As I edge toward the end of my writing year – The /Tuesday Ten series will take a usual end-of-year break for a few weeks as we head into December so that I can round up the best music of the year on /Countdown/2020 – I’ve had to think long and hard about what subjects to cover in the last few /Tens of 2020.
/Tuesday Ten/435/Buy Now…Saved Later
/208/Money Money Money
So not for the first time in recent weeks, I’ve dug back into my notes to look for a /Ten to pick up on that I’d thought about previous and not yet written – hence this week, it is songs about buying and selling. That isn’t necessarily simply going to the shops – although that is covered in a few songs here – there are deeper, more cynical takes on the concept too.
We’re still in an era of consumerism, even with all the environmental and social damage that it appears to cause, we can’t stop. Governments won’t stop, few consumers will stop. Is there a way to change it? I’m honestly not sure. But, even in a pandemic, our own Government seems more bothered about the economy than lives, hence still asking us to buy, buy, buy.
This subject had a suggestion thread some time ago (back in Jul-19!), but there were 146 suggestions, with seventeen of those having been used before. There were 123 unique songs suggested, by 63 different people. As ever, thanks to everyone for their input.
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 Holy Bible
There’s only one place this song can be in this list, and that’s opening it – as it opens The Holy Bible, the Manics greatest album by far. The bleak sample from 1993 documentary Hookers Hustlers Pimps and Their Johns opens this savage song, one that hasn’t lost any of its power in twenty-six years, as Richey Edwards’ ever-dense lyrics compare the demonisation of prostitution in wider society with the general transactional nature of society and work, and perhaps muses why selling sex is seen as so bad in a prudish, hypocritical society that is all-too-happy to use sex to sell just about anything else. I rather agree in some respects – for those that choose a life in sex work, all power to them, but trafficking women (and children, and men) for sex is another, abhorrent, matter entirely.
/We Are All Prostitutes
/For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?
Never a subtle band, The Pop Group’s strident politics meant that their songs were often blisteringly direct. Such as this excellent, abrasive early single, a post-punk-funk blast where Mark Stewart directs his fury at everyone, for willingly selling themselves out for any price – presumably referencing the nascent “greed is good” mentality of Thatcher, who’d been elected in 1979 pledging new jobs and “better pay”, while “controlling inflation”. What that actually meant in reality was that the rich got very rich, and fuck everyone else – perhaps Mark Stewart was seeing what was to come sooner than some others who were cheering Thatcher on…
There are few advertising campaigns in recent times to become part of regular parlance (and memes), but the Iceland supermarket chain will forever – rightly or wrongly, as it is perhaps something of a sexist term to assume women do the family shopping – be associated with the “that’s why mums go to Iceland” slogan (they later used Kerry Katona to front their campaign for a while before drug allegations kiboshed that).
Remarkably, it was even referenced in a catchy, Britpop-era indie track from indie also-rans Bennet (one of a number of bands of the time to since be remembered for one glorious song). But it’s hardly a celebratory song – behind the rush of that fantastic guitar hook, this is a song about the troubles of feeding the family amid financial troubles in early nineties England, an issue that hasn’t gone away – as as foodbank use has continued to skyrocket amid the COVID-19 crisis.
/You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve
A song suggested by a few people in the originating thread for this did not, I must admit, sound anything like I expected it to. Perhaps I was expecting another power-pop song like Bennet, but instead what I got was a lush, almost-Phil Spector-esque late-sixties soul-pop glory. Huh. Amid that sunny, wall-of-sound, though, is another coruscating take on modern society, as Johnny Boy rip apart modern consumerism, obsessed with the latest shoes and or clothes rather than trying to make a better world. Hence, we get what we fucking deserve. Fifteen years on from this song, perhaps they were right.
Probably one of the greatest, most inventive and subversive songs of the 21st Century so far, M.I.A.’s staggering mainstream breakthrough is a triumph of sampling, gang vocals and woozy melodies – and politics. From immigrant roots herself (her family were refugees from Sri Lanka), this song takes on the dichotomy of immigrant rhetoric in politics and mass-media head-on – all while taking in the buying and selling. Immigrants are often seen as people “sponging” off the state in popular discourse, but then – in the same breath – caricatured as people who’ll also be working the small shops, probably doing considerably more hours than others, working harder and for less. So many of our transactions when we buy will be handled by these people, who are often forgotten about too often. Paper Planes is pretty much a song that celebrates those people, and reminds that they deserve recognition as a class of people that do contribute to the economy and society, and very much should be considered in more than just transactional terms.
/Cod Liver Oil & Orange Juice – The Transatlantic Anthology
The only song this week, that I’m aware of, that has its origins in an advertising jingle…from the mid-1800s. Written initially by Robert Coltart, the wiki explains, who was selling an aniseed sweet that’s now lost to history – and I guess it is perhaps remarkable that even a memory of it still remains thanks to this sweet-natured song, that seems to reflect the poverty of the Scottish Border towns amid children and adults’ desire for the sweets. Having a really sweet tooth myself – and loving aniseed – this would be the kind of sweet I’d be hoovering up if I had the chance…
/House of Fun
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve never really liked the ska-pop of Madness at all. But, weirdly enough, this song from one of Camden Town’s most famous exports fits in neatly this week. Amid the jaunty, chart-friendly sound – the only number one hit the band ever had – this song has rather more to say. This is a song about a teenager trying to buy condoms as he turns sixteen – whether he actually has a lover, or is just doing because he is now “of age” – and he’s too nervous to actually go out and say it, so stumbles his words on as many euphemisms as possible. Either the shop assistant is playing with him, or genuinely isn’t getting what he’s asking for only adds to the embarrassment. Of course, there is still a stigma to buying contraception. But why? Having safe sex should be a positive thing.
/Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
C.R.E.A.M.? “Cash rules everything around me“, as Method Man’s legendary hook goes in this phenomenal track. His hook wraps around languid raps from Raekwon and Inspectah Deck, as they detail their own upbringings in Staten Island, involved in violence and drugs – I never said, of course, that the buying and selling in this week’s post had to be legal. Across the song they buy and sell drugs, serve time, all the while just aiming to make money to feed themselves and give themselves a better life. An extraordinary piece of social commentary, it’s also an indictment of a system in the US where it is potentially more lucrative to pursue illegal activities than it is to hold down a steady, manual job.
Legendary German punks Die Toten Hosen had a lot to say on the subject of commercialism and consumerism, particularly on their excellent 1993 album Kauf Mich! [Buy Me!] – and particularly on the title track, where they entertainingly turn themselves into advertising billboards, offering themselves up as all the products that you don’t need – in other words making it clear that in the western economic world, everything is for sale, even themselves. It’s a great song, too.
The obsession of the Thatcher years with making money got to the point that various industries were privatised…and offered to taxpayers to “buy their own stake”. Which, when you think about it, is astonishingly brazen, asking taxpayers to pay for something that in another way, they already owned.
One of the biggest pop artists of the late eighties were the Pet Shop Boys, who often took a sarcastic look at the world of the time, wrapped in snappy electronic textures, and one of their most piercing, furious takes on that Thatcherite world was this song, taking in both the obsession with shopping (that to an extent, still prevails) and also the various sell-offs of the time.