1. Telephone Thing was written by Mark E Smith and the electronic dance music duo Coldcut, who also produced the track. From Reformation:
"My Telephone" was a single by dance music duo Coldcut (Matt Black and Jonathan More) from the album "What's That Noise?" and featured Lisa Stanfield on vocals. [This album also featured the track "(I'm) In Deep with MES on guest vocals.]
On 25 January 1990 on News Nike, MES commented: "On the acetate they sent me the drums were a lot we're quite a drum and bass orientated group...On the Stansfield version it's more of a pop song, really, whereas as ours is more of a workout...All we've done really is got the machine tracks and got the musicians to learn them naturally" .
On the same day, the NME published an interview ("Funky, Cold, Modern - Ah!")in which MES said that Coldcut's "version of it was a misjustice to the tune. That single was a flop and it was rubbish. It's topical - like all Fall singles. I think it's good to have a go at things like that - BritishRail and British Telecom. It's a natural gripe. One time, I was using the phone a lot and I dialled a number and I could hear people munching sandwiches and talking about my last phone call. I actually rang up the operator and said 'Lookl I'm trying to dial a fucking number here and I can't get through because people are talking about my phone callsl Have you got a bleedin' license to do this?'"
"Being staff, they get fed up, so what they do is tap into lines that they think are gonna be interesting. It doesn't bother me, I've got nothing to fucking hide! But I said 'Well, is it tapped or not? I can't fucking get through because of your bloody lot!' And she slammed the phone down on me!"
On 23 February 1990 on Radio Luxembourg MES said, "I think it's a bit too long to be a hit."
Jonathan More is quoted ("Ring The Noise", NME; 20 January 1990) as saying,"He thought the vocals and all the rest of the stuff we did on it were shit, but he really liked the guitar, bass and drums, and he gave the cassette to his band to learn these parts."
Parlez-vous" literally means "Do you speak?" when used in an interrogative phrase such as "Parlez-vous français?" ("Do you speak French?"). It has elsewhere been used out of context in a similarly incorrect manner: for instance, the 2002 song "One Night in New Orleans" by the American country band BlackHawk has the line "Baby I don't parlez vous," and, in this case prior to "Telephone Thing," the World War I-era "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" famously goes as far astray from sense as "Hinky Dinky Parlez-vous." "I don't want to parlez-vous
with you" literally makes no grammatical sense, even if we grant the hybridized form...
have one's phone tapped is to be bugged, an object of surveillance. It can also mean to be out of money, but apparently only in the US. Gizmoman points out: "The 'but i'm tapped' lyric has a double meaning, in northern slang to be 'tapped' means to be a bit mental, (following a tap/knock on the head I presume), someone paranoid about being listened to may question their own state of mind. When I was a kid saying to someone 'you're tapped' was a common insult."
Guy Boden suggests MES is remembering party (shared) lines, although this is not technically "tapping."
4. This line
presumably refers to undersea telephone cables, as Dan points out below.
5. Gretchen Franklin was a British actress best known for playing Ethel on Eastenders
. From the NME, January 25, 1990 (thanks to Zack):
Gretchen Franklin?! The woman who plays Ethel on Eastenders? Mark buries his head under the table in what appears to be shame. He groans. "I know! I know! I thought I'd made up that name. Coldcut and Craig Leon were going to me 'That's a great name to make up, Gretchen Franklin', it just came out of nowhere. And then I was watching Eastenders and ... it was terrible! Maybe she'll be flattered, you usually find people are flattered. I don't even watch fucking Eastenders. I hate it! It must've just lodged there somewhere, out of the blue. It's subliminal - I've nothing against her - I can't even remember what she looks like now." She wears a tea cosy and carries a pug. "OH NO! It's not the woman with the dog is it? It's not!"
Whether or not he's being honest here, the character Ethel is gossipy and nosy, according to the Baron Doug below, so it seems like an appropriate lyric.
The home secretary at the time of the first performance of the song (Aberdeen, 18 October 1989) was Douglas Hurd. I don't have a recording of this but do have one of the next gig outing, which was 28 November 1989 in Dusseldorf. The lyrics concerning the home secretary are there. By this time David Waddington had replaced Hurd in this particular cabinet position. The following quote comes from Waddington's memoirs: "Very much more important than the Data Protection Act was the Interception of Communications Bill which I helped Leon Brittan to take through the House at about the same time. It put telephone tapping authorised by the Secretary of State on a statutory basis and outlawed telephone interceptions not so authrorised; and it was to be the model for later legislation putting the security service on a similar statutory basis."