[A8] ‘Motown Junk’

Released on: Motown Junk (Single #2) Heavenly Records, 21 January 1991
Track: 1
Peak UK Chart Position: #94
Band Ranking: #6

Originally released as a standalone single in January 1991, ‘Motown Junk’ is of tremendous significance within the discography for two main reasons – first, it marked the start of the Manics brief but productive tenure with Heavenly Records, and second, because the song has gone on to become a live staple for the band, being played at almost every gig since 1991 (usually prefixed by a partial cover of another song). Being the first Manics release to chart in the UK, it was the essentially the record-buying public’s first introduction to the band.

Musically the adrenaline shot the Manics had been trying to record since at least as early as ‘Suicide Alley’, ‘Motown Junk’ represented the most definitive statement of the band’s sound up to that point. The band themselves have gone as far as to call it “the perfect manifestation of the four of [them]”. Bookended by samples from Public Enemy’s ‘Countdown to Armageddon’ and The Skids’ ‘Charles’, it consists of a merciless salvo of punk fury on which Bradfield’s guitars and Moore’s excellent drums take centre stage. The use of samples from other artists’ songs is hardly a Manics trademark, but here it serves to demonstrate the breadth of the band’s cultural influences; while the they would rage against Madchester and shoegaze bands like Chapterhouse, Ride and Slowdive (the latter described by Edwards as “worse than Hitler” in one of his most frowned-upon comments), they were quick to play up their association with revolutionary rappers Public Enemy and Scotland’s own art-punk outfit the Skids. This cultural referencing would intensify on later records, expanding out into the graphic arts, cinema, and philosophy in addition to expressions of musical fealty.

Lyrically, ‘Motown Junk’ was less an attempt at a coherent political or social statement, and more a reckless tirade in the stream-of-consciousness style. What resulted was a mixture of tasteless iconoclasm (“I laughed when Lennon got shot”), youthful angst (“all you ever gave me was the boredom I suffocate in”) and frankly, outright lies (“21 years of living and nothing means anything to me”) which nevertheless coalesced into something of real power. The Lennon line remains a rare example of the Manics going beyond the controversial and making a statement that was deemed as truly offensive within the context of a song (conversely, such statements were often made in the heat of the moment on stage, or in interviews – as with Edwards’ attack on Slowdive). Although no attempt was made to censor the line when ‘Motown Junk’ appeared on the Forever Delayed compilation in 2002, that the Manics regret its inclusion is evidenced by Bradfield’s refusal to sing it; instead, for many years he has simply tailed off with “I laughed…”

Songs which have been used as an introduction to live performances of ‘Motown Junk’ include ‘Baby Love’ by The Supremes (for a long period from 1991 to 1997), ‘Jump’ by Van Halen, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cure, and the band’s own ‘Condemned to Rock N’ Roll’ (T35). The watch depicted on the front cover of the single was retrieved from the ruins of Hiroshima, Japan and is frozen at the exact moment the atomic bomb detonated there at 8:15am on August 6th, 1945.

Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“stops your heart beating for 168 seconds / stops your braining thinking for 168 seconds”

References:

Motown – soul music record label founded in Detroit, Michigan, United States in 1959 by Berry Gordy. Independent until it was absorbed by MCA in 1988. In a 2008 interview, the band explained they had never thought of Motown as “junk”, but felt that “pop had become redundant and didn’t mean anything.”

Lennon got shot – the murder of John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles and successful solo artist, took place in New York City on 8 December 1980. Mark David Chapman was convicted of the murder and is imprisoned Wende Correctional Facility in New York state.

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