It's The New Thing
My boys tape what I say
Do it the studio way
New equipment all clean
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
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."
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...
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.
"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.
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.