Last week was clothes, this week is…shoes. Often just as much a fashion statement as clothes, what you wear on your feet may see you interpreted immediately by passers-by as belonging to a particular cultural group or “tribe”. Others, mind, may not give a toss and just wear what is comfortable.
/Tuesday Ten/431/In These Shoes
/Tuesday Ten/Ready to Wear
/430/Dressed For Success
I guess I fall into the former group, mostly being seen in Docs (of which more about them later). This is a post, then, about shoes as symbolism, identity, and metaphor, and brings things to the present day, too.
Not quite as many suggestions for this week. There were 76 suggestions in total, eleven of which had been used before, and 58 unique songs were suggested, by thirty-five people. Thanks, as ever, to all that got involved.
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 Red Shoes
/The Red Shoes
Not a Kate Bush album I’ve revisited particularly over the years, on the evidence of this excellent song, perhaps I should. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and the 1948 film too, it tells the tale of a girl who puts on a pair of enchanted shoes and can’t stop dancing (and in the fairytale, meets a gruesome end). The song appears to reflect the panic of the story by a very, very gradual increase in pace before it explodes into a multi-tracked, wild climax.
/Red Shoes by the Drugstore
Red Shoes feature quite a bit in song, it appears, perhaps reflecting their intriguing history and symbolism. Things are still pretty murky and bleak, needless to say, in the tale Tom Waits spins. Here, as ever in Waits’s tales, the characters are down on their luck, hoping for better and going to any ends to give themselves any kind of hope. Within these vignettes, those, the red shoes shine through, either as a grubby marker of lust, or of genuine love and beauty, it’s never quite made clear either way.
The first single from Run DMC’s breakthrough – the first Platinum and multi-Platinum hip hop record – has immense significance, too, in how fashion and music entwine, as they were the first to (eventually!) get an endorsement deal with a shoe manufacturer. After all, with Run DMC writing this entire song about their beloved Adidas Superstars, and them wearing them in every video and media appearance possible, what better advertising for their product could it be? Here they imagine their Adidas trainers as genuine sidekicks, seeing the world with them and fighting off potential thieves with them. Who knew trainers could be heroes?
/Boogie Down Productions
/Word From Our Sponsor
KRS-One and his cohorts in Boogie Down Productions thought differently, though, and this song seemed like a response to the likes of Run DMC “selling out” (a longstanding debate in popular music of course). He didn’t need to get an endorsement, and anyway, he wore Nikes instead. I hear him – while I used to wear Navy Suede Adidas Sambas in my youth, these days I’m a Nike wearer – they fit me better, not to mention their football boot stylings resulted in my now-infamous “yellow boots” (that are actually Volt Yellow and Purple-coloured Mercurial Victory IIs, and why yes, they pretty much glow in the dark). Time for my endorsement, Nike?
/Pumped Up Kicks
It isn’t just rappers that talk about particular brands of footwear, mind. The outstanding closer to the last 3TEETH album was a take on the striking Foster the People track, that imagines the plotting of a school shooting from the point of the potential shooter. The “Pumped Up Kicks” in question refer to the Reebok Pump line, Reebok’s attempt at fighting back against Nike’s wild success with their Air Jordan line, which began in 1984 and is still going now. The song, of course, deals with the difficult reality of many at school, with social dividing lines and often bullying based simply on what your parents can afford (do you get the cool new trainers/sneakers or not?), and here, those with the cool trainers can push around those that don’t, with the potentially horrifying consequences suggested in the song…
/Dr Martens’ Boots
The legendary comic Alexei Sayle had a perhaps surprising success in music, with a few hit singles, and a few more bang-on the money. Dr. Martens are a style of boot with something of a longer history than I’d perhaps thought – their origins take them back to a German army doctor in the Second World War, but were first made in the UK by R Griggs Group in 1952. They’ve been popular in various subcultures (in different colours, too), and for many years appeared indestructible (my wife’s current pair of pink Docs, although on their last legs now, have lasted since the early 2000s), although with the outsourcing of production they certainly aren’t what they were.
My first pair was bought early in my teens, and while my first pair were eight-hole black 1460 Boots (the classic design), I’ve long since moved to the fourteen-hole version (always in black, though), and paid that bit more for the Solovair-made version (in the original factory) for my last pair a couple of years ago. They were certainly a whole lot more than the £19.99 Sayle got his for in 1982 (the equivalent of £68.50 or so now) – indeed I think these Solovairs were over £200…
/How To Destroy Angels
/How To Destroy Angels
One of the more striking songs from the apparently short-lived NIN side-project that was How To Destroy Angels takes a very different look at Big Black Boots (for that is the meaning of the title, revealed in the last line of the track). Mariqueen Maandig’s vocals shiver around the stomping, central rhythm, that could be pounded out by an army in their own boots. This is a song where the boots symbolise power, that of organisational or Governmental power stomping on that of the individual, trampling them underfoot as a way of ensuring that they fall in line, and comply. In the decade since, it has undoubtedly, and sadly, got a whole lot worse.
/Fuck Me Pumps
Urban Dictionary, as ever, helpfully explains: “high-heeled pumps with a three-inch or higher stilleto heel. Usually some really bright colour to get your attention. Maybe shiny vinyl or glittery. Accentuates the leg. Not usually removed during sex.”
Her song, though, is rather lacking in the glitz and glamour suggested by that definition. Instead, it’s a bleak, downbeat look at people who want to be famous without doing anything, aside from perhaps sleeping with someone famous, and getting on the front of the tabloids. Sadly, of course, Winehouse ended up hounded by the tabloids herself, and her disdain for the whole shebang drips from every pore of this gloriously catty song.
/Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes
Talk about a career resurrection: by the mid-80s, Paul Simon’s glory days appeared to be behind him, before he went to South Africa and recorded, with local musicians, this still-extraordinary album that played no small part in helping music from other parts of the world get a foothold in the “West”. This song in particular features prominently the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose own active history goes back at least as far as Simon’s. The song is part a capella, and part afro-funk, and for me, is one of those extraordinary earworms that will get stuck in my head for days when I think about it, and it apparently details the inequalities in Africa and exporting of her raw materials using the outrageous metaphor of the title as a starting point. After all, would anyone really have diamonds in the soles of their shoes? Actually, I probably shouldn’t ask that.
/The Comet Line
“It’s the end of the world, so wear sensible shoes”
I’ve written about this excellent, and mystifyingly overlooked, London band a few times over the past few years, and their bitter, clever songs remain undimmed in 2020. The lead single from a recent EP (that is also well worth your time), seems to be something of a kick-back against the idea of conformity and also the shitshow that is life in 2020 in general (this was released in April, by the way, so was likely written before lockdown). Aside from a pair of “smart” shoes for occasional work meetings in my previous role, though – although even then, I preferred Chelsea Boots – I can’t recall the last time I had a pair of “sensible” shoes. I don’t need them, so I don’t have them.