Money, as the papers keep telling us, is too tight to mention at the minute. In the weird and ever-evolving world of the hit parade, though, it is everywhere. Following on from ol’ Travie McCoy featuring (the now-definitely-minted) Bruno Mars’ unembarrassed yearn-a-thon to cold hard cash (‘Billionaire’), yer popsters have seemingly retreated from such a vulgar way of thinking.
Jessie J arrives and announces that for her “it’s not about the money” and that “we” (as in her and all the other hoping-to-soon-be-as-minted-as-Bruno types) “just want to make the world dance”. This is a good job, considering the also-oft-reported fact that no fucker in music is making any money any more.
Which brings us nicely to Aloe Blacc, an oasis of quite-goodness in the tirade of utterly unlistenable guff that makes up the Top Ten at the minute. As is customary these days, he’s been there for ages (about ten weeks) with the lovely light-soul of ‘I Need A Dollar’, a song that provide the theme tune to HBO’s (equally quite-good) new show ‘How To Make It In America’. In the show, a couple of likeable chancers are trying to break into the fashion business. In the song, Aloe sings about how he’s been working his arse off, and not getting paid, and then turning to drink. This is a good job, considering… Oh, you get that point.
Money is a popular topic in song, but it’s a tricky one. If you’re Travie, dreaming about being rich, fair enough… until you become rich. If you’re Jessie J, saying you’re not in it at least partly for the benjamins, you’re lying. If you’re Aloe and you’re singing about being skint, fair enough… until you aren’t, because of said song. Look at Pink Floyd’s “knowing” ‘Money’ (“Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash/New car, caviar, four star daydream”) that bleats on about the evils money can bring, then goes on to sell 34 million copies, making them loads of cash, which they haven’t, as far as I’m aware, given away to charity. Look at 50 Cent, who declared he wasn’t going to rap about money anymore, then put out a single that was about something else that sold shit all, then released ‘I Get Money’.
Look at Abba going on about how it “must be funny, in a rich man’s world”. Imagine, Abba! What on earth must it be like?
So anyway, let’s talk about money. Or rather talk about the ten people who have talked about money best. Put your wallets in the air, as our Travie once said.
1. ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ by Barrett Strong
Obviously the best. Vulgar, teenage desire with an awesome backbeat. Motown’s first hit way back in 1960, and later revived by The Beatles and John Lennon, who recognized it as a perfect representation of his bad boy persona during the nice-boy years. “Money don’t get everything, it’s true... but what it don’t get, I can’t use!” As long as they’re being honest with themselves, it applies to the rich, the poor, the mid-salaried alike.
2. ‘Free Money’ by Patti Smith
Here’s a good loophole: write a story-song about someone else making a big score on the lottery, and vowing to do good things with it. Sort of the equivalent of that age-old pub conversation, ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ Actually about Patti’s mum. Patti says: “She always dreamed about winning the lottery. But she never bought a ticket! She would just imagine if she won, make lists of things she would do with the money – a house by the sea for us kids, then all kinds of charitable things.”
3.'Independent Women' by Destiny’s Child
Beyonce’s whole I’m-a-chick-who-earns-her-own cash schtick is starting to wear a little thin these days, but there’s little denying the power of this a pop single, mainly for the “Question!” bit. Not strictly about money, I suppose, but mentions spending enough to qualify.
4. 'Money Changes Everything' by The Smiths
B-side of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, and the second best Smiths instrumental (after ‘Oscillate Wildly’). Very, very Morrissey to title a song this way, then make it an instrumental, eh?
5. ‘Money Talks’ by AC/DC
This was one of AC/DC’s biggest hits, and features the rather amazing chorus: “Come on, come on, love me for the money/Come on, come on, listen to the money talk”. Even more amazingly, when they went out on ‘The Razor’s Edge’ tour in 1990, they dropped a load of these bills all over the assembled crowds.
6. 'Did You Steal My Money?' by The Who
Off the ‘Face Dances’ album from 1981, which is one of those albums that everyone says is shit but is actually not bad at all. This in particular is a great little pop song, with a middle section made up of tumbling pianos. Also: “Did you use me/Why'd I trust you/Why'd you abuse me/I won't bust you”? - an anthem for anyone who, in 2011, finds the banking/bonus business quite annoying and unacceptable.
7. ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)’ by Pet Shop Boys
Over to Neil Tennant: I wrote the words in about fifteen minutes. It's meant for everyone to hate it. Here's this nauseating synth duo singing a song called 'let's make lots of money'. It was meant to be an anti-rock-group song, singing about the things you're not supposed to sing about. It's the same idea, really, as that anti-hippie album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention, ‘We're Only In It For The Money’. It's like punks used to sing about unpalatable everyday things in a way that supposedly glorifies them but doesn't really. The two people in the song are supposed to be absolutely hopeless.”
8. ‘Money Is Not Our God’ by Killing Joke
“The best things I found in life were my birthright/Green fields mean more to me than a brand new car/Will you swap your hi-fi for a clear blue sky?/Will you cash in all your shares for Gods clean air?” A brilliant single with a believably angry lyric and vocal. More believable than Jessie J, anyway.
9. ‘All The Money’s Gone’ by Babylon Zoo
For those who don’t remember, this guy made a song that was on an advert back when being on an advert was “selling out”, then went around saying he was a genius (which largely meant wearing alien dresses, a bit like someone else I can think of), then wasn’t, then was skint. His one moment of genuine inspiration was putting out this super-literal, might-as-well-have-been-posthumous single.
10. ‘The Money Will Roll Right In’ by Nirvana
Not their tune, of course. It’s a Fang cover, but obviously lines like, “I want to be a star, I'm going to have a car/And you'll have to admit, I'll be rich as shit/I'll just sit and grin, the money will roll right in…” take on a new slant when they’re played in the encore of a headline set at Reading by the hugely reluctant poster boy for grunge-as-commercially-viable-pop.
What are your picks for the best tracks about dirty cash?