Characterised by inaccurate tracklistings, dubious sleeve notes and general shoddiness, they contained about an album’s worth of worthwhile material between them. Oxymoron (1997) advertised ‘Italiano’ on its front cover, presumably to entice potential purchasers with the promise of new, unheard material. If anyone bought the album on the strength of this ‘new’ track, they were surely disappointed by this woefully hamfisted techno-mangling of ‘Oleano’.
Rude (All The Time)
In the unlikely event that Ed Blaney is reading this, then I’m sorry Ed. I know you were a good friend to MES and you co-wrote and played on several really good Fall songs (for example the blistering ‘I Wake Up In The City‘, the b-side to this limited edition 7″, which is among my favourite Fall tracks). I don’t know what the original Trigger Happy version sounded like, but this is a half-arsed strum that has a distinct just-got-back-from-the-pub feel about it.
Black Monk Theme 2
Part 1 is a cracker, especially the Peel session version. But whatever made the group think that giving the song a hi-NRG/Eurovision treatment, complete with manic handclap effects and tortuous key changes was a good idea, God only knows.
‘Birthday’ might have escaped this list had ‘The City Never Sleeps‘ been available on Spotify. Both songs were sung by Lucy Rimmer, but she’s not to blame for either of them appearing here. There’s nothing wrong with her vocals at all, it’s just that neither of the tracks sound much like The Fall. Smith’s absence isn’t the main problem though; the issue is that both are pedestrian indie-jangles that commit the cardinal sin of making The Fall sound really dull.
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
The Fall had a few goes at festive songs, with very mixed results. This track is from Peel session #18, broadcast in December 1994. ‘Hark’ starts off promisingly, with a laid-back REM/Teenage Fanclub strum accompanied by Smith’s laid-back drawl. However, the chorus, although hilarious the first couple of times you hear it, is enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge.
Crew Filth / Where’s The Fuckin Taxi? Cunt
Whereas ‘Birthday’ and ‘Hark’ are flawed, there’s still something endearing about them; they’re the sort of songs that, when they pop up on shuffle, provoke a smile as well as a roll of the eyes and a shrug. There’s nothing endearing about this pair, however.
The Fall have a long history of tracks that are either quirky little interludes or piss-taking filler, depending on your point of view – ‘North West Fashion Show’, ‘Light/Fireworks’, ‘Pre-MDMA Years’, ‘W.M.C.–Blob 59’, ‘Live At The Witch Trials’, etc. Whatever their lyrical or musical merits, there is at least something playful and humorous about them. ‘Crew’ and ‘Taxi’, as well as being deeply self-indulgent, both have an unpleasantly sharp edge about them. The former contains the line ‘we kept our backs to the walls’, about which the best you can say is that it hasn’t aged well.
Oswald Defence Lawyer
Contains a few nice turns of phrase (’embraces the struffed corpse of Mark Twain’) but overall it’s incredibly sluggish, lumbering and dull. I’m with Brix: ‘The most annoying song I ever had to play on… it was interminable, and when we played it I watched the audience switch off’.
Cloud of Black
‘Cloud’ – a Shift-Work out-take that first appeared on The Twenty-Seven Points – is a similarly monotonous affair. Scanlon sounds as though he’s losing the will to live; MES appears to be struggling to stay awake.
A single note repeated in batches of three for 36 seconds. It’s not clear how this required the song-writing efforts of five people (Smith/Barbato/Poulou/Presley/McCord). It’s not on YouTube, so just go ‘duh-duh-duh’ a few times and your version will be just as good.
I was a bit ambitious in the last post, suggesting that the You Must Get Them All second draft might be completed by Bank Holiday Monday. I still have quite a bit to go, but I’ve taken a day off work next Tuesday, so hopefully it’ll be done by then – wish me luck! (and do all the retweeting, sharing, etc. if you have the time.)
We’ll be back on more positive ground next week with Fall songs that reference celebrities…
‘If you’re feeling too sexy, have a glass of water and a run round the backyard.’
John Edward Smith (father of MES), quoted in Renegade
Perhaps 90-ish% of all popular music is about relationships. Boy meets girl, mostly, with all the other permutations and the odd diversion into my father/mother never understood me. In comparison to most artists, The Fall’s back catalogue is rather light on songs directly related to relationships. Here are ten moments when MES did touch on the subject.
And for those of you who don’t have / like Spotify, here’s the YouTube Playlist
Smith claimed that he didn’t write songs about Brix after they separated: ‘I write about ex-girlfriends, readies, the milkman… but never Brix. It’s funny, you’d think I would, but I don’t feel the need to.’ It seems unlikely, however, that ‘Harpy’ wasn’t about her: ‘she gripped me like a hawk / her talons were quite famished’. Given that she was dating Nigel Kennedy at the time, the prominence of Kenny Brady’s violin feels like it might not be a coincidence…
References those ‘analyse your life/relationship’ magazine quizzes whilst also parodying Paul Simon’s ‘50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’. Its weary ennui may also reflect the deterioration in Smith and Saffron Prior’s relationship.
An Older Lover Etc.
The sleeve of Slates included a brief description of each song. For this one it read ‘real Bert Finn stuff’, a reference to Albert Finney, star of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, in which his character has an affair with an older, married woman. There’s not actually that much in the lyric to link it directly to the film, but there’s certainly a cynical and sordid tone: ‘old divorces / children’s faces’; ‘her love was like your mother’s / with added attractions’; ‘you’ll soon get tired of her / she’ll shag you out on the table’. Generally considered to be about Kay Carroll, who was eleven years older than Smith. ‘You should have seen Kay’s face when he sang it’, said clarinetist Dave Tucker.
Smith’s paean to his briefly adopted home is a poignant and melancholy piece: ‘I still miss the streets at dawn / and in the morning walking your bridges home… I tell you something / I wish I was in Edinburgh’.
Married, 2 Kids
Smith’s vignette of married life is as cynical and depressing as you might expect, but also laced with dark, wry humour, the protagonist having ‘aftershave like mustard’ and a ‘peculiar goatish smell’. Smith suggested that the song was about manager Trevor Long, who had ‘only started conning him once he’d had two kids’. This ‘alternative’ version, taken from the 1996 Receiver compilation Fiend With a Violin, is actually a live recording of unknown provenance.
In The Park
Smith rarely wrote directly about sex (presumably preferring a glass of water) so this track from Grotesque is a bit of an eye-opener. Basically, it’s an ode to dogging: ‘I take you to the park up the road… rain makes policemen no threat / turns cars into little specks / muffles the shouts of your neighbour and we will have sex here.’ Absolute filth, and lots of fun.
A sorrowful tale of a couple falling apart because of incompatible work patterns. Live versions were generally much more effective than the rather limp and sluggish album version. This one is from Live Various Years and was recorded in Munich, October 1993.
A fragile composition by Julia Nagle that finds Smith in uncharacteristically romantic mood: ‘in dreams I stumble towards you… I am in the next room with you always’.
Brix claimed that two of the songs on Middle Class Revolt were about her; if that’s true, this seems to be one of the most likely candidates. This might suggest that the ‘hippy half-wit, who thinks he’s Mr. Mark Smith’ is Nigel Kennedy, although it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine the spiky-haired violinist as a hippy. The opening line, ‘I phoned you up from Dallas’ (‘I followed you from Dallas’ on this Peel session version) may have been inspired by the country standard, ‘My Elusive Dreams’.
The closing track of Imperial Wax Solvent delves into the less salubrious side of human relationships. Smith’s reference to ‘herpes, scabies and AIDS’ around a minute in shed a bit of unsavoury light on the opening lines, where he describes having ‘rat poison’ in both his ‘workshop’ and his ‘vicinity’. All of which suggests that the chimney that’s undergoing detonation might not be an architectural feature…
Many thanks, as always, to all of you who share, like, retweet, etc. It really is very much appreciated. The second draft of the You Must Get Them All book is about nearly done; I’m hoping to have it complete by the end of bank holiday Monday. I’d be very grateful for anything you can do to promote YMGTA.
Next week will see me address a potentially controversial topic: the ten worst Fall tracks.
‘Mark is psychic and he knows it. He’s a precognitive psychic, able to pick up snatches of future incidents before they happen,’
Brix Smith Start: The Rise, the Fall, and the Rise
‘You write things down and you don’t know what they mean but you know they’re true and they come true later. It’s not prophecy as such… I see things happening and I think, “Oh, that reminds me of something.” Turns out it’s something I wrote five years ago.’
Interview with Michael Bracewell and Jon Wilde, frieze, 4 September 1992
Although Mark E Smith had a generally cynical outlook on life, he was certainly not averse to believing in the supernatural side of things. This went far beyond his love of The Twilight Zone. Smith claimed, for example, to have been an accomplished tarot reader in his early years: ‘when people did a tarot with me they’d walk away with their life changed… I got quite a reputation for it’.
The Fall’s back catalogue is peppered with songs that a variety of people (fans, journalists and group members) have suggested provide evidence of Smith’s pre-cognitive abilities. Whether or not the man himself truly believed in his predictive powers is anyone’s guess, but here are ten Fall songs that some believe demonstrate Smith’s ability to predict the future.
[Normally, there’d be an embedded playlist here, but WordPress and/or Spotify are for some reason being uncooperative; hopefully you’ll find it here.]
According to Kay Carroll, Dragnet‘s opener was inspired by a psychic centre in Prestwich that her mother (a practising medium) had opened in a building that had previously been a dance studio. This was contradicted by Martin Bramah, who claimed that the song was about a disco above a spiritualist church in Prestwich called Questers Psychic Disco (referenced directly in the lyric) that he had attended: ‘I didn’t know Mark at that point, and Mark never went, but later I told him about this place.’ Smith himself provided yet another explanation, saying that the song ‘was based on this Christian Psychic club that I used to go to for a laugh. These psychic women would stop me coming out of the dole and go, “You’ve got it, come to our meeting”. Fascinating stuff. It was like Alcoholics Anonymous for psychics.’ The phrase ‘you’ve got it’ presumably points to Smith’s alleged ‘pre-cog’/psychic talents.
The version below is the Dragnet original. If you haven’t already heard it, you might also want to check out ‘Psykick Dancehall #2’, an alternative version that was a b-side to the ‘Fiery Jack’ single and contains a brief monologue about Scottish psychic Helen Duncan, the last person to be imprisoned under the 1735 Witchcraft Act.
In which Smith seems to anticipate the conflict that would break up Yugoslavia. As Dave Thompson put it:
‘One of The Fall’s most ferocious …releases, war torn guitars and keyboards cut through with muttered samples, as Smith’s chilling vision of a pan-European society regulated according to the Nazi/Nietzsche-ian ideal was borne out by the near-simultaneous eruption of the war in the Balkans.’
Whilst the album track is pretty peerless, for a bit of variety I’ve included the Nottingham 92 version here. A cracking take, it’s heavy on the Bush electronica and is introduced by MES as being ‘a bit like James’.
Terry Waite Sez
Brix saw the lyric as clear evidence of Smith’s abilities. ‘We record the song. He ends up getting kidnapped. The song is released. Then his family call Beggars Banquet record company. They believe there might be clues in the lyrics as to where he’s being held.’
According to Smith, the song was about a bloke he met down the pub.
Arid Al’s Dream
A sadly overlooked little gem from an obscure 1992 compilation called Various – Volume Four. It eventually appeared on a reissue of Shift-Work as well as several Fall compilations. The Annotated Fall describes it as ‘a sci-fi tale, seemingly about a dream encounter with an alien intelligence.’ It doesn’t contain any spooky predictions, but there are frequent references to ‘psy-cog dreams’.
The Light User Syndrome was released on 10 June 1996. It included this track, which referenced Enniskillen and described Manchester as a ‘powder keg’. Five days later the IRA detonated a bomb in Manchester city centre that injured over 200 people. In a 1996 interview (it’s at 25:55) Smith said that the song was inspired by his sister getting caught up in the 1992 Manchester bombing.
Disney’s Dream Debased
Smith and Brix visited Disneyland in January 1984. Brix’s account says that MES was scared and shaken after riding on the ‘Matterhorn’ rollercoaster, repeatedly telling her that the ride was ‘evil’. Shortly afterwards, a woman was decapitated when she was thrown from her car and struck by the next one. Coincidence? Well, yes – but it’s an intriguing tale and a great tune.
Spencer Must Die
Simon Spencer of D.O.S.E. co-wrote this song from Levitate. He died a few years later. Not exactly the strongest evidence for Smith’s supernatural abilities, but still a great track. The version here is a live version (or, to be more accurate, two live versions welded together) from the 2018 triple-LP/double-CD reissue on Cherry Red.
‘I wrote a song called Zagreb Daylight two years ago. We were playing in Zagreb and l could feel this horrible, murderous shit in the air.’
A snippet of ‘The Funeral Mix’, another track from the EP, is inexplicably tacked onto the end.
Victoria Train Station Massacre / New Facts Emerge
When New Facts Emerge was released in 2017, there was a little controversy regarding the title of Victoria Train Station Massacre. A couple of months earlier, a suicide bomber had killed 23 people and injured 139 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. A Cherry Red representative stated that this was an ‘unfortunate coincidence… The track was recorded and the artwork sent off for manufacture long before the terrible events in Manchester.’
The song wasn’t really a pre-cognition of the tragic events at the Arena, of course; in fact it was Smith having a moan about architectural changes to Victoria Station:
‘I’m actually very fond of the architecture of Victoria Station, but it’s all been trashed to fuck, and that’s what the song’s about. You know all that beautiful Victorian latticework, like they have at Paddington? They ripped it all off.’
New Facts Emerge contains no alleged pre-cog, being more concerned with shaking down frogs. However, I hate to separate these two tracks as they are two halves of one beautiful whole.
Many thanks, as ever, for reading. In the run-up to You Must Get Them All being published, all likes, comments, retweets, shares, etc. are greatly appreciated.
Next week we will be getting all cosy and intimate whilst looking at Fall songs about love and relationships…