Monday, April 23, 2012

Rattus Norvegicus-track by track

Thirty five years after the release of the band's debut album Rattus Norvegicus, JJ revisits the album's tracks:

This was one of my bass riffs. The opening line was about Hugh's inability to control his temper with his girlfriend at the time, Caroline. If I recall, it was based on a Doors song 'Love Her Madly' from the LA Woman album. It's kind of that feel...

It was mainly my lyrics, it was Hugh's chords. It was a 6/8, a kind of weird double-waltz time. I wrote the lyrics. There was a nuclear power plant near Toulouse and, at the time, we were swapping all our Nostradamus books around each other. He claimed that there was going to be an explosion in Toulouse. Then I wove in some medieval story about some beautiful girl in Toulouse who was paraded on her balcony. The lyrics were mine.

London Lady was a Hugh riff as well with my lyrics. It was a synthesis of a few ladies that we were meeting at the time, one of them being Caroline Coon. She was a journalist for the Melody Maker who was a champion of the Pistols and the Clash, who'd come on to me at some point. It wasn't about one particular woman, it was a kind of synthesis of lots of women.

Princess Of The Streets I wrote entirely. I thought Hugh's guitar lick on it was brilliant. It was a bluesy thing about my ongoing relationship with Choosey Susie at the time. She'd dumped me again, once more!

A lot of people thought that whoever sang the song, wrote the lyrics, which was not the case, certainly not on Rattus. I wrote most of the lyrics to Hanging Around, and the chords. Hugh came up with the actual 'hanging around' lyric but I did most of the verses. I wrote it when I was staying with Choosey Susie in Finborough Road in Earl's Court, when she was doing her nursing training. Just around the corner, in Brompton Road, was the Coleherne Pub and on the other side was Boltons. The Coleherne was more for the leather gays and Boltons was for the traditional campy ones. Outside the Coleherne, there was a bus stop and you'd see guys coming off the bus with motorcyle helmets and leather jackets. Susie and I walked in there one day to be confronted by the doors being locked after us by a huge guy in a leather jacket and leather cap who was blocking it. There was no turning back! We had half a pint in there getting stared at. The first time I walked in there, by accident, I was quite impressed and slightly intimidated actually.

We had a little 500 watt PA and, just to augment any income whatsoever, we hired it out for a reggae night which I think it was in Acton Town Hall. We went there with Choosey Susie on Saturday afternoon to set it up alongside another PA which had loads of bass speakers. I remember distinctly that we were the only whites there. While we were setting up, the was a whole group of black guys passing a spliff around. We hung around them but the spliff got passed by us as if we were invisible. My over-riding impression, because it was dub and toasting, where they talk over a bass and drums rhythm, with a delay on the snare. I remember going back to Chiddingfold and thinking I'd never heard bass so dominant before. I thought it was fantastic, it blew my mind. It was all about space. Lots of bands were doing lots of notes very fast. Next day I came up with this riff as I had to do something similar in that vein. Over the next few weeks, we developed it and Hugh wrote the lyrics suiting his penchant...

Get A Grip On Yourself was entirely Hugh... You can refer to the 'bible' (Ed: Song By Song) if you want to know.

I think I wrote Ugly entirely, the riff and the lyrics. I wanted it to sound like a Dr Feelgood thing at the time. Of course, every time we tried to emulate something, it ended up being Strangled! We always missed the point. With Peaches, we missed the point as well. We wanted to make it a reggae thing but the snare wasn't on the reggae beat, the third beat. We always got it wrong but somehow it worked. Ugly was just a rant about money and poverty and about how the ugliest blokes in the world, as long as they've got lots of money, always end up with glamourous women. I don't know how that works!

Down In The Sewer developed over quite a period of time. I had the original riff, which was more like a Beefheart thing. I remember writing that when Choosey Susie and I went to Normandy for Christmas to visit my grandparents. I had my bass with me in a really heavy wooden case that Jet had actually made for me. I took that with me and came up with the original Sewer bass riff. I wanted it to be more like a Beefheart thing like Rockette Morton did. Then we added bits over the course of about a year. I added the melody. Hugh wrote the lyrics which were great I thought.

That's an old story. I wrote it when I was fifteen. It's a marriage of Hendrix's 'Hey Joe', which was a big hit when I was fifteen, and the Beach Boys and I stuck them together. It was about one of those sad little school dances that we used to got to when you tried actually making contact with a female and they'd look down their noses at you!

Choosey Susie was about my then girlfriend Susie. It's based on a riff which we've used before 'All Day And All Of The Night'. It was also nicked from the Kinks by the Doors for 'Hello I Love You', which they got sued for. Choosey Susie is the same...

JJB/23rd April 2012


  1. Peaches has a lot to answer for! I heard it on the radiogram and just stopped in my tracks. I don't think I'd ever even heard a bass guitar before that. It changed my life - quite literally.

    From then on I was a bass player and have played to this day in many bands on many stages. Cheers JJ!

  2. Thanks JJ for the insight and interesting anecdotes, hope to see you in Tuckers at some point, give my regards to Baz ;) Dave

  3. Cheers for the insights JJ. Nice article, fantastic album. Such a strong debut. Toulouse is one of my all time favourites...

  4. of your fans here....billy from tyne and wear....this album rocks....when I first herd this I was a young lad in my teens.....and ever since hereing all the different sounds u had put together...for this album.....its must of been a class in its right....its just a good peice of favourite tracks has to be London lady and it.

  5. Great insight JJ...lived with this album when I was 15...just loved the bass growl ...
    needs to be reissued in a deluxe edition with a demos and rarities cd plus a dvd from the roundhouse...what do you reckon ?

  6. Peaches has a lot to answer for! I heard it on the radio and just stopped in my tracks. It changed my life - quite literally.

    From then on I was a bass player and have played to this day in many bands on many stages. Still playing a Fender........

  7. Remains one of the most important albums ever. love it to death.

  8. re PEACHES

    2 years ago my then 3 year old daughter asked me what peaches was about as we sat in our kitchen listening to rattus . After a couple of seconds i told her and then forgot about it.
    About 4 months later on our seaside hols we were both sat on a wall with our mini milks when a very attractive young lady walked by , without realising I began whistling the baseline to peaches when my little girl jumped off the wall with her hands on her hips and shouted "daddy dont look at the ladies bottom!" to be fair the young lady turned round but flashed a nice smile , cost me another mini milk not to tell mom though .

  9. lovely mate x
    good on yer
    totally epic record

  10. Brilliant to hear the stories behind the songs. When I first bought the album I just used to play it, volume cranked up - as a teenage punk I didn't appreciate the numerous subtle influences going into the mix.

    Although 1977 was the year anything lasting longer than 3 minutes was frowned on in punk circles, Rattus had so much energy and darkness it was a cut above. The climax of Down in the Sewer is a pure adrenaline rush.

    All of these songs have stood the test of time. I saw The Stranglers playing Dunfermline earlier this year and the old and the new blended perfectly in the set. Giants is up there with any of the previous albums.

  11. I still play this album at least once a week...Never get tired.


  12. I'm quite glad all the songs got strangled. This made them original. As you said it worked out in the end and for the best I'm sure. Thanks for the info.

  13. As John Peel said at the time of the 1st session on hearing Something Better Change, that in fact it was and not a bad thing too.

    I swapped Anarchy in the UK & MC5's Kick out the Jams to get Choosey Susie. My local record store didn't get any of the red sleeves with their delivery.

    The MiBs had already taken a Grip on my life. Didn't realise how long this would run for though.

    Pure brilliance

  14. jj you are responsible for my lifetime affair with the bass.simply the best bass player of the punk era ...ta mate!

  15. Lovely read.Yeah, you certainly influenced a lot of aspiring bass players during that period, JJ. "Dead ringer", from your live X-cert album, completely blew my mind and was one of the first I learned when I started out in my own punk band.
    Thanks for all good songs. /MiLi

    Btw, I hope you write something about the Black & White album too.

  16. Since i bought "Rattus" in 1978 (1st copy on cassette!) Down In The Sewer has been my favourite track released by anyone ever! I doubt that will ever change! The band i play drums in finished recording an album on friday and Bod (one of the bass players....we have two!) made a reference to the last track of it being our "Down In The Sewer" and although it doesn't sound like it there is a three part structure to the track with a crescendo ending!

  17. What brilliant information. This album introduced me to the Stranglers and Ihave never looked back. I have had the pleasure of seeing them many times,and never dissappointed...Fantastic.....(Steph Hansell, Newcastle upon Tyne)

  18. Gotta echo Mick's sentiments! Heard Peaches played as a "novelty" song at a working mens club disco and thought "whatever's making that noise, I want one"!. I was 12ish and haven't put the bass down since!

  19. Playing (rather drunken) chess the iher night with me mate, we had LA Woman on, I remarked how this album must have influenced the lads. Nice to be right for a change, ta! (Oh and I lost dispite being a queen and two bishops up, blame the brandy).

  20. Thanks for insight JJ. I played the album daily, like eating breakfast! To this day it stands as one of the finest recordings I have heard. Certainly a life changing moment from musical perspective. Thank you for the opportunity to hear and see live, such amazing tracks.

  21. ever since lending the album from a punk school mate back in 77 , i was hooked , i now have three copies of the album on plastic as well as on cassett and cd.
    the soundtrack to my life since 77 , thanks guys for some great times, giants is up there with the best, seen you in newcastle recently , great gig and set list, power charged performance as always , thanks

  22. Thanks JJ for the stories behind the songs on Rattus. My biggest regret as a Stranglers fan is that Rattus was not my first album. The first Stranglers song I heard on the radio was The Raven (when The Stranglers IV album was released over here in Canada). I would have loved to heard Rattus from start to finish as my first introduction to the band.

    John Pidgeon

  23. Great Stuff.I first Heard Rattus when I was 10 on a Hacker record player in our front room.My brother was a fan at the time,and we fought like cat and dog,so I said to him at the time I hated It,when In fact it was the reverse I loved It.Sewer Is probably my fav stranglers song up to now (Freedom Is Insane May replace It).Even though the production Is a bit dated.Rattus Is just an iconic masterpiece.A dark Acid filled Physcho Prog punk record of malevolent darkness.There will never be anything to rival it (except Giants).Fantastico.

  24. Rattus remains one of the all time great albums
    the only slight downside being the end bit on Princess was not included but you made up for that years later.
    Can't think of any other band with such a strong debut LP

  25. Take heart JJ... all those women who went for the geeks? I lost my favorite girl (and fiance) to a JJ look-alike. When we met I was wearing a Stranglers T that I made myself. I was tall, and dark, and some would say handsome... but he had more of each and was the spitting image of you, who she always told me she had a crazy crush on. C'est la vie!

    PS: I hope you visit Toronto for this 'last' tour! It's weird how the Stranglers archive has followed the arc of my own life!

  26. Not only my favourite Stranglers album but also my favourite album of all time, period! The biggest influence on my Bass playing,I Remember hearing the opening lines to Toulouse for the first time,Absolutley blown away and it still astounds me, The Shuker signature Bass is by far the best ive ever owned.

  27. I first heard Peaches on an old radio (capital?) whilst in the bath one night and had never heard anything like it. Loved the bass sound. Decided to seek out the album that weekend. My mum threatened to throw me out of the house if I dared buy a record by a band called The Stranglers. Somewhat bemused, I asked why and she said that they must hate women as only women are ever strangled. I still bought it, played it and carried on living at home for a few years. Only recently acquired it on CD, following my renewed enthusiasm following the Roundhouse gig and Giants in March, and it still sounds just as good. Thankyou!

  28. The Stranglers had a lot to answer for as being a seminal influence on many musicians and artists all over - after seeing the new line-up play last month, I believe they may still have something left in the TANK !

  29. Rattus mon album préféré, un chef d'oeuvre, toute ma jeunesse !!!!
    un grand merci à jean-Jacques pour toutes ces explications
    D'autre part le concert 2012 à Paris fabuleux j'ai pourtant un peu vieilli depuis le premier concert des Stranglers auquel j'ai assisté à Paris en 1979 The Raven Tour je crois ?, le nouveau CD GIANT extraordinaire.
    Bref les Stranglers un très très grand groupe.
    mille merci !!!

  30. I remember seeing Go Buddy Go on Top Of The Pops in '77 when I was 12.
    The effect that the band had on me is still as strong 35 years on as it was back then.

  31. Top album, stands the test of time, pure quality. Mind you I think Giants is great; my dad introduced me to the Stranglers way back when I was 16, am old now (26). Fantastic album, wish I was around in the late 70's when this was 'happening' soooooo much better than the shit I grew up with. Thanks for the insights into the individual songs & lyrics, well interesting. Long may the Stranglers rock! Melanie x

  32. This is a lovely extension and partial correction of Hugh's Song by Song.I think it also shows JJ's respect for the man.

    The Choosey Susie bits and bobs I always love as this song often gets neglected. I am the fortunate owner of a multi signed copy which JJ has inscribed with various info about her over the last 30 years or so.

    JJ the man is a legend!

  33. Great, great album. I remember it being played at school a lot, and then I picked up the cassette on sale in '78 in Crawley, and played it around the house, and in the garden on the family's portable cassette player. If I am not mistaken Peaches was re-released around '78-79, and I remember getting the picture sleeve single with a pair of tight female panties being stretched over a fulsome peach!

  34. 35 years on from the album being released I was flying over to America with Ugly playing on my ipod and in amongst it I discovered a new brilliant Dave Greenfield embellishment within the song that I'd never noticed before and I couldn't get it out of my head for the rest of the trip...not that I wanted to. The album that keeps on giving. Phil Steer

  35. Melodious and inspiring ...the background music..the theme tunes to my early teenage years...cannot explain the emotions that Rattus evokes but it is more than just nostalgia...identity..I think...

  36. I was 14 when this album came out. Loved every sound on it. Went with a bunch of mates to see the Stranglers at the Glasgow Apollo. Still love Rattus. Loved it all then, love it all now. btw the support act was The Skids.

  37. I heard Rattus I started playing bass nuff said

  38. I first heard in 77 when my sister recorded it for me on a C-90 (Yeah ... I know). Her vinyl must have stuck and the instrumental in Sewer repeated the same couple of seconds for about two minutes till it jumped. Thing is, it didn't sound wrong, as if it was meant that way and it was only when I got the vinyl myself a couple of years later, I realised it wasn't supposed to sound like it had. Must have played it every night for years like that.

    (My review of the gig at the 02 Birmingham is on


  39. Just re-introduced myself to one of the greatest albums ever having seen it in HMV on CD. So good to read JJs insight into the history and brings back many memories and emotions. Caught the Giants tour at Rock City in Nottingham - "Sometimes" was simply amazing. I was 17 again although the next day my knees reminded me I was 50!

  40. I can't believe the album is 35 years old! My god where has my life gone??
    Anyway, this is 1 of the best albums ever from 1 of the best groups ever!
    That bass sound was way ahead of it's time!
    Real men make a bass sound like this!!
    PhilthyPhil - Manchester

  41. first stranglers song i heard was 5 mins , think it was on tiswas one sat morning it blew me away bought it the same day along with blondies denis but 5 mins was all i played day and night. then my uncle asked if id swap him denis for another stranglers record i handed denis over with no hesitation and he came back with the rattus album then that album was played constantly day and night still a classic and the stranglers giants gig at the O2 birmingham was brilliant they just get better and better with time

  42. Bought it when it came out, loved it bought every album, single, DVD, badge, T shirt you name it....a fan for life.....only regret is Hugh leaving as I believe the original line up still had too much to offer....nevertheless went to the Newcastle gig this year my 39th stranglers gig and loved it....looking forward to 40... Russ in Durham

  43. This is my first vinyl album. The review in the spanish magazine "Vibraciones" described each song talking about sensations more than describing the music itself in a way that I was sure I will love it. Sure, that will be my first vinyl ever. And, believe me, the first time I heard the album it was on showcase just when I stepped in that Record shop in Burgos by first time and I knew immediately that it was The Stranglers playing.

    After 35 years is still my favorite one and that first copy is unusable (died from abuse) but I have it in my selves the same. But isn´t alone, by today I have 5 different vinyl editions of Rattus and 4 or 5 in CD also.

  44. I remember exactly where I was when I heard my first Stranglers song in '77. A bit like a Kennedy news moment. Listening to the Robin Valk show on BRMB radio one night in Brum I was in the bath and Grip came on (no it wasn't my birthday!). I sat bolt upright totally amazed at a sound I had never heard before. At the first opportunity (money was tight)I bought the album. 35 years later, a convention, many gigs under my belt and all the albums/CDs in my collection, I still love this band more than any other. The knot in my stomach whenever I buy tickets for a live gig is amazing. Long may they perform. Musical Geniuses!