Some random facts about the songs we're singing for the upcoming concert:
"Shiny Happy People"
was going to be the theme song to the television show "Friends," back when it was called "Friends Like Us."
The title and chorus are based on a Chinese propaganda poster. The slogan "Shiny happy people holding hands" is used ironically - the song was released in 1991, 2 years after the Tiananmen Square uprising when the Chinese government clamped down on student demonstrators, killing hundreds of them.
"(Nothing But) Flowers"
From How Music Works (2012), David Byrne p. 168:
I remember coming up with the words for the song "(Nothing But) Flowers" while driving around suburban Minneapolis.... [T]he only gear I needed to write lyrics was a cassette player to play the tracks for inspiration, another small one to record my lyric ideas, and a pad of paper to write them down on....
It wasn't surprising that while driving around the suburbs, not all that far from the Mall of America, I began to imagine a scenario in which all the economy had changed and the malls and housing developments had all begun to crumble and devolve to a prior state. The twist was that this scenario allowed me to also frame the song as a nostalgic look at vanishing sprawl, a phenomena I hadn't thought that I was terribly sentimental about. It was obviously ironic in intent, but it also allowed me to express a love and affection for aspects of my culture that I had previously professed to loathe.
The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr played on this track: "When I got there they put down some bass and drum tracks. '(Nothing But) Flowers' sounded almost like a Reggae dub track. I wasn't trying to play in an African style - although some people pointed out that I sometimes sound like that anyway! I knew all about King Sunny Ade (performer of Nigerian juju music) and I love Fela Kuti (Nigerian multi-instrumentalist) but really I just played melodies that sounded good in a high range. The intro to 'Flowers' was me playing without knowing the tape machine was on - that's how little attention I paid to any kind of remit! I built that track from the ground up. I was impressed with what David (Byrne) did on it. He worked super quickly on it."
Kirsty MacColl contributed backing vocals to this song. Among her other credits are vocals on The Pogues "Fairytale Of New York"
"If I Had $1,000,000"
Recorded as as demo by the Barenaked Ladies, the independently released Yellow Tape that featured this song sold 500,000 copies! It was the first independent cassette to go platinum in their native Canada.
As one of the oldest songs in the BNL songbook, the band tends to play around with this song, messing with lyrics and incorporating other songs that are timely or local to their performance. For example from 1996 in Scotland:
And then in 2007 in Michigan (with accordion!):
In Boston, riffing on the Duck Boat tours, and then after the song, compiling a greatest hits medley from 2010:
"Road to Nowhere"
According to David Byrne, they had finished this song and it felt simplistic and monotonous and so they added the a capella choral introduction.
This video was directed by Stephen R. Johnson, who later used similar special effects for Peter Gabriel videos (like "Sledgehammer").
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Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.