The fifth single to be released by The Fall reached the shops in July 1980. It was on Rough Trade Records, which in some ways seemed strange given that Mark E Smith wasn’t a fan of anything to do with London while the business ethos followed by those involved with the record label and the record shop would surely have been something he sneered at quite openly.

It wasn’t their first release for the label with that distinction going to the live album Totale’s Turns (It’s Now or Never) which came out in May 1980.  Here’s how that album has been described:-

Featuring recordings from two grotty northern club dates in late 1979, adulterated with a couple of outtakes, The Fall’s first record for London-based hippy-capitalists Rough Trade was a deliberately shambolic collection.  A loyalty test disguised as an album, Totale’s Turns was a reminder to their new label that The Fall continued to operate entirely on their own terms.

Jim Wirth, Uncut magazine

Despite being a ramshackle effort in which the band struggled with their sound at venues which were far off the beaten track, playing to a mixture of hostile and bored audience members, the album, retailing at a very cheap price, topped the indie charts on its release, no doubt pleasing Geoff Travis and his cohorts at Rough Trade.  There was, surely, much to anticipate from the first new studio material.

There was, surprise surprise, a line-up change from the line-up which had recorded Fiery Jack and it was a significant one with the 16-year-old Paul Hanley, brother of bassist Steve, coming in on drums to replace the now departed Mike Leigh.  The significance of this change will become increasingly apparent as this series rolls on.

The Fall might have been on a London-based label, but it was Cargo Studios in Rochdale where they assembled on 8 May 1980.  I’ve a number of friends from Rochdale and I have a lot of affection for the town, but it’s a place which, when I first visited it in the mid-90s, had pubs populated by individuals who terrified me, and I thought I’d seen everything growing up in Glasgow.  I can’t begin to imagine how uncomfortable Geoff Travis and his productionn sidekick Mayo Thomson (a Texan who had been part of a 60s avant-garde/psychedelia outfit called Red Krayola) would have been with their surroundings.

No matter what, the results delivered a triumph:-

mp3: The Fall – How I Wrote Elastic Man

It’s another of the country ‘n’ northern classics that were referred to last week by chaval, a phrase which really tickled Jonny over there in Los Angeles.  A cracking tune which is accompanied by one of Smith’s cleverest, funniest and most surreal lyric:-

I’m eternally grateful
To my past influences
But they will not free me
I am not diseased
All the people ask me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

Life should be full of strangeness
Like a rich painting
But it gets worse day by day
I’m a potential DJ
A creeping wreck
A mental wretch
Everybody asks me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

His soul hurts though it’s well filled up
The praise received is mentally sent back
Or taken apart
The Observer magazine just about sums him up
E.g. self-satisfied, smug

I’m living a fake
People say, “You are entitled to and great.”
But I haven’t wrote for 90 days
I’ll get a good deal and I’ll go away
Away from the empty brains that ask
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

His last work was “Space Mystery” in the Daily Mail
An article in Leather Thighs
The only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes

So I’m resigned to bed
I keep bottles and comics stuffed by its head
Fuck it, let the beard grow
I’m too tired
I’ll do it tomorrow
The fridge is sparse
But in the town
They’ll stop me in the shoppes
Verily they’ll track me down
Touch my shoulder and ignore my dumb mission
And sick red faced smile
And they will ask me
And they will ask me
How I wrote “Elastic Man”

And yes, he does sing Plastic Man all the way through……….

The b-side is much more of the same, and as such makes for one of the most enjoyable and enduring of the earliest 45s

mp3: The Fall – City Hobgoblins

The single reached #2 in the Indie Singles chart. Very few people, outside of John Peel, were playing The Fall on the radio, and Rough Trade’s distribution efforts were geared up mainly to the smaller shops across the UK, meaning that anyone relying on the larger retailers and the chain stores would have some trouble finding copies.

Worth also mentioning that, despite being a huge favourite with the fans (or more likely because it was a huge favourite with the fans), How I Wrote Elastic Man was only ever played live at some 20 shows after its release as a single, and never after October 1981. The b-side, on the other hand, was resurrected for tours in 1986 and 1987.



  1. This is the first post where I have both sides of the featured single, albeit via different compilation CDs rather than the original vinyl, and I think both songs are great. I don’t know the history but I’m assuming the song title was a last minute change from ‘Plastic Man’ to avoid being sued by DC Comics? “Country ‘n’ Northern” is a great phrase, I’m also equally tickled by “Mancabilly”. This is another excellent installment of an enlightening and entertaining series, JC, not least because it’s finally enabling me to keep track of the multitude of line-up chnages…!

  2. “The Observer magazine just about sums him up . . . ” was the internal monologue I used when meeting the fathers of various middle-class girlfriends down the years.
    This is The Fall’s second finest single of them all and my old copy is treasured.

  3. this was the first Fall single I bought (thank you John Peel), and was under the spell ever since. thank you for the chronicle, it is stirring up great memories

  4. Not sure why but I always thought of this song as a dig at Bowie. MES definitely had some opinions on the Thin White Duke later on that I recall, but maybe this was the first? ‘Cracking tune’ as our host might say.

  5. @JTFL – you may be on to something there brother! It certainly deals with the downside of celebrity, becoming nothing more than the perception of your audience.
    @Khayem – I now treasure the term Macabilly…

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