It's The New Thing

Lyrics

My boys tape what I say
Do it the studio way
New equipment all clean
New gear 
Clothes mean
I answer and take the calls
No trouble with the law
Turn it up for interviewers
Oh yeah prime movers   (1)
I wonder what is next year's thing?
Crash smash crash ring (2)

They've got another side
Pop heroes of the mind
While you suckers queue or work
Money for us in play and tell
We have never sold out (3)
Spent hours on clever art
Funny advertising quotes
Make you bite and raise your hopes
That it's the new leather thing  (4)
Crash smash crash ring

The broken backs of the real bands
A million closed minds
Re-form the old clans
Year of the average man
The Worst died because of you (5)
Along with some others too
Erasing of our rainbows
We are men, we have big toes!  (6)
It's the new leather thing
Crash smash crash ring

Houdini believed his tricks
That is why he died       (7)
Oh I'm not coming out
There may be a film on tonight
Or Eliot's Untouchables (8)
Ads for new hotels
Look like science fiction films or revival gothic pig-swill
Watch the skies, watch The Thing  (9)
Crash smash crash ring

[Bramah:] "Rock it!"

It's the new leather thing
Ba ba ba doo...          (10)
New leather thing

Yow!

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Notes

1. Dan: "MES was well disposed towards Buzzcocks/Devoto, so not I'm sure that he would do this, but the cover of Melody Maker for 21 January 1978 features Devoto, described as "One of the prime movers in the first stirrings of the punk revolution..."

A more likely reference is Devo, however--see note 6 below for details, including "next thing" (but not "new thing" per se) references, and a reference to a "prime mover."

^

 

2. The first verse is from the perspective of a would-be manager or promoter, and one imagines the refrain as either his cynical take on the music, or the genuinely tone-deaf way he hears it.
 

^
 

3. If this sounds like juvenile braggadocio, that's because it is: the line isn't sung from MES's perspective, but from that of the self-important young band who begins to believe their own hype that they're "the new thing." Obvious, maybe, but seems worth noting...

^

4. Ben writes:

The use of the word 'leather' reminds me of the Goon Show, the absurdist British radio comedy show from the 50s (precursor to Monty Python), which was frequently introduced, nonsensically, as "the new all-leather Goon Show". Could be the inspiration for these lyrics; I don't know if MES is a fan but their scripts and his lyrics share some things in common (i.e. surreal/absurd humour). Or he could be talking about leather jackets, which I believe came back into fasion in the punk era (e.g. The Ramones).

^

5. The Worst were a Manchester band of the late 70s who are legendary for their obscurity, if such a thing is possible. They were known for not being able to play, for being sincere, and for a lack of ambition so total that nobody seems to have ever recorded them, and nobody noticed until it was too late. Manchester music journalist Pail Morley has said that they "made the Clash seem like Rush."

^

6. An odd lyric--SM15 suggests it's a take-off of "Are We Not Men? We Are Devo," the refrain of Devo's "Jocko Homo" which came out the previous year. About a month after "It's The New Thing" debuted, Devo released their first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.

The big toe, as currently consitituted, is apparently evolutionarily significant as it enabled homo sapiens to efficiently walk upright. This would distinguish humans from apes, and if we were to "devolve" then we may lose the rigid big toe and become more like apes (thanks to Dan).

It shouild be noted that "devolution" is not a genuine scientific concept, since evolution is not directionary according to modern biology--in other words, species don't evolve forward and "devolve" backward, as there is no forward or backward in evolution. Any change in a species--whether it makes the organism more or less complex, or more or less like a previous form--is evolution. So, if humans became indistinguishable from apes again, this would be evolution, not "devolution."

In any case, there is evidence that MES may have been thinking of Devo when writing this song. Dan submits:

"Devo was getting plenty of coverage in the UK music press. Perhaps the group even went to see them play at the Free Trade Hall on 11 March 1978 - a gig that was reviewed by Paul Morley in the NME dated 18 March 1978. 

There are lines in that review which do echo the song in a small way:

'Are we really so constantly hungry for 'newness'...?
Or do we (chuckle) subconsciously recognise something distinctive and proper within this band's apparently firm 'de-evolution' theories.'

And then, more significantly, there was a Melody Maker interview with Devo by Ian Birch (25 February 1978), entitled <drum roll>:

'We Are Devo. We Are The Next Thing'

The article contains this:

'Is the prime mover sex, then?


No, no. I imagine the prime mover is always some kind of sexuality, but sex is never the question. It's what manifestation of sex is prevalent. I was just describing what the focal point had been and where it was moving.'

And then in Sounds, 24 June 1978, Jon Savage notably reviewed both Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus and The Akron Compilation on Stiff Records. The latter did not include Devo, although of course they were from Akron, but Savage did say:
 


'OH JESUS! After Devo, the (marketing) deluge.

If Devo's message to the world (such as it is) has included the fact that geeks can become superstars as well as macho clods and instrument worshipping idiots, then the Stiff Akron album moves in sharp in the wake of their lease deal for three Devo singles to capitalise on any Akron sound and promote geek chic. The shit-detectors begin to ring instantly. They wouldn't ring so persistently if this was put out as just another buncha local bands from kindanyville, USA, but the whole (lavish) packaging, promotion and pre-release hype has been such to indicate that this is (erk) the 'NEXT BIG THING'…It isn't.'



Maybe the "crash smash crash ring" line ends with the ringing of Savage's shit-detector?"

 

None of this is to say that the song is about Devo. All the lines adduced as evidence could be coincidental. More, even if MES took some of the language of the song from the sources above, it's possible he used it to describe a band other than Devo, or a generalized fictional band. It's also possible at some points he is thinking of Devo, and at some points he is not. So, do with all that what you will.
 

^

7. Harry Houdini died of a ruptured appendix. He apparently used to brag about his stomach muscles, and he would demonstrate by letting people punch him in the stomach. A student punched him several times shortly before he was hospitalized. So, it may be that the trick in question here is the stomach thing. However, MES may have Houdini's magic tricks in mind, in which case it's not clear what he means. But Dan points out that the 1963 film Houdini has him dying trying one of his escapes, in this case from a cube filled with water.

 

^

 

8. The Untouchables were American Prohibition-era federal agents rooting out bootleggers as part of the Prohibition Bureau, and were led by a man named Eliot Ness. They were romanticized in the television show The Untouchables, starring Robert Stack as Ness.


^

9. From ex-worker man:

"Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies."
Final lines from the Thing from Another World (1951).

Dan: "The Thing is likely to be a reference to The Thing From Another World, the 1951 film directed by Christian Nyby (which is often just called 'The Thing'). What makes this likely is it was shown on Granada TV on 26 June 1978, as the first offering in a new science fiction slot titled Close Encounters of Various Kinds. As noted, this is shortly before the first documented performance of the song on 14 July.

And, of course, there is a resonance with the title of the song here.



Also, Watch the Skies was the original title of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the phrase was used in advertisements for this film, according to Dan. The title was taken from the line in The Thing From Another World.

^

10. From Zack:

The "ba ba ba doo..." thing comes from "Brand New Beat" by Gene Vincent, from the album Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll (same album as "Rollin' Dan(n)y"). It should be noted that griping about the music biz is something of a cliché in rock lyrics, and The Fall fell into this trope on only their second single.

^

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Comments (46)

Ben
  • 1. Ben (link) | 27/11/2015
The use of the word 'leather' reminds me of the Goon Show, the absurdist British radio comedy show from the 50s (precursor to Monty Python), which was frequently introduced, nonsensically, as "the new all-leather Goon Show". Could be the inspiration for these lyrics; I don't know if MES is a fan but their scripts and his lyrics share some things in common (i.e. surreal/absurd humour). Or he could be talking about leather jackets, which I believe came back into fasion in the punk era (e.g. The Ramones).
bzzy
  • 2. bzzy | 06/12/2015
Yeah, I sometimes wonder about "the new leather thing." Surely leather is a staple of rock and roll, but what would be sufficient for something to be called a "leather thing"? I agree that the Ramones come to mind, as they were pretty devoted to the stuff. And he certainly does have a goofy/surreal sense of humor, of the type that reminds me of James Joyce, Walt Kelly and John Lennon (in his books), although I don't necessarily think any of those are touchstones for him....
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 06/01/2016
"Oh yeah prime movers"

MES was well disposed towards Buzzcocks/Devoto, so not sure that he would do this, but the cover of Melody Maker for 21 January 1978 features Devoto, described as "One of the prime movers in the first stirrings of the punk revolution..."
Zack
  • 4. Zack | 09/01/2017
The "ba ba ba doo..." thing comes from "Brand New Beat" by Gene Vincent, from the album Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll (same album as "Rollin' Dan(n)y").

It should be noted that griping about the music biz is something of a cliché in rock lyrics, and The Fall fell into this trope on only their second single.
dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 04/02/2017
Note 5 should be attributed to Zack, not me.
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 11/02/2017
I did it for you, Dan....he's overtaking you!

Just kidding, Zack, I fixed it.
Zack
  • 7. Zack | 11/02/2017
Thanks D and B.

The reason I've been so prolific lately is I've been listening to my Fall collection in chronological order for the last few weeks and posting my remarks here as they occur to me. Today was Light User. Tomorrow, probably Live Various Years and Levitate. I'm enjoying it. Sometimes I go for months without listening to The Fall; right now I'm as energized by their music as I was at the height of my Fall fandom in the early to mid 2000s.

My comments will taper off after a couple more weeks, leaving Dannyno as the undisputed Lord and Master of Arcane Fall Knowledge.
dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 11/02/2017
Thank Christ for that.
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 18/02/2017
Yeah I wax and wane too but one thing keeping this site up does is make me never go too long without listening to at least a little Fall.
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 07/03/2017
"Watch the skies"

This was the original title of the film "Close Encounters of the Third Time" (1977).
Ex worker man
  • 11. Ex worker man | 07/04/2018
re 5 - "Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies".
Final lines from the Thing from Another World (1950s), remade as the Thing in 80s. This song pre-empts the remake? "Watch the skies, watch the Thing"

v2 Spend hours over cleverer funny advertising quotes that makes you bite and raise your hopes
v3 Reform the old clan
Corker
  • 12. Corker | 22/07/2020
I concur with Ben. "It's the all new leather Goon Show!" was used several times, indeed they often mentioned leather apropos of very little. I can imagine MES enjoying the wordplay in TGS, "plasticine mule-rest" and the like. At one point Grytpype Thynne is described as "peering down from the top of an isosceles triangle" which strikes me as a very MES image.

Although the show finished in 1960 it was repeated a lot, indeed it was everywhere around 1972 because they got back together, there were three books of scripts published and albums of the show were released. In the early 1960s a rather disturbing puppet version called The Telegoons was aired on children's television. MES could scarcely have avoided it even if he didn't like it.
Corker
  • 13. Corker | 22/07/2020
"Watch the skies" was certainly used in promotional material for CE3K. It was a big film at the beginning of 1978, the posters would have been eveywhere.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt (link) | 26/07/2020
OK, 12, I'm convinced at least for now.

OK, 13.
SM15
  • 15. SM15 | 19/03/2021
I take "We are men, we have big toes!" to be a reference to "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!" which was released 3 months before this.
bzfgt
  • 16. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2021
Now you say it I think so too!
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2021
This was played 6 times before the Devo album was released--anyone have any of those?
bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2021
OK checking Liverpool 78
bzfgt
  • 19. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2021
OK LIverpool 78 is August 22, 6 days before the release date of Devo.

I guess there was some hype ahead of time, Bowie said he was going to produce....I don't know when the title came into general circulation, though.
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 20/03/2021
Shit I could have saved myself some time, Jocko Homo came out in 1977
dannyno
  • 21. dannyno | 20/03/2021
The logic of the line works, because of course the evolution of the big toe was crucial to the human species, making walking and running easier:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45183651

So I guess if you riffing on the "devo"/"de-evolution" thought and the line "are we not men", you might well end up with "we are men / we have big toes". Big toes as distinguished from other apes, you see.

Not implausible, I'd say.
dannyno
  • 22. dannyno | 20/03/2021
dannyno
  • 23. dannyno | 20/03/2021
The Untouchables was indeed being shown on Granada TV at this time, and through 1978.
dannyno
  • 24. dannyno | 20/03/2021
I just posted this over at the FOF:

The earliest documented performance of It's the New Thing was UMIST 14 July 1978. Lot of gigs at that time where we don't know what they played, but it wasn't in setlists we know about in June.

Devo was getting plenty of coverage in the UK music press. Perhaps the group even went to see them play at the Free Trade Hall on 11 March 1978 - a gig that was reviewed by Paul Morley in the NME dated 18 March 1978. Devo hadn't played anywhere in Europe until 1978, it appears (I've done a bit of checking only).

There are lines in that review which do echo the song in a small way:


Are we really so constantly hungry for 'newness'...?
Or do we (chuckle) subconsciously recognise something distinctive and proper within this band's apparently firm 'de-evolution' theories.

"Not want to walk on all fours. That is the law. ARE WE NOT MEN?....
"De-evolution: the proposal that you can go up by going down, forward by pushing back, attain the more complex by attempting the most simple."


There was a longer feature/interview in the same issue.

And then, more significantly, there was a Melody Maker interview with Devo by Ian Birch (25 February 1978), entitled <drum roll>:

"We Are Devo. We Are The Next Thing"

The article contains this:


Is the prime mover sex, then?

No, no. I imagine the prime mover is always some kind of sexuality, but sex is never the question. It's what manifestation of sex is prevalent. I was just describing what the focal point had been and where it was moving.

Why, in 'Jocko Homo' when we say, "Teachers and critics all dance the poot," we're talking about anybody who is constipated. Pop music needs a big enema, and this is, of course, what punk and new wave have served to do. The general thing is devo.

Absolutely, but hasn't punk looked back too much rather than surging forward?

That's always the precursor of anything that happens. That isn't what we we're doing. We are the next thing. We are simply the only people really creating new music.


And then in Sounds, 24 June 1978, Jon Savage notably reviewed both Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus and The Akron Compilation on Stiff Records. The latter did not include Devo, although of course they were from Akron, but Savage did say:


OH JESUS! After Devo, the (marketing) deluge.

If Devo's message to the world (such as it is) has included the fact that geeks can become superstars as well as macho clods and instrument worshipping idiots, then the Stiff Akron album moves in sharp in the wake of their lease deal for three Devo singles to capitalise on any Akron sound and promote geek chic. The shit-detectors begin to ring instantly. They wouldn't ring so persistently if this was put out as just another buncha local bands from kindanyville, USA, but the whole (lavish) packaging, promotion and pre-release hype has been such to indicate that this is (erk) the 'NEXT BIG THING'…It isn't.


Maybe the "crash smash crash ring" line ends with the ringing of Savage's shit-detector?

If want reasons to justify finding an oblique and probably cynical comment on Devo in the lyrics to It's the New Thing, there's a few big fat ones right there.
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 27/03/2021
Yeah, that's suggestive. It's funny if he was thinking of Devo, since they are certainly not what would have come to mind for me with the "new leather thing/crash, smash" stuff.
dannyno
  • 26. dannyno | 27/03/2021
As always, it's not going to be a straightforward as that as it?
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 27/03/2021
Of course not.
dannyno
  • 28. dannyno | 30/03/2021
"My boys take what I say" should be "My boys tape what I say".

(Source: typed lyric sheet in Excavate, 2021 anthology edited by Tessa Norton and Bob Stanley, p.72)
dannyno
  • 29. dannyno | 30/03/2021
More from the lyric sheet above:

"Turn it on for interviewers", rather than "up" - but I think I can hear "up".

"Money for us in play and tell" rather than "Money for us and play it up" - not entirely clear, but I like the lyric sheet version and it's not obviously wrong.

"Spend hours over clever art" rather than "Spent hours on a clever act" - I prefer the lyric sheet.

"And funny advertising quotes / Make you bite and raise your hopes" not "Phoney advertising quotes that make you buy some raise your hopes" - I buy the lyric sheet again.

Then, currently we have:

"Weep for the old glam
Year of the average man"

But the lyric sheet has this:

"The year of the average man / Re-form the old clans"

On record the order of the lines is reversed, but it does sound like the lyric sheet is right.

So to me it sounds like:

"Re-form the old clans
The year of the average man"

"Erasing of our rainbows" not "Erasing off our rainbows" - Could be either, I'd go with the lyric sheet.

Then:

"As for new hotels
Look like science fiction films or revival gothic pigswill
Watch the skies, what to think"

According to the lyric sheet this should be:

"Or ads for new hotels
That look like science fiction films or revival gothic pig-swill
Watch the skies, Watch 'The Thing'


I don't hear the "or" in "or ads" or the "that" in "That look like" , but otherwise the lyric sheet sounds right to me, and it's also a better lyric as a bonus.

Re: "The Thing", that is likely to be a reference to The Thing From Another World, the 1951 film directed by Christian Nyby (which is often just called "The Thing"). What makes this likely is it was shown on Granada TV on 26 June 1978, as the first offering in a new science fiction slot titled Close Encounters of Various Kinds. As noted, this is shortly before the first documented performance of the song on 14 July.
Ex Ex Worker Man
  • 30. Ex Ex Worker Man | 01/04/2021
Funny advertising quotes / Make you bite and raise your hopes
Re-form the old clan
Watch the skies, Watch 'The Thing'

Vindicated! See comment 11
dannyno
  • 31. dannyno | 02/04/2021
Comment #30

<applause>
dannyno
  • 32. dannyno | 02/04/2021
"Watch the skies" - film clip

dannyno
  • 33. dannyno | 02/04/2021
This URL will take you to the right spot:

https://youtu.be/XjuLZwlDxh8?t=254
bzfgt
  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 03/04/2021
Excellent! Dan, I agree that the lyric sheet lyrics are superior in every instance, and we already had The Thing From...in the note, so the connection seems very tight.
bzfgt
  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 03/04/2021
That makes the Close Encounters connection much less likely, but I left it in.
dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 04/04/2021
Yeah, Close Encounters was a red herring. Obviously still a connection because Spielberg titled his project Watch the Skies early in its development, taking the phrase from the earlier movie.

From Joseph McBride's Steven Spielberg: A Biography, 2nd ed (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson; 2010, p.273):


Close Encounters evolved from a short story he wrote in 1970 called "Experiences," about a "lovers' lane in a small midwestern town and a light show in the sky overhead that these kids see from inside their cars." Borrowing a famous phrase from the ending of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World, Spielberg retitled the project Watch the Skies before making a development deal with Columbia pictures in the fall of 1973.
dannyno
  • 37. dannyno | 05/04/2021
Note #8 is a bit confusing about the "Watch the skies" advertising slogan.

It was used in relation to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (although "We are not alone" seems to have been on most of the posters).

eg this button badge:

https://buttonmuseum.org/buttons/watch-skies

And I found this:

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3e/8b/12/3e8b12f44abb9e4aeaef9d0efe6013dd.jpghttps://www.buttonmuseum.org/sites/default/files/EN-watch-the-skies-close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-button-busy-beaver-button-museum.png

Source:
dannyno
  • 38. dannyno | 05/04/2021
I'm wondering whether there's a reason Houdini is in the text. There were some magicians doing Houdini-style escapology on UK TV in 1978 - including Tommy Cooper. And US magician James Randi had a show on British TV as well. But too late for this song.

Patti Smith wrote a poem titled Ha! Ha! Houdini in 1972 which was published in the US as a chapbook in 1977, and in the UK in 1978. Very limited edition. Expensive to buy now in that format, but it's more easily accessed in her Early Work, 1970-1979 anthology.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha!_Ha!_Houdini!

As MES was a fan of Patti Smith, I wondered if he might have read this and if the poem helps with those lines. I've read the poem. It doesn't help with those lines.
dannyno
  • 39. dannyno | 05/04/2021
There's also the film, Houdini, starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh (1953). Very much a fictionalised version of Houdini's life - it has him dying following a disastrous attempt to escape from a cubicle of water, whereas he actually died of peritonitis and appendicitis, possibly arising after being thumped in the stomach. Anyway, it doesn't seem to have been shown on UK TV in 1978, although it was shown on BBC 2 on 21 May 1977.

There was also a US documentary titled The Great Houdini (1976), but I don't see it was shown in the UK (was shown on Irish Republic TV in 1978, but I doubt MES saw it).

There were a few new Houdini books around this time too.

Anyway, I might be looking for a red herring. MES may simply be repeating a common mistake about Houdini's death and using it to make a point about the dangers of some of what he sees about him in the new wave.
bzfgt
  • 40. bzfgt (link) | 10/04/2021
Good point though, there should be a note about Houdini. Sucks because I just redid all the links, so the numbers for the links are all 1-9 rather than "7717" or whatever I do when I insert a link (something I'm not likely to duplicate)
GLochin
  • 41. GLochin | 10/04/2021
'Spent hours on clever art'
Any of those early Devo articles go on about how they used to spend hours poring over the packaging? I def remember a passage in Rip It Up and Start Again where I think it was Mothersbaugh detailing the insanely long days he'd spend handcrafting posters or other promotional material...
dannyno
  • 42. dannyno | 15/04/2021
Just realised that there's a symmetry between "new thing" and the movie The Thing.
bzfgt
  • 43. bzfgt (link) | 17/04/2021
Right, seemed evident but I'll mention
dannyno
  • 44. dannyno | 21/05/2021
In the limited edition book The Future's Here to Stay by Graham Duff (2021), Duff also notes the "Ba ba ba doo." / Gene Vincent connection, and the album [i]Gene Vincent Rocks and the Blue Caps Roll[i], but he specifically cites the song "Brand New Beat", which contains the lines:


Well, there's a brand new beat
Well, I just got the word
Well, it's the darnedest beat
That you ever heard
bzfgt
  • 45. bzfgt (link) | 22/05/2021
That's the one we have
dannyno
  • 46. dannyno | 17/07/2021
Mark Mothersbaugh says Devo borrowed the "are we not men?" line from the 1932 film Island of Lost Souls

http://qa.tcm.com/video/470002/island-of-lost-souls-1932-movie-clip-are-we-not-men

This is of course an adaptation of HG Wells' Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), in which the line also appears.

https://www.bartleby.com/1001/12.html

There was a 1977 adaption too, but obviously that's too late for Devo.

The song title, Jocko Homo, is taken from a 1920s creationist pamphlet titled, Jocko-Homo Heavenbound by Bertram Henry Shadduck.

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