#31songs (12): Best opening
‘Jacket Hangs’, by the Blue Aeroplanes, from Swagger (1990)
If there’s a single song on Swagger that earns the album its title, it’s the opening one. There’s a confidence about the performances that hadn’t come through on the previous albums, and it all starts with Gerard’s opening line of ‘Jacket Hangs’: ‘Pick a card, any card … Wrong!’ But the swagger is there in the music as well, and especially on this track, which builds on the heave-ho sea shanty rhythm that I mentioned in ‘Bury Your Love Like Treasure’. You can hear it coming through in ‘Warhol’s Fifteen’, a song the band first recorded on Tolerance, but which they later reworked; the characteristic rhythm is much stronger in the version that was collected on Friendloverplane.
Warhol’s Fifteen (YouTube of the Tolerance version)
Warhol’s Fifteen (Spotify of the Friendloverplane version)
It’s never exactly the same rhythm in any of these songs, but there’s a family resemblance. There’s more swaggering in ‘Jacket Hangs’ in the lead guitar line, sometimes striding up and down the fretboard, sometimes cascading down it. The guitar solo, when it comes, is actually nothing special, but it doesn’t need to be: there’s so much going on elsewhere. After the solo the song strips down (around 2.25) and then after eight bars builds up again: another guitar comes in playing quickly strummed small chords (just the high strings), as if it wants to butt into the conversation, and then another guitar playing high chiming notes.
There’s a lot going on in the lyrics, too, some of the most insistently punning lyrics on any of the Aeroplanes’ albums; puns have a place in a certain kind of witty pop song (Andy Partridge is fond of them), but that kind of ostentatious wit isn’t usually Gerard Langley’s mode. We ‘press and suit’; ‘Just so’ for ‘just sew’. ‘Jacket Hangs’ is about surface and depths, appearance and identity, about the costumes we might wear in order to press a suit (to become a suitor?), to get from outside to inside in an emotional and sexual way.
Pick a card, any card. Wrong. Pick nineteenth-century
twin-set pearls in a new clasp, brass neck, collar me
right. We need a suit, we press a suit
so collar me. Collar me siamese cat drapes,
roughneck honey. [Quite the test for the unused boy.
Jacket hangs just so and you’re inside.]*
I believe in what passes for a centre, collar me
in spite of dress, your boyfriend link, crooked arm.
I want to see inside our most difficult act.
We press a suit, we swan about, from rack shop
to hanger blade, that line around your eyes means
you can see, see better than I can, than I see you.
Then I make contact. Swing, loosen up. Let those arms
Rotate like helicopter blades, lift. Little jump and skip
The rest. Like coral or groves the cards are marked
Your eyes are mine, coloured anew and set in train.
I passed the test, I think I passed, I think I’m fine.
Yes, jacket hangs just so and you’re inside.
*Lyrics in the liner notes that aren’t in the recorded version.