Irony feels a bit like soap in the shower – prone to slipping from your grasp just when you thought you had it. So let's have a solid, concrete start, with ironic language, a standard device and an oasis rather than a mirage. 10cc are almost gleeful in their acceptance of a denigrating epithet in The Worst Band In The World since they are churning out big sales and rolling in lolly.
Meanwhile Tindersticks are "sensitive", as all artists are, but principally in their Ballad, to the possibilities inherent in unexpected fame, including getting wrecked, frequently at somebody else's expense. The UK Subs might also be "sensitive boys" but this is code for something like "prickly (with extreme prejudice)", guys likely to exchange a blow for a stare. The Clash believe they understand the concept of "rights" well enough to know that in practice they are heavily hedged and diluted by provisos. While Curtis Mayfield's Pusherman is simply your "friend", albeit one focused callously on enrichment rather than brotherhood and support.
Dramatic irony gives us another plinth on which to rest an exhibit. We are shouting the equivalent of "he's behind you" long before Barbecue Bob acknowledges the reality that his "pretty little animal" is a skunk and incapable of helping fulfil whatever life-changing plans he had constructed around it.
Which brings us neatly to the beating heart of irony, an unfolding of events towards an end the total opposite of what had been intended; Grace Jones offers a funky reading of The Marvelettes' The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game. While Johnnie Taylor is a serial biter bitten.
But now we enter true slippery soap territory, starting with a couple of state of the nation/world tracks. Little doubting that The Jam use "entertainment" as ironic shorthand, but for what? The frenzy of the asylum leavened only by ennui is my best guess, but somehow we grasp the integrity of their thoughts about urban modernity. As too the heartfelt exasperation directed at insouciant, fiddle-as-Rome-burns, Lazy Sunbathers; Morrissey's every breath subsumes irony. Our little section on existential musings probably needs to include God. Elvis Costello introduces a sinning, fearful, priest meeting a maker who confounds expectation in giving not a damn about the human comedy he has created.
And the there's more human comedy, as the principal irony in The Grateful Dead's Loser is that the protagonist doesn't grasp the irony of his situation. If he has had big wins, he has had bigger losses, his pleading for help with his next table stake spiced with reassurances about his skills and infallibility!
Tom Hickox's Pretty Pride Of Russia, like the denizens of the ghetto, also has a "friend" who will, it is claimed, smooth the path to a new life in London. Already the audience is screaming something like: "don't do it, it's a trick, he's a pimp". But, and here a little obiter dicta, our innocent heroine is, like most of us at some time, seeing in somewhere else (anywhere else) a Utopian future while in the here is only the fettering prison. Ironically this may be a failure, rather than triumph, of imagination.
And finally the brilliantly satirical John Lee Hooker For President. From 2011, Ry Cooder conjures the image of a presidential hopeful with the following traits – some level of fame; the wherewithal to finance his campaign; a program (sic) for national renewal: but, no experience and few relevant skills; dubious attitudes to women and the independence of the Supreme Court; and an unabashed populist. A fantasy surely!?
Ironic A-list playlist:
10cc – The Worst Band In The World
Tindersticks – Ballad Of Tindersticks
UK Subs – Sensitive Boys
The Clash – Know Your Rights
Curtis Mayfield – The Pusherman
Barbecue Bob – Black Skunk Blues
Grace Jones – The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
Johnnie Taylor – Who's Making Love
The Jam – That's Entertainment
Morrissey – The Lazy Sunbathers
Elvis Costello – God's Comic
Grateful Dead – Loser
Tom Hickox – Pretty Pride Of Russia
Ry Cooder – John Lee Hooker For President
Acerbic B-list playlist:
The Kinks – Shangri-La
Cold Chisel – Four Walls
Randy Newman – He Gives Us All His Love
Millie Small – Enoch Power
Belle & Sebastian – This Is Just A Modern Rock Song
The Housemartins – Happy Hour.
Randy Travis – Three Wooden Crosses
Those Naughty Lumps – Iggy Pop's Jacket/Pure And Innocent
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – We Are Normal.
Don McClean – The Pride Parade.
Philip Jeays – The Great War.
Guru's wildcard pick:
Bountiful lists recognise the efforts expended on a challenging topic. I might also have mentioned Country Joe and the Fish's Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag; "be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box" – a multi-dimension barb.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Don't read or listen to this: ironic songs. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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