Saturday, 15 April 2017

A Song On An Album That Should Have Been A Single

The Breeders, Happiness Is A Warm Gun 

I have two Beatles albums, one being The White Album. In 1992 when Breeders released the band’s debut recording Pod, I recognised the track Happiness Is A Warm Gun, written and composed by John Lennon, immediately, and loved what they’d done do it.

The BBC banned the original song for its sexual symbolism. On the other hand, the song is also referred to as metaphor for drug use, specifically heroin. The Breeders version seems to take this interpretation and really gets to the bare bones of the song’s mood: both the glorious melting sensation that comes, as the edge of everything begins to blur (as heroin addicts describe), and the fear, confusion, destructive feelings that motivate addiction. (Heroin addiction was a curse for Kelly Deal of the band, sister of Kim, also known as a significant member of The Pixies.)  Even though she was new to playing guitar her understanding of the depth of feeling, showed in the band’s music.

It would have been interesting to see whether The Breeders version was acceptable for a 1992 BBC Top Of The Pops. There were a lot of guitar bands on TOTP that year: Manic Street Preachers, The Lemonheads, The Charlatans, The Sugarcubes, The Senseless Things… as a single, it may have just slipped through...

On another note Toris Amos’ album Strange Little Girls (2001), which featured covers of tracks written by men, interpreted from the woman's viewpoint, also features Happiness Is A Warm Gun. She had to get permission from Yoko Ono to release it. Toris brings the literal image of a ‘smoking gun’ and the idea of a phallic symbol into the frame. She investigated John Lennon’s death as part of the writing process and discovered that Mark Chapman had seen an escort just before he shot John Lennon: A woman out there, forever silenced, being intimate with a killer and having to carry that around with her all her life. The result is very Kate Bush but not in a ‘should be a single’ way.

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