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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


Updated: Jun 6, 2020

The Stranglers were always amongst the most sulky or, to use a word I only ever hear in America, ornery, of bands. They had a strong following of similarly grouchy fans and as a collective all did everything possible to live up their reputations as 'The Men In Black' and their grim followers.

Their career was always marked by them doing the exact opposite to the expected route to pop stardom. They would respond violently to bad reviews in the music press in the late seventies and were probably only marginally less reviled by the establishment than the Sex Pistols. They had smashed up the Top Of The Pops dressing rooms and even into the 80s there was always one of their long suffering management team members trying to burst any balloons that the party-fied audience would throw around with gay abandon, before they reached the still snarling Stranglers.

Two factors always slightly undermined the band's 'angry young things' positioning - firstly, most of the band were already in their thirties and secondly, they couldn't half write a good pop tune, regardless of their Punk intentions. "Peaches", "No More Heroes" and "Something Better Change" - not forgetting their cover of Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" of all things - would become much cherished singles not just for their scowling attitude but their simple melodic qualities.

In 1979, they did release another great single called "Duchess" from their album "The Raven" which started to hint at the unique oddly baroque sound they were starting to experiment with and this would come to full fruition with their 1982 #2 single "Golden Brown".

Everybody but everybody loved that song - and still does.

It was the first record to be chosen as 'Record of The Week' on BBC Radio 1 and the far more genteel BBC Radio 2 in the UK. It was their only gold record. It sold all over the world. It's in NME's list of the top 500 greatest singles of all time. I even remember cricket fan, Hugh Cornwell being interviewed on Test Match Special about it during a lunchtime break by Jonathan Agnew. The more classically minded Aggers view being that if they there had been more records like "Golden Brown" he might well have paid punk more attention. Oh stop it, Aggers!

It was a song about Heroin.

Though none of us knew that at the time.

It's even quite an ornery record as, firstly the melody is played on that most unlikely of punk instruments, a harpsichord, and although it is often categorised as a waltz, the record keeps shifting time signatures throughout. And as if to sabotage their own career trajectory, which would never go higher, they followed up this chart highpoint with a 6 minute long 45 sung in French; "La Folie", and it did not trouble the Top 40 at all.

All of which made me rather excited when I stumbled across a version of "Golden Brown" which featured Hugh Cornwell, always the angriest of a very angry band (he had left in 1990) and Mariachi Mexteca. That's right a Mariachi band in full regalia.

And it's really rather good.

It sounds like a near cousin of Calexico's wonderful "Crystal Frontier". But the devil in me wishes they had just slapped a massive sombrero on the old curmudgeon's head but I suppose, as they say - and probably tattoo, 'Punk Never Dies'.

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May 01, 2020

Another cracker! Love the mariachi vid. You're right about the time signatures: the rogue 7/8 bars must have caused havoc on dance floors. Good to see the shout out for Calexico. There haven't been many drummer-led bands (given Dave Clark was a sham), so more power to their wonderful elbows.

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