Friday September 29, 2006
The trouble is, as the Posies recognised in their metal-pop stomper Everybody Is a Fucking Liar, the world is so full of hound dogs that a single Readers Recommend column isn’t enough to hold all of them. Politicians, record companies, priests, con artists and even, ahem, journalists are all worthy subjects for future lists, so none appear here.
Not that pop is always out to condemn a liar. As Shaun Ryder leered in the Happy Mondays’ Wrote for Luck, "You used to speak the truth but now you’re clever." Depeche Mode’s brooding Policy of Truth, our list-topper, takes much the same stance in the honesty versus deceit debate. A seductive invitation to the dark side, it pulses with pity for those yet to learn that honesty doesn’t pay. Lying can be fun – which is probably why Henry Rollins sounds so pleased with himself in Liar ("I am a liar! I like it! I feel good!"). Several people recommended this, but at almost five minutes it’s too much of a good thing; Big Black’s taunting Bad Penny communicates a similar sentiment in half the time.
For all the irony and sorrow slicing through Randy Newman’s country lollop Big Hat, No Cattle, the rogue who narrates it struggles to regret his naughty ways. Newman intimates that there’s something twisted about American culture that encourages a degree of untruthfulness. You can sense it in gangsta rap, where the prevalence of braggadocio demands that people fib. In the highly entertaining That’s a Lie, LL Cool J is having none of it: "You said you got a mansion? You don’t got half a floor."
Infidelity is another theme that could fill this list several times over; it’s certainly inspired the bulk of songs about honesty and deceit. The Castaways’ excoriating garage tune Liar, Liar may well be the best example ever: while the boy mourns his girl’s unfaithfulness, she just taunts: "Liar, liar, pants on fire." Carol Fran sums up infidelity music’s key question in Tous les Jours C’est Pas la Même: "Où as-tu été hier soir?" In case you’re struggling to work out what the New Orleans jazzer is getting at, mid-song she announces: "Translation! So where were you last night, boy?" No wonder Billie Holiday offers a warning at the start of her relationship, in her beguiling take on Billy Mayhew’s It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie (also recorded, more buoyantly, by Fats Waller). There’s another warning in the O’Jays’ Back Stabbers – watch out for your friends, because they’re all cheats out to steal your lady.
Lying being a sin, all practitioners should be on a direct train to hell. Not in My Latest Novel’s The Reputation of Ross Francis, a glorious fable in which a man fibs his way into heaven, crossing his fingers as he enters the pearly gates. It’s enough to make anyone despair – as indeed Manu Chao does in Luna y Sol. "Todo es mentira en este mundo" ("Everything’s a lie in this world"), he mourns. And yet, there’s an undercurrent of optimism in this song, a belief that there’s something else out there. As long as he doesn’t switch to writing songs about honesty, he’s welcome to find it.
This week’s playlist
1 Policy of Truth Depeche Mode
2 Bad Penny Big Black
3 Big Hat, No Cattle Randy Newman
4 That’s a Lie LL Cool J
5 Liar Liar Castaways
6 Tous les Jours C’est Pas la Même Carol Fran
7 It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie Billie Holiday
8 Back Stabbers The O’Jays
9 The Reputation of Ross Francis My Latest Novel
10 Luna y Sol Manu Chao
· All songs available from iTunes, except Bad Penny, which is on Songs About Fucking (Touch & Go, 1992), That’s a Lie, which is on Radio (Def Jam, 1995), and Luna Y Sol, which is on Clandestino (Ark 21, 2000).
· Next week: For next week’s theme, let’s celebrate the imminent announcement of the Booker prize winner with a list of songs about, or inspired by, writrers and literature in all their forms.