From scummy street vagabonds to bullshitting indie bands, Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics are populated by a cast of colourful characters, bringing the music to vibrant life. But who are they and what from Alex Turner’s real life inspired them? Here’s some of their great early lyrics investigated…
‘When The Sun Goes Down’
A scummy man. A value-range prostitute.
What we know: The band’s practise rooms used to be in Neepsend – a dodgy part of Sheffield, where they would regularly see streetwalkers tracing a path along the main road.
What the band have said:
Andy: “Fucking scary people.”
Alex: “You’d see a bloke with a carrier bag or summat and it’s like, ‘What the fuck is he doing her at this time of the night?’ Or you’d be packing your guitars away and somebody’d walk past and be like ‘How much is one of them worth?”
What the lyrics suggest: Seems like it’s a pretty open-and-shut case, sarge. A shivering prostitute stands in her scants on a Sheffield street as the sun sets, watched over by a scummy pimp with a driving ban (among other offences), until some filthy nasty john pulls up to the kerb in a Ford Mondeo. They disappear off together into the night, while Alex Turner is stood opposite with a notebook, a pen and an eye on being this generation’s Sting, eagerly writing down all this great material.
What the internet thinks: “It’s a tribute to prossies and their pimps – but i love this song!!!”
“’They’re all infected but he’ll be alright.’ I think he means they’ve got aids?”
What they teach us: Don’t become a prostitute if you’re sensitive to cold weather ‘cos really you can’t pick up much trade when you’re wearing a nice big woolly jumper, some trackie pants and a bobble hat.
Real-life equivalent: Wayne Rooney and his granny masseuse.
Fake Tales Of San Francisco
A band from Rotherham who would prefer to be from Cal-i-for-nay-ah
What we know: Alex Turner worked in Sheffield venue The Boardwalk, which, after coming up against one too many sub-Razorlight wannabes queuing to jump on the urch-rock bandwagon, gave him the idea for ‘Fake Tales…’
What the lyrics suggest: The reference to trilbies and white wine are a direct wormhole back to 2005, when for £7 you could see six bands full of these over-styled chances in hoopy T-shirts any given night. Also, it’s widely unknown that New York Stadium is actually the home of Rotherham FC (well, since 2012 – Ed).
What the internet thinks: “I get the impression they are at a wedding, and the band looks really cool and trendy, but actually, is really horrible… ‘All that’s left, is the proof that love’s not only blind, but deaf.’ And ‘all the weekend rock stars are in the toilet practising their lines’. Since they’re only a wedding band, it probably isn’t their main profession.”
What they teach us: You should still turn up early to the show – you never know who you might catch.
Real-life equivalent: The Family Rain.
A scummy man. A value-range prostitute.
What we know: Began life as a word-game between Alex Turner and his then-girlfriend Johanna Bennett. “We were on holiday and had cut ourselves off from everything…” she told The Observer. “So as not to drive each other mad we started messing around with these words, like a game, singing them to each other.”
What the band have said: Alex: “It started off as a joke. Then it were like, ‘Here’s another verse.’ Some of the lines were hers. I couldn’t have not credited her.”
What the lyrics suggest: A woman who married young, and badly, to “a gentleman who isn’t gentle”, and has seen the best years of her life taper away into a bone-dry sexual desert.
What the internet thinks: “A woman who is now going through menopause: ‘That Bloody Mary’s lacking a Tabasco’.”
What they teach us: Shagging gets boring as you get older so just do lots of it now and you should have enough sexy memories in the bank.
Real-life equivalent: Marianne Faithfull.
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The girl with her hands between her thighs
What we know: Turner admits it refers specifically to an ex-girlfriend. Looking at his personal timeline and when it was likely written, it’s probably Johanna Bennett.
What the band have said: “The first proper love song we’ve done… as in like, ‘Oh, it’s that one person.’”
What the lyrics suggest: Elliptical account of a relationship glimpsed in nostalgic bytes, fragments, images: the seven-hour flight, the 45-minute drive. It’s suffused with a sense of distance and the yearning to close it.
What the internet thinks: “It’s about Alex Turner going to his girlfriend’s house (‘505’) to dump her after being warned by his mother.”
“The line “The knife twists at the thought that I should fall short of the mark” refers to a TS Eliot poem, ‘Rhapsody On A Windy Night’.
What they teach us: The world is split into two types: those who interpret ‘hands between your thighs’ as a tender, vulnerable gesture. And bastards on the internet who see wanking everywhere.
Real-life equivalent: Alexa Chung.
Do The Bad Thing
A cheaty girl
What we know: Alex was propositioned by various already-attached women, and melded the anecdotes into one song.
What the band have said: Alex: “’Do The Bad Thing’ is meeting three lasses on separate occasions and it all ended up in there.”
What the lyrics suggest: Alex is inserting himself quite directly into this song, even while lyrically refusing to himself into various young women. He’s approached by a girl who tells him that her partner isn’t the jealous type, even as she takes off her wedding ring. As guilt swims back in, she blames it on the red wine. He isn’t so sure.
What the internet thinks: “I heard it was about when Kate Moss tried chatting him up at a party. Seems to make sense.”
What they teach us: Always blame it on the vino.
Real-life equivalent: Kristen Stewart.
Mr Brian Storm
What we know: Drawn entirely from real-life. Backstage in Tokyo on their first album tour, the band met a fast-talker who had somehow managed to blag his way past all security.
What the band have said: Alex: “I can’t remember Brian now… I don’t know if he were in my imagination or what… it’s a blank spot in my brain…. I think that what he [Brian] wanted.”
What the lyrics suggest: They describe this legendary Slick Rick who could have any girl he wanted, who moves like stormclouds through the world, reigning wherever he goes. The exact sarcasm/awe ratio is hard to judge, but it seems like there’s more than a touch of the latter.
What the internet thinks: “Brian is my business partner in Japan. A big AM fan who casually mentioned while having a burger in Tokyo that he met the band with his wife and son backstage and passed me the pic with the band. Did laugh with the shirt, tie combo.”
What they teach us: Being backstage, nicking the riders, Twiglets and J2O doesn’t automatically make you cool.
Real-life equivalent: Perez Hilton.
Cigarette Smoker Fiona
Fiona. Nice bird. Likes fags. Bit posh
What we know: The song was originally called ‘Cigarette Smoke’ and came with a completely different set of lyrics about an oily bloke snorting blow off a stripper’s thigh. Shortly before the ‘Beneath The Boardwalk’ EP, Turner decided to re-write it to fit in better with his emerging style.
What the lyrics suggest: Possibly somewhat spoilt, definitely from the right side of the tracks, Fiona’s mum’n’dad are out, and she’s parked up by the pool with Alex, puffing on a fag, trying to keep tabs on the swelling house party she’s started but can’t finish, on account of having accidentally gotten blind drunk.
What the internet thinks: “She was rich and that, so easily could have been a posh stuck-up bird, and wasn’t.”
What they teach us: If you listen very carefully to this track you can hear a junior government minister repeatedly telling you that smoking can cause birth defects.
Real-life equivalent: Pippa Middleton.
Do Me A Favour
A jilted lover. A jilter: probably Alex
What we know: Seems autobiographical, as Alex has admitted.
What the band have said: “It’s about a goodbye, really, and about me being a bit of a knob. Perhaps I were craving to experience something else and looking back and feeling like you were a bit of a knobhead, just in how you perhaps treated that person. It’s just describing a goodbye. That’s another thing – when you’re with someone they seem happier in photos before you met her, or happier in stories from before. I always think they do.”
What the lyrics suggest: The messiest hour of the messy end of a messy relationship. Tears on the steering wheel. Her, limping side with “shoes untied”, a forced smile and valedictory wave. The exhortation to “break my nose”. The bitterness swelling (“stop flattering yourself!”) and Alex wondering whether ripping the plaster off in one go with a hearty ‘fuck off’ might be worth it, or might just compromise too much what went before.”
What the internet thinks: “This song was wrote about the day he split with his girlfriend when they had wrote the 2nd album and was moving away from Sheffield… away from her.”
“I think this is a song about a breakup (obviously), but its caused by the boyfriend pressurising the girl into sex when she wasn’t ready, they fooled around a lil in the car (implied by the bit about car going around the bend) but neither of them were ready.”
What they teach us: Dump them by text.
Real-life equivalent: Nicole Appleton.