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Askew Review 15

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Instant Gratification  


Ben Hunter

Irvine Welsh launches The Bedroom Secrets Of The Master Chefs with, “THIS IS THE FUCKIN CLASH! The green-haired girl had screamed into the face of the flinty-eyed bouncer, who’d shoved her back into her seat.” Despite the fact that this book ultimately has very little to do with The Clash, it’s a great opening line. And while it’s always important for books to begin with a bang, I think it’s even more essential for a song to be immediately engaging, since songs have so much less time to pull your A.D.D.-afflicted ass in.

This subject came to mind yesterday while I was deep in thought about The Libertines. (Despite the fact that they broke up a couple years ago and only put out one awesome album and a couple great EPs [their sophomore LP just didn’t cut it for me], I sometimes think about this band and wonder what could’ve been had Pete Doherty not turned into such a twat). Up The Bracket, possibly my favorite release of this millennium, features two tracks (and surprisingly, neither is actually my favorite on this release) that begin better than the vast majority of songs ever written. Really. (Or maybe I’m just being drunk and unreasonable right now).

One is from “The Boy Looked At Johnny.” It starts by proclaiming, “The boy looked at John/He said ‘My word that was fun’.”

Now, some of the magic of this opening has to be attributed to Doherty’s lewdly leering vocal, but goddamn, what a delightfully degenerate scenario this statement conjures up! (And I’m not even gay. Seriously, I’m not, ya cunt). And then the next lines are, “When he did it with his hat on/Like in a saddle with his gun.” It doesn’t even matter what the remainder of the song says- I’m hooked. My word!

The other opening line that I find equally (if not more) brilliant on this record comes from “Time For Heroes.” It begins with, “Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?” What a picture this presents, both visually and in what it says about the narrator. I mean, who the fuck gets dressed up to go out and riot? Maybe this act is peculiar to fashion-conscious British kids, but it really does seem like an odd undertaking.  Hell, if I was planning to go out and wreak havoc, I would probably wear something that I’d normally cut the grass in. And the fact that the person watching this is able to disengage himself from the violence enough to critically assess the smartness of the rioters’ clothing choices takes it to a whole ‘nother level. I love it.

So now I’m trying to think of more of these great openers (and I’m feeling too lazy to start rifling through the thousands of CDs, MP3s, tapes and records I own, so I’m going to have to try to do this from memory. God help us all). 

Okay, let’s see.  How about EVERYONE’S favorite song in high school (or at least everyone with a shred of taste and gallons of teen angst), The Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun.” The gloriously twisted, “When I’m-a walkin’, I strut my stuff, and I’m so strung out/I’m high as a kite, I just might stop to check you out” really can’t be beat. I can totally picture a delirious, euphoric, sickly-pale young Gordon Gano loping along, tongue lolling out and grinning at the (most likely) disinterested young object of his affection and thinking this to himself. ‘Nuff said.

What else? How about one of my all-time favorite ‘Stones’ songs, “Mother’s Little Helper.” Were truer words ever said than, “What a drag it is getting old”? Fuck, man- I’m now 38 and I agree. Send those 1960s housewife drugs my way already if you got ‘em.

My favorite band at the tail-end of high school was The Smiths. Morrissey had so many awesome openings- and lyrics in general- but I’m not remembering any of them right now except for “Still Ill, which is the song that got me into them in the first place. “I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving/ England is mine- it owes me a living.” Now that’s a fuckin’ unreasonable statement! And for some reason the line in “This Charming Man”- not the opener, so it doesn’t really count here- that keeps popping into my head now is “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear/This man said it’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care(ee-air-air)”. That sentiment and the creative use of the word “gruesome” seem to verify just how charming this man is.

And then there’s the Ramones. I probably should’ve thought about these guys first, seeing as how they are arguably (though who would I argue about this with?  Myself, I guess) my favorite band of all-time. They have so many silly, sick song-openers that rule that it’s hard to pick just one. But I’ll try to illustrate their demented brilliance by citing “Teenage Lobotomy”: “DDT did a job on me/Now I am a real sickie/Guess I’ll have to break the news/That I’ve got no mind to lose.” Actually, this sounds better sung than read, but I’ll stand by it anyhow.

Coolest foreign language opener has to go to The Pixies’ “Vamos”: Esta pensando sobre viviendo con mi sister en New Jersey . Ella me dijo que es una vida buena alla- bien rica, bien Chevrolet.”  Admittedly I’m writing this Spanish from booze-addled memory, so it may not be completely correct, but loosely translated, it’s: “Been thinking about living with my sister in New Jersey . She tells me life is good there- lot’s of money, good Chevrolets.” Now, the English version of this lyric is (perhaps only mildly) interesting, but the fact that it’s in Spanish and the song (and the entire Come On Pilgrim EP, for that matter) knocks the fuck out of pretty much everything else that came out in 1987 makes this worthwhile. And the next song on that release, “Isla de Encanta” is absolutely the second best Spanish language opener (and song with this characteristic, I suppose) I’ve ever heard.

Let’s see, there’s got to be more titillating song starters.  Ah! The Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” is a fine example: “Well you tried it just for once/Found it alright for kicks/But now you found out/That it’s a habit that sticks/You’re an orgasm addict.”  Can anybody possibly deny the inherent truth in that statement?

And then there’s the aforementioned Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket.” I know I’m losing the thread here, because this song actually begins with the song’s chorus, but I’m going to veer away from my established parameters and look to this one’s first verse. (If you’re still reading this far along, I trust you’re the type of person who will forgive me this sin). “I wasn’t born, so much as I fell out/Nobody seemed to notice me.” Wow! The literal visual of that is disturbing AND hilarious. But when you think about that line, the implied loneliness is just heartbreaking. What a farkin’ combo.

You know, the more I think of it, the more I realize that there are probably a monumental amount of songs with equally good- or better- beginnings than these, but I just can’t recall them right now. Maybe I’ll do a little actual research and come up with more for next time. It’ll give me something to do, I guess.






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