Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Sweet Tooth Jukebox: Siouxsie and the Banshees
Welcome to another installment of Sweet Tooth Jukebox, a series of posts inspired by the music I memorialize in my new book Sweet Tooth, available now, just buy it already, Jesus. Sweet Tooth Jukebox is my chance to force you to watch videos of my favorite bands from back in the day and read my words about them because knowledge is power and you were probably listening to Starship in the '80s. (I secretly was too, sometimes.) Pay attention, there will be a quiz, probably.
Up next: Siouxsie and Her Banshees. This band got their start way back in 1976 when they played a hastily put together set at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London. If memory serves, Sid Vicious was on drums that night. (Can someone fact check that for me?) Their set included a decidedly sacrilegious version of "The Lord's Prayer," and they made a wonderfully god-awful racket, by all accounts. It took them two years to get a record deal, by which point punk was kind of over, so their debut album The Scream is perhaps one of the first post-punk records. Between 1978 and 1996, the Banshees released 11 studio albums that are amazingly varied in style. Their first two were angular and angry, they added some color and bounce to the mix on 1980's Kaleidoscope, and then basically invented goth on 1981's classic Juju, which featured the single "Spellbound," the video of which showed Siouxsie at her most feline and her eye-makeup at its most turbo-charged.
And let's face it, we all had huge crushes on Budgie the drummer. What was not to love? He was one of the best-ever rock drummers, he had bleached-blonde hair and alabaster skin, and he always walked around dressed like a Victorian carnie. My dream date!
The band cycled through a few more styles--whoozy psychedelia on A Kiss in the Dreamhouse and Hyaena (check out the video for "Dear Prudence" above, in which Siouxsie's rocking some hairy-ass armpits), slithery modern rock on Tinderbox--before releasing Peepshow in 1988, a collection of goth cabaret torch songs and tales of childhood panic/horror that spawned the absolutely bonkers track "Peek-A-Boo," which became their highest-charting single to date in the States. (Fun fact: if you want me to dance at your party like a drunk marionette, give me some booze and put on this song.)
Now, some Banshees fans will quibble with my giving prominence to the video for "Peek-a-Boo" up top, because at the time it was viewed by diehards as kind of a sellout to pop radio. People who think this are wrong. This song is genius, and the video is fun as hell. Siouxsie's got a Cabaret bob cut and some country/western leotard-type sleeveless body suit with long-ass gloves, the boys are dancing muppet-like in the shadows and wearing masks, there's a bunch of animated projections on faces and such, there are tassels, there are hella big feather fans. What else could you want from a video? The answer is: I don't know, maybe a shirtless Budgie?
The less said about the Banshees' last two albums, Superstition and The Rapture, the better, because damn are they awful (though Superstition did include one of their best-ever singles, "Kiss Them for Me" and The Rapture's second half tried mightily to redeem its first.). But let's just say that up through Peepshow, this band was pretty damn flawless. Even their meh songs had at least a groovy bass line you could ride, a prickly guitar refrain spidering all over the place, and/or some glass-shattering yelps from Our Lady Sioux. They were constantly reinventing themselves and never dragging their feet. And they had the best B-sides in the business, hands down. (Seriously, get their B-sides collection Downside Up and be amazed. If you don't swoon in your boots for "Tattoo" I don't even know what to say to you.)
In conclusion, Siouxsie was my fairy godmother in high school and she got me a date for the prom, the end.