Saturday, May 18, 2013

Black and White-track by track

Thirty five years after the release of the band's third album Black and White, JJ revisits the album's tracks and associated b-sides:

Hugh's lyrics with my music I think. I can't remember much else about it. It's a hard one for Dave to play live, depending on where he is through his bottle of Cognac at the gig! The whole of the album was written (at Bear Shank Lodge) at Oundle and it was a very snowy winter. Everyone else went away for Christmas but I didn't cos I had nowhere to go. I was left at Oundle by myself.

Sleazy was written about our experiences with the Amsterdam Hells Angels in the autumn of '77. One of the Finchley Boys rode my Triumph over to Amsterdam and I went with the band. The Amsterdam Angels treated us very well, too well, and we ended up at their Chapter house, which had been donated by the Government to keep them out of town. After the Paradiso gig, I remember Jet going back to their club house on the back of a Harley. I went with the President of the Angels in his huge, American car and we got stopped by the Police. He gave me a large bag of white powder to look after while he got out of the car and went and pissed on the police car's front wheel! Back at their compound, we shot guns at a prison which was being built. Quite scary!

Outside Tokyo was completely Hugh, even the waltz music. Normally, all the waltzes were mine but I don't recall writing the music.

Again, my music and Hugh's lyrics. We'd had a few set to's in Sweden by then with the Raggare (Swedish 50s influenced youth movement who drove old American cars) and had already been escorted out of the country under armed guard, for our own safety.

By then, we'd heard Devo and we really thought they were on to something musically. I remember talking to Lora Logic from X Ray Spex (who guested on sax on the track) and telling her to feel free to play whatever she wanted on it. We wanted that musical freedom that Devo had on this track.

I was left to my own devices over that Christmas and that's how Toiler came about. Toiler was one of my epicy instrumental things. I had the whole piece, all the parts of it and, as the others were away, I actually started rehearsing it with Dennis from the Finchleys on drums. I remember going into the rehearsal studio there and trying to get him to play the drums on it.

When Hugh got back after Christmas, he had a bit of a bad holiday. He'd gone with a Japanese girl to Morocco and he added his very recent story to my music when he came back after the break.

The lyrics are mine. We were going through a Cold War spell at the time and it was just me imagining how it would be if the Russians actually made it through to the West. There was a general fear that the Cold War was going to escalate into an invasion. We'd gone to Germany and realised that, at the time, Germany was completely inthralled with the Americans. They had lost their strength and had gone very pacifist. There are references to the 'American dream'. So, the song was imagining what would happen if it all kicked off...

Musically, we thought we'd be clever as we added one 5/4 bar into the song.

Threatened was another of my lyrics with Hugh's music. One night I went out with some people and they had opinions about everything, they were all too opinionated. I thought if it doesn't threaten you, what's the point in having a fucking opinion about something? Basically that was the idea behind the song.

My music and Hugh's lyrics and Dave's amazing vocals. I don't remember him explaining the meaning of the lyrics to me at the time. Definitely my riff though.

Death and Night and Blood was completely me, the title comes from a quote from Yukio Mishima. He was full of contradictions, he was homosexual but was married with kids, he was a highly rated writer but he wanted to make a statement with his body, which he did by becoming a body builder and taking up karate and kendo. He was also slightly misogynistic and leaning towards the fascistic.

He also had his own private army The Shield Society which enabled him to get access to a General's office at army headquarters and to incite the Japanese 'Self Defence Force' (as they weren't allowed to be called an 'army') into action. He barricaded himself in the office and then addressed the gathered troops but his speech was drowned out by the sound of helicopters and the soldiers jeering. He went back inside and commited suicide by Hari Kari.

At the time, (Julie) Burchill and (Tony) Parsons wrote a book called The Boy Looked At Johnny and in it they described me as a 'Nazi, homosexual thug'! That's unfair, I'm not a thug!!! They were part of the Socialist Workers and, in their minds, if you weren't with them, you're a fascist. That was typical of them really...

In The Shadows started as a jam, which was originally twice as long as the finished version. It was a piece of improvisation went on for about 12 or 15 minutes! I spent about 12 hours with Martin Rushent in the studio editing it down. I also wanted to add a dub reggae type feel so there were delays and cutting in and out added on to it.

We actually improvised the lyrics which were about paranoia and fear. We wanted it to sound like Captain Beefheart which was why we sang in low voices. It was originally released as the b side of No More Heroes and was a taster for what was coming next. We felt it fitted the whole album concept of Black and White as it felt dark and 'late at night' so we included it on the album too. I liked it as it was something new, a real departure for us...

This was about the same paranoia, about how we felt about the times that we were living in, the zeitgeist. In fact, the whole of Black and White was quite paranoic. It was also fueled by the fact that we'd had all that success the year before, and we were now getting slated by the press. That fed into our general consciousness, it was us against the world!

The morse code solo at the end reads 'SOS. This is planet Earth. We are fucked. Please advise'. We thought we'd be clever and include morse code to send that message out...

We played it live on the tour at the time, but I'm not sure how managed to do it. We tried rehearsing it for the Weekendinblack convention in 2011 but we just couldn't get it together. It's one of the very few things that I don't know how we originally constructed it...


We didn't write it! Walk On By was a leftover from the days when we had to play cover versions. We'd play our own songs but, before people started throwing bottles, we throw something in that they knew! The solo section became a vehicle where we could extend our musicianship and it got longer and longer. Everyone played a solo in it and that became a trademark in some of our other songs in the future, like Genetix, where the four of us are playing totally different things. The instrumental section was a nod to Light My Fire by The Doors, that was the template that we used for the solo piece.

We used Tits as our weapon when something went wrong or against us! We'd circle the wagons and give people what they don't want. The song was taking the piss out of everything and it worked for us on occasion. We used it against the Finchleys when they tried intimidating us at the Torrington that first time. We weren't been forced off stage like they'd done with other bands. We also did it at the Roundhouse when we supported Patti Smith the first time. Old school sabotage...

A basic bit of rock and roll because we were just a rock and roll band originally. We had no pretentions and it's an unpretentious rock and roll song with misogynistic lyrics from Hugh. We did a version with Celia Gollin. Dai Davies came up with the idea us working with Celia and to lend our kudos and musicianship to this girl he was trying to push. He wanted me to write songs with her, one of which featured Wilko (Johnson) too..

This was a blues type song which came about because we were pleasantly surprised having just met George Melly. We'd met him making an Arena programme for BBC2 where he had described us as the 'inheritors of Dadaism'. Hugh wrote the lyrics for him specifically for him to sing, with references to his self-confessed sexuality of previous years. During the recording at TW studios, with Lew Lewis (harmonica player), he also surprised us getting out a small tin and rolling spliffs! We didn't expect a bloke of his generation or ilk to be like that. It was all very chummy and we kept in touch with him for a few years...

An inoffensive little song with my lyrics about a girl. We wanted to do the fastest song we could ever do. Punk by numbers, tongue in cheek and a bit throwaway really...

The title is a play on words, with Hugh's lyrics about social secretaries at colleges who wouldn't book us. It also relates to the well documented Rock Goes To College incident which was considered commercial suicide at the time. The track went on to become Yellowcake UF6 although the riff also resurfaced on Do The European as I was working on Euroman Cometh at the time.

JJB/18th May 2013


  1. Cheers JJ. Really appreciate getting your thoughts on these things! Black and White is a perfect album! Light and shade, rough and smooth, serious and frivolous, awesome!
    Hope your knee is healing well.
    Best wishes.

  2. Dave's vocal are indeed amazing on "Do You Wanna?" - it's high time you got him to sing some more new songs!! :)

  3. Really great to read this explanation of each song on my favorite Stranglers record. I'm especially impresses that JJ can recall everything with such detail. I sure cannot remember things that vividly from 1977.

  4. This was 1 of 2 albums I listened to when writing 'Rage'.
    Just knew it was special! Thanks for the insights, JJ!

  5. top album,some contradictions in there,but memories tend to wander over the years,but still the best band ever in my humble opinion,and black and white is thunderous and violent in its entirety,absolute class from moment one,too the epic slow down and stop on enough it.

  6. Thanks for colouring-in Black & White JJ. It's great to learn of the background to the band's songs. We all have great affection for them, so your words make for a very interesting read.

    See you in Toronto,


  7. Thanks for the storys behind the songs. Im always facinated to hear what was going on in your minds when you wrote such excelent material.

  8. Do You Wanna sounds like it maybe Hugh reflecting on America a bit....lots of US vernacular in there..."muffler'..."on the range'...

    It's interesting, and a little perplexing, that the two were so close but rarely asked each other about lyrics.

  9. A lifetime ago..and just like yesterday...well some of it in March actually. Cheers JJ

  10. really great to read jj as allways very intresting to find out new stuff about the band hope you r getting better take care mikeinblack.

  11. A classic album and in my opinion the Stranglers best!The originality and energy has never been surpassed - by anyone!

  12. Loved the album find it hard to believe threatened was based around narrow minded bigots thinking they know everything. Oh yes this is the Stranglers and jj input! !

  13. I remember vividly, buying this album as a kid, it was the first 'proper'album I'd bought and I played it to death, definitely The Stranglers finest work in my opinion, I found it quite confrontational at the time, it was creepy and dark and addictive.

  14. When my mother heard enough time she translated the morse and thought the band were cool. God bless her

  15. Nobody could do it nowadays . Coldplay would not know where to start I cannot think of anyone current who,s anywhere near

  16. Must add that the bass sound is as good as it gets on this album. Intoxicatingly good.

  17. To open with 'Tank' was spot on. Driving and swirling. Dramatic explosions. Yeah!

  18. My favourite Stranglers album containing my all time favourite Stranglers track " toiler on the Sea "
    thanks for sharing J.J.
    All the best for the future

  19. Matt safari BrignallMay 20, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    A good read.The first post punk album,this album still sounds as good as ever, like a fine wine.

  20. I was obsessed with the Stranglers when B&W came out, so when I saw 4 huge cardboard cut outs of the band in a record shop in Dundalk (Ireland) I was very excited. Couldn't get the shop owner to give them to me though...I remember Peel played the whole album, and complained about the amount of coverage the band were getting in Iceland. Happy days.

  21. One of my favourite albums back in the day. Got it on vinyl and bought it again remastered on CD. Interested on the comments for each track- thanks JJ, makes me feel 16 again! By the way excellent tour this year, caught up with you in Salisbury (5th time seeing you guys) and by far the best! Keep it up!

  22. One of the best albums of all time, that's in black and white!

  23. 'Toiler on the sea'....those keyboards...aural beauty...I used to stick my finger on the LP to hear what it sounded like slowed down...feckin great by the way...To hear it live is a privilege indeed...I used to have cardboard figures of the band...signed by them...from the Black and White album and I stuck them up on the common room wall in school like a right fanny...course they vanished faster than a rat up a drainpipe...or down a sewer...could have stuck myself on the end of a skewer...George Melly eh?...will someone please tell me what the hell it means when he sang "Shave 'em dry?"...I dread to think but surely to gawd it cannot be some horrible kinky body hair removal that results in a hideous burning sensation? I am really enjoying these blogs on the different albums and the insight into what was going on in the lives of the band members at the time! Much worse than I thought! I always knew Hugh's book was far too....sterile? I refused to believe that leer in his voice did not spill over into his private life and that of the band...onstage like a flasher in that trenchcoat and lusting after schoolgirls? C'mon...geeza break as we say in dear auld Glesga toon! That book was put through the washing cycle and came out as white as snow :D

  24. Bloody splendid article, thanks!

  25. What about the white vinyl, 45 RPM, that came with the album?

  26. ^^^^^^^^^^ Doh!

  27. The white EP featured 3 tracks: Walk On By, Tits and Mean To Me which are all explained in JJ's post...

  28. So good to read - couldn't have known which direction the band would take: it worked perfectly. I was 17 & wanted to dress like Jet Black on the cover. So I did. Threatened - we all know people who think they know it all like that. Great JJ - thanks. Song by Song's good too though people. Marco

  29. Marco-no one's saying Song By Song isn't a good read. JJ's album track blogs are his own personal views of the songs, just as SBS are Hugh's...

  30. In reply to ileen on 21st May "Shave em Dry" was an old negro euphemism for screwing without any foreplay! The original version was recorded by Lucille Bogan in the mid 1930's and is still available

  31. In reply to Eileen at 21st May a song called "shave em Dry" was recorded by Lucille Bogan in the mid 1930's I saw George Melly do his version of this in clubs in the 70's when he had had a few! - It is very risqué. The term is an old coloured euphemism for screwing without any foreplay The Lucille Bogan version is still available and you will get some idea of it if I quote the first couple of lines. She sings - I got nipples on my titties as big as my thumb
    I got something between my legs will make a dead man come. It continues in that vein