This week, time for a Tuesday Ten I’ve been thinking about and working on, gradually, for a few months. I was set a challenge, you see: to come up with a Tuesday Ten where deaths occur “on camera” (i.e. are described or happen in the songs). However, I could not rely on some of the usual suspects – particularly Cave, Cash and Dylan. Some interesting suggestions were originally made, I thought of a few more, and then opened it up to my readers for some other ideas, and the result is the ten below.
As always thanks to everyone who contributed, and to Karen who came up with the idea in the first place.
Attack of the Grey Lantern
The first Mansun album was a curious beast, chock-full of glorious pop songs and quirky lyrics with nods to all kinds of things (something that they took to insane extremes on follow-up Six), but the main thrust of the album was built around fantastical, fictional characters that may or may not have been based on the odd real event, it was difficult to ever tell. This song, of course, was one of their best singles, a headlong charge of smalltown fury at the prejudice and eventual death of a pillar of the community who – to say the least – doesn’t fit in to what the populace would expect in his spare time…
Running Bear 7″
I couldn’t possibly do this week’s list, though, without including one of the many, many teenage tragedies originally popular in the late-fifties. I picked this one, rather than Tell Laura I Love Her, because it sounds…well, different. Co-opting quasi Native American themes, it is otherwise the same old story – boy meets girl, boy loves girl, they come from opposing tribes…then in this case drown in the water. And we say goth is bleak.
Of course, there is a curious postscript to this – the original writer of the song, commonly known as The Big Bopper, perished in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, which of course inspired American Pie (and a few other deaths are alluded to in that song, too!).
The Marshall Mathers LP
We can probably blame Eminem – and this song – for a number of things, but most of all for unleashing the ever-more-anodyne Dido on the world. Which is a shame, as the hook used in this song was a pretty, elegant counterpoint to the extraordinary bleakness of the rest of it. The song itself was a shock when it first appeared – rather than the goofiness and humour of other early Eminem singles, this was a howl in the darkness, taking on the idea of the lengths that a “number one fan” might go to, which needless to say ends up in tragedy. Frankly this went to places that many other artists never even dared.
Down By The Water
To Bring You My Love
One of PJ Harvey’s most dramatic songs (and that’s saying something), this was the lead song from the first of Harvey’s drastic stylistic shifts that have characterised her career ever since. Moving on from the stark, punk-influenced rock of her early material, this album brought in a lush sensuality that still had moments of the anger that had manifested itself previously in songs like Man-Size or Dress. This song buzzed with an unusual bassline as Harvey slithered over it, calmly retelling a story of a mother who drowns her child at the waterside. The closing refrain, so I now know, is based upon a small section in Lead Belly‘s take on Salty Dog Blues, too.
Always one of the most politically-orientated of the industrial scene, possibly their most powerful comment came with this track, an explosive (pun intended) three minutes that takes us into the mind of a suicide bomber, in the lead-up to and the aftermath of such an attack. Backed by possibly the finest rhythmic programming Stromkern ever managed, Ned Kirby delivers furious rhymes in an amazing, dramatic fashion, offering much to ponder on the fate of the bomber and the total waste of life.
As Above, So Below
Unique in this list – and I make no apologies for the second appearance of this glorious song in this series (first seen when talking about the devil) – for seeing the character in the song die twice, this jazz-pastiche takes things to entertaining extremes. Adamson dies, is cast out of heaven, and sent back to the world by Beelzebub, where he revels in every sin going…only to cross the wrong people, die again, and then the same cycle starts again…
Nice Guy Eddie
The “It” Girl
Taking a side-step back into Britpop, here is Louise Wener and her sleeperblokes with a tale of a sleazy old rich man with a much younger lover, who showers her with gifts, love and attention, and then dies having “choked on the olive in his dry martini”. Probably the most inventive death I can think of in song, this side of a Nick Cave murder ballad, anyway…
Hammer Smashed Face
Tomb of the Mutilated
Probably the most controversial band on this week’s list, Cannibal Corpse are one of those death metal bands that have achieved immense success by going way over the top. Writing songs that would script splatter/gore horror films, they’ve had more than their fair share of controversy, and in many cases I think it is fair to say they brought it on themselves with the names of the songs. This one, though, even made it into Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (remarkably, as the story goes, Jim Carrey was a fan!), some feat for a savage death metal anthem from the view of a killer, who performs a fairly grisly killing in the course of the four minutes that the song lasts for.
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Rumor and Sigh
Not that the whole “teenage” tragedy idea has gone away – but I have to say that I wouldn’t have expected folk elder Richard Thompson to be one to indulge. Ok, so the protagonists are in their early twenties, but the song revolves around a classic motorcycle, young love, and of course a death – he’s a bad boy, gets in with the wrong crowd, and suffers the consequences. Still, the bike was cool…
O.G. Original Gangster
Finally, to the gritty reality of Los Angeles, and our guide is Ice-T. Ed is cool as, a swaggering gangsta who drinks, sleeps with women, gambles, plays, and drives a fast car. And bizarrely, here’s a tenuous link between Ice-T and Richard Thompson – that vehicle (a Mercedes-Benz) is vital to the story, as Ed gets drunk, drives fast…and dies. Just think, Ice-T giving vehicle safety advice. Or we can refer to Smoked Pork/Body Count’s In The House…
Happier tales next time, I promise.