Sing! Harpy



The harpy was the tops
Whose hair contained some red
Thin white skeleton
Just too good in bed

Her mother from the circus
Put her on Junior Showtime (2)
Her father was much worse
Can't put why in this line

Sing, harpy
Descend, harpy 

And in the little village  (3)
She was without malice
She left the moors behind her  (4)
And the beige heather
Packed her placky bag (5)
With blocks of brown cannabis

Descend, harpy
Sing, harpy

She took a lousy Wednesday (6)
Turned it into cold Spring
She got taller by the minute
She could sell you anything

Sing, harpy
Descend, harpy Sing, harpy

And the morning after
I was quite astonished
She gripped me like a hawk
Her talons were quite famished


Ascend harpy
Sing harpy
Descend harpy
Give me harpy 


1. The riff and "uh-huh" refrain are taken from "Little Doll," by the Stooges. In Greek mythology, harpies are winged women. They were initially portrayed as beautiful, but by Aeschylus' time they had become ugly. "Harpy" is sometimes used as a derogatory term for a shrill or manipulative woman. Like many songs on Extricate, it has been suggested that the lyrics are about Brix. Brix herself has said that MES told her none of the songs actually referred to her, and she took him at his word, although that is of course not decisive evidence either way. And in fact, she says something quite different in her autobiography:

"'Sing! Harpy' is so clearly about me, and doesn't disguise my narrative at all... It's a complete diss track, but I love the song, and at least he calls me skinny and a good lay... I'd later find out that there were many more songs clearly about me. But at the time I was pleasantly oblivious.'"

Brix was dating violinist Nigel Kennedy at the time, and it has been pointed out that the song begins with the sound of a violin...

Zack points out that Brix is thanked in the liner notes to Extricate.


2. Brix came from a "show biz" background; her mother was an executive at CBS (thanks to Zack). Junior Showtime was a British variety show for children that aired from 1969 to 1974.


3. DJ Ash points out, and I have confirmed, that Little Village was the name of a Chinese restaurant in Manchester (see also Pearl City). Note also that, according to Wikipedia, "The oldest part of Prestwich developed around Bury New Road and is known as 'Prestwich Village.'" Note that it needn't be one or the other in this instance.


4. If the song is indeed about Brix, this could refer to the fact that after the split with MES, she left the North and moved to London (thanks to Zack).


5. "Placky" is slang for "plastic." Dan says it's only used coupled with "bag," as here, though.


6. According to Dr. Dan, "In John Steinbeck's 1954 novel Sweet Thursday, Sweet Thursday is the day between Lousy Wednesday and Waiting Friday."


Comments (34)

  • 1. Colin | 23/10/2013
Definitely think this one is about Brix.
  • 2. dannyno | 11/02/2014
I'm sure this is nothing to do with it, but I just wanted to record that there was a music hall drag act called "Old Mother Riley" (Arthur Lucan), mentioned in The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society), who appeared in films including "Old Mother Riley's Circus", and who was also a regular on Junior Showtime, accompanied by Lucan's "daughter" (actually his wife).

  • 3. dannyno | 02/05/2014
"He mother"

  • 4. dannyno | 02/05/2014
Virgil, the Aeneid.

Book Three, the Harpies:

"These birds have the faces of virgin girls,
foulest excrement flowing from their bellies,
clawed hands, and faces always thin with hunger."
  • 5. dannyno | 17/05/2014
Missing verses.

after "can't put why in this line":

"Sing, harpy
Descend, harpy"

After "brown cannabis"

"Descend, harpy
Sing, harpy"

After "could sell you anything"

"Sing, harpy
Descend, harpy
Sing, harpy"

After "talons were quite famished"

"Ascend, harpy
Sing, harpy
Descend, harpy
Give me harpy"
  • 6. dannyno | 17/05/2014
Well, choruses rather than verses...
  • 7. bzfgt | 22/05/2014
Crap, I think that's the worst negligence I've been caught for yet (although it was a result of the LP's prior negligence!). No choruses! Tell St. Peter that the last one was already in there, though.
  • 8. David | 24/07/2014
I always thought it was 'can't put 'Y' in this line' rather than 'why'. I assumed it was about scrabble.
  • 9. dannyno | 01/07/2015
In John Steinbeck's 1954 novel "Sweet Thursday", Sweet Thursday is the day between Lousy Wednesday and Waiting Friday.
  • 10. bzfgt | 13/12/2015
Dan, what's the relevance of Mother Riley to this one?

David: I doubt it but I love your comment, and even more so if you're're not but I wish you were.
  • 11. dannyno | 05/05/2016
In Brix's The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, she says that "Sing! Harpy' is so clearly about me, and doesn't disguise my narratie at all... It's a complete diss track, but I love the song, and at least he calls me skinny and a good lay... I'd later find out that there were many more songs clearly about me. But at the time I was pleasantly oblivious."
  • 12. bzfgt | 24/06/2016
"At least he calls me skinny"--hilarious.
  • 13. dannyno | 06/07/2016
"narratie" should be "narrative", obviously.

I was just thinking about these lyrics again:

"She got taller by the minute"

Makes me think of Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
  • 14. DJASh | 22/11/2016
The Little Village was a decent Chinese restaurant in Manchester, no longer open.
Pearl City is another
  • 15. Zack | 24/01/2017
Just noticed that Brix is thanked in the Extricate liner notes. Make of that what you will.

"Her mother from the circus" likely refers to the fact that Brix's mother worked in showbiz as an executive at CBS. "Put her on a Junior Showtime" is a bit elusive; while Brix apparently grew up around TV studios, it doesn't look like her mother pushed her into appearing on TV as a child.

"Left the moors behind her [...] Descend, Harpy" likely refers to Brix's move to London after separating from MES.
  • 16. balddb1 | 30/01/2018
For me, the reason this was most obviously about Brix was the violin reference - intro to the first track on the first album after the split, and there he is - Nigel Kennedy. Couldn't have been more blatant.
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 12/02/2018
Balddb 1, yes, this has been pointed out many times, I should have had it in the notes. Thank you.
  • 18. dannyno | 13/02/2018
Note 14, DJAsh.

The Little Village: I like this connection. The restaurant was at 33a Cross Street, in Manchester's Chinatown.

But also note that Prestwich, or part of it, is often described as a village.
  • 19. Basmikel | 23/06/2018
Am I alone in thinking this is equal parts love song and put-down?
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 15/07/2018
No, I can definitely hear it that way, although put-down is ascendant
  • 21. Bucephalus | 14/12/2018
"It's meant to be a true story" - clip at the beginning of the song. Does anyone know what that's sampled from?
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 19/01/2019
No, no idea
  • 23. nutterwain | 11/08/2019
If you listen to little doll by the stooges, later covered by spacemen 3, the arrangements are very similar. I've tried searching to see if there was ever a MES quote about this but couldn't find anything. Anyone know? Dan?
  • 24. dannyno | 03/10/2019
Note #5. Clarification needed that "placky" as slang for plastic only really occurs on the phrase "placky bag". It would not be usual to call plastic "placky" in other contexts.
  • 25. Blaugh | 13/12/2020
The snatches of violin at the start are from Bach's - Chaconne, Partita No. 2.

The 'Give me harpy line' is clearly an autobiographical reference to somebody receiving herpes.
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 27/02/2021
Can someone else confirm the Bach thing? I'm not up on longhair music myself, and don't want to run with it unless it's definite.
Richard Howard
  • 27. Richard Howard | 28/02/2021
The line "she gripped me like a hawk" could refer to the event described in Brix's book. "Mark left the room and headed for the stairs, suitcase in hand. I flung myself at him. In my panic and desperation I wrapped myself around his legs. I tried to stop him. He dragged me down the stairs. I was screaming, crying and trying to reason with him; make
him hear sense. Nothing worked."
  • 28. dannyno | 04/07/2021
Comment #25 and #25.

I've listened to the Bach (which is great, by the way) as performed by Hilary Hahn, alongside this song, but I'm not hearing what annotatedfall user Blaugh is hearing. Is it sped up or something? I don't really have a musical ear so I may be missing the thing.
a. von humbug
  • 29. a. von humbug | 01/11/2021
the line about the father confirms it’s about brix — her father nearly strangled her to death, according to her book.

i think it’s as much a love song as a diss.
  • 30. Dan | 09/05/2022
Isn't it plaggy rather than placky bag?
  • 31. dannyno | 14/05/2022
Comment #30. "Plaggy" is a variation, yes, and attested by evidence-based (i.e. not the Urban Dictionary) dictionaries of slang (eg, Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, in which "plaggy" seems to come out of the East Midlands).

But is it what it sounds like here? Not to me, at the moment.
For the Record
  • 32. For the Record | 01/08/2023
I think the first verse needs to be;

Whose harpy was the tops
His hair contained some red

Parsed - he had red (blood) in his hair, he whose harpy (wife) was the tops (lovely but with a tendency to inflict minor head injuries)

So the top shag skeleton bit is self-aggrandisment not praise
  • 33. dannyno | 12/08/2023
Comment #32. I'm not buying that.

The Blue Book, for what it's worth, has this:

Harpy was the tops
Hair contained some red
Thin white skeleton
Just too good in bed

Now, granted that unlike the version on Extricate, the Blue Book doesn't have the definite article. However, to interpret the first verse as talking about MES (or the narrator, let's say) seems a bit strange to me.

First of all, none of the other verses are about the narrator, there's just that "I was quite astonished".

Secondly, the use of the word "skeleton" mirrors the word "famished" in the last verse (of course all these descriptions are in line with classical descriptions of harpies).

Thirdly, I listened to some live versions. Live in Zagreb is very clearly "The harpy was the tops / Her hair contained some red." As is Livid Theatre, Sydney, 1990-06-23.

Other times where the vocals are audible the lyric is closer to the version in the Blue Book, with no "The" or "her" at all. "Harpy was the tops / Hair contained some red".

I didn't hear any version where it sounded at all like "his hair".
For the Record
  • 34. For the Record | 26/01/2024
#33 Quite right, I was having an offday there, I shouldn't listen to the Fall on an empty stomach. Gatekeepers and Sentinels: ignore comment 32

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