Back To School With Arctic Monkeys: Get A Lesson In Culture From Alex Turner’s Lyrics

Alex Turner‘s well known for his sharp lyricism and intelligent ways, and his songs are littered with references to various writers, books, TV shows, films and musicals. Whether you’re whiling away the summer holidays before school or uni starts again, or out of education already, let him guide you through some of pop culture’s highlights in the form of Arctic Monkeys songs, from the obvious to the obscure.

‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
Recommended reading: Saturday Night And Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe
The Monkeys’ debut album takes its title from Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, the 1958 novel by Nottingham writer Alan Sillitoe. The record’s name is a direct quote from the book, which follows 21-year-old Arthur Seaton on a drunken night out full of romance and fighting, and the subsequent morning after.

‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’
Recommended reading: Romeo And Juliet by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet gets a namecheck in the band’s breakthrough song, with Turner describing a club as having “no love, no Montagues or Capulets/Just banging tunes and DJ sets“.

‘You Probably Couldn’t See For The Lights But You Were Staring Right At Me’
Recommended viewing: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
This track from the group’s debut album features what’s probably one of Turner’s most infamous cultural references, alluding to the ’70s sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. “And I’m so tense, never tenser/Could all go a bit Frank Spencer?” sings the frontman, using the show’s accident-prone character to suggest he’s going to embarrass himself in front of a girl.

‘A Certain Romance’
Recommended reading: Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle
Turner showed his social observation skills with aplomb on this song, describing a night out with “boys in bands” and “kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands“. He makes the point that you don’t need to be a super sharp detective to “see it’s a little different around here” by referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth Sherlock Holmes.

‘Old Yellow Bricks’
Recommended viewing: The Wizard Of Oz
This track from ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ is about running away from your hometown only to realise it’s not all that bad after all, so it’s fitting that it takes its title from an element of The Wizard Of Oz. The last line (“Dorothy was right though“) alludes to the story’s famous line “There’s no place like home”.

‘Black Treacle’
Recommended viewing: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Here, Turner uses the Sundance Kid from Western film Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid to portray how out of place he feels. The line in question? “I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer“.

‘R U Mine’
Recommended viewing: Thunderbirds
In the ’60s sci-fi TV show Thunderbirds, a secret organisation called International Rescue try to save human life from their Tracy Island base. ‘R U Mine’, from the Monkeys’ fifth album ‘AM’, opens “I’m a puppet on a string/Tracy Island, time-traveling diamond cutter-shaped heartaches“.

Recommended viewing: Barbarella
Jane Fonda wears a silver swimsuit in sci-fi flick Barbarella and the woman Turner’s got his eye on in ‘Arabella’ owns something similar, alongside some “interstellar gator skin boots“.

‘Knee Socks’
Recommended viewing: Mean Streets
This Josh Homme-featuring track from ‘AM’ details the opening of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 crime film Mean Streets in the line “Like the beginning of Mean Streets you can be my baby“. In the movie’s opening scene, The Ronettes‘ track ‘Be My Baby’ is playing.

‘Stop The World I Wanna Get Off With You’
Recommended viewing: Stop The World – I Want To Get Off
This lusty b-side appropriates the title of a musical by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, called Stop The World – I Want To Get Off. In the production, the lead character Littlechap shouts “Stop the world” whenever something bad happens.

‘Despair In The Departure Lounge’
Recommended viewing: Only Fools And Horses
This ode to travel getting in the way of a relationship depicts Turner watching Only Fools And Horses on a plane, but getting no comfort from its comedy. “He’s got the feeling again, this time on the aeroplane/There might be tellys on the back of the seats in front, but Rodney and Del won’t do/Although it might take your mind off the aches and the pains/Laugh when he falls through the bar but you’re feeling the same,” goes one depressing verse.

‘Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?’
Recommended learning: life and work of Christopher Columbus
And there’s a couple of hundred/Think they’re Christopher Columbus,” sneers Turner on this vitriolic track. It’s assumed his disdain is aimed at new bands who, like explorer Columbus, think they’re breaking new ground when they’re not the first to visit that territory at all.

‘You’re So Dark’
Recommended reading: Works of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe
Recommended viewing: The Munsters

In this B-side, Turner’s talking about a gothic girl he likes and comparing her to the darkest things he can think of. The opening verse references two of American horror literature’s most infamous writers, H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe (and the latter’s work The Raven), plus Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Later in the track he references ’60s American horror sitcom The Munsters, which focuses around a family of monsters whose family car is called the Munster Koach. Turner’s crush drives a Prius, but to him “even that was Munster Koach-esque“.