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Sep 27, 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006


New! Andy discusses the song of the week

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

The first in a series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we'll feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Merely a Man," is from 1989's Oranges and Lemons.

TB: Let's start by settling a question I've long wondered about: Not to take away from the shimmery bright poppiness of "Mayor of Simpleton," but in my opinion "Merely a Man" rocks hard, and was radio-ready. Why wasn't it the single, or at least a single?

AP: I think Dave and [O&L producer] Paul Fox wanted it to be a single. Paul leaned on us a lot in rehearsal, saying, "Come on, let's go through this again, because I think this could be the single, guys!" But to be truthful, that song came about because I kind of had a gauntlet slapped across my face by Virgin Records people saying [frenetic A&R voice] "You should be making much more guitar rock! Like ZZ Top and people like that! We want more guitar rock! I bet you can't even write that stuff!" So, it was like, you know, "Right, I'll show 'em."

TB: [sarcastically] Well, ZZ Top was your direct competition, of course.

AP: Exactly! There is a ZZ Top connection, because on our way to a gig once, in the early days, our manager and his assistant were following us to a gig. We pulled over into a motorway services to get some greasy-spoon food, and I remember he gathered us all around the table, and he said, "You don't have a strong enough image, chaps. We've been thinking about people with a strong image, like ZZ Top and David Bowie." He mentioned a couple more, and announced they'd come up with this thing where we were to come on stage in cowboy hats, like ZZ Top, but with a lightning flash across our faces and some kind of sequined posing pouch! I mean, we would have looked like the four kings of assholes if we'd have come on stage dressed like that.

TB: Was this ironic, or dead serious?

AP: This was serious. They sat down for a while and thought, what bands have a strong image? And they put together their idea of what made a strong image.

TB: Oh my.

AP: Yeah. I don't know if it was me! I mean, yeah, the 10-gallon hat and the posing pouch, but I don't know about the lightning flash on the face [laughs].

Anyway, back to "Merely a Man." I really like the climbing bass there -- if anyone points out that it's close to something from "Hello Goodbye," they may not be too far off. I also liked the idea of putting in this very controlled, baroque trumpet solo.

TB: Was that also a nod to the Beatles?

AP: Not really, no. Dave and I worked up the melody -- you know, I'd come up with a little bit of it, and Dave would say, "Oh, trying taking it up there" -- and we kicked it about a bit, so the pair of us came up with that. It was more the idea of a juxtaposition -- noisy, barking, aggressive bass, aggressive guitars, and very metallic-sounding drums, juxtaposed with this rather effeminate 18th-century powdered wig of a piece of music, right smack bang in the middle of a hard-rocking wah-wah quackout. So, it's kind of a powdered wig-out of a solo.

TB: [laughing] Where'd the lyrics come from?

AP: I don't really care for big egos. I always it difficult when people kind of invite me to boast. So, the lyrics are an extension of that -- if there was a Jesus, if there was a Buddha, if there was a whatever great holy leader you'd like to name, there's nothing supernatural about them. They are merely men.

TB: And at the same time, we all have that greatness within us, as well?

AP: Yeah. We all have the ability to be utterly, phenomenally god-like, fantastic -- or just a wretched tramp, really.

TB: Was this one of the songs where music or lyrics came first?

AP: The fetus of the lyrics came first, in "Shaking Skin House" [released on Fuzzy Warbles, Vol. 6]. Then the music came from the desire to show the people at Virgin that I could rock out.

TB: One more question -- how about the drum part? I love what Pat Mastelotto does on the song.

AP: On the demo [Fuzzy Warbles, Vol. 1], you can hear the germ of the pattern that Pat ended up playing. I'm obsessed with that "Don't Stop the Music" rhythm of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare -- that "boom boodap boomboom boodap boomboom boodap -- it's all in that boodap, that little skip there. We sped that up a bit, and made it louder!

6:32 AM

©2006 by Todd Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.