Satday Night in the City of the Dead

Fat guy zips by
Bony in a Zodiac
Picking up trouble
Maybe looking for a heart attack

All-night boys in the Piccadilly Arcade
Boozy losers cruise tricks
Trawling for some rough trade

Satday night
Satday night
Satday night in the City of the Dead
Can you feel the time bomb ticking in your head?
Too many memories are buried in your bed
Satday night in the City of the Dead

Stand in the dole queue
Face like a statue
Laugh like a maniac
Walk like a king too

Spike hair, don’t care, Oxfam outlaw
Rat band rips it out
You’re buzzing like a chainsaw

Satday night
Satday night
Satday night in the City of the Dead
Can you feel the time bomb ticking in your head?
Too many memories are waiting in your bed
Satday night in the City of the Dead

High-rise reptile
Sucking on a cigarette
Ripped suit, zip boots
Dancing like an insect

Tottenham Court Road litter skitters in the wind
The city’s pretty dead
But the nights are still alive!

(Chorus)

Satday Night…
Satday Night…
Satday Night…

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.

Foxx reflects – at least in the title – on his perception that London in 1973 was ‘virtually dead’. He arrived in the capital towards the end of 1973, clutching copies of Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ and Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ at a time when very little was happening underground and the mainstream pub music serving was ‘as dull as ditchwater’.

He wrote this song deliberately in the style of an imagined Americana – the scene described by Bowie in his lead single ‘Jean Genie’ and Dylan on ‘Tombstone Blues’ and the ‘Highway 61’ title track. A downtown New York populated by dealers, users and gangsters – night time doorways and darkened alleys home to the living dead. The structure of the lyric and style of writing is homage to Bowie and Dylan in this respect.

By 1976 when the song was finished, Bowie had become known as the ‘thin white duke’ (for the Station To Station album) and could perhaps be the icon to which the ‘Bony’ description refers in Foxx’s second line. Tying in perfectly with Dylan’s own reference to Bowie (Mr Jones) in the Ballad Of A Thin Man. There’s another clever cut-out in this song too that ties it in with Ultravox! first single ‘Dangerous Rhythm’ – Dylan observing in his song that ‘something is happening here, but [Mr Jones] don’t know what it is…”

Also zipping around New York at this time was Johnny Thunders “Jet Boy” – another reference by Foxx in the opening couplet of ‘Satday night’. But he cleverly sets the Dolls of his story very much in England, referencing the cruisers drifting around downtown, via a deserted Tottenham Court Road,  in a Ford Zodiac. Picking up ‘litter’ in the shape of the discarded and hopeless?
It’s a seedy image, hustlers cruising around the city streets picking up ‘all-night boys’ for sordid encounters (‘rough trade’) , dealing drugs in S&M clubs and gay dungeons.

Foxx makes an oblique parallel here with another emergent ‘trade’ on the streets of London in 1976 – the distribution of home-produced, low cost independent records from the back of vans and private cars. Throbbing Gristle, Thomas Leer etc, consummated in the operation of Rough Trade Records from Geoff Travis shop in West London, and latterly Stiff records featuring The Damned and Ian Dury.

Satday (a colloquialism; deliberate carelessness to speed the pace) Night in the City of the Dead goes on to personify some of the characters observed on the streets and in some of these clubs. Bowie is referenced again ‘dancing like an insect’, among the punks on the Kings Road in their ‘ripped suits, zip boots’ and ‘spiked hair’. The punk fashion was to destroy, alter and change – second hand clothes were made for this purpose. Cheap to buy and easy to customise with pins, paint and razor blades. Notice the alliteration in the phrase ‘Oxfam outlaw’, cleverly rhyming with the ‘buzzing like a chainsaw’ effect of recreational drugs. Foxx includes contemporary political phrases too, like ‘dole queue’ and ‘high-rise’ – painting a picture of the forlorn hopelessness, despondency and all round physical and economic ‘greyness’ that he encountered in 1973 London.

In its own way, punk was an assemblage of all these influences, events and sub-cultures – held loosely together with safety pins (Jon Savage ‘London’s Outrage’ interview 2002) and spawned from the unseen creatures that inhabit the City of The Dead. Ultravox! themselves evolved from the same soup, while steadfastly standing apart and observing, rather than becoming enveloped in the scene around them.

The cultural, literary and musical references in this song alone are enough to isolate the Art School boys from the dole queue statues, never mind the articulate song structure and musical competence that accompany the lyrics.

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One thought on “Satday Night in the City of the Dead

  1. Pingback: Wide Boys | Translated from Birdsong

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