Golden Brown

Golden Brown - seventies

The Stranglers were formed when punk was sweeping away the bland and sickly sweet pop groups of the early seventies. They toured with the American punk band, The Ramones, and regarded themselves as part of the punk scene. But they were never a punk band.

Originally called The Guildford Stranglers the band was assembled in 1974 by Jet Black (real name Brian Duffy), a successful business man and jazz drummer. Unlike many of the punk bands The Stranglers were all accomplished musicians. Jean-Jaques Burnel moved to bass after learning classical guitar. Hugh Cornwell started as a blues guitarist and switched back to the guitar after playing bass with folk guitarist Richard Thompson. Dave Greenfield, who joined them in 1975, was a pianist with a progressive rock band.

Let’s pause for a moment here. That last paragraph mentions jazz, punk, classical, blues, folk and progressive rock. With all those obvious influences The Stranglers was never going to be just another punk band. A betting man would have put good money on a short life and a spectacular firework finale for that band as artistic tension mounted to an explosive climax. But they would have lost their stake. The Stranglers are still going. Hugh Cornwell left in 1990 to pursue a solo career; Jet Black, now 77 years old, is not well enough to perform at live events; but the band is touring the UK this summer and also has a couple of gigs scheduled in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The secret to The Stranglers longevity, I suspect, is that the band members have unusually broad tastes and an easy, laissez-faire attitude to life. Their music evolved over the years from strident, intelligent rock delivered with a punkish sneer to more refined and more melodic songs straddling the boundary between rock and pop.

Golden Brown - noughties

Golden Brown is a fine example of those more mellow, less aggressive compositions. It grabs your attention immediately with its lilting waltz-time harpsichord and synthesiser introduction and then slaps you in the face with a 4-beat bar. “Listen up!”, it seems to say, “I’ve got something to tell you”. And then Hugh Cornwell’s storyteller voice comes in with a soothing vision of suntanned skin and soft pillows.

Golden brown, texture like sun,
Lays me down, with my mind she runs

Never a frown with golden brown.

The tale unfolds in a steady 3-time, allowing the listener to slide back into a comfortable sleepiness before the second verse introduces a sense of pleasurable entrapment.

On her ship, tied to the mast,
To distant lands,
Takes both my hands,
Never a frown with golden brown.

She is taking us on a journey. We are powerless. And it’s wonderful. The jolt of the 4-beat bar rouses us again before another verse. Then a melodic guitar break adds the music of the spheres for our listening pleasure. We have arrived in a golden honey heaven, a caramel taste on my tongue, a chocolate glaze on her soft sweet lips. For a few moments Shangri-La is real but it soon begins to fade away. As the scene dissolves and vanishes the angel choir sings softly …

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

 Golden Brown - beyonce