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)
Cosy flecked with green bits
Main undercurrent, white spermatoze (3)
Against them, half-useless
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
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
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. As Noggin points out, pop stars like Paul McCartney and David Bowie took to wearing them around this time.
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.
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.
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. Bowie went to see the Velvet Underground in 1971, after Reed had left the band. Here is his own account of the incident, quoted at the official Bowie website:
"I was singing along with the band, stuck right there at the apron of the stage. 'Waiting For The Man', 'White Light/ White Heat', 'Heroin'...All that kind of stuff. And then after the show, I went back stage and I knocked on the door, and I said 'Is Lou Reed in? I'd love to talk to him, I'm from England, cos I'm in music too, and he's a bit of a hero to me.' This guy said 'Wait here.' And Lou comes out and we sat talking on the bench for about quarter of an hour about writing songs, and what it's like to be Lou Reed, and all that...and afterwards I was floating on a cloud, and went back to my hotel room.
"I said to this guy that I knew in New York: 'I've just seen the Velvet Underground and I got to talk with Lou Reed for fifteen minutes,' and he said, 'Yeah? Lou Reed left the band last year, I think you've been done.' I said, 'It looked like Lou Reed' and he said 'That's Doug Yule, he's the guy that took over from Lou Reed.' I thought what an impostor, wow, that's incredible. It doesn't matter really, cos I still talked to Lou Reed as far as I was concerned. Coming back to England, one of the memories I brought back with me, was all that. So I wrote Queen Bitch as a sort of homage to Lou Reed.'"
Both Yule and, at times, Bowie tell a more plausible version where Yule himself disabuses Bowie before the two part ways.
There are references to Bowie in "Mere Pseud Mag. Ed.," "Hard Life in Country," He Pep!", and "Get a Summer Song Goin'."
Also, from Dan:
"In a letter to Tony Friel (briefly online on Friel's site years ago), dated 6 October 1976, MES writes:
'The Velvet Underground EP I received on Friday is excellent/dynamite. Good drumming good playing. Distinctive Velvets atmosphere. The papers claimed it was from post third album time, with John Cale. As a fellow Velvets aff--drat forgot the spelling FAN, you will know this is the proverbial bullshit. 1968 more like-with Doug Yule.'"
Cale was already gone by the third album, replaced by Yule in 1968.
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."
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.
Makers of fads
It's MES in shoulder pads
(I realize I changed your "makers" to "fakers"; that's what I hear but I'll check it again and perhaps capitulate.)
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.
Grudge Natch, on the FOF, April 2013:
That may not be the first mention though.
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...
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.
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".
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.
"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."
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.
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.
Agreed that "putty" is no part of anything.
I also hear "fakers and cads" rather than "makers of fads." And "cads" fits the Flashman persona 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
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.
>>All these fads
>>It's shoulder pads
Lovers of fads
it is shoulder pads
[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
Another possibility - could it be short for "Jamaican"? Not sure it helps make sense of the lyrics, but I'm thinking of slang like "Macka Splaff", the Steel Pulse song that appears on Live at the Electric Circus (which The Fall also appear on).
As the notes say there are different angles on this. MES says at one point that it's an American football thing. Brix at one point says MES had borrowed a shirt with shoulder pads.
I think it's just a coincidence. Because isn't that a 2001 interview with Yule?
But the interviewer is asking Yule if the story is true. In other words, the story is already in circulation.
I did once dig out a much earlier version of the story, told by Bowie, but I can't find it at the moment!
There's a decade between this letter and this song, which would usually suggest to me that it's not a current enough reference. But still.
I'm not sure what the record referred to is. Might possibly be the White Heat 1976 bootleg listed here: http://olivier.landemaine.free.fr/vu/bootlegs/singles/bsingles.html and https://www.discogs.com/The-Velvet-Underground-White-Heat/release/670929
The Beatles song The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill includes the following:
I'm thinking that possibly might be the reference.
See my comments on the entry for Hotel Bloedel for more on Fawcett Publications/Whizz Comic and Captain Marvel.
Thus far the earliest has been Record Collector's interview with Doug Yule, where they ask him to confirm the story (which is therefore clearly already in circulation).
I've found a 1995 interview with Mark Radcliffe, recorded in New York:
The BBC describe it only as an "archive interview", and I don't yet know exactly when (or indeed if) it was first broadcast.
Transcript (I've smoothed out ums and ers):
Relevant bit starts about 15:15.
The story took slightly different forms over the years.
Here's Bowie in a self-interview feature ("Without Him, He's Nothing") in the Canadian National Post, 26 Feb 2000 (Arts section, p.2):
So in this version Doug Yule does not tell Bowie who he is - in every version other than the 1995 interview I've seen, it's a friend who tells him he wasn't talking to Reed, not Yule himself. And there is also no way that Cale would have answered the door in January 1971! His last VU gig was September 1968. On 17 January 1971 he was playing his first solo gig at the Roundhouse in London on the same bill as Nico. In other versions of the story, it's just "a band member" who opens the door.
Anyway, 1995 remains the earliest sighting so far.
And Trynka also says:
So that confirms my conclusion about the concert dates above.
It is certainly 1971. See my note now, Yule also tells the story with him hipping Bowie to the mistake, and this is the more plausible version--Bowie probably tells it the other way because it makes a better story.
I felt so bad for the poor Classic Rock author that I stuck the original one we had under "More Information," but then I deleted it because it has nothing different.
Anyway this one is tough because even if Bowie hadn't told it in an interview or whatever, remember MES was a rock musician who knew other rock musicians, and at least Riley I know is a massive Bowie fan. This is the kind of story that may have circulated among musicians and those in the know before it was ever told to the general public. So if we never date it earlier we still cannot rule it out. That doesn't mean we should confidently rule it in, even if we do find it, though.
The four note keyboard and guitar riffs have been sped up, but I think they’re essentially the same. The drums and bass are similar too.
When the titular genie first appears he's wearing 60s American clothing - "Today", he says, "We dress with the times - except for these" (he indicates his curly-toed slippers) "velveteen mackalacks"...
Can it be entire coincidence that the episode's main protagonist (played by Howard Morris) is called George P Hanley?
Sort of edited version here, the interesting bit's at 1.10