Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Six). “I Want My MTV”.

Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits’ fifth album, was released in 1985.  The album charted at number one worldwide, spending ten weeks at number one in the UK and nine weeks at the top spot in the US and thirty-four weeks at number one in Australia.  It became the eighth best-selling album in UK chart history, is certified nine times platinum in the US and is one of the world’s best selling albums, having sold over thirty million copies worldwide.  It was also one of the first albums to be released in the CD format.  Following the release of opening track So Far Away as the first single just prior to the album’s release, the second single was one of Dire Straits’ most recognisable, famous and enduring songs, Money for Nothing.

Money for Nothing is notable for several reasons:  Its controversial lyrics, groundbreaking video and cameo appearance by Sting, who sings the song’s falsetto introduction and backing chorus, “I want my MTV”.  The single’s accompanying video was also the first to be aired on MTV Europe when the network started on the 1st August 1987.  The single was one of the band’s most successful, staying at the top spot in the US for three weeks and peaking at number four on the UK charts.  Money for Nothing went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1986 at the 28th Grammy Awards.

The lyrics of Money for Nothing are written from the point of view of a working class man working in a hardware store who is watching music videos on MTV and commenting on what he sees.  Singer, guitarist and songwriter explained the song’s meaning in a 1984 interview with critic Bill Flanagan, saying:

“The lead character in Money for Nothing is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television / custom kitchen / refrigerator / microwave appliance store.  He’s singing the song.  I wrote the song when I was actually in the store.  I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store.  I wanted to use the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real …”

In a 2000 interview with Michael Parkinson on his television programme, Parkinson, Knopfler explained the origin of the lyrics again, saying that he was in New York and stopped by an appliance store.  At the back of the store, they had a wall of TVs which were all showing MTV.  Knopfler continued to explain how there was a man working there dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching.  As they were standing there watching MTV, Knophler remembers the man coming up with lines such as “what are those, Hawaiian noises? … that ain’t working” and so on.  Knopfler asked for a pen to write down some of the lines to eventually put them to music.

The character in the song, speaking in the first person, refers to a musician that he sees on the screen “Banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee” and a woman “Stickin’ in the camera, man we could have some fun”.  He moans about how the artists that he sees get “money for nothing and chicks for free” and describes a singer as “that little faggot with the earring and the make up” and moans about how the artists that he sees get “money for nothing and chicks for free”.

In an interview with Blender magazine in 2007, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx claimed that the song was written about his band, saying:  ““Money for nothing and the chicks for free … that little faggot got his own jet airplane”.  They were in a store that sells televisions, and there was a row of TVs all playing Motley Crue – and that’s where it came from.  Isn’t that great?”

The lyrics in the song’s second verse, “See that little faggot with the earring and the makeup, Yeah buddy that’s his own hair, That little faggot got his own jet airplane, that little faggot he’s a millionaire” sparked much controversy, with several publications deeming them to be homophobic.  In a 1984 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Knopfler said of the criticism:

“I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London – he actually said it was below the belt.  Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can’t let it have too many meanings – you have to be direct.  In fact, I’m still in two minds as to whether it’s a good idea to write songs that aren’t in the first person, to take on other characters.  The singer in Money for Nothing is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality – someone who sees everything in financial terms.  I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars.  He sees it in terms of, well, that’s not working and yet the guy’s rich:  that’s a good scam.  He isn’t sneering”.

The songwriting credits for Money for Nothing are shared between Knopfler and Sting.  Whilst Dire Straits were recording the song in Montserrat, Sting was also visiting the city and Knopfler invited him to add some background vocals.  Sting has said that his only writing contribution to Money for Nothing was the line “I want my MTV”, which follows the melody from The Police’s song, Don’t Stand So Close to Me (Zenyatta Mondatta, 1980).

In terms of the song’s music, Knopfler modelled his guitar sound for the distinctive riff after ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons’ trademark guitar tone, much due to the fact that ZZ Top’s music videos were very popular on MTV.  In an interview with Musician magazine in 1986, Gibbons stated that Knopfler had asked for his help in creating the right guitar sound for the track, but also said, “He didn’t do a half-bad job, considering I didn’t tell him a thing!”

The video for Money for Nothing, directed by Steve Barron, who also directed the videos for A-Ha’s Take On Me (Hunting High and Low, 1985) …

… and Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me With Science (The Golden Age of Wireless, 1982), was seen as highly innovate at the time.

The video was the one of the first to feature computer generated animation by means of the early program, Paintbox.  Apparently, the characters in the video were supposed to have more detail, such as buttons on their shirts, but the project went over budget.  The video won the award for Best Video at the MTV Music Awards in 1986.

In the book I Want My MTV:  The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution (2011), it is explained by various people who worked at the network that Dire Straits’ manager Ed Bicknell asked MTV what they could do to get on the network and break America.  MTV’s answer was, for them to write a hit song and have a top director make a video.  In a 2011 interview with Culturebrats, Barron said of the video:

“The song is damning to MTV in a way.  That was an iconic video.  Te characters we created were made of televisions, and they were slagging off television.  Videos were getting a bit boring, they needed some waking up.  And MTV went nuts for it.  It was like a big advertisement for them”.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Five). “Once A Time, They Nearly Might Have Been, Bones and Oogie on A Silver Screen”.

On Slip Away, from his 2002 album, Heathen, David Bowie paid homage to the New Jersey born ‘Uncle’ Floyd Vivino.  Vivino, born 1951, is a vaudeville-styled comic and pianist who hosted The Uncle Floyd Show on cable television between 1974 and 1998, when it was cancelled.  The Uncle Floyd Show started out life as a children’s show hosted by Vivino, along with a cast of puppets, who outnumbered the human cast members by at least three to one.  The puppets used by Vivano included Bones Boy and Oogie, both mentioned by Bowie in Slip Away.

Despite his intention for the show to appeal to children, it soon became apparent that its subtle adult humour wasn’t being understood by a young audience, so Vivino reworked the show so that it would appeal more to an older audience, as well as children. The show also featured appearances from musicians such as Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, The Smithereens and The Ramones.  The Ramones also mentioned The Uncle Floyd Show in their 1981 song, It’s Not My Place (in the 9 -5 World), from the album Pleasant Dreams:  “Hanging out with Lester Bangs and all, Phil Spector has it all and all, Uncle Floyd Show’s on the TV”.

The cast of The Uncle Floyd Show first became aware of Bowie’s interest when he attended a live appearance at New York’s The Bottom Line nightclub on the 29th January 1981.  Bowie met Vivino and told him how he had always had the show on whilst he was getting ready to perform in The Elephant Man, the Broadway play by Bernard Pomerance, in which he played the lead role of John Merrick.  Bowie had been introduced to The Uncle Floyd Show by another fan, John Lennon.

Two decades later, Bowie rang Vivino and informed him that the tribute song was to be featured on Heathen.  In an exclusive interview for davidbowie.com, Bowie said of the song:

“Both Slip Away and Afraid [also from Heathen] were recorded early last year and I liked these 2 so much, I just moved them forward to this album.  We completely re-recorded Slip Away over one of Matt’s [drummer Matt Chamberlain] great loop parts.  Back in the late 70’s, everyone I knew would rush home at a certain point in the afternoon to catch The Uncle Floyd Show.  He was on UHF Channel 68 and the show looked like it was done out of his living room in New Jersey.  All his pals were involved and it was a hoot.  It had that Soupy Sales kind of appeal and though ostensibly aimed at kids, I knew so many people of my age who just wouldn’t miss it.  We would be on the floor, it was so funny.  Two of the regulars on the show were Oogie and Bones Boy, ridiculous puppets made out of ping pong balls or some such.  They feature in the song.  I just loved that show”.

Slip Away started out life as a song called Uncle Floyd, recorded for the officially unreleased Toy album, which Bowie had scheduled for release in 2001.  Bowie intended Toy to feature new versions of some of his earliest songs as well as three new songs.  However, the project morphed into creating the Heathen album instead.  In terms of overall composition, Uncle Floyd is fairly similar to Slip Away, with its most notable difference being the inclusion of a segment from The Uncle Floyd Show in the intro.  The Uncle Floyd Show intro was later used when Slip Away was played live on the Heathen Tour and the A Reality Tour to accompany Heathen’s follow up album Reality (2003).  The use of the segment from The Uncle Floyd Show on Uncle Floyd adds another dimension to the composition and is particularly effective in concert, because despite its humorous nature, the clip features Oogie posing the sadly prophetic question, “Did you ever stop and think:  If there wasn’t an Uncle Floyd Show, what everyone on the show would be doing?”  Given the nature of the lyrics, which seem to evoke the feeling of Uncle Floyd, Oogie and Bones Boy being lost and forgotten nearly-stars (“Once a time, They nearly might have been, Bones and Oogie on a silver screen” and “… Some of us will always stay behind, Down in space, it’s always 1982, The joke we always knew”), this intro segment works perfectly.

There is a wonderful quality of maudlin beauty to both Slip Away and Uncle Floyd.  Bowie uses his saddest sounding vocal tones to full effect and the gigantic, crashing, cinematic chorus, one of Bowie’s most underrated, seems to stretch further than the space that Uncle Floyd, Bones Boy and Oogie find themselves in.  Then there is Bowie’s use of the stylophone, the toy instrument first used in Space Oddity (David Bowie, 1969), which just serves to add to the beauty of this stunning track. If you are not shedding a tear whilst listening to this song about lost heroes who should have been huge stars, then you are potentially dead.  Just “don’t forget to keep your head warm”.

Footnote:  Sadly, I couldn’t find a clip from The Uncle Floyd Show anywhere on YouTube.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day Three). “Your Music’s Shite, It Keeps Me Up All Night”.

The closing track of Oasis’s era-defining debut album Definitely Maybe (1994), was partly inspired by an argument between Noel Gallagher and his then girlfriend, Louise Jones.  Jones, sick of being kept awake by Gallagher playing his guitar coined the phrase “Your music’s shite!”  Gallagher’s reaction was of course, “had to keep those lines” and thus, the idea for Married With Children was born.

The other inspiration for the song was the American sitcom Married … with Children, which ran for eleven seasons between 1987 and 1997, from which the song takes its title.  In an interview with Melody Maker in 1994, Gallagher explained:  “I looked at them two in the show, and looked at us two, and I thought, that’s us, that is!”

He also said of the song, “It’s another song that anybody could relate to, because if you live with a girlfriend or just a flatmate, there are always petty things that you hate about them, and this song’s just about pettiness”.

Gallagher put these elements together in the bedroom of producer Mark Coyle’s house, writing the song on the Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar that had been left there by Stone Roses guitarist John Squire. Interestingly, the song uses the same chord progression as Lithium by Nirvana, from their 1991 album Nevermind.  A good chord progression to share since Gallagher was about to become as much of a figurehead to indie music as Kurt Cobain was to grunge.

The song was recorded there and then in Coyle’s bedroom with just Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher and Coyle present.  Coyle used the limited recording equipment available, which he described in Definitely Maybe: The Documentary (2004) as “appalling”, to create a subtle and charming end to an album that has gone down in history as one of the greatest debuts ever made.

The basic nature of the song’s composition and recording also showed another side to Oasis, the softer more acoustic approach which would later be used to great success on the number 2 hit Wonderwall, from the following album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995).

Lyrically, Gallagher played to his biggest song writing talent, that, once again, of keeping it simple.  As Gary ‘Mani’ Mountfield of The Stone Roses and ex-Primal Scream says in Definitely Maybe: The Documentary, “People don’t want to get the logarithm tables out when it comes to music”. Gallagher also played to another talent, that of the great lyrical hook.  The both fearsomely working class and endlessly humorous refrain of “Your music’s shite, It keeps me up all night”, particularly when sung by Liam Gallagher is his inimitable style is just one of many on Definitely Maybe.

A Song for Europe: Ten Songs about Europe. The First Eurovision Song Contest is Held in Lugano, Switzerland. This Day in History, 24/05/1956.

1.  REM ‘Radio Free Europe’

(from the album Murmur, 1983).

2.  Six by_Seven ‘European Me’

(from the album The Things We Make, 1998).

3.  The Clash ‘Safe European Home’

(from the album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, 1978).

4.  Muse ‘United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage’

(from the album The Resistance, 2009).

5.  Kraftwerk ‘Europe Endless’

(from the album Trans-Europe Express, 1977).

6.  Roxy Music ‘A Song For Europe’

(from the album Stranded, 1973).

7.  The Delgados ‘Big Business in Europe’

(from the album Domestiques, 1996).

8.  Suede ‘Europe is Our Playground’

(B-side of Trash, 1996).

9. Velvet Underground ‘European Son’

(from the album Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967).

10. The Divine Comedy ‘When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe’

(from the album Promenade, 1994).

Tales From The Riverbank: Ten Songs About Rivers. The Blackwall Tunnel Underneath the River Thames is Opened. This Day in History, 22/05/1897.

1.  The Jam ‘Tales From The Riverbank’

(B-side of Absolute Beginners, 1981).

2.  Richard Hawley ‘Roll River Roll’

(from the album Lady’s Bridge, 2009).

3.  Talking Heads ‘Take Me to the River’

(from the album More Songs About Buildings and Food, 1978).

4.  Pixies ‘River Euphrates’

(from the album Surfer Rosa, 1988).

5.  Nick Drake ‘River Man’

(from the album Five Leaves Left, 1969).

6.  REM ‘Cuyahoga’

(from the album Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986).

7.  Joni Mitchell ‘River’

(from the album Blue, 1971).

8.  Jimmy Cliff ‘Many Rivers to Cross’

(from the album The Harder They Come OST, 1972).

9.  Patti Smith ‘Pissing in a River’

(from the album Radio Ethiopia, 1976).

10. Antony and the Johnsons ‘River of Sorrow’

(from the album Antony and the Johnsons, 2000).

Life in Tokyo: Ten Songs About Japan. Sada Abe is Arrested After Wandering the Streets of Tokyo for Days with Her Dead Lover’s Severed Genitals in her Handbag. Her Story Soon Becomes One of Japan’s Most Notorious Scandals. This Day in History, 21/05/1936.

1.  Japan ‘Life in Tokyo’

(from the album Quiet Life, 1979).

2.  The Cure ‘Kyoto Song’

(from the album The Head on the Door, 1985).

3.  The Vapours ‘Turning Japanese’

(from the album New Clear Days, 1980).

4.  Clean Bandit ‘Rather Be’

(from the album New Eyes, 2014).

5.  Elvis Costello ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’

(from the album Blood and Chocolate, 1986).

6.  Tom Waits ‘Big in Japan’

(from the album Mule Variations, 1999).

7.  Manic Street Preachers ‘(I Miss the) Tokyo Skyline’

(from the album Rewind the Film, 2013).

8.  Eurythmics ‘I’ve Got A Lover (Back in Japan)’

(from the album Savage, 1987).

9.  Heaven 17 ‘Geisha Boys and Temple Girls’

(from the album Penthouse and Pavement, 1981).

10. Blur ‘Yuko and Hiro’

(from the album The Great Escape, 1995).

The Intense Humming of Evil: Ten Songs About The Holocaust. The First Prisoners Arrive at a New Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. This Day in History, 20/05/1940.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’

(from the album The Holy Bible, 1994).

2.  The Libertines ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’

(from the album The Libertines, 2004).

3.  The Klezmatics ‘Ilsa Koch’

(from the album Wonder Wheel (bonus track), 2009).

4.  Joy Division ‘No Love Lost’

(from the An Ideal for Living EP, 1978).

5. Tom Paxton ‘Train For Auschwitz’

(recorded in 1961).

6.  Sex Pistols ‘Belsen Was A Gas’

(from the album The Great Rock ‘N Roll Swindle, 1979).

7.  Janis Ian ‘Tattoo’

(from the album Breaking Silence, 1992).

8.  Neutral Milk Hotel ‘Holland 1945’

(from the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, 1998).

9.  Rush ‘Red Sector A’

(from the album Grace Under Pressure, 1984).

10.  Leonard Cohen ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’

(from the album Various Positions, 1984).

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Six). “I Got Lost in the Sounds I Hear in My Mind …”

Fidelity, the opening song on Regina Spektor’s 2006 album Begin to Hope was written by the singer whilst watching the film High Fidelity (2000), which was in turn adapted from the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby (1995).  The film tells the story of record shop owner, Rob Gordon (played by John Cusack), his love life and break ups through his love of music.  Fidelity explores the apprehension of falling in love and worrying about the inevitable heartbreak that could arise from yielding feelings to another person.

Regina Spektor takes High Fidelity’s theme of pondering life, love and relationships through music, with lines in Fidelity such as: “I got lost in the sounds, I hear in my mind, All of these words, I hear in my mind, All this music, And it breaks my heart …”   Spektor is living life through the music that she makes, much like the way in which in High Fidelity, Rob Gordon lives his life through the music he listens to.

In the second verse of the song, she sings “Suppose I never ever met you, Suppose we never fell in love, Suppose I never ever let you, Kiss me so sweet and so soft, Suppose I never ever saw you, Suppose you never ever called, Suppose I kept on singing on love songs”.  Here, Spektor is contemplating what her life would have been like if she had not met the male figure she is talking about and kept on living life through the love songs she sang rather than experiencing real love, much like the way in which in High Fidelity, Rob Gordon contemplates the effect music has on him:

“What came first, the music or the misery?  People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over.  Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss.  Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Fidelity became one of Regina Spektor’s most popular songs.  In 2006, she told Entertainment Weekly that she wasn’t surprised at the song’s international popularity:

“When we were recording, it just felt nice, like in my body.  I thought, ‘This is delicious’.  So much of listening to music is physical.  It starts in the stomach and it needs to travel up to the lungs in this specific way.  When that doesn’t happen, you just feel it, you know when it’s not right.  It’s very much a body experience.  To me, Fidelity felt really good in my body when we were finished.  I guess people’s bodies are the same in those kinds of ways.  Sometimes songs just feel nice”.

Who Loves The Sun: Ten Songs About The Sun and Ten Songs About The Moon. A Total Solar Eclipse Was Visible Across Northern Europe and Northern Asia, as Predicted by Edmund Halley to Within Four Minute Accuracy. This Day in History, 03/05/1715.

1.  Super Furry Animals ‘Hello Sunshine’

(from the album Phantom Power, 2003).

2.  The Doors ‘Waiting for the Sun’

(from the album Morrison Hotel, 1970).

3.  Bob Marley & The Wailers ‘Sun is Shining’

(from the album Soul Revolution, 1971).

4.  The Velvet Underground ‘Who Loves The Sun’

(from the album Loaded, 1970).

5.  Traffic ‘Paper Sun’

(single A-side, 1967).

6.  The Libertines ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’

(single A-side, 2003).

7.  The Beatles ‘Here Comes the Sun’

(from the album Abbey Road, 1969).

8. Primal Scream ‘Higher Than The Sun’

(from the album Screamadelica, 1991).

9.  The Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’

(from the album Something Else, 1967).

10. Arctic Monkeys ‘When The Sun Goes Down’

(from the album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006).

11. Pink Floyd ‘Brain Damage / Eclipse’

(from the album Dark Side of the Moon, 1973).

12. David Bowie ‘Moonage Daydream’

(from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972).

13. Television ‘Marquee Moon’

(from the album Marquee Moon, 1977).

14. REM ‘Man on the Moon’

(from the album Automatic for the People, 1993).

15. The Police ‘Walking on the Moon’

(from the album Regatta de Blanc, 1979).

16. Van Morrison ‘Moondance’

(from the album Moondance, 1970),

17. Echo and the Bunnymen ‘The Killing Moon’

(from the album Ocean Rain, 1984).

18. Rolling Stones ‘Moonlight Mile’

(from the album Sticky Fingers, 1971).

19. The Waterboys ‘The Whole of the Moon’

(from the album This is the Sea, 1985).

20. Tom Waits ‘I’ll Shoot the Moon’

(from the album The Black Rider, 1993).

Shipbuilding: Ten Songs About The Falklands War. The British Nuclear Submarine HMS Conqueror Sinks The Argentine Crusier ARA General Belgrano. This Day in History, 02/04/1982.

1.  Elvis Costello ‘Shipbuilding’

(from the album Punch the Clock, 1983).

2.  Crass ‘Sheep Farming in the Falklands’

(single A-side, 1983).

3.  Billy Bragg ‘The Island of No Return’

(from the album Brewing Up with Billy Bragg, 1984).

4.  The Fall ‘Marquis Cha-Cha’

(from the album Room To Live (Undilutable Slang Truth!), 1982).

5.  New Order ‘Blue Monday’

(Single A-side, 1983).

6.  Dire Straits ‘Brothers in Arms’

(from the album Brothers in Arms, 1985).

7.  Joe Jackson ‘Tango Atlantico’

(from the album Big World, 1986).

8.  The Exploited ‘Let’s Start A War’

(from the album Let’s Start A War, 1983).

9.  New Model Army ‘Spirit of the Falklands’

(from the album Vengeance, 1984).

10. Super Furry Animals ‘The Piccolo Snare’

(from the album Phantom Power, 2003).