27 January 2023, 17:04
The great songwriter has often taken the name of the great figure from history as inspiration. Here are Radio X’s Top 10 namedrops.
The Smiths – Bigmouth Strikes Again
“Now I know how Joan of Arc felt,” quoth Morrissey, likening his social faux pas to the fate of the “Maid Of Orleans”, who was martyred in 1430 after being accused of heresy. She was burnt at the stake. Nasty.
Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
Johnny Rotten was referring, of course, to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who in 1977 was celebrating her Silver Jubilee, that is 25 years since her ascension to the throne. HM reigned for another 45 years, while the Pistols split eight months later. There’s a lesson there, surely.
David Bowie – Young Americans
“Do you remember, your President Nixon? Do you remember, the bills you have to pay?” Young Americans was recorded at the height of the Watergate scandal in 1974 which saw Richard Nixon to become the only US President (so far) to resign from the post. He stepped down on 9th August that year after his administration tried to cover up evidence of break-in at their rivals’ headquarters in Washington two years earlier.
The Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
“I shouted out, who killed the Kennedys? When after all, it was you and me.” Jagger – in the guise of Beelzebub – claims that we’re all responsible for the assassination of first John F Kennedy in ’63 and his brother Bobby in ’68.
The Beatles – I Am The Walrus
“Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe,” claims John Lennon in this psychedelic surrealist masterpiece from 1967. What the American author or horror and mystery tales had done to deserve such a harsh review was not explained. Poe was known for his works The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, Murders In The Rue Morgue and The Raven… and many more.
The Stranglers – No More Heroes
Where do we begin? Hugh Cornwall’s 1977 punk opus namechecks the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Shakespeare, Nero (“They watched their Rome burn”) and – possibly – Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory. He also mentions Sancho Panza, but as that’s a character in the book Don Quixote, it doesn’t count.
Supergrass – Richard III
The King Of England. Came a cropper on Bosworth Field in 1485. Ended up buried in a car park in Leicester. Shakespeare wrote a play about him. Britpop’s premier cheeky chappies wrote a song about him too. Kind of.
The Special AKA – Free Nelson Mandela
Your average British fan on the street probably wasn’t that aware of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary until Jerry Dammers wrote a song about his imprisonment. After 27 years in prison, Mandela was finally released in 1990.
R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
This rapid-fire 1987 track is a stream of consciousness based on a bizarre dream that Michael Stipe had. In it, the singer was at a party that was attended by famous people whose names all began with the initials “L.B.” , hence the mentions of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, former Russian premier Leonid Brezhnev and controversial 1960s comedian Lenny Bruce, who also gets a namecheck in No More Heroes (see above).
Weezer – Buddy Holly
“Ooh-wee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly, Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore” Weezer’s 1994 hit name-checks the original geek-rocker Holly, who died in a plane crash in 1959, plus the beloved American TV star known for appearing on The Dick Van Dyke Show and her own long-running sitcom.