Duchess – The Stranglers

“Duch of the terrace never grew up, I hope she never will, broken-down TV sits in the corner, pictures standing still, standing still”

Controversy swilled and swirled around anything punk. By the time we got to 1979 and The Raven the good old moral arbiter of England’s dreaming (the BBC) decided to ban the video for this song from being played on Top Of The Pops because the band were dressed a choirboys (Blasphemy! Blasphemy!). Stroll on! It’s like they were playing into the punk lots hands, it really was.

Hardly the bands most controversial era

To me Duchess has always been quite a sympathetic and gentle tune about one of the special people. I didn’t see Duchess as a snob. She just wanted more than the crappy grey broken late 70’s had to offer her. Let’s not put her on a pedestal, but lets not drag her into the gutter either. That’s how I always heard it. Other people have supposed Duchess thinks she’s too good for the people and place she finds herself in. Like many a middle class merchants daughter she has allusions and dreams of a cleaner, wealthier, better spoken tier of society than the one that has housed, fed and educated her.

The shocking Punk Images of The Stranglers in 1979

“And it sounds like an empty house, standing still and it’s quieter than a mouse, standing still”

Maybe the Duch was left alone. High and dry. A bracket or so lower than the station she saw as her natural fit. Or maybe she just doesn’t feel at home down the Dog & Duck brawling for pig snacks on the weekend after payday. The space left in the lyrics leave it open to interpretation. There’s enough detail to paint you a picture and there’s enough cross hatching to still fill in so you can make your own mind up if a Rodney is a toff or an urchin. To decide if she is landed gentry down on her luck, a girl with ideas above her station or a special kind of person. The sort who inspires songs written about them.

“And the Rodneys are queuing up, God forbid! And they all want to win the cup, God forbid”

Upon it’s release as a single it made the top 20 in the UK. The Beeb had to relent on it’s ridiculous stance about the sleeve image and accompanying video (Infamy! Infamy!). So the iffy jumper crowd let them on Top Of The Pops the following week to play along in person (They’ve all got it in for me!).

80’s New Waver Hazel O’Connor had a hit with a cover of the song only a couple of years later and 90’s Luxury Britpop Lounge act My Life Story have recorded a cover too.

Speaking of Britpop, Suede recorded a track with the same title which (as it turns out) is a bit of a highlight on their expansive B-Sides compilation Sci-Fi Lullabies. There are some conspiratorial types who proffer the theory it is a sequel in lyrics to The Stranglers tune. Broken TV’s swapped for ‘Your only friend the Telephone’ I quite like the idea. A tribute to a character in a song. It’s like learning that The Girl From Clapham came back to the bloke from Up The Junction or that Terry and Julie from Waterloo Sunset had grandkids.

The single had a cracking B-Side too in the form of Fools Rush Out. So have the charming fan made Lego video for that to relive some thing akin to the entire 1979 pocket money in exchange for two songs 7″ single experience.

The toppermost of the poppermost
Just look at that sleeve. What were they thinking?
for the fans maaaan!
The sequel? – Prolly not.

9 thoughts on “Duchess – The Stranglers

  1. Good lord! I love the music of The Stranglers, but this one takes the cake! Greenfield’s electric harpsichord slays me and the pop factor is off the map. This has been my favorite Stranglers’ song since I saw the video on US TV [no controversies here] on “Rockworld.” One of those low-budget, late 70s, pre-MTV things that played a hour of videos a week for our New Wave starved eyes. Here in America, they did not release “The Raven.” Instead we got a compilation album called “IV” with the sleeve art from the “Who Wants The World” single with about half of “The Raven” and some odds and ends to fill it out. And a bonus 7″ EP inside the sleeve with three more tracks. I never got that, though. No, I waited and got the UK CD of “The Raven” and a few years later, managed to get the gorgeous OZ 1st printing of the LP with the 3D lenticular sleeve that the UK also had. Best of all, when I saw Huge Cornwell in 2013, he played “Duchess” with his power trio and it was a dream come true even without Dave Greenfield [r.i.p.].

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you’re a real fan. You’d have loved the shows I’ve seen them do (x 3 times) but of course never the original line up for me. I’m so glad to find a band I can really dive into

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  2. Actually, I was more than willing to follow The Stranglers without Hugh. Given that the band had two lead singers and my favorite Stranglers material was evenly split between Hugh and JJ, I was expecting JJ to take over the band and get a guitarist. But that’s not how it went. I bought the first single with Paul Rodgers and absolutely HATED it. I’ve ignored The Stranglers ever since, thought I am aware of them getting yet another lead singer after Rodgers left. Meanwhile, Hugh has made a wide variety of solo albums that I’ve greatly enjoyed.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The collaborative albums are atypical. “Nosferatu” (1979) is an art rock outlier to nowhere. CCW (1992) was almost a country project with Roger Cook and Andy West. His first proper solo was 1988’s “Wolf.” But Clanger/Winstanley production is not to my taste. Anything post 93 would work but you would probably like “Hoover Dam” a lot. A solid power trio album. As was “Totem and Taboo” with Albini “recording.” I don’t have the latest one yet but those two should work for you.

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