Lay of the Land

Lyrics

(1)

Lay
Lay
Lay (2)


Armageddon
This beautiful tree
Boo hoo
Give up living
Am who I they given

On the buses, up the stair (3)
By the television
Pretend to learn 

Where's the lay of the land
My son 

Where's the lay of the land
My son
What's the lay of the land
My son 

The last Briton on the street
He said the radio fuzz
Is dead and beat
No longer reflects our daft fate
We'll leave this city
Hit a quick coach, pick the town in Surrey (4)
There's no-one there but crooks and death
Kerb-crawlers of the worst order  (5)

Where's the lay of the land
My son
What's the lay of the land
My son 

Eldritch house (6)
With green moss
John and old Mary on the waves
Tiles drip from, from its roof
Home secretary has a weird look  (7)

Where's the lay of the land
My son
What's the lie of the land
My son 

The good Book of John
Surrounds son (8)
Sound of ordinary on the waves
Italic scribble on horizon


When the height of culture is a bad stew
Space bores, normal disorder
Indian clerk
low-calorie drink
Where's the lay of the land
Where children circle in cycles
Giving jokes ad lib
By bearded writers
Who defected to
Higher realms
(Higher realms...)
Advertising realms (9)

Where's the lay of the land
My son
What's the lie of the land
My son

People laughing...people fighting...people watching...

Between the ticker and the mind lies an air-block of wind (10)

Boo!

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Notes

1. "Lay of the land" is a common English idiom, literally meaning to get a sense of the geography of a place, but probably more commonly used metaphorically, as in "How your new job?" "I'm still getting the lay of the land..." Ex worker suggests there is a play on words here, such that the title also refers to a "lay" or ballad, and there may also be an allusion to ley lines (see note 2 below).

^

 

2. This is chanted by several people, and continues throughout the introduction. The chant is derived from the 1979 BBC miniseries Quatermass, in which a cult of hippie-like "Planet People" are on a quest to be taken to a new planet; they believe if they find the stone monolith structure called "Ringstone Round" they will be transported from there. Their search for Ringstone Round consists of walking aroung chanting while one of them holds a pendulum out in front of them which may be intended to sense certain cthonic forces. Thus, the original chant may be "ley, ley, ley," as the Planet People are perhaps relying on a ley line to lead them to their goal. Ley lines (if they indeed exist, which is disputed) are alignments of old, and in many cases partially or wholly effaced, paths and roads to mounuments, old buildings, standing stones and mountain ridgetops in the British landscape. Alfred Watkins, the British amateur archaeologist who coined the term in 1921, believed ley lines to be a network of straight tracks laid out for navigation purposes, with perhaps some ceremonial significance. Critics have claimed that the amount of straight lines that can be drawn between such sites as mentioned above is no greater than one would expect from chance alignments. John Michell's 1969 book The View Over Atlantis, drawing on the Chinese notion of feng shui, claims that ley lines are channels of earth energy. Michell's book is still enormously popular among those given to the kind of speculation often grouped under the rubric "New Age," and his theories were almost certainly an influence on Quatermass's depiction of the Planet People. This derivation is given great significance in a remark Brix made about the lyrics to the song: "Lay of the Land was about leylines running through the country. Mark was like, really like into spiritualism and haunting and energy and stuff like that." If this particular remark by Brix seems a bit vapid in tone if not in substance, it must be remembered that, whatever ideas whichever Smith may have had about so-called earth energies at whatever time, the Fall have never been known for promoting the adoption of the speculative or spiritual notions that are sometimes included in their lyrical palette. Among the Michell school, ley lines are sometimes located via a dowsing tool, and this may be done with a pendulum like the one in Quatermass. There are two basses on the song, a powerful rockabilly rave-up composed by Brix, with Karl Burns doubling Hanley.  

^

3. This may be an allusion to the British sit-com On the Buses; the show's star, Reg Varney appears in the lyrics to "Garden," and "On My Own" also includes the phrase "on the buses."  

^

4. Surrey is a county in southeast England, and borders London, where many ley lines are thought to have their center.

^

5. Kerb (or "curb") crawling is driving around slowly in an attempt to solicit sex. Hawkwind has a song called "Kerb Crawler."

^

6. "Eldritch" is a pet adjective of MES favorite H.P. Lovecraft, as Martin Gammon points out:

"'Eldritch house' is presumably a Lovecraftian reference, as the protagonist encounters sinister ancient forces when he leaves the city for his new environment."

^

7. From David:

"The Home Secretary when this was written (1984) was Leon Brittan. He was moved to Trade & Industry after a relatively short time in post (1983-85): Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote 'Everybody complained about his manner on television, which seemed aloof and uncomfortable.'"

^

8. The Book of John is the fourth gospel, which begins "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The "Word" in question is commonly thought to refer to Jesus Christ, so a very literal interpretation of the passage could indeed suggest that the book "surrounds the son." There are three epistles in the New Testament also called "John," and the disciple John is traditionally credited with composing Revelation (note that the song begins with a reference to Armageddon). Modern scholarship generally holds it unlikely that St. John the Apostle is the same man who authored these works, and it is also doubted--although with less consensus on the matter--whether the same author penned all four books.

^

9. According to Dan:

"It could be a Quatermass reference. The first three series of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass were broadcast on the BBC, but the fourth and final series was broadcast on ITV. Since the BBC carries no advertisements, this could be perceived as defecting to advertising realms. On the other hand, I haven't found a picture of Kneale with a beard. 

Also Dan suggests that this could refer to Salman Rushdie, a bearded author and former ad man, and points out that John Michell (see note 1) wrote an anti-Rushdie pamphlet after the Ayatollah Khomeini's famous fatwa condemning the latter to death for penning The Satanic Verses. This did not happen until a couple of years after this song was released, however: The Satanic Verses was published in 1988 and the fatwa was issued in 1989; The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall was released on October 8th, 1984. At the time, Rushdie was mostly known for Midnight's Children and Shame. Thus, although the line could refer to Rushdie, I've been unable to connect him with the themes of the song.

^

10. This may be too patent to require a note, but to err on the side of caution I will mention that "ticker" is common slang for the human heart, usually identifying the literal, but sometimes the metaphorical, organ.  

^

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Comments (36)

John
  • 1. John | 01/08/2013
The use of "eldritch" is a clear reference to Lovecraft, who used that word a lot in his stories.
dannyno
  • 2. dannyno | 21/02/2014
"Sound of ordinary on the waves"

Is it "ordinary"? It's not clear, but it sounds to me more like something like "old Mary".
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 21/02/2014
Mention of John Michell is interesting. He wrote a anti-Rushdie pamphlet in the wake of the fatwa against the Satanic Verses and its author called "Rushdie's Insult". Rushdie is famously both bearded and an ex-advertising copywriter:

By bearded writers
Who defected to
Higher realms
Advertising realms
Martin
  • 4. Martin | 18/09/2014
"Ample
Eye
They give in"

Are we sure about those lines. The "ample" sounds to me at times like"I'm". Probably it's "ample", but there's no harm in asking for second opinions.
Simon
  • 5. Simon | 20/12/2014
Re: 'ample eye' and 'ordinary',

After seeing this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy13BCHntZ4 and if it is taken for granted that Brix might have more knowledge than any of us, it seems that 'ordinary' is indeed right but 'ample eye' is not. It seems to be 'I am ... they give in' - I can't make out what is inbetween.

Then again, Brix might not be reciting the words 100% accurately though.
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 01/01/2015
She seems to say "I am that I('ve) been given!" The record (who is it?) says "Am who I they given" as far as I can tell. In any case "ample eye" was inherited from the Lyrics Parade but it is definitely bunk.
dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 20/06/2015
"By bearded writers
Who defected to
Higher realms
Advertising realms"

I have revisited this. It could be a Quatermass reference. The first three series of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass were broadcast on the BBC, but the fourth and final series was broadcast on ITV. Since the BBC carries no advertisements, this could be perceived as defecting to advertising realms. On the other hand, I haven't found a picture of Kneale with a beard.
dan
  • 8. dan | 06/07/2015
The satanic Verses wasn't published until '88 so that theory seems improbable....
Martin Gammon
  • 9. Martin Gammon | 03/08/2015
I always heard the ending as 'tick tick tick' (percussion) "boom!" (MES). As in, the person or situation is a time bomb? 'Eldritch house' is presumably a Lovecraftian reference, as the protagonist encounters sinister ancient forces when he leaves the city for his new environment.
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 04/05/2016
In Brix Smith-Start's autobiography, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, she tells the story of the recording of 'Lay of the Land', and confirms that "the spark of the song was the science-fiction TV show Quatermass... Mark and I sat down to watch it one night, and the characters were chanting, 'Lay, lay...' Mark was fascinated by ley lines."
Martin
  • 11. Martin | 15/12/2016
With reference to Dannyno's comment about "ordinary" sounding to him more like "Old Mary": well, I've been listening to the radio session The Fall did for David Jensen and I agree with him: very little "ordinary" about it, as it were.
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 27/12/2016
Tyhere's something that starts with 'J' at the head of the line. For now I have "John and old Mary" but I'm not sure, also could be "Jump aboard Mary" is there a ship called "Mary"? Or something else. But it sounds closer to "John and old Mary" to me.
dannyno
  • 13. dannyno | 22/01/2017
"On the waves" is not necessarily a maritime reference. Could be radio waves or TV broadcasting or something like that.
bzfgt
  • 14. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Nonetheless...
blammo
  • 15. blammo | 25/01/2018
I always saw "Eldritch house" as a snotty reference to Andrew Eldritch, lead singer of The Sisters of Mercy (whose Reptile House EP came out in '83), and the opening chant as a Goth piss-take ("Boo-hoo/Give up living").
ex worker man
  • 16. ex worker man | 24/03/2018
What better activity on a Sat afternoon than a verse by verse triangulation of my Fall fave using LP, Rough Mix (RM) and Jensen (J) version - offered in good spirit ;

LP & RM
On the buses, some who stare
By the tele-vid
Some pretend to learn
J
On the buses many who stare
On the buses some pretend to learn

not sure if its some who, some that or some will in the first line or none of them
Ex worker man
  • 17. Ex worker man | 24/03/2018
(Saw) the last Briton on the street
He said the radio fuzz
Is dead effete
No longer reflects our daft fate

We'll leave this city
Hit a quick coach, pick a town in Surrey
There's nothing here but crooks and death
Kerb-crawlers of the worst order

"Saw" on Rough mix and Jensen only
ex worker man
  • 18. ex worker man | 24/03/2018
Eldritch house
With green moss
Sound of ordinary on the waves
Tiles drip from its roof
Home secretary has a weird look

I heard the "sound of ordinary" line before reading the comments above to see it had been suggested before. Does sound like that to me, suggests bland music on the radio waves blasting out from the eldritch house
ex worker man
  • 19. ex worker man | 24/03/2018
LP & RM
The good Book of John
Surrounds the sun
Sound of ordinary on the waves
Italic scribble on horizon
J
The good Book of John
Surrounds the sun
Bouncy grooves OK
Italic scribble on horizon

I hope the bouncy grooves ok line is wrong
ex worker man
  • 20. ex worker man | 24/03/2018
LP When the height of culture is a bad stew
RM The sound of culture is a bad stew
J Heights of culture is a bad stew

LP Where children circle in cycles
RM Children cycle on corners
J Children cycle certain corners

Its a real stretch to suggest an influence but the children cycling in circles (in cycles of time?) and the ley line theme brings to mind Children of the Stones https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_the_Stones. I don't know if the writers of it were bearded but they probaby were as they are all know again (cycles of time...)
ex worker man
  • 21. ex worker man | 24/03/2018
The end bit is too dense on the LP but clearer elsewhere;

RM
People writing, people dying, people watching films called Christine
Countries haunted by past misdemeanours
Between the ticker and the mind lies an air-block of wind
J
People watching films called Christine
People dying
Countries haunted by past misdemeanours
A block between the ticker and the mind
Uh it blows a wind

Could be country's rather than countries - a great line either way
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
I hear what I have rather than your amendments in many cases. What versions are these? I still have pretty clearly "there's no one there but crooks and death" (changed from "here," so the crooks and death seem to be in Surrey).
bzfgt
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
I don't like "John and old Mary," but I hear the 'j' and definitely do not hear "sound of ordinary." Are these different versions? It sounds almost like "John above Mary" but I doubt that's it, there's something wrong with "old Mary" but I can't hear "ordinary" and it does sound a bit like Mary it's what's between the 'j' sound and that that seems most unclear.
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
OK, after "Book of John" it does sound like "sound of ordinary," though
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
"Sounded ordinary" I think
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
No, "sound of." I think it might be "the town a scribble on the horizon."
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
"normal disorder"
ex worker
  • 28. ex worker | 07/04/2018
The rough mix on the WAFW box set has a lovely clear vocal high in the mix, but I think its a different vocal take so there may be discrepancy between that and the finished version. For me the definition of "Lay" used here is, at least partially, that of a song or ballad. "Where's the lay of the land?" is a search for an appropriate folk-musical narrative for some kind of social collapse, "my son" being a folky rejoinder. An alternative to the dead effete "radio fuzz" or "sound of ordinary" playing on the wireless. I think Morrissey was paying attention here when he wrote Panic as a response to hearing Wham! on Radio One after a newsflash about the nuclear plant in Chernobyl going west. FWIW I'm fairly sure now opening line is "on the buses, some just stare" , very very slightly possibly a reference to the opening credits of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Sleeping_Corpses_Lie_(film) where blank-eyed commuters ignore the grim environmental scenario around them in inner city 70s Manchester (and a streaker in case anyone watching missed the point).
bzfgt
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
I never thought of "lay" in that sense in this song, interesting. It is a common-ish saying though, which I should probably mention because often when I think something is a universally known idiom it turns out it is not.
Portsmouth Bubblejet
  • 30. Portsmouth Bubblejet | 08/07/2018
Referring to the debate above (comment no. 19), the Clitheroe Castle live version of this certainly sounds like 'italic scribble' - no trace of the word 'town' anyway. I also think it's 'sound of ordinary' too.
bzfgt
  • 31. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
The first time does not sound like "sound of ordinary" at all, but I'm by no means confident about "John and old Mary"
bzfgt
  • 32. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
Definitely "italic scribble"
David
  • 33. David | 19/09/2018
"Home Secretary has a weird look": the Home Secretary when this was written (1984) was Leon Brittan. He was moved to Trade & Industry after a relatively short time in post (1983-85): Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote "Everybody complained about his manner on television, which seemed aloof and uncomfortable." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Brittan
bzfgt
  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 13/10/2018
Great, thank you!
dannyno
  • 35. dannyno | 22/10/2018
Just to note that the relevant 1979 series of Quatermass was repeated on ITV in May 1984.

It was shown in two parts, broadcast on 9th May and 16th May.

Given the dating, this seems to be the most likely occasion when MES would have picked up the "lay, lay" stuff (unless he'd got it home-taped, although it wasn't commercially available on video until 1985).

In October-November 1979, when the series was first shown, The Fall were on tour and would probably have missed all or most of it due to gig commitments.
dannyno
  • 36. dannyno | 22/10/2018
Early live renditions of the song include the lines I have argued are a potential Quatermass-related reference, the stuff about bearded writers and advertising realms.

I guess they still could be a Quatermass-author related reference, but the chronology I think makes is less likely. You could also argue it works anyway!

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