Slates, Slags, Etc.

Lyrics

Here's the definitive rant
Slates drive me bats  
Therefore I say hey slates give us a break

Male slags, slags slates and tapes (1)
Everything's strained by the States 
They are the grey ones of our state I relate (2)
Male slags....

And slates, break hard, break hardly
Break the slates for Christ's sake 
Male slags... 
Male slags, knock over your drink 
Pay for correct amount spilt  (3)
Male slags... 
Remember slates are always outta date
In the fine light of day they have to face
Well I can't give a definition
The consequences of their plagiarisation (4)
Male slags
With greedy bastard scrubbed hands
Kill jokes join gangs 
Kill the safety in our lands 
Male slags... 
In the cold nearly old ska Jamaican dawn
Dead publisher's sons
Material hardship pawns
The Beat, Wah! Heat    (5)
Male slags... 
(Dog bites the dicks that feeds it)  (6)
Male slags... 
Academic male slags 
Ream off names of books and bands 
Kill cultural interest in our land 
Male slates 
With creaky pants and scrubbed hands

Okay mates
Let's get onto the valley of weights
The valley of weights is the valley 
Where they cast off the weights 
And became trite, uptight  (7)
Deaf and bereft 
A liberty mess 
Female slates 
Make pins of your whims 
Break your balls , suck your thoughts
Rip off bands 
With stuck up hair and new shitty pants
New beatniks with hoop shirts 
Big priest - give us a break 
Help me to fight the slates  (8)
Male slags....

How would you describe the slates?
Don't start improvising for God's sake
They are the grey ones of the state I relate
Everythings strained by the states 
The valley of weights 
Okay mates
 

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Notes

1. "Slag" is a British slang term that is sometimes used in an equivalent way to "slut" in the U.S., and like the latter term, it almost always describes a woman, hence the modifier "male slags." However, it can also be used to mean "a worthless or insignificant person, a coward, a petty criminal" (according to Jonathan Green's dictionary of slang, which also seems to indicate the sexual usage is less common--thanks to Stephen Parkin for this). "Slate" is a more complicated matter, and its use here has provoked much speculation. It is apparently not a common term, and, in fact, even people from the same general region as MES seem not to recognize it in the sense it used here. It may be a coinage, and if so, there are a few relevant facts to be established. The word may be intended to function as a complementary insult to "slags" but one that is directed at men and, thus, applied to women here--in other words, a reversal of an invented "ordinary" usage already applied at the moment of its invention. I am led to this hypothesis by the circumstance that MES sings "female slates" at one point, as though the ordinary application of "slates" would suggest a male target of opprobrium. Although this is by no means common, "slate" can mean "a slovenly, dirty person," according to the OED. This fits the pattern of sexually demeaning epithets like "slut" and "slattern," and indeed "slag," although again this is rare, is sometimes employed as an adjective to mean "muddy," and a common noun form of the word denotes refuse matter from smelting, whereas "slate" is a word also used for shale by coal miners. Furthermore, in British slang "slate" is used as a verb meaning to harshly criticize, insult, verbally abuse, or dismiss someone, and "slag" is used in the very same way. "Slate" can also be a noun which indicates "a severe criticism, a slating" (again from the OED). Finally, and again in British slang, to "have a slate loose" can mean to be loopy or insane. Reformation quotes the press release for the American summer tour of 1981:  "...is about plagiarisation and blackboard type people in this land of ours..."[sic] Blackboards, of course, are made out of slate. I do not take the sexual implications of these terms too literally, as the behavior Smith slags and slates is seemingly not simply sleeping around but being a nuisance in other ways; it is common to use "whore" to mean someone who is shameless and free with their substance and dignity, and I imagine that is probably a clue to the lyrics above. James Marriott below suggests that "slag" may also "relate to slag heaps - the mountain of shit records spilling down on and suffocating the public - as well as to the trend-chasing 'slags' making those records." This would perhaps also provide a clue to the third and most difficult to account for word on the list, "tapes"--I received a suggestion that the lyric is actually "Slags, slates send tapes" but, as convenient as this would be, it sounds to me like MES sings exactly what's written above, "Slags, slates and tapes." I have found no record anywhere of "tape" being used as an epithet to desribe a human being, so here it may acutally mean a recording, presumably one produced by slates, slags, or both, or forming a part of the aforementioned slag heap. 

Dr X O'Skeleton: "Another meaning of Slates could be vinyl records, which complements the tapes in the title."

^

2. Here is a possible clue to some of the implications of "slate": someone who is drab and perhaps a bit thick.  

^

3. Chris says "If you knock over someone's drink (esp. someone else's pint) in a UK pub you are (at least) expected to offer to pay for it."

^

4. MES is often very critical of those he considers plagiarists, which at first blush is odd because he borrows so freely, to say the least, in his own work. I think the key to this is not to take "plagiarization" too literally; the simple act of borrowing is not enough to make one a plagiarist, and originality is a more elusive concept in the world of the Fall than simply an index of where a few words, notes or ideas have their genesis.  

^

 

5. The Beat and Wah! Heat were British musical acts.

^

6. This throwaway line is an odd image to return to, but some 30 years later MES proclaims "I had to wank off the cat to feed the fucking dog" ("Greenway"). In the latter case, the line is a near-quote from "But I've Got Texas" by Jon Wayne, a "Cowpunk" band formed of session musicians playing under assumed names, in which the relevant lyric is "I had to jack off the dog just to feed the goddamn cat."  

^

7. "The valley of weights" seems like a drug reference at first, but the ensuing lyrics don't lend much support to this view. Mr. Marshall from the Fall Online Forum has identified a probable source for this line in The Gods of the Labyrinth by Colin Wilson (publishes as The Hedonists in the USA). The novel's protagonist, Gerald Sorme, is hired by a publisher to edit a book on one Esmond Donelly, a mysterious 18th century character who seems to be involved in something called "The Order of the Phoenix" (which is taken from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, where it is an esoteric cult which is probably centered around sex, note also the Borgesian (English) title of Wilson's book). "Sorme" writes:

"What most impressed me about Esmond Donelly was the modernness of his mind. The language is the language of Walpole or Grey; the thought was often closer to Goethe, or even William Blake. The central point of his argument against Hume and d'Alembert is very simple: that when man outgrows religious authority, he usually becomes the victim of his own triviality. When does man most frequently experience the sensation of freedom? he asks and answers: When he is bored. "Boredom is to be free, but to experience no particular impulse to make use of the freedom."
And he invents a Swiftian parable to illustrate his points. 

In the midst of the high mountains of Tartary, he says, there is a valley in which dwells a race of small but sturdy and healthy people. From the earliest times, it has been part of the religious observance of these people to carry two heavy weights, in the shape of a water-bottle, on either side of the waist. They would no more think of walking abroad without their weights than an Englishman would think of walking naked along Whitehall. They wear them from birth to death, and there are strict penalties for removing them. 

But the greatest pleasure of this race is the exercise of walking, and a small band of rebels declare that the weights are intended to make walking uncomfortable. Then even bolder spirits declare that man should be able to fly like a bird or float like a balloon, and that the weights are intended to prevent them from enjoying the freedom for which they were created.

There is a revolution; the king is executed (a remarkable anticipation of the execution of Louis XVI), and the people tear off their weights. To their amazement, nothing happens, except that they find it hard to maintain balance without them. The more timid spirits resume their weights; the bolder ones practise walking without them, and soon declare that it is merely a matter of habit.  

They are so delighted with this new accomplishment that at first they walk day and night, striding from one end of the valley to the other, and even attempting to climb the mountains. They soon discover that the mountains are sheer walls of rock that cannot be scaled. And now some of the weightless ones fall into a frenzy and rush frantically from one end of the valley to the other until they collapse with exhaustion. Others attempt to scale the steep walls out of the valley, and either fall down when they are exhausted, or cast themselves down out of terror or despair. 

But by far the larger number of the weightless ones simply sit at home, utterly bored, since they know every inch of the valley. They jeer at the people who still wear weights, calling them superstitious hogs. But after a few generations these weightless ones are dead, for their lack of exercise makes them grow immensely fat and die at an early age. 

Finally, only those who wear weights continue to survive; they elect a king, and for many generations the Great Revolt is only a terrifying memory. Until a sect arises that declares that man was created to fly like a bird...

The story sounds utterly pessimistic, an allegory of original sin. But I am inclined to reject this view. For Donelly says: 'There were some of those climbers who were never seen again; yet certain shepherds whose flocks fed under the shadow of the great walls affirmed that they heard voices hallooing from far above their heads, where the slopes of the mountain vanished into the clouds.' In other words, perhaps a few of the climbers got beyond the cliffs and over the top of the mountains.

What Donelly is saying - and it is a remarkable perception for a seventeen-year-old boy - is not that 'Men need weights,' but that the men of the valley need weights. They are healthy, sturdy and adventurous (i.e. love walking), and the only way in which to maintain these qualities in their tiny valley is to wear heavy weights. But a few among them, a very few, are born climbers..."
 

^

8. The recurring "Hip Priest" or "Big Priest" is here enlisted as a kind of superhero to fight off the slags and slates. I point this out because it's an interesting question to what extent MES identifies with, and to what extent he mocks, this character, and this is another bit of evidence on the positive side (in the end he seems to be just as ambiguous a figure as anyone else in Fall lyrics). The character can be Mark Smith, or someone Mark Smith reviles, or both at once, it seems.  

^

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Comments (25)

Robert
  • 1. Robert | 01/05/2013

Re: plagarism:
That "wank off" line from Greenway originally comes from "I've Got Texas" by Jon Wayne.

Robert
  • 2. Robert | 01/05/2013

Re: plagarism:
That "wank off" line from Greenway originally comes from "I've Got Texas" by Jon Wayne.

dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 07/05/2013

"Let's get onto the valley of weights
The valley of weights is the valley
Where they cast off the weights
And became trite, uptight"

Mr.Marshall on the Fall Forum noted that this was inspired by a passage in Colin Wilson's "The Gods of the Labyrinth" (published as "The Hedonists" in the US, this is one of the Gerard Sorme trilogy which includes "Ritual in the Dark): http://z1.invisionfree.com/thefall/index.php?showtopic=35183&st=0

Here is the passage (p.48-50 of the edition I have to hand, which is the 1977 Panther Books paperback) (note obligatory William Blake reference!):

"What most impressed me about Esmond Donelly was the modernness of his mind. The language is the language of Walpole or Grey; the thought was often closer to Goethe, or even William Blake. The central point of his argument against Hume and d'Alembert is very simple: that when man outgrows religious authority, he usually becomes the victim of his own triviality. When does man most frequently experience the sensation of freedom? he asks and answers: When he is bored. "Boredom is to be free, but to experience no particular impulse to make use of the freedom."
And he invents a Swiftian parable to illustrate his points.

In the midst of the high mountains of Tartary, he says, there is a valley in which dwells a race of small but sturdy and healthy people. From the earliest times, it has been part of the religious observance of these people to carry two heavy weights, in the shape of a water-bottle, on either side of the waist. They would no more think of walking abroad without their weights than an Englishman would think of walking naked along Whitehall. They wear them from birth to death, and there are strict penalties for removing them.

But the greatest pleasure of this race is the exercise of walking, and a small band of rebels declare that the weights are intended to make walking uncomfortable. Then even bolder spirits declare that man should be able to fly like a bird or float like a balloon, and that the weights are intended to prevent them from enjoying the freedom for which they were created.

There is a revolution; the king is executed (a remarkable anticipation of the execution of Louis XVI), and the people tear off their weights. To their amazement, nothing happens, except that they find it hard to maintain balance without them. The more timid spirits resume their weights; the bolder ones practise walking without them, and soon declare that it is merely a matter of habit.

They are so delighted with this new accomplishment that at first they walk day and night, striding from one end of the valley to the other, and even attempting to climb the mountains. They soon discover that the mountains are sheer walls of rock that cannot be scaled. And now some of the weightless ones fall into a frenzy and rush frantically from one end of the valley to the other until they collapse with exhaustion. Others attempt to scale the steep walls out of the valley, and either fall down when they are exhausted, or cast themselves down out of terror or despair.

But by far the larger number of the weightless ones simply sit at home, utterly bored, since they know every inch of the valley. They jeer at the people who still wear weights, calling them superstitious hogs. But after a few generations these weightless ones are dead, for their lack of exercise makes them grow immensely fat and die at an early age.

Finally, only those who wear weights continue to survive; they elect a king, and for many generations the Great Revolt is only a terrifying memory. Until a sect arises that declares that man was created to fly like a bird...

The story sounds utterly pessimistic, an allegory of original sin. But I am inclined to reject this view. For Donelly says: 'There were some of those climbers who were never seen again; yet certain shepherds whose flocks fed under the shadow of the great walls affirmed that they heard voices hallooing from far above their heads, where the slopes of the mountain vanished into the clouds.' In other words, perhaps a few of the climbers got beyond the cliffs and over the top of the mountains.

What Donelly is saying - and it is a remarkable perception for a seventeen-year-old boy - is not that 'Men needs weights'j, but that the men of the valley need weights. They are healthy, sturdy and adventurous (i.e. love walking), and the only way in which to maintain these qualities in their tiny valley is to wear heavy weights. But a few among them, a very few, are born climbers..."

Reminds me a bit of "Frightened" - 'don't know how to use freedom', and all that.

Dan

Stephen Parkin
  • 4. Stephen Parkin | 07/08/2013

According to Jonathan Green's dictionary of slang, "Slag" means a worthless or insignificant person, a coward, a petty criminal; the sexual meaning is given last, and is a minor meaning.

The late 70s/80s TV show "Minder" (set amongst petty criminals in London) seemed to use it a lot, but it was always between men, and was meant in the "Worthless" or "Cowardly" sense.

That's how I've always thought it was meant here, with the "Male" added to make it plain that he was not referring to women in a sexist manner (the NME would have gone on about that, I'm sure).

dannyno
  • 5. dannyno | 18/02/2014

"Don't start improvising for Christ's sake"

A classic Lyrics Parade mistake, perpetuated here The line is, and this is not even hard to make out:

"Don't start improvising for God's sake"

Mark Fisher's "Memorex for the Krakens" talks about the mistaken version of the line, without realising it is wrong (didn't he *listen*?). I hope he is suitably embarrassed.

bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 22/02/2014

I'm sure he's mortified.

dannyno
  • 7. dannyno | 07/08/2014

Oh, just noticed that your note 5 hasn't yet taken into account my note 3 via mr marshall.

dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 07/08/2014

"became trite, uptight"

I actually only hear "became uptight". The main vocals and the backing vocals do overlay each other at that point, though.

James Marriott
  • 9. James Marriott | 17/12/2014

Slates is a slang term for 7" inch singles, esp in Jamaican music. You get a better bass sound on 7" than 12". For that reason, PiL had released Metal Box as a collection of 7" records rather than a conventional LP not long before the Fall's 'Slates'. This was also the time of 2-tone: the ska revival. The Fall set themselves apart by releasing 'Slates' as a 10" inch record. It's not an album, EP or single.

Also, though this is more tenuous: slags may relate to slag heaps - the mountain of shit records spilling down on and suffocating the public - as well as to the trend-chasing 'slags' making those records.

James Marriott
  • 10. James Marriott | 19/01/2015

re: my previous point, I misremembered. I typed 7", but meant that Metal Box was on 45rpm 12" discs. That better bass sound is on 12" 45s compared with 12" 33 1/3s. Ska/2tone, however, was more about 7" 45s - singles, not extended dubs. Slates being on 10" is still unusual, but sort of fits into a trend of bands trying to find new ways for people to listen to their music. LPs had become accepted as the right way to hear serious rock music (AOR) simply because of the technical restrictions of vinyl records. PiL were allowing people the chance to shuffle their album of listen to a few songs at a time, rather than the whole thing.

dannyno
  • 11. dannyno | 04/02/2016

Allow me a whimsical observation. I'm sure this has nothing to do with anything, I just like it.

So in The Flintstones cartoon series, the character of Fred's boss Mr Slate was voiced by John Stephenson. Stephenson also voiced several characters in the Wacky Races cartoon series, which featured the Slag Brothers - two cavemen called Rock and Gravel (but they weren't voiced by Stephenson). There is also a Flintstones character called Rock Slag who appeared in the 1966 Flintstones movie, "The Man Called Flintstone".

Chris
  • 12. Chris | 05/01/2017

As already stated, 12" singles are 'best for bass'

chris
  • 13. chris | 05/01/2017

"drive me bats" = "makes me get mad/go crazy"

"pay for correct amount spilt" - if you knock over someone's drink (esp. someone else's pint) in a UK pub you are (at least) expected to offer to pay for it

The Beat (called the London Beat in US) and Wah! Heat (aka Pete Wylie) were/are British bands/artist vehicles

Zack
  • 14. Zack | 11/01/2017

At about 5:24 one of the guitarists (probably Riley, that old showboat) starts playing the riff in a higher octave, and at 5:34 MES shouts "Don't start improvising," at which point the guitarist dutifully returns the riff to its original octave. I have always wondered if this exchange was a truly spontaneous instance of Totale's Turns-esque hectoring caught on tape in the studio, or if it was scripted.

bzfgt
  • 15. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

Right, like the "Come on fellas, get it together" or whatever on "Choc Stock" which happens on every version.

Crap, I seem to have a backlogged mess here, of course 12" records have more room and should be better for bass, and I don't even know what all else...I must roll up my sleeves, I fear. It looks like there's stuff from 2013 I haven't even incorporated yet.

bzfgt
  • 16. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

James:

OK, I can't quite get this straight. "Slates" is slang for 7" records, so is that still relevant? This is a 10" record, which is close to halfway between 7 and 10. But I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say at this point, if I change "7" to "12" and vice versa in your (James) comment and vice versa, what happens? Or [larger disc] for 7"? I can't straighten out if there's anything left in your comment.

Slates is longer than a single and larger than a single, but shorter and smaller than an LP. So 10 inches wouldn't, prima facie seem to be significant--it's a commensurate size with it's length, it would seem, without being extra hifi. I don't know this, it's just a guess based on the rough parameters I can estimate from what you're saying and what I otherwise know, which is that bigger=higher fi and vice versa. So I am excising your comment, unless/until you want to reformulate it in a way that makes sense in context again.

bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

"'Men needs weights'j,"

I wonder if it is "Man needs weights" or "men need weights." Anyway as long as that is I think I need to put it in the notes.

bzfgt
  • 18. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

Aubrey, I take your point but also the modifier "male slags" seems to suggest to me the sexual meaning. I kind of split the difference in my note now.

bzfgt
  • 19. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

Sorry, I mean I get your argument as to why it may not be used that way but it doesn't seem to me to clearly indicate he's not using the sexual meaning at all, if it is a minor usage then there'd be little need, and it would be a very un-MES bending over backward to be PC...I don't know, it's confusing, everything is confusing, I should have slept before looking at this.

bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt | 28/01/2017

I didn't think "drive me bats" needed a note, is there anyone who doesn't know that, or is there anything else it could mean? Is that an uncommon thing to say in England or something? Here it's barely even slang, no one would have to have it explained.

Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 21. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017

Another meaning of Slates could be vinyl records, which complements the tapes in the title

Robert
  • 22. Robert | 18/06/2017

An addendum to point 5: I remember reading an interview from sometime in the mid-to-late 80s where MES said the only other contemporary lyricists he rated were Kevin Rowland (of Dexys) and Pete Wylie (of Wah).

Robert
  • 23. Robert | 18/06/2017

Found it... from the NME in October 1987:
"... Smith has continued, for a decade, to write lyrics which tower above the short-sighted attempts of his contemporaries, of whom he recognizes only Kevin Rowland and Pete Wylie as being any good."

dannyno
  • 24. dannyno | 19/06/2017

Link to the text of that article: http://thefall.org/news/pics/87oct31_nme/87oct31_nme.html

dannyno
  • 25. dannyno | 25/06/2017

The back cover of "Slates" has this note:


SLATES, SLAGS ETC.

Full bias content guaranteed.
Plagiarism infests the land.
Academic thingys ream off names of
books and bands

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