Copped It

Lyrics

(1)

Said I ain't no millionaire
But I spent more money than one ever seen (2)
I'm gonna change that scene one day (3)
It's what you're supposed to say
Hey hey hey hey

(Gavin Friday): Hey hey hey etc. 

Can't get far in land of immovable frogs (4)
Can't get far in home of horrible hoax
And you don't last long on a diet of tea and toast

(GF): Hey hey hey
And I'm singing the song cause I copped it baby
(GF): Sing, sing a song
I steal what I have (5)

Fascist confessions bring detractors
Keeping shtum (6)
Brings dough and attractions
Costello, ideas trenchant borrows (7)
New song benefactor
Is the past tomorrow

Sing, sing a song
I'm singing the song cause I copped it baby

Don't last long
There's guns behind you
Aura of desparate boot licker
And you can't hang on with a cuff of him and girl

I'm singing a song cause I copped it baby

Taking out a policy for love and destruction
Can't operate with this vexation
Say it again, real real gone (8)
I know I've copped but I'm not the only one.

(GF): It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it (9)

I'm singing this song 'cos I copped it baby I'm singing this song to let you know

Notes

1. Like "Oh! Brother," which reëmerged around the same time, this is a song that goes back to at least 1977.

From Dan:

"One of the letters from MES to Tony Friel which appeared temporarily on Friel's website a few years ago included mention of a song called 'Copped' by 'The Outsiders' - The Outsiders being a short-lived early name for the group before they settled on The Fall. The letter is stamped 20 September 1976, so we can perhaps date this song back as far as that?"

Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes, who provides guest vocals on the version from The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (marked as "GF"), maintains "We were consciously parodying The Carpenters and Bananarama. Very much so...especially The Carpenters" (see notes 5 and 8 below). Otherwise, the song is either a swipe at plagiarists or an admission of MES's own prodigious borrowing; most likely, it is both ("I know I've copped but I'm not the only one").  In fact, MES's conception of plagiarism is very complex, and "originality" for him is not merely a matter of something's origin, but it depends to which the use made of the heterogenous elements, and the overall aesthetic of the finished product. This sort of idea is becoming rather common--that is, one presumes it was always common aming artists, but it is now a frequently argued (and still very controverial) position in public discourse that the appropriation by an artist of ideas, themes, and even word-for-word unattributed quotes is artisically legitimate if it contributes to an artifact that is aesthtically justified. Such justification is most of all what MES denies of the plagiarists he so often mentions (see the notes to C'n'C-S Mithering for more on this). In fact, it is entirely appropriate that the last line of the song, sung by Gavin Friday but, if the credits are to believed, "written" by Mark E. Smith, is taken from someone else's song, although it is unclear whose--"It Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It" is the title and refrain from the song recorded by The Fun Boy Three (with Bananarama on backing voclas) and adapted from "T'Aint's What You Do It's The Way That You Do It," originally recorded by Jimmy Lunceford and written by Melvin "Sy" Oliver and James "Trummy" Young (see note 8 below). One of those two people probably first wrote (but far more likely selected or adapted) the first version of the phrase that Friday sings. The actual origin of the phrase cannot be known, and how much a phrase has to resemble that one for us to say it is the "same" phrase is not an easy question to answer either. Notebooks out, plagiarists!

^

2. On "Goin' Down Slow," written by Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf sings "I did not say I was a millionaire.../But I said I have spent more money than a millionaire!" Wolf (Chester Burnett) was a massive (and, particularly in the former case, very detectible) influence on both Captain Beefheart and Iggy Pop, who in turn are two of the central influences on the Fall. Although I can't recall ever seeing MES mention Howlin' Wolf, it seems somewhat likely from what we know about his tastes, and also from some of his vocals, that Wolf was also a direct influence on the Fall. Although Smith doesn't seem to have ever been a blueshound per se, a powerful, authentic, and stylistically unique performer of "roots" music like Wolf is right up his alley. 

To anyone reading the comment section below, Dan's contributions to these notes will be obvious. If a suggestion in the notes is 1. undeniably true, 2. very important, or 3. something I can fruitfully expand or expound on, I put the information in the notes. Comments that do not fulfill any of those three criteria may also make it upstairs, subject to my whims. In any case, comments are always welcome and go on record whether or not I base a note on them. Without reader contributions, this site would not be very good, and Dan is the most prolific contributor here. In fact, his usable contributions are numerous enough that he is virtually a co-author of the site, and anyone who uses any of this material should give him credit where it is appropriate (although he only gives his first name, it should be taken into account that such relatively stable internet identities are readily recognizable within certain contexts). 

^

3. Fittingly, this line is also "copped," from the Easybeats' classic international hit from 1966, "Friday on My Mind": "Nothing else that bugs me/More than working for the rich man/Hey, I'll change that scene one day..."

^ 

4. A dig at the French? A reference to Kermit, who sang "Sing" (see note 5 below) on The Mike Douglas Show (a duet with Douglas) in 1977? A reference to the fact that frogs have immovable eyelids? Dan makes the following connection:

"'Copped It,' though an old song, was first performed live in March 1984. The album was released in October. On May 1984, the Paul McCartney written and produced animated film Rupert and the Frog Song came out. In June 1984, the song 'We All Stand Together' from the soundtrack was released. It was re-released later in the year as a Christmas single, when it reached #3 in the charts. In the film, the song is performed by massed ranks of frogs. I can't help linking MES's line to this song."

In 1993's "It's A Curse," MES again employs ranine language to describe "hacks" and "bargain vampires":

Down their long egg breath
Cheap shaving lotion days
Their sandwiches stashed under their side seats
Their froglike chins ready to burst
I tell you, it's a curse.

If none of that makes sense, it's all I've got--start your own damn site. 

^ 

5. Friday's refrain in the backing vocals, "Sing, sing a song," quotes (presumably intentionally) "Sing," written for Sesame Street by Joe Raposo, a composer on the staff of the program who also penned the show's instantly recognizable theme song and "Bein' Green." The latter, somewhat incredibly for a song sung by a frog puppet on a children's show, was covered by Frank Sinatra himself, and the list of versions is long and includes Ray Charles, Shirley Horn, Diana Ross, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Della Reese, Tony Bennett, and Van Morrison (this is far from the whole list, and I haven't included any of the famous recording artists who sang it on Sesame Street). In other words, Raposo had undeniable chops as a songwriter. "Sing" debuted in Episode 0273 (Season Two) on May 26, 1971, and was sung on that occasion by "Susan" and "Miguel" (Loretta Long and Jaime Sánchez), and the Carpenters 1973 recording went to Number Three in the US.

"I steal what I have" reminds me of Paul Muni's famous last words in I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1933)Muni, whose harrowing portrayal of a fugitive who was wrongly convicted of robbery was probably largely responsible for the ascendence of the cliché "harrowing portrayal" in film criticism, plays a WWI veteran who suffers brutal mistreament in the prison system and escapes to Chicago where he becomes a successful contractor. He is offered a pardon if he returns to Georgia but of course this is a ruse, so he escapes again. At the end Muni finds his fiance, Marie (Glenda Farrell),  to tell her that he is going to disappear from her life forever; when she finally asks him, distraught, "How do you live?" he responds, backing away into the shadows, "I steal!!" 

The scene is powerful even today, but in 1933 the boundaries between polite society and criminals were more patent, at least in fiction...teenagers may have shoplifted in 1933, but today they're expected to.

 

^

6. "Shtum" is Yiddish and means speechless.  

^

7. A reference to Elvis Costello, whose band was called the Attractions at the time (now it's the Imposters, which would have suited MES's lyrics even better!). And, according to Dan, "His 1977 song 'Less Than Zero' was an attack on British fascist Oswald Mosley, after seeing him interviewed on TV. 'Emotional fascism' appeared on the cover of his album Armed Forces (1979). In 1981, Costello released an album of country covers, 'Almost Blue.'" It would be a bit much, though, if MES meant to slam Costello for recording clearly attributed (and, one hopes--although it's never certain--paid for, but it would not be Costello's fault if they weren't) cover versions in a song (and a career!) where so many lines are borrowed without attribution. 

And in the lead up to the 1983 general election, Costello used "The Imposter" as a pseudonym to release an anti-Thatcher song called "Pills and Soap".

^

8. "Real Real Gone" is a Van Morrison title which, since the song seems to be about "copping" lyrics/music, could be the reference here; Dan points out that Morrison didn't release his own version until 1990, but it was released by Herbie Armstrong (who played guitar for Van Morrison) in 1980. Tom Fogerty released a cover as well (1981).

^

9. "T'Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It" is a calypso song written by Melvin "Sy" Oliver and James "Trummy" Young, and was originally recorded by Jimmie Lunceford with Harry James and Ella Fitzgerald. The Fun Boy Three, with Bananarama on backing vocals, had a moderate international hit with it (including a Number 3 chart postion in the UK) in 1982, altering the title slightly in order to help us be certain of the reference (nice of them) to "It Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It" (and see note 1 above).

^

Comments (20)

dannyno
  • 1. dannyno | 26/04/2013
Said I ain't no millionaire
But I spent more money than one ever seen


Compare with the lyrics to the great Howlin' Wolf's version of "Goin' Down Slow", in which Willie Dixon intones;


I did not say I was a millionaire...
But I said I have spent more money than a millionaire!
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 25/05/2013
"sing sing a song" is the Carpenters reference.
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 18/08/2013
"Can't get far in land of immovable frogs"

"Copped It", though an old song, was first performed live in March 1984. The album was released in October. On May 1984, the Paul McCartney written and produced animated film "Rupert and the Frog Song" came out. In June 1984, the song "We all stand together" from the soundtrack was released. It was re-released later in the year as a Christmas Single, when it reached #3 in the charts. In the film, the song is performed by massed ranks of frogs. I can't help linking MES's line to this song.
dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 18/08/2013
Here you go, The Frog Song:'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL1NhrsmUF0

Dan
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 03/11/2013
Elvis Costello: His 1977 song "Less Than Zero" was an attack on British fascist Oswald Mosley, after seeing him interviewed on TV. "Emotional fascism" appeared on the cover of his album "Armed Forces" (1979).

In 1981, Costello released an album of country covers, "Almost Blue".

And in the lead up to the 1983 general election, Costello used "The Imposter" as a pseudonym to release an anti-Thatcher song called "Pills and Soap".

"Horrible hoax": maybe a reference to the Hitler Diaries scandal of 1983?

"I'll change that scene one day" is a line from the much-covered Easybeats song, "Friday on my mind".
dannyno
  • 6. dannyno | 05/04/2014
"And you don't last long on a diet of tea and toast"

There's an story from the Daily Mail of 11 November 1976 (p17), about a transport cafe in Boroughbridge, near Harrogate, called the "Copper Kettle".

The owners of the cafe had been forced into bankruptcy, in large part because the lorry drivers who were their main customers were being sent on annual medical examinations which were leading to them cutting down on profitable stodgy food. They were eating tea and toast at 10p a time rather than bangers and mash and pudding at 40p.

You know what? I could imagine another newspaper article about this, headed "Copper Kettle Copped It".

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.
dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 17/01/2016
"And you don't last long on a diet of tea and toast"

I wonder if might possibly be a reference to Karen Carpenter, who died as a consequence of anorexia in February 1983. The Carpenters are obviously referenced elsewhere in the song.
Martin
  • 8. Martin | 22/04/2016
More evidence that the song is about plagiarism:

21 March 84 Nite Club, Edinburgh:

"I'm singing the song since I stole it baby"
Mark
  • 9. Mark | 21/09/2016
MES at the end, circa 3.59, buried in the mix:

I'm singing this song 'cos I copped it baby
I'm singing this song to let you know
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 14/10/2016
Something to note:

NME, 3 July 1982, p.33. Review of Costello's album Imperial Bedroom, by Richard Cook.


Costello has often been charged with creative plagiarism, breaking down other songs and rebuilding them to his own ends: the whole of 'Get Happy!!' was recognised as a Stax/Motown chart turned inside out.
dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 14/10/2016
One thing to note: "copped" can mean "stolen", which is obvious given the plagiaristic theme, but "copped it" as a phrase more usually means "suffered a punishment", or "died" - perhaps used to convey the sense that someone who died kind of succumbed to their fate.

So there's a double meaning there that I don't see noted hitherto.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 15/10/2016
Mark: OK, I stuck it in.

Dan: Good point, I hadn't thought of that.
Zack
  • 13. Zack | 15/01/2017
The Costello verse might refer to the infamous "Cleveland incident" of 1979 in which E.C.'s "fascist confessions" (actually drunken racist talk) earned him many detractors, whereas keeping shtum might have allowed Elvis and his Attractions to break through in America and earn more dough.
Zack
  • 14. Zack | 23/01/2017
"Copped It" is immediately followed on the LP by "Elves", The Fall's most egregious instance of copping a riff. Unintentional irony, or deliberate?
bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Maybe but it seems to me he's talking about lyrical or musical ideas here, his music was certainly considered trenchant by many. I know the story you allude to and it seems odd to finger that for "borrowing."
dannyno
  • 16. dannyno | 15/08/2017
"real real gone"

I'm assuming at this point that most of the lyrics are borrowed from other songs - certainly many are. Just to note here that "Real Real Gone" is a song written by Van Morrison. He didn't release his own version until 1990, but it was released by Herbie Armstrong (who played guitar for Van Morrison) in 1980. Tom Fogerty released a cover as well (1981).
dannyno
  • 17. dannyno | 04/09/2017
One of the letters from MES to Tony Friel which appeared temporarily on Friel's website a few years ago included mention of a song called "Copped" by "The Outsiders" - The Outsiders being a short-lived early name for the group before they settled on The Fall. The letter is stamped 20 September 1976, so we can perhaps date this song back as far as that?
Rusty
  • 18. Rusty | 25/11/2017
probably not correct, but I hear 'fox' not 'frogs' up there (despite Paul McCartney and Aristophanes) and that fits well in the rhyme scheme of fox / hoax / toast

not to mention 'Vixen' which may or may not have been an affectionate name for Brix at that time (and via 'Brixton' of course)

is there a pub in M/C called the Ignoble Fox or somesuch?

worth a stab
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 26/11/2017
Rusty, comment #18. But "fox" doesn't rhyme with either "hoax" or "toast", any more than "frogs" does. I still hear "frogs".

Did you read the notes to Vixen here? It's Brix's song.

Dan
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 02/12/2017
I don't know; "fox" sounds just possible but it sounds more "frogs" to me.

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