Shoulder Pads #1 and #2


Shoulder Pads #1

All these fads
It's shoulder pads (1)

On New Year's Dawn
To my surprise
All the Macca lads stayed at home (2)
Picking antiques 
and clotheses
Cosy flecked with green bits
Main undercurrent, white spermatoze (3)

My powers
Against them, half-useless
My senses,
Alive, half 'parted   (4)

Was embarrassed but stuck with them
Walked, at shoulder, down the street, ridicule
They couldn't tell Lou Reed from Doug Yule (5)
Suppressed make romance

It was like being back at school

My powers before them resound
My powers languish in time, doom

Went populace, internal defeat
Their mob had a coup d'etat
Realize what they'd always wanted
Knew I was right all along
It wasn't then a Beatles song
Superhero in harlequin kecks (6)
Dimwit lecture half read
Cursing black singers ten years dead (7)

Was a clown in victim hat
Was shouldered and spurned

Then my powers did return.... 

Shoulder Pads #2

(fade in)

Knew I was right all along
Rock to them a Talking Heads album
Superhero in harlequin kecks
Dimwit lecture, half read

Was I victim in clown hat?
Was I nearly turned?

Then my powers did return...

Watch out fakers and cads
It's MES in shoulder pads

My powers gone
Powers, said Batman

Said a twisted chill, flashes pan
It's MES in shoulder pads

Big fit deal for mamas of fads
It's MES in shoulder pads

You'd better
Line that bottom line
Against that different plan

Holding ankles, rotten kecks
It's MES in shoulder pads





1. Shoulder pads were a 1980s fashion trend, mostly but not exclusively among women, which was influenced by the donning of these accoutrements by Joan Collins and Linda Evans, the female stars of Dynasty (a song MES would later admit to watching in "Bill is Dead"). The pads were initially a form of "power dressing," a term which is itself an artifact of this general time period. Shoulder pads were big in the 1940s and again in the 1980s; it was more common for women to wear them, but men did too, and particularly men who wished to appear androgynous. Thus, we are to imagine MES dressed like Joan Collins.

On the other hand, the reference may be to superhero gear, as MES refers to himself and a superhero and talks about his "powers"...(thanks to Robert for pointing this out).

Dan finds a find:

From the pilot issue of LM magazine (given away free with Crash, December 1986), dated January 1987, p.25: "Shoulder Pads is just about a lot of different people and why I think they're twats - there's two parts to the song, one on each side of the LP, but really I could have written about nine different songs on that subject. I suppose it is an odd title; it' s an American football term and I can't stand American football. It's so boring and complicated -like a sort of moronic chess."

It has been remarked (I'm glad this isn't Wikipedia with their "by whom?" as I honestly don't recall) that the main music theme of "Shoulder Pads" sounds like the horn part in the theme song from Are You Being Served, a British sit-com that aired between 1972 and 1985.  


2. "Macca lads" may be "macc-a lads," macc lads or young men from Macclesfield. A British punk band called the Macc Lads, incidentally, released a song called "Alton Towers" years before the Fall did.  

Son of Always points out that this may also be an allusion to Paul McCartney (who also turns up in "I'm a Mummy"), as the Beatles are mentioned further down.


3. Yeah, those are weird lines; maybe "picking antiques" is some kind of obscure slang for masturbation, like "choking the chicken" or something; that's why those Macc-a lads are staying home. [Thanks to guest editor Mark Prindle for this note]  


4. I think this is the lyric, i.e. that he is saying his senses have half departed, in other words he is a little bit out of his mind. 


5. Doug Yule replaced John Cale in the Velvet Undergound, playing bass and singing such songs as "Candy Says" and "Who Loves the Sun?" This may be inspired by the following anecdote about David Bowie:

When Bowie first went to America back in ’71 he was thrilled to find that the Velvet Underground were playing a hometown show at New York’s Electric Circus (he fancied himself as the band’s number one British fan) and determined to make an impression, spent the entire gig front-and-centre ostentatiously mouthing along to all the words.

After the gig he made for the dressing room panting with anticipation at meeting his idol, Lou Reed. Upon knocking on the door he explained to one of the other band members that he’d like to meet Lou. Looking bemused the fella disappeared only to return with the vocalist in tow. Bowie spent ten magical minutes talking to Lou about songwriting before the two parted on good terms.

The following day he told his local guide how brilliant the Velvets’ show was and how it had been one of the highlights of his life to make the acquaintance of Lou Reed. It was at this point that it was finally pointed out to him that Lou Reed had in fact left the band the previous year and he’d actually been speaking to his replacement, Doug Yule.

There are references to Bowie in "Mere Pseud Mag. Ed.," "Hard Life in Country," He Pep!", and "Get a Summer Song Goin'."



6. "Kecks" is northern British slang for pants (i.e. what in England are called "trousers"); Harlequin kecks are checked or multicolored trousers.


7. Without more information it is hard to determine whom this might be, as I assume MES may be rounding up or down with "ten years."  



Comments (56)

  • 1. SonofAlways | 28/04/2013
I think "Macca" probably refers to Paul McCartney, since he references the Beatles later in the song.
Stephen Parkin
  • 2. Stephen Parkin | 10/10/2013
Isn't the Lou Reed/Doug line a reference to David Bowie? He is supposed to have talked to Yule for a time thinking he was talking to Reed, telling him how much he liked his songs etc. Didn't find out till afterwards. This was in 1970 I think - something like that.

I don't mean that the song is directly about Bowie, but it does fit in with the fashion - costume - theme of the rest of the song.
  • 3. Robert | 05/11/2013
I think "Shoulder Pads" is less a reference to 80s fashion and more specifically to do with superheroes (and their powers) as mentioned elsewhere in the song. And thematically connected with "Riddler". I can't remember if any of Bend Sinister's other songs mention superheroes/villians.
  • 4. Robert | 05/11/2013
You're missing #2 of the song, where Smith paints himself as superhero:

Watch out!
Makers of fads
It's MES in shoulder pads

  • 5. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
Good points, Robert, and I'm tackling #2 right now...
  • 6. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
...and floundering. Anybody who has a better ear for lyrics, please bail me out.

(I realize I changed your "makers" to "fakers"; that's what I hear but I'll check it again and perhaps capitulate.)
  • 7. bzfgt | 22/01/2014
  • 8. Mark | 21/05/2014
"Kecks" = men's underwear. What British people would call "pants".
  • 9. Mxyzptlk | 18/02/2015
Lines 12/13 should be "my senses are like of putty" - a kind of cliched comic book parlance usually spoken by, for example, Superman when his powers have been diminished by Kryptonite
  • 10. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
That might be right but I can't be sure, it seems like either "half" or "have"...the "putty" seems plausible though...I'll keep trying to decipher it, and maybe others will weigh in....for now I made it "are like half-putty." "Alive" is definitely wrong, and makes no sense, but I'm less sure about everything else.
  • 11. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
OK, "half-putty" is nonsense so I went with your idea but I am uneasy about it.
  • 12. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
I got it--"are like hard putty!" Now, "hate romance" in the next verse is definitely wrong...anyone have ideas?
  • 13. bzfgt | 28/03/2015
And what Beatles song wasn't it?
russell richardson
  • 14. russell richardson | 05/05/2015
Macca lads?
immediately think of Joy Division (though only 2 of them from Macc. )
what MES says about lack of communication, or difference in style certainly fits.
  • 15. dannyno | 23/02/2016
From the pilot issue of LM magazine (given away free with Crash, December 1986), dated January 1987, p.25:

Shoulder Pads is just about a lot of different people and why I think they're twats - there's two parts to the song, one
on each side of the LP, but really I could have written about nine different songs on that subject. I suppose it is an odd title; it' s an American football term and I can't stand American football. It's so boring and complicated -like a sort of moronic chess.
  • 16. dannyno | 19/03/2016
Note 1:

It has been remarked (I'm glad this isn't Wikipedia with their "by whom?" as I honestly don't recall) that the main music theme of "Shoulder Pads" sounds like the horn part in the theme song from Are You Being Served

Grudge Natch, on the FOF, April 2013:

That may not be the first mention though.
  • 17. dannyno | 19/03/2016
Oh, and the very famous sports reporter on the FOF, March 2007:
  • 18. bzfgt | 24/03/2016
OK, but we're not going to start researching notes and annotating annotations. I don't remember by whom, I got my Wikipedia dig in, and there's an end of it! If Grudge Natch wants to sue he can call my lawyer.
  • 19. dannyno | 27/03/2016
Do you have to call someone's lawyer in order to sue them?
  • 20. bzfgt | 30/04/2016
It would be a courtesy at the very least...
  • 21. Zack | 01/06/2016
Anyone who considers a Talking Heads album "rock" is a fool by MES's reckoning. There's an interview where he says "The Talking Heads are the enemy."
  • 22. bzfgt | 28/06/2016
I wish I could find that. It looks like there's a web page that mentions MES and has the line "the talking heads are the enemy" (although I can't tell from what I can see if it's a direct quote) but it ends in "/feed" rather than ".com" or whatever. I have no idea what that is, and I cannot open it.

I recall him saying (either in a regular interview or one of the books) "Neil Young is the enemy" or "To me, Neil Young was the enemy" or something of that nature. I always thought that was odd--of all the potential enemies out there, Neil Young, even if I didn't like him, seems like he'd be low on the shit list, since even if you're not into him his crimes must surely be minor? But anyway apparently MES didn't see it that way...
  • 23. bzfgt | 28/06/2016
Also a little strange, with all we know about MES and his contrarian nature vis a vis genre, that he identifies with the tag "rock" in that way...I guess he did proclaim his belief in "RnR," but that's a little different. Of course the "MES" narrating the song may not be entirely coextensive with the MES from Salford, as usual, but in any case a song where he refers himself in the third person as "MES" has at least a prima facie case to be taken a bit more straightforwardly.
  • 24. Martin | 06/08/2016
Minor point re the word "kecks": just to clear up any possible confusion. with reference to some notes and comments above, this never refers to underwear but always to trousers.
  • 25. dannyno | 21/08/2016
"Cursing black singers ten years dead"

As note 6 rightly says, "10 years" may just be a broad time period. But if we take it literally, then 1976 deaths included Paul Robeson, Howlin' Wolf. But I can't see anything relevant from 1986 that helps us understand the line. So, er, a bit unhelpful.
  • 26. bzfgt | 03/09/2016
OK, Martin, I added a clarificatory parenthesis since I think it is since that note that I realized that "pants" refers to underwear in Britain (maybe I didn't know that until I read Mark's note, I don't know; it feels recent, anyway).
M.S. Pierce
  • 27. M.S. Pierce | 08/10/2016
I've always heard "Macca lads" as "Maccolytes/Maccalytes"; i.e., followers or disciples of McCartney (or equivalent mid-80's pop pablum).
  • 28. Thop | 08/06/2017
"They couldn't tell Lou Reed from Doug Yule"
The choice of words in this line sometimes reminds me of the Kinks' 'David Watts'. "I am a dull and simple lad. Cannot tell water from champagne".
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 09/07/2017
Ha, yeah, interesting connection.
Definitive Article
  • 30. Definitive Article | 06/02/2018
'My senses
Are like hard putty'

Is impressively wrong. It's 'my senses, alive have party', or perhaps 'at party'. I prefer the first option though. Smith's glad of his powers, psychic or otherwise. These are his senses that return, or come alive. Their return gives him a cause for celebration, or a party.
  • 31. dannyno | 07/02/2018
Comment #30.

"hard putty" seems to date to comment #9 by Mxyzptlk.

The Fall online discography/lyrics parade has "alive have party".

But when I listened for The Flickering Lexicon concordance, I heard "My senses alive, half-parted."
Definitive Article
  • 32. Definitive Article | 08/02/2018
Let's agree then that this putty thing ain't going anywhere. I think I'm right, but this is not a song I spend much time with, or care about much.

My rationale is good though, and added to by thinking not only is Smith glad his senses are engaged and that this event invites a celebration, or party, but the actual invigoration of the senses themselves result in them being so active and engaged as to result in a party of their own accord, one independent of the bearer of them also feeling celebratory at their return.
  • 33. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
OK, I got "My senses, alive, have parted"

And I'm running with it! But we can argue. Nevertheless I really hear that pretty strongly, and I just listened to it 8 times.
  • 34. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
Although admittedly "half-" would be parallel construction...I'm wavering now.
  • 35. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
But I feel damn sure.
  • 36. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
The next "My powers" section--does anyone actually hear "heard language"? It's nonsense and he wouldn't say it. There is "language" in there somewhere on the second vocal though.
  • 37. bzfgt (link) | 17/02/2018
Hmm, DA, I like your interpretation but the 'd' at the end of the word sounds distinct to me, check it again and I think you'll hear it too.

Agreed that "putty" is no part of anything.
Mike Watts
  • 38. Mike Watts | 27/02/2018
My overall general impression is that MES is walking off somewhere with a bunch of guys in sharp suits (shoulder pads and green and white flecks, dreadful material) and he feels a bit intimidated by them it reminds him of school, but as they talk he realises that they don't know what they're on about, various insults are flung about by MES - the superhero returns to save the song? Oversimplified? It works for me...
  • 39. bzfgt (link) | 10/03/2018
Yeah that seems like a plausible reading.
John Dolan
  • 40. John Dolan | 27/03/2018
Isn't it "Went populist, eternal defeat/Denmark had that coup d'etat...."
I also hear "fakers and cads" rather than "makers of fads." And "cads" fits the Flashman persona here.
  • 41. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
Yep, "Fakers and cads" is right
  • 42. bzfgt (link) | 07/04/2018
The "populist" line makes more sense, but I can't make it out clearly
Ex worker man
  • 43. Ex worker man | 07/04/2018
Some suggestions as heard here;

My senses allied half party i.e. united half the gathered people either for or against him

Suppressed hate foments [or ferments]

Kissing black singers

Watch out, makers of fads

My powers none, [something like Palace or Pallas] vid Pacman - Pacman notoriously consumes pills to get power
  • 44. dannyno | 17/07/2018
I'm still hearing "half-parted". And I note all the other "half-" things in the lyric.

On the other hand I hear

"My powers heard language, two-time doom" as "My powers languished in time, doom"

Still hearing "cursing" rather than "kissing". "BBC Live in Concert" recording could be "kissing", however.

"Suppressed hate romance" - "Suppressed" is right, but I'm no longer clear about "hate romance". The vocal gets smeared at that point. Sounds like "hate romance" on the "BBC Live in Concert" recording.
  • 45. dannyno | 17/07/2018
Might they be walking down the street "with a cue" at all. It kind of sounds like that, but the rhyming scheme seems to demand the "cule" sound. Really unclear to me now.
  • 46. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
OK half-parted, I just realize it's probably "half 'parted," as in half departed. So it actually makes more sense. Or no, just as much, I suppose either way, but more than I realized it did.
  • 47. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
Still sounds a little more like "have" to me but I defer. I still hear "ridicule" but it's ungrammatical so I have doubt.
  • 48. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
"Suppressed make romance" seems like what he's saying, but the "romance" is the part that's not clear as if so he pronounces it "ruh-mance"
  • 49. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
There's almost an 'f' like "make fruh-mance"
  • 50. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
"Made from ants"?
  • 51. bzfgt (link) | 22/07/2018
VERY unsure about "powers languish/language," this is just a place-holder
  • 52. Bill | 18/10/2018
This song, to me, seems to reference, with its oblique references ("half parted," "two time Doom") but more so with it's format, the Beatles' "Helter Skelter," a song which has two parts with a fade out and a fade back in, its "powers" returning in the second part which is, as here, the shorter of the two. That particular Beatles' song was almost exclusively the work of.....Macca! Pow!
  • 53. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
Interesting as fuck! VERY speculative though...
  • 54. bzfgt (link) | 21/10/2018
OK Dan, went with you with the powers--it's still gibberish, but less so. Unfortunately as the years have gone by it's turned out that when a line is gibberish, we usually have it wrong. It was easier when I used to think he throws a lot of gibberish in...
  • 55. harleyr | 07/03/2019
I offer the following for your consideration...

>>All these fads
>>It's shoulder pads
Lovers of fads
it is shoulder pads

>>Picking antiques 
Kicking antiques
[which ties in with the aggressive undercurrent of spermatoze]

>>Walked, at shoulder, down the street, ridicule
Walked, padded shoulder...

I agree with John Dolan that it is...
Went populist, eternal defeat/Denmark had a coup d'etat....

>>Realize what they'd always wanted

>>Cursing black singers ten years dead
Dissing black singers...

>>Big fit deal for mamas of fads
Big fair deal for lovers of fads

>>Holding ankles, rotten kecks
... rotten gags
  • 56. dannyno | 15/03/2019
From the booklet to the 2019 Beggars Banquet reissue of Bend Sinister.

MARK E SMITH: People are quite surprised when they find out I'm a halfway decent sort of bloke and I do always try to be nice to anyone I come across, but sometimes you end up being taken advantage of. That's why I wrote that new song, MES in Shoulder Pads: when someone comes down on me I'll react by coming down twice as hard. [Interview with Gavin Martin, NME, 30 August 1986]

BRIX: Mark borrowed a shirt of mine that I had borrowed from my mother and it had shoulder pads in it. This struck me as hilarious - MES in shoulder pads. I just remember (sings riff) being so irritating.

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