Released on: Stay Beautiful (Single #4) Columbia Records, 29 July 1991
Peak UK Chart Position: #40
Band Ranking: #22
Named after the rebellious protagonist of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and its acclaimed 1975 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, ‘R.P. McMurphy’ does not share Kesey’s themes but instead features a very dense lyric which touches again on the inhuman and unfeeling nature of capital as well alienation and drug abuse. While it lacks the musical grandeur of a number of similarly-themed songs that succeeded it, it represents an interesting and early amalgamation of multiple key Manics topics. That the ills mentioned work to combine and reinforce each other within the song reflects the continued development of the Wire and Edwards’ lyrical skills. The concern with sleep, particularly as an escape or as a defence, was returned to in much later efforts like [T166] ‘I Live to Fall Asleep’.
Although in the demo version it was reportedly a much louder, electric rock effort, ‘R.P. McMurphy’ holds the distinction of being the first essentially acoustic song by the band. Although an electric guitar features in the both in the bridge and the chorus, it offers only a (very engaging) counterpoint to the dominant acoustic guitar and piano. Furthermore, not only does the era’s drum machine not make an appearance, but drums are in fact dispensed with altogether, replaced with just a tambourine. Although the actual composition leaves a little to be desired – the acoustic guitar feels very leaden in the intro, and to an extent in the verses – the effect presents something completely unprecedented in the band’s work up to this point. The icing on the cake is the wonderfully odd, largely wordless chorus vocals – another real Manics oddity.
Rough around the edges but unique and surprising, ‘R.P. McMurphy’ was disappointingly not included on the Lipstick Traces compilation; neither was another B-side named after a novel and film character, the fan favourite [B52] ‘Patrick Bateman’.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“collapsing in the fields where it feels free, where it feels free”
R.P. McMurphy: the protagonist in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and its 1975 film adaptation. One (tenuous) link between Kesey and this song is that the author was involved in drug trials which were run under the aegis of the Central Intelligence Agency’s MKULTRA programme, focused on behavioural engineering.