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My Awesome Record Collection #5: The Flying Lizards

May 7, 2014

The Flying Lizards formed in 1976 in England and are one of the weirdest bands that produced an album on Virgin Records. Their first record features the song they are best known for – “Money (That’s What I Want.” This song has landed in several Hollywood movies over the years. However, that song barely expresses even 10% of the range of styles and emotions their other songs evoke. Their first release (self titled) starts with an incredibly high energy song, “Der Song Von Mandelay” – which was composed by German composer Kurt Weill, who notably worked with Bertolt Brecht on composing the soundtrack for “Threepenny Opera.”

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The next few songs on the record are a bit slower tempo- a bit catchy but not in an obvious way. Side one ends in a cover of “Summertime Blues” which is an obvious foreshadowing of their covers record “Top Ten” which was released a few years later in 1984 on Statik Records. Hits on the “Top Ten” record are “Sex Machine” – set at the most awkward, almost robotic cadence possible while still driving the song forward. “And Then He Kissed Me” is my other favorite on that release.
Their first record really hits on side two. The magic on this side of the record is the juxtaposition of starting with the incredibly catchy “Money (That’s What I Want)” and ending with the creepy song about a window stalker titled “The Window.” Odd instrumentation abounds on this record. The songs between the two are antithetical to either – they almost seem like they belong on another record altogether. “Flood” is a transition piece which takes the tempo down from “Money” and starts gradually turning down the volume, energy, and happiness. By the end of the song, you’ve almost been acclimated for the eerie gloomy trancey music that follows. “Trouble” could be described as an artistic interpretation of a heartbeat out of rhythm, “Events During Flood” is grieving music for a lost pet, and that brings us to my personal favorite and closer piece on this record, “The Window.”
Lyrically “The Window” is incredibly creepy- “Can you hear him banging at the window? He’s throwing things at the window. I don’t want to let him in/ I wish he wasn’t twice my size.” It’s simultaneously upbeat and incredibly downbeat. The stalker becomes compared to a vampire in the line “He’s Making Holes To Drain Blood.” The vocals are layered and ethereal and the whole song feels like it belongs on the soundtrack to “Rosemary’s Baby.”
It really captures the horror of creepy stalkers. This song was written by Vivien Goldman, the amazing vocalist of Flying Lizards who has been an adjunct professor of punk and reggae at NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, as well as adjunct professor for music cultures and industry at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information. Her voice can be both incredibly beautiful in a classical sense, as well as playful, casual, and throaty all in a few breaths.
It’s incredible to me that Virgin Records at one time released a record with such a diverse and odd range of songs. It’s hard to imagine a mainstream record label in the early 21st century releasing a record that combines such a weird mix of psychedelica, folk, punk, trance, and rock and roll. I think both “Flying Lizards” and “Top Ten” are must have records for the true vinyl collector who appreciates the rare gift of truly talented, unique, oddball, beautiful music.
Listen to “The Window” here.