|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
|Single by Ben Folds Five|
|from the album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner|
|Ben Folds Five singles chronology|
CD single I
- "Army" – 3:25
- "Air" – 3:20
- "(Theme from) Dr Pyser" – 3:15
CD single II
- "Army" (clean version) – 3:25
- "Leather Jacket" – 3:20
- "Birds" – 3:15
Lyrics, composition, and popularity
The song is extremely popular among fans of the band and even during the band's break up, the song was still almost always performed at Ben Folds' solo concerts. The song deals with indecision, independence, conflict, and freedom, and contains many memorable moments, including the opening line ("Well I thought about the army, dad said 'Son, you're fucking high!'") and the bridge, which consists of a horn ensemble.
Folds has explained at live performances that the entire song is based on personal experiences, with a few exceptions (most notably that he never grew a mullet).
Here's Ben's explanation from a recording at Enmore:
This one's about my really horrible experience trying to get through college. And I got a scholarship and then I lost a scholarship... after a semester cause I flunked a class because I flunked one test. The class was based on one test. The one I flunked. I flunked the test because I got delivered to the test in a police car at six o'clock in the morning with stitches in my nose and stitches in my mouth. And I was still drunk. And I had a broken hand, presumably because I had clocked that ass. I hit the wall.
So I threw my drum set, which is the instrument that I flunked on, into Lake Osceola in the middle University of Miami and I took a Greyhound bus, I don't shit you, it was a Greyhound bus back home and I worked with a bunch of old ladies in a grocery store for about 18 months. It was at that time that I decided in my bedroom I decided while listening to Elvis Costello in 1986 that maybe I shouldn't wait tables and do this old lady job anymore, maybe... I should join the Army.
And umm, for those of you who know the lyrics from the song I derived them, except for the rhyming part which I setup myself, I derived it from the way it actually went down.
My father knocked on the door. I'll just be dad for a second:
[Knock, knock, knock] "Benjamin, what are you doing in there?"
"Well I was thinking about joining the army..."
"You're fucking high"
The clean version is sometimes referred to as the "We Got the 'Fuck' Out edit".
On the live album Ben Folds Live, Folds introduces the song to the audience by saying: "This one goes out to anyone who actually signed up and is in—is gone into the armed forces. Thanks a lot. I tried, I went down to the recruiting center and I talked to them, and I thought about it, but at the end of the day, I think I was genetically inclined to be a musician." He then goes on to instruct the audience in singing the horn parts: "We've got enough people in here to get a bitchin' horn section, so let's cut the audience down the middle. This side, saxophones, this side's trumpets." Later live audiences were split into "bitch and whore sections" by Ben, an auditory spin off of the phrase "bitchin' horn section" heard on Ben Folds Live. The ensemble parts are often performed by the crowds during concerts in an audience participation bit which Folds "conducts". In addition, the audience customarily sings the line, "God please spare me more rejection." Folds also frequently changes the last line from "the army" to "your mommy" or, on occasion, "all y'all's mommies".
In the DVD sessions at West 54th, in the Spare Reels footage, Ben Folds Five can be seen recording the song. The lyrics are slightly different, and the horn parts are either scat sung by Folds or omitted.
"Army" was performed by the Legally Prohibited Band as Conan O'Brien's introduction music on his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.