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
1. Like "Oh! Brother," which reëmerged around the same time, this is a song that goes back to at least 1977.
"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..." Dan notes that this chimes with the singer Gavin Friday's name...
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."
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.
A tweet from @inspiralsband, about the time they did I Want You on Top of the Pops with MES:
On the way back to the dressing room #MarkESmith went into Elvis Costello’s dressing to continue an exchange of views about music that apparently had started in the 70’s.
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). But this does seem an unlikely source of inspiration for MES, and John Reardon reminds us that on "Milkcow Blues Boogie" (1955), Elvis stops the song after a few bars and says "Hold it, fellas--that don't move me! Let's get real, real gone for a change!" This could be, as Reardon suggests, the source for both the Van Morrison number and the song under consideration.
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).
Compare with the lyrics to the great Howlin' Wolf's version of "Goin' Down Slow", in which Willie Dixon intones;
"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 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".
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.
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.
21 March 84 Nite Club, Edinburgh:
"I'm singing the song since I stole it baby"
I'm singing this song 'cos I copped it baby
I'm singing this song to let you know
NME, 3 July 1982, p.33. Review of Costello's album Imperial Bedroom, by Richard Cook.
So there's a double meaning there that I don't see noted hitherto.
Dan: Good point, I hadn't thought of that.
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).
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
Did you read the notes to Vixen here? It's Brix's song.
'Is the past tomorrow'
I have always heard as
'It's the past - tomorrow!'
an assertion as opposed to a question.
I have been listening since the album came out, the Doomsday Triad being my favorite Fall period.
Some live versions just have "there's tongues behind you" at that point.
Munich, 4 April 1984 sounds like something to do with an insurance box.
The Saturday Live BBC sessions like "immovable frocks".
So heaven knows.
An ordinary London coffee shop, like a thousand others…’Can I have some tea and bread and butter?’ I said to the girl.
She stared. ‘No butter, only marg,” she said, surprised. And she repeated the order in the phrase that is to London what the eternal coup de rouge is to Paris: ‘Large tea and two slices!’
.. “Food..had come to mean simply bread and margarine, which will cheat hunger for an hour or two,”
This seems more likely that Smith making a comment about Costello's songs and country covers album. The word 'confessions' implies that someone is confessing fascist views or thereabouts - in vino veritas, perhaps.
A possible (no proof) a reference to this.
'Thatchergate was the colloquial title of a hoax perpetrated by members of the anarcho-punk band Crass during the aftermath of the 1982 Falklands War...coverage of the tape by the UK broadsheet The Observer in January 1984 identified the true source as Crass.'
It would have been revealed just before the song was recorded and with Mark's views he may have thought it was horrible.
I asked about the Woodie Brothers, but didn't get a response sadly.
Never occurred to me before today, but pleasing Gavin Friday/Friday on My Mind link going on here. Deliberately? I hope so.
Might be more like that...
I always assumed that something similar had happened here - that MES had heard some Elvis Costello & The Attractions song which was vaguely similar to a Fall song in some way and become convinced it had been "copped" by Costello.
From Sounds, 30th December 1978, Dave McCullough review of Elvis Costello.
There's no documentation of Copped It being played in its original incarnation after December 1977, but evidently MES continued to work on the song before its revival in 1984, and so it's not impossible he added lyrics from time to time, and could have noticed this piece.
But obviously I'm hanging a lot on the single word "detractors".
I wonder if MES read the Costello Less Than Zero review in Sounds, 26 March 1977?
Also both Parker & the Brinsleys had links to the bosses at Stiff, so Costello might be seen as a bit craven in brown-nosing up to them by appealing to their 'pub rock' tastes.
Equally tho Riviera & Robinson were very 'knowing' & used many in-jokes in their promotions, so may've chosen the 'reversing' tagine coz they were boasting that their new act was ripping off their old ones.
"Elvis today, tomorrow...?", review of "My Aim is True" by Chas de Whalley, from Sounds, 11 June 1977, p.33:
From Q Maverick: Mark E Smith by Ted Kessler, Q magazine, July 2015:
If this doesn't have it's origins in "The Frog Song", as I previously suggested, then maybe it has something to do with the 1972 horror film Frogs, starring MES-fave Ray Milland.
Frogs was shown on Granada TV on 5 September 1977. I cannot hear the line in the earliest available live versions of the song from earlier in 1977. So that works. And nor can I hear it on live recordings from earlier in 1984.
That matters because Frogs was also shown on 15 June 1984 (also Granada). At that point the line appears to be something to do with an insurance hoax. However, the album The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... was recorded mid-1984. So perhaps this fits.
On the other hand, early lyrics seems to refer to "insurance box" as well as "insurance hoax". Sometimes the box is immoveable. So perhaps we're mishearing and it should be "immoveable box". But it doesn't sound like "box" on record.
References in the live versions to "insurance hoax" made me wonder about contemporary or cultural references, or links to Bowie or John Lydon.
There is the 1966 Billy Wilder film The Fortune Cookie, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. A possibility?
But it was also aired in December 1980.
Really need to look at the live versions of the lyrics in detail.