Taking up the story from where it ended last week with the release of Look, Now in the early summer of 1982.
The Fall were about to head over to Australia and New Zealand in July/August 1982 for a month-long tour. MES pulled everyone back into Cargo Studios in Rochdale for what the rest of the band thought would be a new single, intended to keep up a bit of profile in the UK while they were gone. It turned out that the frontman actually wanted a full album out of the sessions, but one which would be in a totally different way from Hex Enduction Hour. The songs were all new, very few had been performed live beforehand (which was unusual), and furthermore MES kept everyone on their toes by using the occasional guest musician and arranging for recording sessions without telling key members of his band and keeping them off the actual record. Paul Hanley has since described the time in Cargo as “a fucking nightmare. You’d turn up and find Smith had only invited half the band, or brought in other musicians without telling anyone!”.
Room To Live was released on Kamera Records in September 1982 to less than enthusiastic reviews, with its seven songs seen as way inferior to the material from earlier in the year. The tour down under had, unsurprisingly, been a difficult one for all concerned, with many fall-outs, particularly between Marc Riley and MES, with the former still smarting from being heavily excluded from the Room To Live recording sessions (it would later transpire that he played on just two of its tracks).
There were also rumours that Kamera was in a bit of bother, which may be why there was a decision, taken by the label, to release a single to accompany the album, consisting of two of its tracks – Marquis Cha Cha, backed with Papal Visit. This wasn’t to MES’s liking and the single was withdrawn (there’s a postscript to this, which I’ll come to in a future edition of this series).
So, 1982 ended with a whimper, with a tour of some student venues in England….and as you’ll recall from the previous two editions of the series, not even much enthusiasm for The Fall among Peel listeners with just one track in the Festive 50.
MES’s solution? To sack Mark Riley from the band, which he did in the first week of 1983 (and not, according to legend, on Riley’s wedding day which was 24 December 1982). Oh, and to take his leave of Kamera. Once again, having no label to call home, fate kindly intervened in the shape of Geoff Travis at Rough Trade who, despite having been ridiculed by MES some 18 months previously, re-signed The Fall. The first new 45 of the post-Riley era appeared in June 1983, with its title, on the surface, being a dig at the departed musician:-
mp3: The Fall – The Man Whose Head Expanded
We’re back with the Casio intro again, but this time it goes into a wonderful bass-line intro which sets the tempo, initially for one of the most upbeat and easily danceable (at this point of time) of songs by The Fall….except it had a bonkers, almost ad-libbed lyric, which ensured nobody on radio (except the usual suspect) would play it. Oh, and just as you might be getting into a groove on that dance floor, it slows down dramatically for a minute or so, at which point MES goes all shouty, before suddenly it switched back to the fast tempo.
It’s a real tour de force, driven along by the duo drumming of Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, with Steve Hanley on bass and Craig Scanlon on guitars and keyboards. The song was credited to Smith/S. Hanley/Scanlon/Seaberg. It seems that the latter was Sol Seaberg, a part-time van driver for The Fall; whether he actually came up with something for the song or not is unknown – it may well have been MES’s way of saying to Riley that anyone can write songs.
The b-side is just two-and-a-half minutes long, and in some ways is a throwback to the earlier rough’n’ready material, with pounding drums at the centre of a cacophony of noise and shouty vocals:-
mp3: The Fall – The Ludd Gang
But hidden away, at the exact halfway mark of the song, is one of the funniest lyrics anyone has ever penned:-
I hate the guts of Shakin’ Stevens
For what he has done
The massacre of “Blue Christmas”
On him I’d like to land one on
The Man Whose Head Expanded reached #3 in the UK indie charts. It had been released on 27 June 1983. Three weeks later, Mark E Smith married his American-born girlfriend whom he had met just a couple of months previously, in Chicago, while The Fall were on tour in the States. I think you all know what comes next….
*With thanks to JTFL-Ahh for prompting the change to the name of this series…
4 thoughts on “THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING SERIES FOR SUNDAYS (Part 11)*”
The Man Whose Head Expanded is a great single, but thanks for sharing The Ludd Gang, a brilliant B-side and proof that MES was master of the fello artist diss well before Kanye West 🙂 Fascinating background story too, really looking forward to what comes next.
Here’s where the band really started flirting with pop song structures, even though with MES on the mic they were never going to trouble the pop charts. I’d forgotten that Smith was already well into bashing bandmates when the Fall were still in the early part of their career. The guy was fascinating but it must have been impossible to work with him. Not to get overly analytic, but having been in bands with difficult personalities I now wonder if Smith’s notorious curmudgeonly behavior was symptomatic of deeper mental health issues.
Ok, so I love Room To Live, never saw it as a drop in form, I never really thought there was a form that The Fall ever followed, though…
The Man Whose Head Expanded is both vicious and dark and very lovely. I once had a discussion with a friend about whether it was about Marc Riley or maybe Tony Wilson – or was it MES singing about the things he believed Marc Riley to have said about him.
Love it. Great read and nice shares. Look forward to the next instalment.