Right noise. (1)
We're gonna get real speedy
We're gonna wear black all the time
You're gonna make it on your own.
Cos we dig
Cos we dig
We dig repetition
We dig repetition
We've repetition in the music
And we're never going to lose it.
All you daughters and sons
who are sick of fancy music
We dig repetition
Repetition on the drums
and we're never going to lose it.
This is the three R's
The three R's:
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition (2)
Oh mental hospitals
Oh mental hospitals
They put electrodes in your brain
And you're never the same
You don't dig repetition
You don't love repetition (3)
Repetition in the music and we're never going to lose it
President Carter loves repetition
Chairman Mao he dug repetition (4)
Repetition in China
Repetition in America
Repetition in West Germany
Simultaneous suicides (5)
We dig it, we dig it,
we dig it, we dig it
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition, Regal Zonophone (6)
There is no hesitation
This is your situation
Continue a blank generation
Same old blank generation
Groovy blank generation
Swinging blank generation (7)
Repetition, repetition, repetition....
1. Alternate transcriptions of this line include the following: "Right, noise!" "Right...noise." "Right! Noise..." My rendition suggests that "right" is an adjective modifying "noise," but we don't really know this, do we?
2. "The Three Rs" are, traditionally, "Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic." Sir William Curtis, an English MP ("Member of Parliament"), is often given credit for coining the phrase in 1828, although it may have been in circulation earlier.
3. In the late 1970s several of the members of the Fall were living in an apartment behind a mental hospital, and MES mentions hanging out with the patients from time to time. Kay Carroll was a psychiatric nurse, and Una Baines was soon to spend time in a mental ward as a patient.
4. As usual, when Smith's songwriting is at its most anthemic it is always particularly ambiguous. Note the declaration at the beginning "We're gonna wear black all the time," which seems to me to suggest that "repetition" can refer to an uncreative conformism. And the allies he invokes here, Carter and Mao, ought to give us pause about whom the singer thinks he's talking to, and what he is talking about, while the prior equation of a love of repetition with mental illness is hardly encouraging. Thus, while Reformation calls this song a "statement of intent," and I wouldn't go so far as to say that is exactly wrong, MES has never seemed comfortable making such declarations in any kind of straightforward way (see the notes to "Bombast" for a further discussion of this tendency).
The song was being performed live from May 1977. The version on Bingo-Master's Break-Out! was recorded on 9 November 1977. The version on Live 77 dates from December 23 1977.
What would be interesting is whether the lyrics were settled prior to the November recording.
Anyway, if the lyrics before November didn't include the West Germany/"simultaneous suicides" line, then I think the most likely reference would the suicides of original Baader-Meinhof group members Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe in Stammheim prison, near Stuttgart on 18 October 1977, having learned of the rescue of the passengers on the hijacked Lufthansa airliner in Mogadishu.
MES has a documented interest in the Baader-Meinhof gang.
6. Regal Zonophone was a record label, a subsidiary of EMI, formed by the merger of Regal and Zonophone in 1932 (shortly after The Gramophone Company, the parent of Zonophone, and The Columbia Graphophone Company, the parent of Regal, merged to form EMI). They released some fairly successful rock records in the 1960s and 1970s, from the likes of The Move, T. Rex, and Dave Edmunds. The Fall never worked with Regal Zonophone, and I'm not sure why MES is singling them out as an exemplar of repetition; maybe he just likes the sound of the name.
7. "Blank Generation" is a 1976 song by Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Hell wrote the song as a take-off of "The Beat Generation," a 1959 song by Bob McFadden and Dor (Rod McKuen), which proclaims "I belong to the Beat Generation/ And I don't let anything trouble my mind/ I belong to the Beat Generation/ And everything's going just fine" (the a-side of this single, "The Mummy," was, as "I'm a Mummy," covered by the Fall on 1997's Levitate). In Hell's hands this becomes "I belong to the Blank Generation/ I can take it or leave it each time." "Blank Generation" is generally considered a seminal punk song; appropriately enough, it is a roughed-up repeat of McFadden and Dor's jazzy rockabilly, helping to set the coördinates for punk's fascination with the 1950s. The Sex Pistols, told by Malcolm McLaren to write another "Blank Generation," came up with "Pretty Vacant," another early entry in the punk canon; thus, "Blank Generation" is a quite appropriate touchstone for a song about repetition. Hell has variously descibed his song as a paean to apathy and an anthem to unlimited possibility, but whatever he was on about MES probably follows the Sex Pistols in identifying the song with vapidity. "The Beat Generation" is a light-heartedly sincere cash-in on a cultural movement; Hell's version was taken, rightly or wrongly, as a founding anthem for another youth movement, while the Sex Pistols, as is their wont, manage to double down on cynicism by cynically mocking it. MES's entry in this cultural conversation is typically oblique, but it is pretty safe to say that his repetition of Hell's chorus is not an homage. The Story of the Fall takes the quote to be "an obvious sneer at the lazy self-regarding teenage clichés of the time," and this seems about right, except maybe the "obvious" part; it is undoubtedly true that the irony of many of the early punk songs was lost on a good many punks, although it is just as undoubtedly unfair to suggest that there is anything unique about punks in this respect. In any case, "continue a blank generation" adds another ambiguity to the pile, since here MES is mocking, rather than promoting, a certain kind of repetition. This attitude is exemplified by the following exchange from Totale's Turns, recounted on The Story of the Fall:
MES's refusal to look back philosophy is reflected on the 1980 live version [of "In My Area"] in his response to a punter requesting (presumably and neatly) 'Repetition'. 'Are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don't make a career out of it.'
It is impossible for me to tell from the recording what request MES is actually responding to, but one understands the impulse to make it "Repetition," even if this isn't historically accurate. In any case, making a career out of repetition--the "statement of intent" reading--is not exactly what MES has in mind here. At the same time, it's undeniable that "we've repetition in the music and we're never going to lose it" makes a nifty slogan and captures a key part of the Fall's aesthetic. And if John Lydon's assessment of the band-- "Pretty damn relentless, that fellow, isn't he...it's almost perpetual motion with the same song..."--seems overblown, nobody who has ever listened to "And This Day" while coping with a hangover can deny that there's something to it.