Hong Kong Garden (song)

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"Hong Kong Garden"
Single by Siouxsie and the Banshees
from the album The Scream (reissue) and The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees
B-side "Voices (On The Air)"
Released 18 August 1978
Format 7" single
Recorded 1978
Genre Post-punk
Length 02:52
Label Polydor
Writer(s) Sioux / Severin / McKay / Morris
Producer(s) Nils Stevenson
Steve Lillywhite
Siouxsie and the Banshees singles chronology
"Hong Kong Garden"
"The Staircase (Mystery)"
2014 Re-release Cover
2014's artwork, vinyl reissue

"Hong Kong Garden" is the debut single released by British band Siouxsie and the Banshees. It was produced by their manager Nils Stevenson and sound-engineer Steve Lillywhite. Issued in the UK by Polydor Records in 1978, the single quickly hit number seven in the UK Singles Chart.[1]

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

On April 7, 2014, a double seven-inch vinyl of "Hong Kong Garden" will be reissued via Universal.

History and recording[edit]

The instrumental first version was called "People Phobia": it was 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 takeaway in Chislehurst High Street. Siouxsie is quoted as explaining the lyrics with reference to the racist activities of skinheads visiting the takeaway:

"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]

Considering the background to the song, one'll find references to many stereotypical misconceptions of the 'orient'; hence the use of 'yens' instead of 'yen' for instance.

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

Polydor booked the Olympic Studios in London in July 1978 to record the song with the help of an 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] Steve Lillywhite was at that time in the capital 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.[8] Lillywhite told Banshee percussionist Kenny Morris to not record all the drums at the same time. Morris did the bass drum and the snare drum first.[8] Then he did the cymbals and the tom-toms later.[8] Lillywhite also added echo on the drums : that would give a lot of space to the whole 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]

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

The record was single of the week in the NME,[10] Melody Maker,[11] Sounds[12] and Record Mirror.[13] The song was described by Paul Rambali in the 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."[10] Melody Maker underlined: "The elements come together with remarkable effects. The song is strident and powerful with tantalising oriental guitar riffs."[11] 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."[12] Record Mirror described the effect the record had as "accessibilty incarnated... I'm playing it every third record. I love every second."[13] 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]

In 2014, Sonic Youth's singer and guitarist, Thurston Moore, named "Hong Kong Garden" as one of his all time 25 favourite songs.[15]

Different versions[edit]

On the first studio version recorded by the BBC in February 1978, the oriental hook was played on a pixiephone, a toy glockenspiel with metallic bars : this one would be 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 number seven in the UK singles chart. When 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 to feature on The Best of Siouxsie & the Banshees.

In 2006, a re-worked version of "Hong Kong Garden" was included on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette, in a slightly different version with an orchestral string introduction.

2014 Reissue[edit]

In April, "Hong Kong Garden" was reissued on double 7-inch vinyl with new artwork and an 8 page booklet, overseen by Siouxsie and Severin. The first disc featured the original a-side and b-side ("Voices"). The second disc included the 2006's version of "Hong kong Garden" with the orchestral introduction (re-worked for the Marie Antoinette's movie soundtrack), backed up with the 1984's version of "Voices" from The Thorn EP.[16]


The song was used in HBO TV series Girls, in the episode 9 of the first season.[17]


  1. ^ "1978 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 16th September 1978". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Mojo (October 2001). "100 Punk Scorchers" (95).  Number 34. Siouxsie And The Banshees – Hong Kong Garden
  3. ^ Q Magazine (March 2005). "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever" (224).  90. Siouxsie & The Banshees - Hong Kong Garden
  4. ^ "Siouxsie & The Banshees Biography". NME. IPC MEDIA. Retrieved 15 July 2013.  "By 1978, Siouxsie And The Banshees had signed to Polydor Records (the last of the important punk bands of the era to be rounded up by a major) and released their first single, the sublime "Hong Kong Garden" (an attack on small-town racism), which reached the UK Top 10".
  5. ^ a b c Webb, Robert. Story of the song: Hong Kong Garden, Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978). The Independent. 21 August 2009. Retrieved 3 February 2014
  6. ^ Punk Top Ten Interview. 08/06/2001
  7. ^ Goddard, Simon. "The Life & Loves of a She-Devil". Uncut. January 2005.
  8. ^ a b c d e Tassell, Nige (12 January 2012). "The first time I produced a hit record Steve Lillywhite". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-13. "In 1978, I was in the studio with Johnny Thunders and, one day, Nils Stevenson, the manager of Siouxsie and the Banshees, came down to hang out and listen to the album. We were working on a song called 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory', and he loved the sound of the drums on this song. He said: "We've just recorded our first single and we hate the way it sounds. Would you like to have a go?" In those days, when we had three weekly music papers, the buzz on Siouxsie and the Banshees was really big. I knew that if they had a half-decent record, it would be a hit. I jumped at the chance. It was pretty intense. These were serious people, but also very innocent. Kenny Morris, the drummer, was an art student and not a great drummer. He was a little bit insecure. So I got him set up and said: "Look, you don't have to play all the drums at the same time. Let's just do the bass drum and the snare drum first. Then we'll do the cymbals and the tom-toms later." We were all just chancing it. I was a producer who didn't have much of a history of producing. We were all young — I was 23 and maybe they were 21. When you're that age and you look in the mirror, you're bulletproof. You don't see a grey hair. It always amazes me about what a great-sounding record 'Hong Kong Garden' still is. It got to No 7 – I had a hit! As a record producer, you only get the hits if you get the work, so how do you get the work without having a hit? All of a sudden I realised: "Oh my God, I'm there. I'm in the game."" 
  9. ^ "The 50 Best Producers Ever, n°40 - Steve Lillywhite", NME, Retrieved 28-1-2014
  10. ^ a b Rambali, Paul. Hong Kong Garden review. NME. 19 August 1978.
  11. ^ a b Birch, Ian. "Single Of The Week: Hong Kong Garden" review. Melody Maker. 19 August 1978.
  12. ^ a b Lewis, David. "Single of The Week (Also known as the kiss of life)". Sounds. 19 August 1978
  13. ^ a b Gardner, Mike. "Hong Kong Garden" review. Record Mirror. 19 August 1978.
  14. ^ Birch, Ian. "Practical Poprock". Melody Maker. 24 March 1979.
  15. ^ Kaye, Ben. "Here are Thurston Moore’s favorite songs of all time". ConsequenceofSound.com. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 21-1-2014.
  16. ^ "Siouxsie and the Banshees to reissue ‘Hong Kong Garden’ on double 7-inch vinyl". 11 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  17. ^ Music from Girls tunefind.com. retrieved 28 July 2012