Death Cab for Cutie (song)


Death Cab for Cutie (song)

"Death Cab for Cutie" is a song composed by Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes and performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It was included on their 1967 album Gorilla.

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Innes' initial inspiration for the song was the title of an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he had encountered. Stanshall's primary contribution was to shape "Death Cab For Cutie" as a send-up of Elvis Presley, and he sang it as such. In the style of several early teenage tragedy songs, such as "Teen Angel", it tells a story of youthful angst: "Cutie" who goes out on the town against her lover's wishes. "Last night Cutie caught a cab, uhuh-huh..." She is killed when the taxicab she is in runs a red light and crashes. Stanshall, as lead singer, details Cutie's doomed journey to the sound of a honky-tonk piano, while the Bonzo chorus warns: "Baby, don't do it..." Stanshall repeats the refrain in true Presley hip-wriggling style: "Someone's going to MAKE... you pay your fare."

The song is one of the better known songs in the Bonzo Dog Band canon because it was featured in the Beatles' television film Magical Mystery Tour. Performed on stage by the Bonzos at the Raymond Revuebar in London, it was the accompaniment for a striptease act performed by Jan Carson while she was ogled by club customers including John Lennon and George Harrison.

Performances

The Bonzo Dog Band can be seen playing the song in a 1967 episode of the children's TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set, which is now available on DVD.

Alex Chilton of Big Star covered the song live on WLYX Memphis in 1975. The song is also referenced on the 1984 Culture Club album Waking Up with the House on Fire, in the song "Crime Time", which is a throwback to the early rock 'n' roll sound. The indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie were named after the song.

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"The name was never supposed to be something that someone was going to reference 15 years on. So yeah, I would absolutely go back and give it a more obvious name. But thank God for Wikipedia. At least now, people don’t have to ask me where the fucking name came from every interview."
—Ben Gibbard, 2011[1]

While Innes recalls encountering the phrase as the title of an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he had encountered - the phrase Death Cab for Cutie may have been coined by Richard Hoggart in his The Uses of Literacy, a 1957 book discussing British popular culture and a pioneering work in the cultural studies field. The term appears in Chapter 8, "The Newer Mass Art: Sex in Shiny Packets," under part C: "Sex and Violence Novels". Hoggart provides a list of "imitations" of the "terse, periodic titles" of these novels, including "Sweetie, Take It Hot"; "The Lady Takes a Dive"; "Aim Low, Angel"; "Sweetheart, Curves Can Kill"; and "Death-Cab for Cutie" (note use of the hyphen in "Death-Cab")

Ben Gibbard used the title of the song as the name of the rock band he founded in 1997.

References

  1. ^ O'Connor, Rod (24 August 2011). "Ben Gibbard - Interview". Time Out Chicago. http://timeoutchicago.com/music-nightlife/music/14902391/ben-gibbard-interview. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 

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