Not for the first time, today I’m digging back into my original notes for a new /Tuesday Ten. I’ve actually been planning to write about this for years but hadn’t had the inspiration or the songs for it, until I finally dug it out of the “to do” pile and offered it out to my friends and readers for suggestions in the summer.
This then is the first of three posts on the subject of clothing and fashion. The other two posts will take in footwear and headwear (and hair), and overall they got an awful lot of suggestions. Splitting them into sections made it a little more manageable, but even so, there was a lot to go with. There are songs about clothing as identity, clothing as protection, and yes, sex is involved too.
For songs about clothing alone, no less than 208 suggestions were made. 18 of them had been used before, with 173 unique songs from 57 different people. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who suggested songs. And yes, I very nearly did contain the greatest earworm of all (See My Vest! from The Simpsons), but decided against it in the end.
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).
The image some bands portray have become iconic, and often that is at least partly down to the clothes they wear in forging that. In our musical realms, think of the smart suits of Einstürzende Neubauten or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in particular – while neither band have worn those suits since they were formed, the adoption of such an image helped solidify the style of the bands.
Other bands have taken more subtle approaches to style, and fewer still have written songs about it. Jürgen Engler of Die Krupps – never seen onstage without his black attire (short-sleeved black shirt, black combat trousers with black belt, black combat boots) – detailed his thinking on the pounding EBM pulse of The Power, and the song makes clear his view that disciplined attire results in a disciplined, forward-looking attitude. Nearly thirty years on from that song, the discipline remains, as does ever-excellent from this long-standing, pioneering band.
/…And Out Come the Wolves
I was never particularly a ska-punk fan – it was simply a style that never particularly appealed to me, and over-familiarity with it then bred something of a contempt for some of it at the time. But two decades and more on, it is perhaps interesting how well Rancid’s breakthrough album stands up, perhaps at least in part because it is so in thrall to the classic ska and punk of their own youth (and from some years before them, too). Like so many types of music, though, the image is key, and the ska-loving Rude Boy in this song, who meets an unfortunate end, is of course immaculately dressed in black and white.
/Little Black Dress
Since the demise of Virgin Prunes in the eighties, much of Gavin Friday’s work has (perhaps unfairly) gone under the radar. The one notable exception to this was Shag Tobacco, where single Angel found prominent use in the inventive Baz Luhrmann take on Romeo + Juliet. But that song, in some respects, was the bright spot on an album that otherwise was more interested with the darker, some might say sleazier side of entertainment (and that also made a number of nods to other cultural places and people of the time in Dublin, Mr. Pussy’s Cafe de Luxe and The Diceman being two).
And then, there’s this glorious song. Little Black Dress is Gavin Friday watching a beautiful woman from afar, observing a queue of men trying to sleaze over her, and marvelling at the power a woman has over men in such an outfit. The idea of such a dress goes back to Coco Chanel’s concepts in the 1920s, and has become something of an “indispensable” part of a wardrobe in fashion terms…
Giving a counterpoint to this, PJ Harvey’s debut single from a few years earlier examines a woman trying to please her lover/object of her affections just by wearing a particular outfit (a dress, in this case) – even though she endures an uncomfortable fit just to look great, and eventually finds that her “man” wants her to wear something else. An excellent song anyway, but it does underline the uncomfortable double-standards that women have to deal with. What my partner(s) choose to wear is up to them, and it is certainly no business of mine to dictate what they wear – unless, of course, they choose to ask for my opinion…
/In My Long Grey Coat
/Cupid Is A Drunkard
In one of Jeays’ many excellent, bleak ballads, the clothing is an important device, both as a method of recognition, but also as some kind of metaphorical armour against heartbreak. Here, he is returning to someone from his past, in the hope that a lost love might be rekindled in some form, but time has moved on, and his hopes appear extinguished. Said coat like all great, heavy coats, can protect from the harsh weather of winter, sure, and might be able to hide your hurt expression by way of turning the collar up, but it won’t protect from the mental anguish of such a situation.
/Modern Life Is Rubbish
It is perhaps easy to forget, what with their enormous success following it, that Modern Life is Rubbish was something of a roll of the dice for Blur. Popscene had flopped, and there was the very real chance that their future as a band was under threat. So, they changed tack, and released what was a very English album in so many ways, looking inward more than anything. This downbeat ballad seems to be preoccupied with the ideas of consumerism, dismissing the new trainers in the shop on Portobello Road early on, for the trusty blue jeans in their wardrobe as a metaphor for depression and an unwillingness to change. Ironic, then, a few albums later that the band were immortalising Adidas “Trimm Trabb” trainers in song…
/At The Club
The rather younger pop-punk band Kenickie swaggered into the Britpop world full of confidence and a sense of fun, concentrating on songs about subjects that meant something to them – which, seeing as the band were barely out of their teens at that point, was often rather less dour than many other bands at the time. Cue the glorious throwaway of P.V.C., where they stress over clothes that rip and tear, and instead celebrate the wipe-clean, waterproof and “nice and shiny” P.V.C. outfits that they want to wear instead…
Perhaps an album that might be “retired” from consideration soon in this series, seeing as this is the sixth song from it to feature. It is also the third Britpop-era song this week, this one from that arch-chronicler of what goes on behind closed curtains in suburban England. It is a surprisingly tender lament about casual sex and how people choose to reveal themselves – you might only have a tiny number of people that actually ever see you in your underwear, and Jarvis Cocker seems amazed that people are so blasé about the whole thing (and, perhaps, how much people are willing to spend on underwear that is basically for them to see and rarely anyone else).
One of most striking songs from Ice-T’s best album in decades was the closing track, a searing polemic around racial profiling that had the uncomfortable feeling of being rooted absolutely in truth. Ice-T and his crew hanging out one evening, before one of the group flees when the cops turn up, and his choice of clothing – including a black hoodie, hiding his identity – sees him chased down and killed by the cops. The hoodie has long been short-hand in the press for a potential criminal, something David Cameron tried to detoxify with mixed results, but the fact remains that little has changed, as Ice-T shows with the American view.
/Sharp Dressed Man
Finally…making their first appearance in this nearly fourteen-year-old series, one of the more iconic images of eighties music – the souped-up blues-rock trio of ZZ Top (two bearded, one – Frank Beard, of course – clean-shaven), with that classic car (apparently a much-modified 1933 Ford Coupe!) in most of their videos. Here, the subject is of the eighties-era social-climber, whose slick outfit is detailed across the song as he goes “looking for love”, and his transformation is amusingly shown in the video, where the undercurrent of the song – poking fun at the shallow and vapid heart of eighties consumerism – is made absolutely clear. That said, I do like wearing a sharp suit (not that I have much chance these days), but it’s because I like doing so, rather than for any other reason. No white shirts for me, mind…