Tag Archives: strange titles

#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.

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#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.

#15 – Turkey Mambo Momma

11 Feb

Turkey Mambo Momma
Turkey Mambo Momma at Pulpwiki

In the 1970s and early 80s John Peel used to travel around the UK playing “roadshows“. These weren’t live Radio 1 appearances at Butlins with Gary Davies, but smaller DJ gigs, often at universities, where he would, in his own words, “play lots of music that nobody liked very much. People would stand around looking glum and slightly puzzled.”
Jarvis, who had discovered punk and post-punk music via the John Peel show, took bassist Jamie Pinchbeck along to one of these nights at Sheffield Poly, paying 50p to get in. After John had finished his set, Jarvis and Jamie managed to corner him outside in order to give him a copy of the demo recorded in Ken Patten’s living room. “I’ll listen to it in the car,” John promised. And then, surprising as it may sound now, he did just that. A week and a half later, John’s producer John Walters called Jarvis at his gran’s house to offer the band a session.
This was a huge milestone for the band and a source of great excitement all round. Up until now Pulp had been a very minor name on the Sheffield scene, but having a Peel session would make them a much bigger deal. The show was in its post-punk heyday, and the list of sessions for 1981 includes The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Fall, Killing Joke, The Teardrop Explodes, New Order and The Birthday Party.
A few weeks later (a month exactly after the day of the roadshow) the band, along with friend Lee Fletcher, took a hired Transit van full of semi-functional home-made, borrowed and secondhand equipment down to London’s Maida Vale studios. The producer for the session was Dale Griffin, former Mott The Hoople drummer, not a devotee of the DIY ethic, but a veteran of the early 70s, when rock musicians took their craft very seriously. Arriving at the studio sporting long hair and cowboy boots, he must have been at the very least bemused to see this collection of scruffy schoolboys struggling to set up their borrowed drumkit and propping the keyboard up on an ironing board. His direction to the group was just to set up at play like they were at a concert – an instruction the band roundly ignored. This was their first time in a proper studio, and the four tracks recorded feature a host of sound effects, double tracking and general experimentation.
Turkey Mambo Momma is perhaps the most experimental of the four, in terms of form, if not production. At first listen it sounds vivid and original, but on closer inspection the song has been repeatedly accused of being no more than a Frankenstein’s monster of post-punk Peel show influences. The greatest chunk of the thing seems to come from The Pop Group and Pigbag, the verses sounding like a sped-up version of ‘She is Beyond Good and Evil’ from The Pop Group’s ‘Y’. When the session was finally given a commercial release in 2006, Jarvis admitted as much:

“You can certainly tell that we’d been listening to the John Peel show fairly religiously for the past 4 years – “Turkey Mambo Momma” is one part “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes (we’d borrowed a xylophone from school) mixed with a bit of early Pigbag (Peter Dalton was given cornet lessons by a bloke who ended up being lead singer in The Thompson Twins).”

In 1981 the Violent Femmes were still buskers in New York, and Gone Daddy Gone wouldn’t be released until 1983, so Dolly’s xylophone parts may be a good deal more original than Jarvis gives him credit for… and while they definitely sound like *something* on the chorus, the way they shift into a minor key to accompany the second verse is inspired. Dolly’s double-tracked cornet solo does indeed start off like Pigbag, but within a few notes it has unravelled into a mess of tumbling, drunken sounds, almost free-jazz-like. It may have been little more than an accident, but his contributions here turn this homage into a secret success.
Elsewhere Wayne Furniss’s drumming is the weak link – fairly perfunctory and just about up to the job, but Jamie Pinchbeck’s steady, growling, funky bass line propels the song along very effectively until it gets lost in the mix somewhere halfway through the song.
Lyrically the song is, well, fairly strange. We’re lost on an island somewhere in the South Pacific with a feral goddess of a woman – a dangerous creature with destructive powers, but so irresistably attractive that Jarvis can’t help but give himself over to her, though he knows she will ruin him.

She steals all the fluid so vital to me
Impaled on the rocks as she tears me in two
At last I’ve found the answer and the answer is you

It’s one big malarial dream of a song, or perhaps a sunstroke-induced hallucination, and darkly, perversely sexual throughout. The arrythmic drive of the backing pushes Jarvis’s vocals into ever-more contorted emotional yelps. Though it’s the shortest track in the session, it’s got the most crammed into it, and it stands up perfectly well nearly thirty years later.

#13 – I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield

28 Jan

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 noticably bad, the crabs still went on sale to the public, and a few had already been sold before a health inspector arrived to condem 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 seem 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

Yes, it’s not the most subtle or serious of songs, but at least it’s quite funny, and had a bouncy ska-punk tune which still sounds ok today, as far as I can tell from the muffled scrap of a live recording which was broadcast as part of Radio 1’s “The Pulp Story” in 1997. It’s impossible to get much of an impression from this brief clip, but as it stands this is the earliest extant bit of Pulp, and someone out there has a full recording.