There has been lots written in recent years about how band merchandise – particularly on-tour – is better for some bands that selling records. Not that it’s a new thing – it’s long been reckoned that Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in particular sold far more in T-shirts than they ever did with CDs (the Birmingham Music Archive reckons the Poppies had over 100 T-shirt designs, by the way). I’m sure the various band members and promoters that read this can offer their thoughts, too.
It has also proven a really useful exercise, thinking about it, too. I had no idea what T-shirts I had anymore (i.e. had some of them been hidden in the wardrobe, had I lost them?), so it allowed me to count up. I got a bit of a surprise when I realised I had at least sixty (I’ve not found them all yet), not to mention the ones that haven’t survived this long, of which there have been many more. Thankfully I’ve never had any of these, mind, and the oldest I now have date from the early 2000s, and some have lasted a remarkably long time.
One other fact. I’ve (somehow) never owned a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt.
So, this is perhaps a bit of a weird Ten this week. A few songs, a few T-shirts, but the playlists cover all of the bands – there aren’t that many songs on the subject that I can think of, so let’s start with those.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
In so many ways a band that practised what they preached, Fugazi even laid out their views on the machinations of selling themselves.
We owe you nothing / You have no control / You are not what you own
Fair point. The band are not a commodity, they are a way of life, and by buying something they produced, that doesn’t mean you have a say in what they do – as Ian Mackaye notes in the exceptional live video on the playlist, “$20 is too goddamned much for a T-shirt…It’s a matter of respect“. To be fair to the band, too, their T-shirts, CDs and especially gig tickets were always affordable. And there are few bands who can honestly say that now. The song fucking rules, too. But you knew that, right?
/Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman
/The Plot Against Common Sense
Trust Andy Falkous to tell it like it is. The opening track to FoTL’s best album (i.e. since he was fronting McLusky) is a short, furious rant at what band merchandise has become, no longer selling a band but becoming fashion items, and losing their initial meaning. He has a point – a blunt and obvious one, but a good one all the same – too. Burzum T-shirts available through Sports Direct, Motorhead et al in Top Shop. Take it away, Andy:
This song is dedicated / To the merchandise manufacturers / Who made it possible / With their hard work, talent, application.
And love of tote bags
/Stupid Rules (for Stupid People)
I’m fairly sure this is a unique song – the only one I can even think of that takes on the unwritten rule of gigs. That is, that you don’t wear that band’s T-shirt to a show. There is a massive difference of opinion on this one, some say you should never do that, others that, like Keith TOTP, really couldn’t give a shit. I don’t generally wear a band’s T-shirt to their show, but I might well buy one there. What you choose to do is really up to you.
/Girl In The Slayer Jacket
A bit of a change, I know. But a bleaker take on a piece of band merchandise, as J. R. Hayes remembers his first love, a girl who wore the titular jacket. A strangely positive theme for one of the ultimate grindcore bands, right? Well, amid the brutal riffage, the story takes a twist in that the girl in question doesn’t survive her teens.
Other suggestions welcome, by the way, for songs covering this topic. I’m sure I’ve missed something. In the meantime, T-shirts.
/Angel Dust T-shirt
The first-ever band T-shirt I owned was this one. I kept it for some years (I initially got it when I was about thirteen or fourteen), but as I shot up in height later in my teens it ended up being way too small. Remarkably the design still sells and is quite a common T-shirt even now. I still love Angel Dust, too.
/Altitude not Attitude T-shirt
Something of a legendary shirt, this, so it turns out – although mine (purchased sometime around 1993?) was worn to death by me and expired sometime around when I left University at the turn of the Millenium. Never the warmest of T-shirts – the thin white cotton and short-sleeves saw to that – meant that it was very much the norm to wear this with a black long-sleeve T-shirt underneath it. The design was as gloriously over the top as the band were at the time, too – a glittery golden sun, with (glittery) blue swathed cherub flying across it, and in big letters on the back, “altitude not attitude”. I think it is fair to say there are a few meanings to it. However, around about this time – Gish era and onward – the Pumpkins were my favourite band. Yeah, they may have committed a multitude of musical sins since – or at least Billy Corgan has – but for the first three albums and B-sides compilation Pisces Iscariot, they didn’t put a single foot wrong.
The first of three TYG T-shirts I’ve got, this one was picked up at the first of their shows that I attended (in December 2007), and has long been one of my favourite shirts, even if it’s a bit tight on me nowadays. It’s such a subtle design, too – the logo on the backprint is the only hint to the band (the instantly recognisable stick figures, if you know the band), the “secret” on the front naturally tells you nothing at all.
/Fuck Art Let’s Kill T-shirt
Yeah, I know, it’s a new one, not an original, but frankly, I don’t fucking care. I’ve wanted one of these for *years*, so when the Hydrogen Bar people popped up on Jared’s Facebook offering another batch for sale, I wasn’t missing out. Let’s just say I have to be careful where I wear it, though – before Slimelight on Saturday, I had four comments going to the toilets and back in the Mucky Pup. Oops.
/You People Make Me Fucking Sick T-shirt
I have few “offensive” T-shirts – in fact, the number of those that I’ve ever owned that contain swearing on the print I can count on one hand, including the one above – but I guess this one counts. Also notable for one of the few non-black T-shirts I own, I guess, the slogan on the front sums up the bitter contempt of most Swans material for the outside world – and you. Funnily enough, I generally need to be in a certain mood to wear this. Talking of offensive T-shirts, there was a fascinating article earlier in the year on Rolling Stone about the most offensive band T-shirt of them all that is well worth a read.
/EU UK T-shirt
Not many bands have taken Fugazi’s lead with fair pricing – and indeed some of the pricing for merchandise is frankly downright criminal (I’ve seen some bands now charging £25 for a basic printed T-shirt – and let’s not talk about the pricing of workshirts or hoodies, eh?). Death Grips, on their one tour in the UK so far, were rather different, no to mention surprisingly brilliant live as well. They had one design of T-shirt, in black-on-white or white-on-black, that was very striking indeed, and cost just £10. It was perhaps unsurprising that the merch table was doing very good business all night…
So anyway: what are your favourite band T-shirts?