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Prior to First And Last And Always


"But, Roger, why have you called our record 'Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat'? That's got nothing to do with us."

"Bill, if it hasn't it should have; without those three ingredients pop music is nothing. All great pop music, from John Lee Hooker to the Bay City Rollers, from Captain Beefheart to Augustus Pablo, from the Buzzcocks to Johnny Kidd And The Pirates has it. 'Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat', it's rock'n'roll; rule number one, and don't forget it."

Bill Drummond (quoting Roger Eagle), Brutality, religion and a dancebeat


Most of these notes by Chris Sampson; random additional ramblings by Oliver Duke-Williams. Errors supplied by the local off-license.

Early songs

NB: These songs are listed in rough chronological order, but they have been rearranged in some cases.

The Damage Done

"Hard to find and even harder to listen to" - Andrew Eldritch

The Sisters debut single was a three track 7 inch-only affair. The guitars were recorded through a three watt practice amp, and the bass part was played on the same six string as the lead. Eldritch - famously "the worst drummer in town" - played drums. Badly. Not surprisingly the resultant recordings are appalling - with hindsight a few guitar riffs show promise, but there is little here that hints of later glories. That John Peel polluted the nation's airwaves with this is probably more indicative of poor quality control on the early 80s Peel Show than any genius for talent spotting at Peel Acres. Perhaps the most important result of this single was the establishment of the band's Merciful Release record company and the experience gained by recording and producing their own record and getting the thing into the shops and on the radio.

The official Sisters chronology cites the band line-up as Andrew Eldritch (drums, guitar) and Gary Marx (guitar, vocals). This seems to be an example of Eldritch's selective amnesia as a detailed listen reveals that Eldritch sings on The Damage Done, with Marx handling vocals on Watch and Home of the Hitmen. Whether this indicates anything about who wrote lyrics is open for conjecture. None of the lyrics to these songs appears in the official lyric book.

For Spiggy

The run-off groove has the inscription "For Spiggy". Spiggy was Eldritch and his then girlfriend's cat. Unfortunately the cat went the same way as the relationship, and was found one day a mess of blood and guts on the unforgiving Leeds tarmac. Incidentally, if that copy you've just paid 200 quid for doesn't have the inscription then it's a fake. Tough.

The Damage Done

The phrase is possibly inspired by Neil Young's The Needle and the Damage Done

The Royal Ballet on a blitzkrieg bop

NB: The line is not very clear; I think that this is what the lyric is...

Blitzkrieg Bop is the title of a Ramones song; the line would seem to be about debasment of high culture: deliberate? accidental? to be regretted? to be hoped for? Maybe just a line written by someone who thought it would sound good, and/or liked the idea of shagging a ballerina.

This is the way the world will end

From the famous couplet in T S Eliot's The Hollow Men: "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper"

External links

  • HyperRust - a comprehensive Neil Young website.

  • T.S. Eliot - links to most poems, plus essays and biographical information.

  • The Ramones - a rather graphically intensive site, but with plenty of information.

  • More information about the Royal Ballet than you can shake a tutu at.

Watch

No references that require explanation

Home Of The Hitmen

aluminium

The last word of the first line is `aluminium'; the pronounciation perhaps being unusual for those used to the traditional American pronounciation of the word. This is of course the internationally accepted correct spelling, but before British readers start feeling too smug about this they should note that, horrifically, the correct spelling of the sixteenth element is `sulfur'.

Body Electric

Contemporary cashflow problems at Merciful Release meant that the Sisters second single was released on the CNT label out of York. CNT (Confederacion National de Trabajo) was the name of an anarchist worker's collective which was active in the Spansih Civil War. The cover features Francis Bacon's excellent Head VI, one of a series of Bacon pictures based on Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Musically and lyrically, Body Electric/Adrenochrome represent a significant advance on the Damage Done single. Dr Avalanche (Drums) and Craig Adams (Bass) had been recruited along with some decent equipment, and the furious, intense, thrilling wall of noise was impressive enough to bag the `Single of the Week' slot in the Melody Maker.

Body Electric

The title is taken from Walt Whitman's poem I sing the Body Electric.

Idiot Children

I have a suspicion that this is a phrase from some ultra-famous Shakespeare soliliquy. ??Clarification??

External links

Adrenochrome

Adrenochrome is a schizophrenia-inducing drug produced by oxidising adrenalin. It was famously featured in Hunter S Thompson's ripped-to-the-tits road novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Despite the sale and purchase of this drug being legal in the UK, the authors really wouldn't recommend taking any unless you really want to.

The Catholic girls now, stark in their dark and white

Nuns, obviously, and their black and white habits.

Not black and red boys

Possibly a reference to Stendhal's novel Le Rouge et Le Noir

Anaconda

Not a classic Sisters single being let down by thin production, Anaconda tends to be a weak link in the string of vintage material released in 82 and 83. Perhaps the unreleased but powerful Good Things would have been a better choice of single, with Anaconda on the B side. However, Anaconda does have a strong lyric - a horrific tale of the destruction of a woman by Heroin addition. Both Alice and Anaconda seem to advise caution in one's drug usage. This caring attitude has been ditched in more recent songs; at the Brixton Academy show on 9 June 97 Anaconda was followed by War On Drugs with the comment "but in the grand scheme of things...who cares?".

(cover image)

The cover is adapted from that of the Alice Cooper album Billion Dollar Babies. The original is designed to look like a giant snakeskin wallet, with gatefold versions of the sleeve opening up to show the interior of the wallet.

Baby buy the number three

No idea. ??Clarification??

Baby shoot Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is the chemical used to preserve bodies after death.

Good Things

Good Things was recorded for a Peel session first broadcast in September 1982. It has not had a formal release, which is disappointing, as the song stands comparison with comtemporary songs such as Body Electric and Adrenochrome.

Alice - single

Utterly fabulous. A ripsnorting, heady mix of razor-sharp riffing, a battery of tactical attack drumming and crazed, urgent vocals. The Sisters' power is under control and focussed, targets are sighted and dispatched with ruthless panache. One of the all-time great singles. Undoubtedly, much of the credit for the brilliance of this record goes to the Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton, who produced the record, and taught Eldritch that there's more to this production lark than turning all the sliders up to 11.

(cover image)

The cover picture is a version of Nu bleu (IV) by Henri Matisse.

Mein Irisch Kind, Wo weilest du?

This quotation is scratched onto the run-off groove. This translates to English as "My Irish child, where are you now?", or "...where do you rest now?" It's from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, and is quoted in T.S.Eliot's The Wasteland (lines 32-33). Eldritch refers to this quote in UTR 8: "The mentally wayward child of the Goethe quote is of course, Alice". I assume Eldritch meant Wagner instead of Goethe.

Im Westen nichts Neues

Again, this is scratched into the run-off groove. It is the title of a novel by Erich Maria Remarque about a day in the life of a soldier in the First World War. The literal translation is 'In the west, nothing new', though 'All quiet on the western front' is the more usual translation. Eldritch again refers to this in UTR 8: "I borrowed it to reflect the lyrics to Floorshow in a certain sense. Someday I may write a long piece on the tenuous relationship between disco music and the Great War, but it's a long story...".

External links

Alice

Alice in her party dress

Alice is partly inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and partly by Jefferson Airplane's alleged hippy `classic' White Rabbit. Drugs and innocence being the themes.

Pass the crystal spread the tarot / In illusion comfort lies

"Black magic is a way of covering up the inability of making any intelligent comment. Like the reference to Tarot on the new single says: "In illusion comfort lies" which means black magic is just another illusion that people use to wrap themselves up in and hide from the real world." - Eldritch, Sounds 1982.

Floorshow

The bodies on the naked on the low damp ground

A reference to T S Eliot's The Wasteland, line 193: "White bodies naked on the low damp ground". The white bodies in the Eliot poem are corpses.

In the Violet Hour
Again, this is taken from The Wasteland, line 220: "...the violet hour, the evening hour that strives homeward..."

Slow Slow Quick Quick Slow

This is the rhythm of the quickstep.

The Reptile House EP

Notes supplied by Chris Sampson and a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

"Use sparingly. Hide all sharp objects." - Adam Sweeting, Melody Maker.

The Reptile House EP was released in May 1983 and marked a considerable and significant change of style for the Sisters. Previous singles (Body Electric, Alice, Anaconda) had established a furious, intense wall-of-sound as the Sisters' modus operandi. As a sharp contrast, the Reptile House presented a suite of five slow, massively disturbing songs. Allegedly recorded single-handedly by Eldritch (though there is evidence that Craig Adams wrote the bass lines to some of the songs), the songs are characterised by stark, tense drum patterns, and brutally sharp guitar riffs, over which Eldritch laid his reverb-heavy baritone vocals. The Reptile House also heralded Eldritch's maturing as lyricist - here the Eliot quotes are woven into a coherent theme, the tension of the music reflected in the sinister, sinistra, lyrics, which are sung with (a frankly scary) relish. Though this new facet to Eldritch's songwriting appeared fully formed, it can be justifiably said that without the pioneering work done on The Reptile House, Floodland would have sounded a much different record. If you're in the right mood then this could be the Sisters' finest record. The menace of these songs persists to this day, and it is always revealing to take a look at the audience response when Burn or Kiss is performed live; the distress is almost tangible.

It is unfortunate that the glossary compilers do not have access to any contemporary Eldritch interviews which would give insight on the Vonmeister's thoughts on The Reptile House lyrics; in the absence of such illumination the following explanations are offered.

Kiss the Carpet

The song's use of a woman as a metaphor for amphetamines is all too obvious. I'm not aware of any references in this song.

Lights

The lights shine clear...red turns green

The lights are clearly meant to be traffic lights.

Ignore the voices ... but there's a voice in the distance...

Disembodied voices appear in other Sisters songs, for example Bury Me Deep and Marian. Hearing voices is a classic sign of schizophrenia, a condition which can be exagerrated by massive drug abuse.

Sodium haze

Street lamps often emit an orange light, presumably the result of the sodium composition of their filament.

Valentine

The razor bites and the shriek subsides / he arches clutching at his sides.

The opening couplet is taken from T S Eliot's 1920 poem Sweeney Erect, the eighth verse of which reads:

"Tests the razor on his leg
Waiting until the shriek subsides
The epileptic on the bed
Curves backward, clutching at her sides"

Eliot's poem is one of a series of three Sweeney poems which deal with the infamous Sweeney Todd murders. Todd, a barber, murdered his clients and disposed of the bodies by using them as the fillings in the meat pies sold in the shop situated below the barbers. Charming.

A people fed on famine

Previous lines in Valentine introduce TV as a numbing influence on mankind's ability to deal with catastrophic events. A repeated image on early 80s TV was the African famine; there is, of course, an ironic oxymoron in being fed by famine. Eldritch, for once, misses his target as the Band Aid/Live Aid organisations in late 83/84 demonstrated that famine was the one thing that was still horrific enough to shock the populace out of their complacency. Of course this just spawned a series of increasingly reflex, meaningless 'charity events': the genre reaching its crepuscular zenith with the nauseous Freddy Mercury tribute concert.

A people eat each other

Literally so in the case of Sweeney!

Waiting for another war and waiting for my Valentine

It has been suggested that Valentine is inspired by the juxaposition of Falklands war and the Charles/Diana Royal Wedding on TV in 1981.

Watch the body hit the files

This may refer to the burgeoning UK unemployment count in the early 80s under the so-called Thatcher economic "miracle" (also "a people stand in line"), or possibly it might be a reference to the death toll in the Falklands War.

External links

Fix

The first four lines progress via a series of ribald rhyming juxtapositions, of which "corpse" and "corporation" is surely the most appealing.

Burn

Burn me a fire in The Reptile House

Reptile refers to the elemental evil present in every human mind. "The Reptile House" is a building common in zoos where, obviously, the Reptiles are housed. I would like to think that this is a metaphor for the Houses of Parliament; given the extreme political nature of Valentine and Fix, torching the Palace of Westminster would seem a suitable conclusion.

The syntax of this line is also reminscent of the opening line of Eliot's Sweeney Erect (q.v.): "Paint me a cavernous waste shore". I'm also reminded of Turner's famous painting of the 18?? destruction of the Houses of Parliament.

The Reptile House was also adopted as the name of the Sisters' information service which existed in fits and starts from 1987 until 1992 when it blossomed for four years into the most literate, enervating fan club going. Official Reptile House T-Shirts always identified the wearer as a "REPTILE" which was a dubious privilege at best. Sadly, these days it appears to be in decline, though one hopes...

There is a verse in Burn which is recorded backwards, and is not listed in the official lyric book. It has been transcribed as follows:

"The Catherine wheel around on fire
We will burn this circus down
The wheel goes round and the friends get higher
For the juggling men and the idiot clown"


Temple of Love - single

Temple of Love

Heartland

Gimme Shelter

Body and Soul - single

Body and Soul

Body Electric

This version of Body Electric is a re-recording of the original release made with a somewhat more generous budget. Comparison of the two versions demonstrates the progression of the band's technical skills, but the song itself is more or less identical.

Train

Afterhours


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