Released on: Generation Terrorists (Album #1) Columbia Records, 10 February 1992
Also Released: Little Baby Nothing (Single #9) Columbia Records, 16 November 1992
Peak UK Chart Position: #29
Band Ranking: #35
Perhaps not the best but certainly one of the most extraordinary and unique songs on Generation Terrorists, ‘Little Baby Nothing’ went on to become the sixth and final single released from the album in November 1992. The fact that the band ranked the single at a lowly #35 seems criminal, given that, putting to one side the effective but unremarkable instrumental aspects of the song (influenced by the track being what Bradfield described as an attempt to write “something the E Street Band might play”), everything else about it has passed into legend in one way or another.
From the ground up, ‘Little Baby Nothing’ is a bittersweet feminist anthem and all parts of the recording are driven towards this goal. The superb lyrics about the exploitation of women by men represent by far the most coherent statement the Manics had made about anything by the time of its recording. At least two lines are legitimate classics – first, the description of money as “paper made of broken twisted trees” is wonderful, and second, the line “culture, alienation, boredom and despair” went on to become a (partial) manifesto or mission statement for the band for years to come.
The song was always envisioned as a duet between Bradfield and a female singer, and the band’s first choice was Australian pop starlet Kylie Minogue. The band must have thought that having a major star on board would be a masterstroke but it was not to be. Supposedly, the reason was that Minogue was forbidden from taking part due to contractual obligations, but it is hard to imagine why she would accept an invitation from a largely untested Welsh rock band who were hardly at the height of their commercial powers.
Years later, after the dramatic success of the Manics’ fourth album Everything Must Go, the band actually collaborated with Minogue by co-writing two tracks for her Impossible Princess album (1997). One of these, ‘Some Kind of Bliss’ was released as a single which, in an ironic twist, broke her run of 21 top 20 UK singles by reaching only #22 in the chart. The other song, ‘I Don’t Need Anyone’, contained more of the band’s work, albeit worked on by Bradfield and Wire instead of Moore. Moore and Bradfield’s playing can be heard on the album, and the two songs were co-produced by longtime Manics producer Dave Eringa. In Rolling Stone in 1998, Minogue said of the experience:
“it was so refreshing to hear something so different from what I had been working on. To have something so fresh come in that somebody else had been working on and taken control of, was a nice break for me.”
Minogue and the Manics crossed paths again towards the end of 2012 where hugs were exchanged at an awards ceremony – so much for pop/rock rivalry.
When it became clear that Minogue was not available, the Manics went in a very different direction and recruited American actress Traci Lords to record the duet. Although she had appeared in a few mainstream films during the early ’90s, Lords was an infamous ex-porn star who had made the majority of her films while she was underage. She later became a fierce critic of the porn industry, but was forced to sell the rights to the only film she made after she reached 18 (and therefore the only one that was legal to own in the United States) in order to achieve some degree of financial independence. Lords said that she “listened to the tape and really identified with the character in the song… this young girl who’s been exploited and abused by men all her life.”
Suddenly, the Manics were working with someone who could not only symbolise but also identity with the subject of the song. To the surprise of many, Lords was a more than capable singer – in the released recording her enthusiasm is obvious and her performance adds a great deal to a song which may lack the fiery fury of much of Generation Terrorists, but is nevertheless a true Manics landmark.
Lords did not appear in the thoroughly curious promo video, which was directed by early Manics convert Steven Wells (who reviewed ‘Suicide Alley’ for NME) and which features slogan-branded children, lots of hammers and sickles, a giant pink triangle (used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals and later reclaimed as a symbol of gay pride), and women in place of Wire, Moore and Edwards. Of the actual band members, only Bradfield appears.
“All they leave behind is money / paper made of broken twisted trees”
Ego – the part of the psyche which reacts to the reality principle in Sigmund Freud’s work. More generally, it can mean self-esteem or self-worth.
Barbie doll – brand of children’s dolls manufactured by American company Mattel since 1959.
Epiphany – either a religious term referring to an appearance or manifestation of god or the experience of a sudden revelation.