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Last Updated:
Jan 26, 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Andy discusses "Red"

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Red," is from 1978's Go 2.

Last week's hint garnered globs of good guesses -- the XTC oeuvre is a particularly colorful one -- but only one can be right (and first), and this time it was The Gresham Flyers (precise Flyer unspecified). Well done. We'll be back in two weeks with an interview about one of Andy's more mundane -- yet extraordinary -- songs.

TB: Let's talk about "Red."

AP: I'll tell you what, I haven't heard "Red" for about 20 years!

TB: Really?

AP: Yeah, must be. Wait -- hang on, the last time I heard it was when we spoke to Neville Farmer, to do Song Stories. Which, you know, Disney made me say something about before it'd even been written! So I gave it a glowing review for them to put on the back of the book. [laughs] And then, when it came out, I thought, "Oh shit, is this it? Is this all I get?" Like a really duff Christmas present or something.

TB: [laughing] Underwear again?

AP: Yeah, how nice! Some socks that play "Jingle Bells"! Yeah, I think it's gone on record that we were all rather disappointed with Song Stories. But I felt so scummy giving it glowing praise on the back before it'd even been written! I like these talks more.

TB: So, let's start off with the lyrics of "Red," because as I was looking at these...

AP: Oh, I'm glad you said "ryrics"

TB: [laughing] I didn't!

AP: No, "ryrics," please, because the only lyrics I have in the house for "Red" are a Japanese pressing, from the CD remasters we had done a couple of years ago. I pulled out this wafer-thin leaflet, which is on attractive, sort of sexy super-thin paper, and they've written what they think are the lyrics to "Red."

You know, the Japanese are very good at what they want to do. You get 100 percent devotion to doing a particular job just the best it's ever going to be done. I mean, look at the packaging of the remasters -- they're meticulous. The printing work was faultless -- they duplicated the LP artwork at CD size. And they can read it that small! [laughs] That's the size of the average Japanese bathroom, some of those typefaces.

But the one thing that they always slip up on is lyrics to Western albums. They get teams of people sat with headphones on, in a room, playing the album over and over and over, writing phonetically what they think the English is.

TB: And this song is not easy to figure out by ear.

AP: None of them are, but this one is particularly convoluted, and it's buried under walls of noise. But, you know, why didn't they just call somebody in England and say, "Send us the lyrics"? I mean, just an e-mail or a phone call would have done it.

Anyway, I didn't have the lyrics, and I thought, "Shit, I've forgotten what the lyrics are." So, I began reading what the Japanese think they are [laughing], and they are so nonsensical! "You better watch your techno / It's stood up against a beast / Got to sail us in the sunset / They're ready / God believe"! What the fuck?

Verse two -- "You better watch your linguo / Risten get ready in your way." Risten!

TB: With an "R"?

AP: With an "R"! And the word "listen" is not even in the lyric, as far as I can remember! It's very surreal.

And the middle eight's really something: "This night / Don't sit pushing bitter / This night / Fear this might crush / This night / You need a central vision / Well even now / We can clash." No, [laughs] I'm sorry, Mr. Shakespeare! The translation has not worked.

So, I can't tell you what the specifics are. I can vaguely remember. What does it say on Chalkhills? I'll walk you through it.

TB: The first verse is, "You better watch your tape, boys."

AP: No, it's "step."

TB: I thought so. So, "You better watch your step, boys / It's the tint that angers the beast."

AP: Yeah, that's about right.

TB: "Got their sails in the sunset"...

AP: Yep, as in red sails in the sunset...

TB: "They've already got the East."

AP: Oh yeah, The East is Red! It's a song, isn't it -- I think it's Chinese, and they sent up some satellite which was beaming this song down to Earth.

TB: When I was looking at these lyrics, I was wondering if they were kind of a precursor to "Millions." Is that true?

AP: No, this is not what I would call a lyric-centric song. It's very related to the whole White Music approach of, you stuff a lot of abstract visions on a theme into a shotgun, and blast it out. I'm even using my extremely White Music voice on this.

Basically, it's an anger song, and it's about resisting the control of others. They control you by making you angry. So, you have this turmoil going on where you're getting angry because they know they can control you by making you angry, and the essence of it, if you want to boil it down to one sentence, is don't let people make you angry, because you're going to lose if you do.

And it uses, as cushions to sort of lay that message on, a lot of these scattered images about things that are red. What are the rest of the lyrics?

TB: Well, the second verse says, "You better watch your lead boys"

AP: Nope, that's "blood."

TB: Ah, that makes more sense. "You better watch your blood, boys / it's already in your veins / Did you ever see the color / iron turns when it rains."

AP: Yeah! Red.

TB: Yeah, of course. Then the bridge is, "It's not a gross infatuation / It's not a fear, it's not a crush / It's not any special nation / But even now they make me blush."

AP: That's right! Like I say, it's not a song that leads on the lyric. It was an idea about anger.

TB: But you're being clever there, too -- the idea is eating itself...

AP: Hey, Pop will eat itself!

TB: [laughs] That's right. But you're angry that they're making you angry, and you know you shouldn't be, but their manipulation and your knowledge of it is making you angry, etc.

AP: Exactly! You're angry, and therefore they're winning, so stop being angry about it! Just do something about it, as opposed to just being angry. Yeah, you're right! It's eating itself, and dammit, it's farting in its own face! [laughs]

The lyrics also contain a little "Watch out for the whole Communism thing." Because I could see, in the late '70s, England polarizing a bit. You had people going more extreme right-wing, and more extreme left-wing. And [laughs] I'm not saying the right wing's better, because it's not, it's just as extreme! But, you know, the whole system in Russia and China looked very fucked-up to me, and if you went to any college or university, they'd all be sporting Che t-shirts and carrying Little Red Books and that sort of shit...

TB: Without thinking what that really would mean, and what would actually happen.

AP: Exactly. In fact, I heard a great phrase on the radio today -- "What's the difference between Capitalism and Communism? Capitalization means the exploitation of one man by another, and Communism means exactly the other way around." [laughs]

TB: [laughing] So, what prompted you to write the song? When we talked about "Complicated Game," you said you felt out of control in your career -- was this part of that?

AP: I think I just wanted an angry song. The more I thought about anger, and the nature of red -- seeing red, the red mist, the whole anger thing -- I thought, "Well, people are going to do this to you, and you've got to try not to see red, so you can defeat what they're trying to do to you. If they get you angry, they're winning!" Anger is okay sometimes, but it tends to hurt you more than it hurts them.

Plus, I wanted to write a song where we could be fucking noisy! I think we kind of achieved that. But hearing it today, I was struck by how reserved the guitar playing was. [laughs]

TB: You're right, the guitar is probably the most reserved of the four instruments!

AP: Yeah. I was just keen on keeping that rhythm powering along. And, you know, there is no keyboard on this track.

TB: Barry plays saxophone on this, right?

AP: He's playing sax. In fact that was the sax he took on tour, leaving behind his keyboards. I never found this out until we got going on the tour, and suddenly he's playing sax on a load of numbers. And it was like, "Oh my god, all these people have come along because they love those keyboards, and you've brought a sax along to the tour!"

TB: [laughing] That must have made for some interesting arrangements!

AP: Yeah! [laughs] "Crosswires" was really out there! Seriously.

Actually, I was kind of thrilled, but the trouble was, he couldn't really play the sax.

TB: When was this? Was this the tour after Go 2 was released?

AP: Well, it was certainly part of the tour to promote the album.

TB: So, how long did that last, before you said, "Get your keyboards back!"

AP: Do you know, I can't remember.

TB: Was it a matter of 30 shows or three shows?

AP: I think it was quite a few. And what was kind of shocking was the fact that he hadn't talked to anyone about it. He just turned up with it. I think we rehearsed, but we rehearsed with keyboards -- or we didn't need to rehearse, because it was straight out of the studio on to the road, and there you go. But he never discussed it with anyone. Or, if he had keyboards, it was like, "Well, I'm not going to play them on these songs. I'm going to play saxophone instead."

TB: That's a little more understandable.

AP: It was so long ago -- 30 years. Like I say, part of me was thrilled, because it was like, wow! It's a saxophone, and at best it sounded like some Albert Ayler or something. But at worst, it sounded like Barry trying to learn how to play a saxophone in a hurricane, in an underpass! Part of me thought, "Shit! We sound nothing like the record!"

TB: Well yeah, because keyboards fill out a much wider sonic space.

AP: Yeah, as opposed to a saxophone, where you've got one note at a time.

But all I can remember was the feeling of, "Oh my god, he's brought a saxophone, and suddenly all these songs that we were doing suddenly sound very different." I'm wondering if anyone's got any kind of bootleg recordings from that tour, with him on saxophone. Because I've never heard any live recordings with him on saxophone. But he certainly played it.

TB: It'll be interesting to see if anyone responds to that.

AP: Yeah. Well, returning to my dusty parchment here...

TB: That's a Country singer, isn't it?

AP: [laughs] Dusty Parchment? Yeah, didn't she do an album in Memphis? A really dry-sounding record.

TB: [laughing] Yeah, no reverb at all.

AP: "Dead Sea Scroll Over Beethoven" -- that was the lead track. "Hail, Hail Rock and Scroll."

Do you know, we recorded this in Studio 2 of Abbey Road, the Beatles' studio. We did the majority of the album in Studio 3, which is the smallest in the complex. But when it came to this, I said to John, "There's this one song, I really want it to be really noisy. It's got to sound really row-y." And he said, "Oh, I wonder if we could get Studio 2?" And I said, "What's Studio 2?" I didn't know the in's and out's of the whole Beatles thing, you know? I thought they all lived in one big house with four front doors -- that was about as complex as I got.

He said, "Well, it was the studio that the Beatles used for all their recordings. I wonder if I can pull a few strings, because I've still got a lot of contacts here." He used to be an in-house engineer there. "Let's see if we can get some days in Studio 2, because it's a lot more cavernous, and we can use a lot more ambient mic's and stuff. The track will sound a lot live-er, and more exciting."

So, we did. We packed up and moved down to Studio 2 for some time. And of course, I had no grasp that this was where the Beatles did all their recordings. And so, some of the engineers, and some of the "gear movers" -- I can't remember what they call them, but blokes in the sort of brown hardware-store coats that move all the gear around and set all the mic's up -- were saying, "Oh, you realize, that's the Beatles' harmonium, or that percussion was on such-and-such Beatles song."

To be honest, I wasn't that impressed. The Beatles to me still signified the past. I think I appreciated it much more in later years, when I got more into the songwriting thing, and I realized what an enormous debt I owed to the Beatles. Then I became more interested in the history and the more-technical side of them. But when we were doing Go 2, the Beatles just signified the past, and I wasn't interested. What an angry young man I was!

TB: Well, that's natural for that age, right?

AP: What an angry young woman I was at that age! Until I matured into a sensible, relaxed man.

TB: Yes. Now you're a MILF.

AP: [laughs] Yes! What was his name --[sings Sargeant Bilko theme] MILF-o! Sargeant MILF-o! What was his name? "The so-and-so show!" Because it wasn't called "Seargeant Bilko," was it.

TB: Oh ... uh -- Phil Silvers!

AP: Yeah! "Phil Silvers as Sergeant MILF-o! Your middle-aged hotsie isn't safe from him!" [laughs]

So, yeah, John Leckie was great. He swung it so we could go into a noiser studio. It wasn't that you could turn up louder; it was fact that when you did turn up louder, it reverberated more, and you could put mic's around, and pick up the drums hammering away, and the guitar hammering away, and use the ambience of these instruments all together to make a nice noise. I found that aspect of it very exciting. It was like, "Ooh, why can't all of our recordings be more like this?" I think that was kind of a nod toward where we should go next -- you know, the whole Drums and Wires thing.

TB: Yeah, you guys recorded "Are You Receiving Me?" after that, and that was also a step toward that bigger sound, right?

AP: Yeah, I think so. We tried that song in Studio 3, the smallest studio, but it didn't quite click. But going into Studio 2 to do "Red" was quite an ear-opener about the joy of ambience, you know?

TB: Did you guys play the song live in there?

AP: I think so. I mean, certainly guitar, bass and drums. Because it's the three of us -- as I say, there's no keyboard. I think Barry probably did one saxophone pass live, as we were playing, and then [laughs] he did a half-dozen others, and I think we ended up using them all! It was a case of, "Let's hear Take One." And we said, "Hmmm. It's okay. Take Two?" And so on. And then I think Barry said, "John, would you leave them all up, so we can hear what it's like with all of them?" So he left them all up, and we looked at each other and said, "That's it!" You know, it's like half a dozen maniacs on saxophones bursting into your house. It's like arguing cars -- which is why I used all the saxophone takes on the Take Away album as the arguing cars on "Work Away Tokyo Day." That's what it is -- it's "Day In, Day Out" guitars with all of the saxophones from "Red."

And funny enough, hearing it today for the first time in a long time, that whole track sounds like sort of Jazz version of The Stooges on Fun House. Maybe that's what pleased me about it at the time, because I was a big Stooges fan.

TB: Let's talk about the drums and bass.

AP: Terry did a good job on this one, but I thought when I heard it today how wrong the drums sounded on the chorus.

TB: Really? Why?

AP: They seem become halting.

TB: I think he does that on purpose, though.

AP: Oh yeah, I think you're right. But we didn't kick this song around too much in rehearsal, and I think we needed to have lived with it.

TB: It's because he goes from playing eighth notes on the hi-hat to quarter notes, right?

AP: Yep. And that seems to drop the propulsion terribly.

TB: This song must have a lot of fun to do live.

AP: Actually, it was never kind of noisy enough live! Because it was all the lovely ambience in Studio 2 -- you know, that's what it sounded like in there.

TB: Yeah, I guess the bodies in the club would soak that up, wouldn't they.

AP: Yeah, it just sort of sounded mattress-y live [laughs]. You could hear the rhythm alright, but it didn't have the clamor around it. And the clamor was very important.

TB: The bass part on this song is very defined. Was this something you took to Colin, or is it something you worked out during rehearsals?

AP: This would have been a thing where we kicked it around in rehearsals a half-dozen times or more. I don't remember having any particular requirements for him on the bass, so this was something that he worked up from the chords.

TB: So, you didn't come to him and say, "Look, I want it to be like this"?

AP: Nope, not at all. Not on this one. Some songs, it'd be, "Let's kick it around until it feels right." And then on others, it'd be, "You must play this to make it work."

TB: But you knew from the beginning you wanted it to be at this tempo? Because it's a pretty blistering speed.

AP: Oh yeah. It's angry, it's got to be fast. Yeah, Terry drums it very well. It's a fire-y tempo.

TB: What about the guitar?

AP: Well, it's that skanky, Reggae-at-78rpm thing. Most of the chords are sixths [draws out the "ths" sound] -- which is very difficult to say with borrowed teeth! It's E6 to C6 to B6 to A6.

But the first thing I came up with was that rolling thing [sings part guitar pattern that precedes him shouting "Red" at the end of the chorus]. My guitar playing was still heavily based in learning from Rory Gallagher. The band he had, Taste, had a lot of numbers with rolling riffs in them. Things like "What's Going On" or "Morning Sun." So, my hands kept falling into these rolling riffs -- which is a terrible beer. Never drink Rolling Riff. [laughs]

TB: But, obviously, it's not the way you decided to start the song. How about the end?

AP: We never knew what to do with the end of this. We worked up to this fever of noise, and I said to John, "Well, just turn the tape off, because I don't know how to end it." We turned off the tape, and John said, "Well, you've got all the reverb left over as well, so why don't I cut the tape?" So, it just kind of goes dead -- it just stops.

TB: And that's the end of the first side of the record.

AP: That's the end of the first side. It's a great ender for Side One, because it's like somebody's lifted the stylus up for you. "Get that noise off!" But it was a case of not knowing how the hell to end it. Because it was quite a new song, and we were getting into this explosive-noise thing that we didn't know how to get out of.

But, it's funny -- I was listening today, and although I wasn't nicking it consciously, I thought, "Shit, that could be our 'Helter Skelter'." [laughs] Or, it could be our "I Want You / She's So Heavy."

TB: Yeah, because that ends the same way. So, how did you end the song live?

AP: [laughs] I think it was just a matter of turning around look at Terry, and jumping in the air. Like I say, if somebody's got some bootleg recordings of those gigs with Barry on saxophone, I wouldn't mind hearing them, just to hear some of that wiry honkiness there.

5:07 PM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.