The Container Drivers

Lyrics

Net cap. of five eight thousand pounds (1)
They sweat on their way down 
Report with customs bastards (2)
Hang around like clowns, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers 

Bad indigestion
Bad bowel retention
Speed for their wages
Sometimes torn short sleeves
Sometimes torn shirt sleeves, they're


Uh-containers and their drivers 
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers   

Look at a car park for two days
Look at a grey port for two days
Train line, stone and grey
Train line, stone and grey, they're


Uh-containers and their drivers 
Uh-containers and their drivers 
Uh-containers and their drivers  

[Peel: elasties on their co-op jeans]
This is not their town
Big cigars come out of the ground (3)
Sweat on their way down 
Sweat on their way down, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers

F. Jack's a distant relation  (4)
Communists are just part time workers (5)
And there's no thanks 
From the loading bay ranks, they're
Uh-containers and their drivers 

Look at a car park for two days
Look at a grey port for two days
Train line, stone and grey 
RO/RO roll on/roll off (6)

Uh-containers and their drivers
Speed for their wages 
Uh-container drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers

SaveSave

Notes

1. It is a typical vocal quirk of MES to sound out abbreviations and numbers, and this apparently means "net capacity of 58,000 pounds." A "container" is a standardized shipping unit that can be stacked on ships and hauled via truck. The song positions itself in a rather extensive tradition of trucker songs, while at the same time lampooning the genre (cf. the huge snare build-up to the 3 second guitar solo), which comprises mostly country and rockabilly paeans to, or laments about, the trucking life. "Pinball Machine," which the Fall covered in 1989, is another such song, as is "White Line Fever," which the band recorded in 2005 (It is telling that the Fall seem not to have based their version of the latter song on Merle Haggard's sublime original, but on a version by Bud Brewer that MES got off a compilation of trucker songs).

You'll all be glad to know that the song will have no trouble at the weigh station, whose operator, Zack, tells us:

"Wikipedia tells us that the net load weight of a 40' container is 57,759 lbs, and for a 40' high-cube container is 58,598 lbs. The first line of the song checks out."

^

2. MES worked as a shipping clerk when he was nineteen. 

^

3. The "big cigars" are probably factory chimneys, as seen from a speeding truck.

^

4. This refers to "Fiery Jack," the protagonist of another Fall song. Like Fiery Jack, the titular drivers are probably best imagined as middle aged men devoted to hard living and prolific alcohol consumption. Also, although in interviews and writings MES always describes Jack as an alcoholic, the lyrics suggest he is a speed freak, and (particularly in the early 80s, an era before drug testing) truck drivers have long been notorious for their speed use. Even today, when legal limits have been placed on the amount of driving that can be done in a 24 hour period, it is well known that in order to make money truckers must drive much more than they sleep, making speed a particularly useful tool of the trade. However, drug testing now makes it difficult for drivers to ingest the substances that enable them to function beyond the normal threshold of human endurance; modern truckers sometimes substitute crack, which leaves the system much quicker and thus is less liable to be discovered in a drug test, for speed.   

^

5. I take this to be a suggestion that communists typically get jobs in order to organize the workers, and hence they spend as little time as possible actually working, and move on frequently. 

^

6. RO/RO or Roll ON/Roll Off ferries are ferries designed so that cargo vehicles can drive right onto them (as opposed to LOLO or Lift On/Lift Off ferries which load and unload cargo with a crane).

^

More Information

The Container Drivers: Fall Tracks A-Z

The Story of the Fall: 1980

Here is a list of trucker songs, but it is by no means exhaustive of the genre. Jimmy Martin's "Widow Maker," Little Feat's "Willin'," and Merle Haggard's "Movin' On" (as well as "White Line Fever" and "Pinball Machine") are a few notable omissions, and I'm sure there are others. 

Comments (29)

John
  • 1. John | 01/08/2013
Speed for their wages is a drug reference. Customs bastards is a reference to himself, as MES worked in a customs house on the docks.
Dolb
  • 2. Dolb | 24/01/2014
I think the 'R-O R-Oline is a reference to roll on roll of ferries which carry a lot of trucks across the channel or over to Ireland etc.

Good work on the site, I have followed your questions on the forum and use this site a lot.
bzfgt
  • 3. bzfgt | 15/02/2014
You're right--good catch, Dolb!
Zack
  • 4. Zack (link) | 20/07/2015
Wikipedia tells us that the net load weight of a 40' container is 57,759 lbs, and for a 40' high-cube container is 58,598 lbs. The first line of the song checks out.
Yorky
  • 5. Yorky | 03/06/2016
What about the line before,.. 'this is not their town, big cigars come put of the ground" . What i hear is'" the lasteeze of the cull of jeans". Can you blow up a puncture on the motorway. Without getting bits of best in the inner tube?
bzfgt
  • 6. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
Yorky, I'm afraid I'm not understanding your last two sentences.
bzfgt
  • 7. bzfgt | 29/06/2016
Yes, we must get that line. I hear "the lust is on their co-op jeans." I don't think either of us is correct; I've put out the call on FOF to see if we can work it out.
AndyN
  • 8. AndyN | 28/11/2016
What are you guys talking about re line that sounds like "lasteeze of the cult of jeans"? All I hear between the 3rd chorus and the "This is not their town" verse is a brief and incomprehensible exhortation to kick off the instrumental break - it climaxes at 1:18 with something like "ok waaah!!"

help/thanks!
bzfgt
  • 9. bzfgt | 21/12/2016
Yes, sorry, Andy, we are talking about the Peel version there.
Lloyd
  • 10. Lloyd | 28/02/2017
I haven't listened to this song for 30 years. Played it to death. But is the missing line not "Frayed elastic on their co-op jeans"?
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt (link) | 03/03/2017
It sounds more like "elasties on their co-op jeans." Could someone refer to elastic as "elasties"? For now I have your version, I think we're zeroing in on it. Thanks! If nothing else you've come up with something close enough to go to press with.

Actually I'm sure I hear "elasties," sensical or not I'm going with it. "Frayed" would very much fit though but I don't hear it. I wonder though if it's that on any live versions and that's where you got the word?
Lloyd tamlyn
  • 12. Lloyd tamlyn | 19/03/2017
What I wrote was purely from, I suppose, 30-odd years old memory - i.e. What I'd carried with me all those years. I had understood, still do understand, the reference to elastic being to elasticated waists on the co-op jeans - I.e. Cheap and nasty jeans, but also easy to get on as your waist gradually expands, like shell suits and onesies. So a fairly standard bit of MES (sympathetic, ultimately, I think) sneering at the workers. After reading your comment, I did have a listen and agree with you - the frayed bit is purely my imagination. Of course, the best thing about MES is that his lyrics, whilst highly stimulating, give plenty of scope for the listener to do his bit.
bzfgt
  • 13. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
Indeed. Anyway, thanks for helping us get to a breakthrough on that line, I think what's there now is close.
dannyno
  • 14. dannyno | 05/08/2017
Note #1: MES chose Bud Brewer's White Line Fever as one of his tracks for a notional mixtape which was the basis for an article in Mojo Collections #3, Summer 2001;

Image

QED.
Brain Carnage
  • 15. Brain Carnage | 20/12/2019
I have been listening to Container Drivers on a regular basis since I bought Grotesque on its release in 1980.
I have always heard the line "Sometime torn shirtsleeves."
This makes much more sense to me. Shirtsleeves that were torn on some unspecified and unremembered shift on the loading bay ramps and never mended or replaced because who has time or a wife for that - rather than an unlikely suntan somehow acquired while driving through clouds on the M62.
I have had 40 years of this.
I have just listened to about eight different live and studio versions of the song and I am, of course, completely wrong.
Overthinking it, as usual,
Brain Carnage
  • 16. Brain Carnage | 20/12/2019
Actually, I may be right.
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
Actually I'm pretty sure you're right, I hear "sometimes" on Grotesque, maybe "some time" on Peel
dannyno
  • 18. dannyno | 27/12/2019
Note #2: "MES worked as a customs clerk when he was nineteen."

In Renegade and elsewhere he says he was a shipping clerk, which though administrative is not the same thing. I don't believe there's any documented indication he was specifically a customs clerk.
bzfgt
  • 19. bzfgt (link) | 04/01/2020
Hm, yeah, I must have read that somewhere, but don't remember where now. I don't think I'd have made that leap on my own.
dannyno
  • 20. dannyno | 06/01/2020
Lots of websites etc say "customs clerk", but without any apparent evidence - and in fact they seem to be mistaken.
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 19/01/2020
Good to know.
CliffBarnesMissus
  • 22. CliffBarnesMissus | 20/09/2020
Net cap. of five eight thousand pounds
They sweat on their way down
Reports with Customs Masters
Hang around like clowns, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their driverssssssshh(1)

Bad indigestion
Bad bowel retention
Speak for their wages(2)
Some ten tonne shirt sleeves(3)
Some ten tonne shirt sleeves, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their driverssssssshh

Live in a car park for two days
Live in a grey port for two days
Train line, stone and grey
Train line, stone and grey, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their driverssssssh

Ecclesiastes in their co-op jeans(4)
This is not their town
Big cigars come out of the ground(5)
Sweat on their way down
Sweat on their way down, they're

Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers
Uh-containers and their driversssssshh

F. Jack's a distant relation
Communists are just part time workers
And there's no thanks
From the loading bay ranks, they're
Uh-containers and their drivers

Live in a car park for two days
Live at a grey port for two days
Train line, stone and grey
RO/RO roll on/roll off

Uh-containers and their drivers
Speak for their wages
Uh-container drivers
Uh-containers and their drivers.

(1) I think its fair to say that what ever 'Custom' Master Mark was discussing in this song, it was only for the initiated.

(2) Only people in a position of power 'speak for their wages' notably Doctors, Actors, Social workers Priests etc. See note (3)

(4) Ecclesiastes: a book of wisdom literature in canonical Jewish and Christian Scripture. Its important to remember the speed at which Mark sometimes tried to convey lyrics, in tempo with the song, also notably the sometimes jumbled 'Cavalry or Calvary' on live versions of Blindness.

(5)I think Princess Margaret might be a fan of 'Big Cigars..'

That aside, theirs no doubts in my mind that Mark struggled at the end to deal with many a hairy handed mickey puller, and I wish him as much love and warmth today as I did when he was alive, God speed OLD MAN x
bzfgt
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 20/09/2020
I think "report" is right, on Grotesque "bastards" is clearly enunciated, not "masters"
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 20/09/2020
Defiintely sounds like "Elasties" (Peel) and that makes sense whereas Ecclesiastes does not without some heavy interpretive lifting
dannyno
  • 25. dannyno | 20/09/2020
"sometime torn shirt sleeves" and variations thereof.

I'm hearing it as "sun tan, torn shirt sleeves"
Martin
  • 26. Martin | 21/09/2020
I shall listen to live versions asap to attempt to solve this.
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 27/09/2020
Sun tan seems plausible. Let us know what you think, Martin...
Graham Dawson
  • 28. Graham Dawson | 12/10/2020
I've always heard it as "sun tan, torn shirt sleeves"
dannyno
  • 29. dannyno | 18/10/2020
Tweet from Paul Hanley during Tim Burgess-organised twitter listening party:


Mark shouts ‘OK Woody’ on my big drum roll. That was childhood nickname (After ‘Paulus The Woodgnome’ if you must know.)
#TimsTwitterListeningParty
8:20 PM · Oct 18, 2020


https://twitter.com/hanleyPa/status/1317908305671454720

about which, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulus_the_woodgnome

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