John Cooper Clarke On Alex Turner’s Lyrics And Writing ‘I Wanna Be Yours’

Punk poet John Cooper Clarke goes way back with Arctic Monkeys, and their mutual love comes full circle on latest album ‘AM’.

On closing track ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, the band put John’s poem of the same name to music. You might recognise it, as it’s been a staple in GCSE English for years (and rightly so). As Alex Turner has previously explained, it was a huge inspiration for him as a lyricist:

“I was your typical teenager, trying to be cool and not interested and the teacher proceeded to read ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, doing an impression of Johnny. It made my ears prick up in the classroom because it was nothing like anything I’d heard, especially on this syllabus. Had I not seen him do his thing, I wouldn’t have started writing like that.”

Both men seem to share that surrealist, kitchen sink-drama sense of Britishness when it comes to their writing, so of course I had to speak to John about their shared interests. Below, I’ve posted the full transcript of our chat – asking him about the original poem, what he thinks of Alex as a lyricist and his honorary degree from Salford University (“Finally, my eye surgery business can become a reality,” he told me, tongue firmly in cheek!”).

But first, here are Alex’s lyrics to the track:

Arctic Monkeys – ‘I Wanna Be Yours’

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
let me be your coffee pot
You call the shots babe
I just wanna be yours

Secrets I have held in my heart
are harder to hide than I thought
Maybe I just wanna be yours
I wanna be yours
I wanna be yours

Let me be your leccy meter
And I’ll never run out
Let me be the portable heater
That you’ll get cold without
I wanna be your setting lotion
hold your hair in deep devotion
At least as deep as the Pacific ocean
I wanna be yours

Secrets I have held in my heart
are harder to hide than I thought
Maybe I just wanna be yours
I wanna be yours
I wanna be yours

They’re ever so slightly different to John’s, which you can read here, or listen to him perform here:

Here’s the full Q&A with John:

NME: Can you remember when you wrote ‘I Wanna Be Yours’?

John Cooper Clarke: I wrote it along with a load of others at the time, I tend to write like that. I remember when it was – about ’83 or ’84 or something like that. It’s come to my attention that it’s the wedding favourite. The number of people that have said, ‘I had that read at my wedding’, or ‘My husband proposed to me using that number’… It’s been very useful in the world of modern romance! It is to modern wedding ceremonies what ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ by Eric Idle is to humanist funerals. I probably go to a great many more funerals than you do, so take it from me.

People propose to it then – so how does that compare to Arctic Monkeys closing their album with it?

I think it’s great the band have used it, because I think it was always kind of a song. It’s a poem that owes a great deal to popular music. I haven’t heard their version yet, but I know it’s gonna be great.

It’s a ballad, it doesn’t sound like The Fall or something people might expect to be associated with you.

Well that’s the kind of number it is, really. What it is, it’s the classic thing of the desire to make yourself useful to the object of your desire, taken to a pathological degree to the point where you’re actually reducing yourself to a commodity.

How did you find out the band would be using it?

I only heard the day before yesterday! To be honest, I got an erroneous email a while back that said they were gonna do a version of another of my numbers, ‘Evidently Chickentown’, So I was kind of expecting that they were gonna do a cover of one of mine, but the day before yesterday I heard it was gonna be ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ – great!

Alex sings it in a very emotive way. If you weren’t clued up you might not realise they’re not his words.

I’m sure he’s done a great job. He’s a great lyricist and, well, he’s a proper singer. He is emotive. He’s got a great deal of feeling in his voice, and he makes that northern accent sound very sexy.

Which is difficult, right?!

I think it is! It’s got a lot of George Formby baggage, not that there’s anything wrong with George. But it’s only in recent years that a northern accent has been seen to be the language of lurve.

Alex changes the odd bit in the track, adding one of his own lines – “Secrets I have held in my heart / are harder to hide than I thought“. Are you cool with that?

Yeah, I would have expected that. I think that’s great, that’s what people do with songs. There’s a tradition with this. Especially a number like that, because it cries out for updating because it uses brand names. One would expect it to be kind of updated, in much the same way that Sinatra might use different comparisons for a song like ‘You’re The Top’ by Cole Porter.

Do you rate him as a lyricist?

I think he’s a fantastic lyricist. He’s always changing, and as a band they won’t be pinned down. I like that album they made when they’d been to the States for the first time, they were so obviously Americanised. I think things like that are a strength, where you can make every new experience uniquely you. That’s part of the secret of longevity.

‘AM’ is even more American, in some ways.

Popular music itself is an American invention as we know it, so there ain’t no shame in that I don’t think.

You go back a long way with the band, you met them pretty early on didn’t you?

I did, I met them about a fortnight before they went mega. I was doing a show at the boardwalk in Sheffield with The Fall. I was about to leave, go home, and Chris, the guy who used to own the late lamented Boardwalk club in Sheffield said there’s some lads here who’d like to say hello, they’re called the Arctic Monkeys. And I thought, that’s a name I can imagine in the hit parade! And then a fortnight later they went viral. That was their ‘in’ wasn’t it? They came fully formed really, with a fan base and everything. But I knew they were good.

And eight years later they covered one of yours.

It’s great, I like that! I think Alex is fabulous, and I think they’re a great band. They can really play, and they get better and better and better and better. Alex’s many changing moods are always an object of fascination in the playground of my imagination!

Would you do something live with them if they asked?

Yeah, if they asked me I’d get involved – of course I would! I love what they do. For sure! I don’t work with anybody I don’t like, just for the attention. I suppose it’s not very surprising but all the people that have sort of latched onto us lately are all people that I really like. I include Plan B and the Alabama 3, people like that. It’s a pleasure to be involved with acts like that, and Arctic Monkeys, because these people are in for the long haul.

To bring it back to you, the doctorate you got from Salford uni – were you proud?

Well, I’ve obviously been a great source of inspiration to the academic population of Salford! They’re citing me as a major contribution to their upward trajectory!

And would they be right?

I think so.

At this point, I asked John what his favourite work in progress was and he proceeded to reel off ‘The Endorser’. Hero.

Here it is as a SoundCloud: