Tag Archives: novelty

#71 – Dogs Are Everywhere

12 Jan

Dogs Are Everywhere (Single, 1986)
Dogs Are Everywhere (Acoustic) (b-side, 1995)
Dogs Are Everywhere (Live in Bucharest, 2012)
Dogs Are Everywhere at Pulpwiki

“Recent evidence shows that man is a direct descendant of the Dog, rather than the ape, as had been believed. Some are closer to their roots than others.” – original sleevenotes

Pulp had always seemed to be a gang of sorts. First a cheeky collection of schoolboys with wacky names, then an association of budding musos, then a performance art troupe, united by their difference from their peers. Merely ‘not being normal’ is not a lot to have in common, though, and by 1985 the strains were beginning to show. On one side there were Jarvis and Russell, both taking the business of being in a band very seriously indeed, making elaborate schedules and forcing the other members to do lists of chores at rehearsals. On the other side there were Magnus and Manners, the Keith Moon figures of the group – interested in music, sure, but not into being organised and well-behaved. They once infuriated Russell by playing a Sham 69 cover as an encore. Candida, meanwhile, was stuck in the middle, being neither a control freak nor a hooligan.

“I was inspired by one night after playing Chesterfield. Magnus Doyle and Peter Boam were always pissing about and getting stoned. Myself and Russell were puritanical and thought that was terrible. They’d have these mates hanging round, which got on my nerves. That night, they nicked bottles from behind the bar, and we got into loads of trouble. That’s what the song is about – people who display a doggish attitude.” – Jarvis talking about Dogs Are Everywhere in Record Collector

It says something fairly terrible about inter-band relationships when the singer is writing bitter, contemptuous songs about the rhythm section, but perhaps the fact that they played along with the idea says something a little better.

Aged 16, I found Dogs are Everywhere to be a little plodding, but quite wryly insightful, disapproving as I did of both dogs and the majority of my peer group. After being chased home from school by the local farmer’s Doberman on a few occasions, I was frankly terrified of dogs at this point, and extended my fear to a general disapproval of the species. If a human were unquestioningly loyal to one person and threatened anyone else who came near them we’d call this behavior ‘obsequious’ and ‘aggressive’, not ‘loyal’ and ‘faithful’. It didn’t seem fair at all. At school the people with the worst behaviour seemed to be rewarded with attention and approval from the other kids. The connection was a little tenuous but the song seemed to sum up the boorish sexuality and love of willful destruction fairly well. The bit about them whining around your feet seemed a bit odd and misplaced, but you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, haven’t you?

Eighteen years later my understanding of Jarvis’s viewpoint seems to have dissipated entirely. Jumping behind a bar to steal some beers seems less a threat to the order of the civilized world and more like just the usual kind of hijinks young men have always got up to. Behaving pleasantly is a perfectly good way to carry on, of course, but it’s better to tolerate than set yourself up as a haughty paragon of virtue. There’s an inescapable arrogance here which seeps through to the very core; look at all these people with their civilized, uncouth behaviour – sometimes I fear that I’ll start acting like them! Wouldn’t that be awful?! Frankly, it’s hard to conjure up much sympathy, and the attempt at self-deprecation does nothing to address the terrible self-importance.

The worst part of the deal has to be Jarvis’s lounge-singer croon, deployed to devastating effect in all the wrong ways. Never before or since has he sounded so pompous and strained as he does here. The most egregious moment is the winking cabaret of the “sometimes I have to wonder”, but it’s far from being the only moment that sours the perfectly nice instrumentation behind him. This pained confessional tone might have been acceptable if he were singing about something halfway meaningful, but paired with these ridiculous lyrics it’s almost – but painfully not – funny.

I hope I’m not sounding too critical here – this isn’t, by any reasonable standards, a terrible record. The production is perfectly lovely (especially those intimate little slide-scratch sounds), and the tune itself isn’t that bad – but it’s a bit of a slight, plinkety-plonk stab at a pop song which goes on way too long, so nothing particularly valuable was sullied. I’m not sure what Dogs Are “ev-ree-whurr” is even supposed to be – A novelty song? A gothic confessional ballad? An embarrassing rant? – but the result is just a mess and, yes, an embarrassment.


#64 – Fairground

24 Nov

Fairground (Freaks, 1987)
Fairground at Pulpwiki

“The other reason we called it ‘Freaks’ was because we always get called freaks, the escape party from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, stuff like that. When we play live, everybody dwells on the fact that I’m thin with specs, Russell looks like Count Dracula, Candida although she’s 23 looks 14, while Pete looks like a football hooligan. We were always getting called freaks so we thought let’s call the LP ‘Freaks’ just to… put two fingers up.” – Jarvis Cocker, Sounds, 27th June 1987

Are you normal or are you weird? It’s a question we’ve all had to answer at one time, usually in high school. And then you have to decide whether you’re one or the other. Sometimes it’s easier just to go with the flow – being a freak is, in a way, a liberating experience. You can do whatever you like and people will pay attention to you. Take this to its logical extreme and eventually you’re a sideshow attraction. Come and see the freak, kids! This could’ve been you if you’d been unlucky / lucky / clever / stupid / different. Of course, if you’re just trying to be yourself (that being the normal state of things) then this can all be a bit too much to take.

‘Fairground’, the opening track on Freaks, presents the group as a particularly unpleasant carnival sideshow act. It’s not exactly an easy listen. Every note, from the woozy fairground organ to the distorted screaming and the way it keeps shifting into unexpected keys seems to be designed to make this listener confused and uncomfortable. Russell’s intention was always to weed out the more casual or conservative listeners, and he must have been successful here. Despite the poor quality of the recording, this cacophony is intentional, and had been planned for years.

That isn’t to say that the recording session was a success. ‘Freaks’ is the very definition of a poorly produced album. The limited time and resources availiable meant that moreorless everything was a rough first take, and no song suffered more than Fairground. The night after the recording Jarvis lay in bed groaning with embarrasment at the memory of his studio-improvised ‘carny’ announcements in the instrumental section and swore he would remove them the next day.* Arriving back at the recording studio they found that the masters had already been wiped. The unsatisfactory rough mix was to be the only version recorded.

So far, so bad then. But Fairground is actually very successful in acheiving what the group set out to do – whether that corresponds to anyone’s idea of ‘good music’ or not. Russell’s monologue alone is magnificently theatrical and creepy, a song-length summary of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. The narrator keeps switching between a demented ringmaster and a bewildered spectator, taking a tour around a selection of fairground oddities**, but the astonishing thing is that nothing actually happens – nothing worse than being subjected to ridicule at least. Yet there’s an overwhelming sense of “something wrong here.”

The evil circus trope is one we’re all familiar with, and its signifiers sound obvious enough to make it into a particularly specialised sub-genre. Waltz time, a fairground organ playing simple scales, slightly out of tune, evil laughter. So when I set out to make a mix of the best of this music I was surprised at how few musicians could carry it off without sounding corny and fake. Nox Arcana were particularly disappointing. The best of what I could find is gathered on this podcast. Listen to it at your own risk (of being mildly irritated).

* His vocals are actually fairly good. You’d have thought they’d have been embarrassed about a few other things though.
** Are the “three identical sisters” a reference to Artery’s ‘Into The Garden’? It certainly seems possible.

#53 – Srpski Jeb

8 Sep

Srpski Jeb (Sudan Gerri Demo, 1984)
Srpski Jeb at Pulpwiki

“There are several reputedly ‘national’ positions or approaches. Serbian intercourse (srpski jeb) is mock rape – you throw her down, seize one ankle in each hand and raise them over her head, then enter her with your full weight (do this on something soft – the traditional bare earth is beyond a game).” Alex Comfort, “The Joy Of Sex”, 1972.

In his late teens Russell Senior took a trip around Europe, returning with a smattering of obscene Russian slang and a taste for Eastern European folk music. The outlet for these would eventually be Srpski Jeb, a song so ridiculous that it feels a bit silly to be writing about it at all, but here we are.

Over a pounding Slavic rhythm – a semi-competent pastiche using entirely inappropriate instruments – Russell repeatedly chants a single four-line verse about a “village maiden” and her masochistic sexual fantasies. The rhythm gets faster and faster, suddenly stops for five seconds, then starts again from the beginning. The effect is convincing enough – in its own way – but I thought I’d seek out a couple of genuine Slavs, to see what they make of it.

I don’t regard the song as offensive at all, although it pretty much depends on what audience it is addressed to. I mean the song is not ridiculing anyone – the “soviets” are a very vague category (it probably means communist Russians) and I think the girl in the lyrics just expresses preference for Serbian men. We have quite a few songs in Czech that are much more offensive. I don’t think that me being a Slavic speaking person changes anything on that judgment. I think that the pulp went to Yugoslavia in 1984 and met some Yugoslavian punkers who taught them this song that was all the rage there at the time! – Jan

I laughed out loud. – Marketa

To be fair to ‘Sprksi Jeb’ it’s silly enough that any dubious content can’t be taken seriously at all. As a piece on its own it’s a silly bit of escapist fun – brief, funny and enjoyable, but within the story of Pulp it’s the first sign of a movement. As the group found they enjoyed playing pseudo-Slavic folk music it would become a major part of their sound towards the end of the decade, and you’d never guess it started with something as ludicrous as this.

#49 – Anorexic Beauty

11 Aug

Anorexic Beauty (Freaks, 1987)
Anorexic Beauty (Live, 1985, Fascinations Nitespot, Chesterfield – Video)
Anorexic Beauty (Ping Pong Jerry Demo, Nov 1984)
Anorexic Beauty at Pulpwiki

Eight unusual things about Anorexic Beauty by Pulp

1. It wasn’t originally a Pulp song. Written by David Kurley of early-Pulp contemporaries New Model Soldier, it was sold to Russell for £1 after a gig. The song dates back to an earlier David Kurley band, Blimp, who featured a young Magnus Doyle on drums. New Model Soldier were an interesting enough group in their own right – a few of their recordings can be heard here. The song was extensively re-worked by Pulp, but the lyrics survive intact.

2. Kurley’s lyrics could easily be from a post-modern treatise on desire and repulsion. I mean that in a good way – for a pop song it demonstrates an unusal level of forethought. Of course, on the other hand, we lack any insight into the author’s real feelings, but frankly, who cares? Situationist posturing about commodification, objectivisation and alienation is such a rarity in pop music. If it was presented in a po-faced manner (or used impenetrable language like “situationist posturing about commodification, objectivisation and alienation”) this might be a problem, but fortunately it’s witty, blunt and accessible enough to work.

3. Russell is singing – not a unique occurence, but he’s actually singing here rather than just making a speech with ominous backing music. In earlier versions of the song Jarvis would sing in tandem with Russell, but on the LP version his vocal has been mixed far down enough that you wouldn’t notice it unless you were really paying attention.

4. Jarvis is playing the drums, not with a great deal of precision, but considering he wasn’t a drummer the effect isn’t as bad as it might’ve been. The song doesn’t require him to do anything beyond a simple two-handed smash every second, so it probably didn’t require lessons.

5. Magnus is playing the guitar – again, not with a huge amount of finesse, but this isn’t exactly a delicate musicianly piece, and anyone who’s been in as many bands as he had would surely have picked up a few chords. Later on in the Pulp story another drummer trying out a guitar bit would create something rather special.

6. It’s not really about Lena Zavaroni. A child star of the 70s, she had her own TV variety show between 1979 and 1981. Her condition wouldn’t become public until the mid-80s, when the song was already five years old. Presumably it was dedicated to her on the sleeve of ‘Freaks’ because she was in the news at the time. In hindsight this seems rather cruel – Lena wasn’t a model, and she died in 1999 while in hospital waiting for experimental brain surgery, her last years spent on a council estate, living on state benefits.

7. Most unlikely fact of all, perhaps; this postmodern sex & death thrash somehow functions as a bit of light relief on ‘Freaks’. Reviewing the LP for Sounds magazine “Mr Spencer” remarked that “this presumably is Pulp’s idea of a ‘fun’ song.” – and while that may not strictly be the case, it’s certainly a lot more enjoyable to listen to than “Life Must Be So Wonderful” or “The Never-Ending Story.”

8. In the quarter-century since the song was recorded, it seems to have become popular with the online ‘pro-ana’ crowd. See this video, this website or this one or this one. On each (particularly the video) there is a debate raging over whether the song is a celebration of anorexia or a condemnation of it. In truth the lyrics don’t engage with this debate in either direction – David Kurley’s interest being more in performance art and philosophy than actually writing about an ‘issue’ – but it’s fascinating to find out how complex and multidimensional the disease is in the minds of sufferers, and how many of them are willing to use dark humour to discuss it.

#45 – Coy Mistress

14 Jul

Coy Mistress
Coy Mistress at Pulpwiki

In January 1984 five men entered Vibrasound Studios in Sheffield. Were they a band, or an experimental theatre company? Judging by their recent performance history, it would perhaps be safe to assume the latter. ‘Pulp’ had petered out over the summer, and nothing they’d done since then could be described as a “gig.” Of the four songs recorded that day, two remain unreleased and uncirculated, one is a rough but effective demo of ‘I Want You‘ and the final track, well, it’s ‘Coy Mistress’

Falling firmly on the ‘performance art’ side of the identity crisis divide, ‘Coy Mistress’ features one minute and twenty-six seconds of Russell loudly, menacingly proclaiming a half-remembered bastardisation of Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’. The 46 lines of the original are reduced to 11, though the essence of the piece seems undamaged – in fact, the lecherousness of the original is enhanced by the replacement of “but thirty thousand to the rest” with the sly, mischievous intonation of “and a considerably longer amount for all the rest.” Elsewhere time’s winged chariot is imbued with a “long skanky finger” which goes “smack, smack, smack.” Not a reverential reading then, but one suited for the theatre.

Behind Russell, Jarvis plays ominously on a church organ, while Magnus tinkles around on a xylophone. At two points in the track Magnus also throws in thunderous cymbal-rolls, presumably to disconcert any listeners who are somehow relaxing or not paying attention.

If it were a full-length track, or if it were anything other than a one-off, there’s every chance that ‘Coy Mistress’ would become tedious. As a stand-alone piece, however, it entertains and amuses without overstaying its welcome. Pulp never gave it a proper release, putting it out only on two obscure tape compilations, each time marking the beginning or end of a side, and each time accompanied by another, more sensible sample of the band’s work.

#13 – I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield

17 Mar

I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield
The Pulp Story (song audible under interview)
I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield – Pulpwiki

By 1980 17-year-old Jarvis was the singer in a band who were regularly playing live at venues around Sheffield. Personally speaking, I’d say that constitutes a healthy enough social life – at that age I was still mainly staying in, watching The Beiderbecke Affair and playing Civilization II – but for Jarvis’s mother it still seemed that he still needed help making friends, so she took the action any responsible mother would and got him a job in the market, selling fish for an (allegedly) alcoholic fishmonger.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for Jarvis. On one hand he was going to plenty of parties, and rather than improving his social skills he was hampered by a lingering odour of fish, which had to be scrubbed out with bleach at the end of each working day. On the other hand he turned out to be a very talented fishmonger, so much so that future Pulp stalwart Russell Senior would stop by to watch him at work.

“He had a very convincing patter for selling fish, with lots of sexual innuendo around it. People would ask, ‘Have you got any crabs on you, cock?’ and he’d say, ‘Ooh missus, the trouble with me,’ and scratch himself, or, ‘I’ve got a lovely piece of tail end for your husband, love.’ He was one of the best performing fishmongers I’d ever seen. He’d charm all these old ladies into buying more crabs than they needed and things. They loved him: he’d be, like, ‘Would you like an extra claw, Mrs Hayworth?’ – so the sexual innuendo was there at an early age, really. That was what brought us together. He was a very good fishmonger.”

One day Jarvis arrived at work to find that a consignment of crabs had been delivered early and left in stagnant water overnight. Naturally they had started to rot, but despite the smell being noticeably bad, the crabs still went on sale to the public, and a few had already been sold before a health inspector arrived to condemn them all.
Jarvis used this story as the basis of perhaps the most famous early Pulp track, “I Scrubbed the Crabs That Killed Sheffield.” In this version, things start much the same.

Early on a Saturday morning
Sometime after eight o’clock
I received a vile warning
It all came on as a bit of a shock
There were crabs all around me
Hundred, thousands; well quite a lot
They’d been put in water; left them through the night
Now that they’d died they had started to rot

Instead of selling just a few, though, the crowd seems to be attracted by the crabs’ pungent odour, and though they complain, they gather round and buy the things, driven by some terrible mob instinct, which drives the fishmongers to sell them the poisonous crustaceans.

The stenches were quite amazing
Still I had a job to do
Later on I heard some people complaining
But the terrible smell just grew and grew
Eventually they had finished boiling
A crowd began to gather round
Well, we took them out and put them under the counter
And we sold them off; 28 pence a pound

As the song comes to an end the protagonist wails in regret at the results of his actions.

I didn’t mean to kill them
Just did as I was told
All those women and children dead
Because of the crabs that we’d sold

For many years the only circulating clip of this song was a muffled scrap of a live recording which was broadcast, barely audible, under part of Radio 1′s “The Pulp Story” in 1998. Since I first wrote this piece the full version has emerged, apparently recorded at the January 1982 concert at Bath University organized by one Russell Senior. It’s a funny crowd-pleasing little ska-punk-pop song, all trebly high speed guitar and trebly high speed organ. Bass and drums are barely audible until the instrumental break, when they transform this funny little song into a bit of a classic simply by repeating the same chords. It sounds messy but well-rehearsed, the band holding themselves in time by sheer force of nervous energy. The strangest thing about it is Jarvis’s voice – he sounds aggressive, almost belligerent and exaggerates the Northern and working class in his accent. This was the band’s first live date in the South of England, and from the introduction it seems as if he’s playing this part, winding up the soft Southern mummy’s boys in the audience. Barely 18 years old, he’s already showing himself to be a natural frontman.

#16 – Please Don’t Worry

18 Feb

Please Don’t Worry (Peel Session)

Please Don’t Worry (‘It’ sessions out-take)
Please Don’t Worry on Pulpwiki

Like most young bands trying to make it on a local scene, Pulp Mk 1 had a theme tune, a poppy crowdpleaser that everyone could get behind. ‘Please Don’t Worry’ seems to have been popular with band and audience alike – it was a staple of their set even up to late 82, when the band’s line-up and sound had changed considerably. So why does it sound so out of place now?

Play the song to an unsuspecting member of the public and they would most likely imagine the song to be an indie-pop hit from the early 90s, a chirrupy strummy thing with a silly electronic sample over the verses and a swirling organ-like keyboard riff over the chorus. The first time I heard the session (in 1995 when Jarvis and Nick visited John Peel’s house) I couldn’t quite believe that this wasn’t a new track in the vein of We Can Dance Again or Mile End* – only more silly and cheerful, a bouncy, jolly bit of light relief. The trouble with “bouncy” and “jolly”, though, is that they are apt to morph into “annoying”, and as the years have passed my enjoyment has waned and my iritation risen.

The main problem is the main keyboard riff. Eight years later the band would be experimenting with some very unusual electronic noises indeed, but it’s a credit to Candida that they always bear up to repeated listening, showing hidden layers of complexity, even when they are dressed up to be naff and tacky. The riff on ‘Please Don’t Worry”, on the other hand, sounds like someone has just bought a new keyboard, and hasn’t worked out how to play anything more complex. At once it’s the centre of the song and at the same time drowns it out.

Another issue is the drumming. Wayne Furniss, lacking any professional equipment, had bought along a syn-drum made from a plan in ‘Practical Electronics’ magazine. A schoolfriend had constructed it from an electric calculator and a burglar alarm mat as a project, and it didn’t survive the journey to London in working condition. As Wayne crouched on the floor, bashing away on the thing, trying to get some sort of sound out of it, Dale Griffin apparently put his head in his hands. Eventually the thing was fixed, but the sound produced was far from satisfactory, a basic rhythm that struggles to stay in time throughout the song.

The vocals are also problematic. There’s nothing wrong with lyrics that are sincere, surreal, simple or obscure, but here I suspect that Jarvis has adopted the technique of putting together a list of phrases that sound like they could mean something – the dark arts, in other words, and the curse of Oasis and Coldplay. One of the reasons Jarvis is generally a successful lyricist is that he resists this tactic – Please Don’t Worry may represent his only slip.

I don’t want to pretend that this song is terrible – in fact, it has quite a bit going for it – I can’t deny that it’s catchy and fun, and the “I feel fine, I’m having a good time” coda sounds satisfyingly sarcastic. but I still skip it.

This week has seen the release of another version of Please Don’t Worry, and as it’s on an official album it may well end up being the more well-known version. The recording is from a year later, during the ‘It’ sessions, when Pulp had an entirely different lineup, aside from Jarvis of course. While that lineup was a lot more musically accomplished, they also seemed to be less adaptable. The fizzy proto-britpop of the song seems to have baffled them – only Jarvis seems to be on the ball, with everyone else playing parts they have learned, but haven’t really understood or appreciated. On the plus side, this means that the song is less annoying – the broken synth sound replaced by a swirling organ, the backing staying in time, little extra fills and flourishes throughout – but in the final analysis it sounds like a cover version, and a half hearted one at that.

*Neither of which I’d heard at the time, of course.