Colour. It is perhaps not an obvious subject for this series – being mainly a visual concept – but even descriptions or themes of colour can be exceptionally evocative, as a number of the entries are here.
So, this week the Tuesday Ten is about the use of colour in music. Sometimes it goes as deep as a band’s image and identity, sometimes it is simply a descriptive device in a song. In other songs it is to deal with another issue entirely, but crucially, the colour is important in all of them – it couldn’t just be a title with a colour in it. As frequently happens, of course, once I get a shortlist together suddenly I get a torrent of other suggestions, and I’d welcome other suggestions that I may have missed too – either way I’ve probably got enough already for a second instalment of this sometime. Here goes.
Silence is Sexy
The original inspiration for this post, so as tradition dictates on this blog, it is the first track I feature. An oblique entry, perhaps, for someone who doesn’t know the song, but it is considerably cleverer than it first appears. This, one of Neubauten’s most majestic songs, is a mellow mediation on German national identity, where Blixa looks at each of the colours of the flag (red, gold and black, of course), and notes what his country doesn’t live up to. A lament, perhaps, on lost opportunities and unfortunate consequences of the past actions of his home country – this track was, also, written around decade after reunification, when the ramifications of that were still being discovered and understood – and the striking video offers additional curious pointers too.
There are a number of artists indelibly associated with colours, and needless to say a few that sprung to mind are featured here. The most obvious, of course, is Prince, who ended up with the nickname “The Purple One” in the eighties thanks to his liberal use of the colour at the height of his popularity, even though I can barely think of a use of the colour by him in some years. It wasn’t always this way – early albums have rather generic artwork of the time, and it was 1999 before the purple theme really took hold, and then was cemented in legend with the follow-up album and film Purple Rain, that really did make him a massive, massive star. The epic title track, that closes both album and film, is obviously the song I’m featuring here, an eight-minute virtuoso guitar performance from Prince and a musing on loving someone until the end of time, whether they want him or not, and atoning for past sins, from what I can tell.
Another band associated with colour until the end (Peter Steele’s unfortunate death a few years back) was Type O, whose entire image was built around the colours green and black (apparently Steele’s favourite colours), and I can think of three songs at least in their catalogue that feature Green, and one of course featuring Black. This song shows the glory of the Drab Four at their peak around October Rust, a slow-paced, despairing howl. From Steele at the time: “When I first wrote the song, I wrote it about the Celtic embodiment of nature, but the thought occurred to me that when I worked for the Parks Department [in NYC], these little kids at the playground used to call me the green man”
The third band to mention who are linked with a particular colour are The Birthday Massacre, who aside from having at least five songs with colourful titles, have made a point of their entire release catalogue being in the same style – with a violet colour base. And, of course, leads me to this song, one of their prettier, sunnier songs (particularly of their earlier material, which frequently had a harder edge) that seems to have much debate about what exactly it means, and indeed there are some wildly different interpretations as to what violet as a colour represents culturally. This variation sums up this quite wonderful band very well, as it happens…
Of course, the use of colour has many connotations, and one of those is race. One of the more positive artists covering this sphere in the UK are Asian Dub Foundation, a thrilling mix of rock, jungle, bhangra, punk, hip-hop and other styles, with a community-led origin that resulted in a rather more inclusive outlook than many might have expected. The thing is, their fury at the state of the nation as they saw it in the nineties (a racially intolerant, selfish place) resulted in some searing music (the blistering Free Satpal Ram for one, the floor-shaking bass of Naxalite for another), and also some amazingly upbeat, hopeful material, like Black White – a plea for more integration and understanding by way of mixed-race love. While critically acclaimed many times over the years, this band have mystifyingly never quite made the leap to bigger things that they have long deserved.
One of Pulp’s (many) tales of suburban drudgery from the early mid-90s, at that point where Pulp finally nailed their sound and made their leap to stardom. This one is about a relationship that is being spiced up by a peculiar fetish for a particularly-coloured glove (“He doesn’t care what it looks like / Just as long as it’s pink and it’s tight“), and the ex-boyfriend (probably Jarvis) is watching from afar, offering, er, assistance, if she ever needs it. Gloriously pervy without ever being seedy, it is in my eyes one of Pulp’s greatest moments. Daisy and I even remember seeing one pair of friends each wearing one pink glove at Pulp’s Wireless show at Hyde Park in 2011 (and the band played it, too)…
Famous Blue Raincoat
Songs of Love and Hate
This was, as it happens, the first Cohen song I remember hearing (probably from Jennifer Warnes’ cover album of Cohen songs of the mid-eighties that my dad liked so much), and the titular item of clothing is somewhat iconic, so this certainly fits. The raincoat is part of the story, woven into a song that is in the form of a rather embittered letter – reflecting on a love story that involves three, and presumably an awful lot of jealousy – while the blue raincoat is a device that helps explain that time has not been kind.
Originally from a pair of (online-only, they were released subsequently on CD) albums that were released to fans of the band, with the aim of picking the best ten or so tracks for the next full album (something Jon Crosby has done again since), which were entitled Turquoise and Crimson. The liner notes explain that these were in the period after his “major [record] label nightmare”, where he was getting ideas together and having moved away from Los Angeles, was effectively starting afresh. This track was the blistering opening track to the pair, and entirely unsurprisingly was the opening track on the Nude album proper. The turquoise of the title symbolises the colour that Jon Crosby was clearly seeing as of his ways of escape. Maybe it was the turquoise of the Pacific Ocean that was showing what he was leaving behind, maybe it was something else. Either way, it galvanised him into writing some of his finest material.
Always one of the most striking of the bands ever to be labelled “industrial”, as I’m sure I’ve noted a few times before over the years, they’ve changed a fair bit over their twenty-five-years-and-more career but have broadly remained loyal to the vocals-drums-sampler line-up and rocked harder than any of their peers in doing so. Their earlier material – so thrillingly played on a succession of shows over the past few years, so good I saw it three times in three countries – was perhaps a little more difficult for English ears to “get” initially as it was entirely in French, but is worth the effort. The colour here comes from the title track of their extraordinary second album, the Red Water in question being the female Period, the song being a climactic celebration of this and female sexuality in general (and live it is near-orgasmic, and always bathed in red light, of course).
Waiting For Bonaparte
Finally, back to the idea of colours and national identity, but this time in a historical sense, and back in Britain. Based upon the Nore Mutiny, while the British were at war with post-revolutionary France, the colours of the title are those of the red, white, and blue of the British flag, and the whole song is another where the protagonists – in this case press-ganged Bristol men in the Royal Navy – question their allegiance to a country that forced them to fight in squalid, starving conditions for a distant and uncaring leadership. It is also a shit-kicking, rousing political folk-punk classic.