Hong Kong Garden (song)

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"Hong Kong Garden"
Single by Siouxsie and the Banshees
B-side "Voices (On the Air)"
Released 18 August 1978
Format 7"
Recorded 1978
Genre Post-punk
Length 2:52
Label Polydor
Writer(s) Siouxsie and the Banshees
Producer(s) Nils Stevenson, Steve Lillywhite
Siouxsie and the Banshees singles chronology
  • "Hong Kong Garden"
  • (1978)
Alternative cover
2014 vinyl reissue artwork

"Hong Kong Garden" is the debut non-album single by English post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was released in 1978 by record label Polydor. The single quickly hit number 7 in the UK Singles Chart.[1]

The song is now widely acknowledged as a classic.[2] In March 2005, Q placed it in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever"[3] and British writer Colin Larkin qualified it as "sublime".[4]

Background and content[edit]

The instrumental first version was called "People Phobia", composed by guitarist John McKay in 1977. The first time the band heard it, they were on a tour bus.[5]

The song was named after the Hong Kong Garden Chinese take-away in Chislehurst High Street. Siouxsie was quoted as explaining the lyrics with reference to the racist activities of skinheads visiting the take-away:

I'll never forget, there was a Chinese restaurant in Chislehurst called the 'Hong Kong Garden'. Me and my friend were really upset that we used to go there and like, occasionally when the skinheads would turn up it would really turn really ugly. These gits would just go in en masse and just terrorise these Chinese people who were working there. We'd try and say 'Leave them alone', you know. It was a kind of tribute.[6]

Siouxsie put all her anger and frustration into the words:

I remember wishing that I could be like Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick all the skinheads' heads in, because they used to mercilessly torment these people for being foreigners. It made me feel so helpless, hopeless and ill.[7]

Recording[edit]

Siouxsie and the Banshees' first line-up for the single "Hong Kong Garden", left to right: Siouxsie, Kenny Morris, John McKay and Steven Severin

The band's label Polydor Records booked the Olympic Studios in London in July 1978 to record the song with the help of American producer Bruce Albertine, who was more into soul music. The result wasn't convincing; the band hated it.[8] Their manager Nils Stevenson quickly decided to call another sound engineer who had a musical approach closer to theirs.[5] Lillywhite was in London at that time recording with Johnny Thunders.

Lillywhite finally re-recorded the song in two days:[5] "Hong Kong Garden" would be his first hit record as a producer.[8] He was hired because of his ability to get a certain sound on drums. Lillywhite told Banshees drummer Kenny Morris to not record all the drums at the same time. Morris did the bass drum and the snare drum first. Then he did the cymbals and the tom-toms later.[8] Lillywhite also added echo on the drums, adding significant space to the entire recording. NME retrospectively said that Lillywhite's work, "revolutionis[ed] the post-punk band's sound with an innovative approach to laying down the drums.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

"Hong Kong Garden" was released on 18 August 1978 by Polydor Records. It reached number 7 in the UK Singles Chart and became one of the first post-punk hits.[1][5]

The record was "Single of the Week" in NME,[5] Melody Maker,[10] Sounds'[11] and Record Mirror.[12] The song was described by Paul Rambali in NME as "a bright, vivid narrative, something like snapshots from the window of a speeding Japanese train, power charged by the most original, intoxicating guitar playing heard in a long, long time."[13] Melody Maker underlined: "The elements come together with remarkable effects. The song is strident and powerful with tantalising oriental guitar riffs."[10] Sounds hailed the song as "constructed in the time-honoured tradition of all good singles – catchy, original arrangement coupled with an irresistible sing-along chorus."[11] Record Mirror described the effect the record had as "accessibilty incarnated [...] I'm playing it every third record. I love every second."[12] One year after its first broadcast on John Peel session, critic Ian Birch reviewed The Cure's song "Killing an Arab" in early 1979, saying: "As 'Hong Kong Garden' used a simple Oriental styled riff to striking effect, so ["Killing An] Arab" conjures up edginess through a Moorish-flavour guitar pattern".[14]

Reissue[edit]

In April 2014, "Hong Kong Garden" was reissued on double 7" vinyl with new artwork and an eight-page booklet, overseen by Siouxsie and Severin. The first disc featured the original A- and B-sides ("Voices (On the Air)"). The second disc included the 2006 version of "Hong Kong Garden" with the orchestral introduction (reworked for the Marie Antoinette movie soundtrack), backed with the 1984 version of "Voices" from The Thorn EP.[15]

Legacy[edit]

In 2014, Sonic Youth vocalist-guitarist Thurston Moore named "Hong Kong Garden" as one of his 25 all-time favourite songs.[16]

Different versions[edit]

On the first studio version recorded by the BBC in February 1978, the "oriental" hook was played on a pixiphone, a toy glockenspiel with metallic bars; this version was later issued on both Voices on the Air: The Peel Sessions and At the BBC.

On the second version recorded for Polydor in June 1978, the instrument used was a xylophone, an instrument with wooden bars. This Polydor version was released as a stand-alone single and hit No. 7 in the UK Singles Chart. When Siouxsie and the Banshees' debut album The Scream came out later in the year, "Hong Kong Garden" was not included. It later surfaced on the singles compilation album Once Upon a Time: The Singles. In 2002, the song was remastered for release on The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees.

In 2006, a reworked version of "Hong Kong Garden" was included on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette; this slightly different version included an orchestral string introduction.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "1978 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 16th September 1978". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "Mojo – 100 Punk Scorchers". Mojo (Rocklist.net) (95). October 2001. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever!". Q (Rocklist.net) (224). March 2005. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Siouxsie And The Banshees". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Webb, Robert (21 August 2009). "Story of the song: Hong Kong Garden, Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978)". The Independent. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Punk Top Ten Interview. 8 June 2001
  7. ^ Goddard, Simon (January 2005). "The Life & Loves of a She-Devil". Uncut. 
  8. ^ a b c Tassell, Nige (12 January 2012). "Tori Amos, Kristin Hersh, Anton Corbin and more recall their big career firsts". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  9. ^ "The 50 Best Producers Ever: #40 – Steve Lillywhite". NME. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Birch, Ian (19 August 1978). "Single of the Week: Hong Kong Garden". Melody Maker. 
  11. ^ a b Lewis, David (19 August 1978). "Single of The Week (Also known as the kiss of life)". Sounds. 
  12. ^ a b Gardner, Mike (19 August 1978). "Hong Kong Garden". Record Mirror. 
  13. ^ Rambali, Paul (19 August 1978). "Hong Kong Garden". NME. 
  14. ^ Birch, Ian (24 March 1979). "Practical Poprock". Melody Maker. 
  15. ^ "Siouxsie and the Banshees to reissue 'Hong Kong Garden' on double 7-inch vinyl". Slicing Up Eyeballs. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  16. ^ Kaye, Ben (17 January 2014). "Here are Thurston Moore's favorite songs of all time". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 21 January 2014.