Retard Girl

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"Retard Girl"
First pressing cover art
Single by Hole
B-side "Phonebill Song"
"Johnnie's in the Bathroom"
Released April 1990 (1990-04)
Format 7"
Recorded March 17, 1990 (1990-03-17) at Rudy's Rising Star in Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genre Noise rock, no wave, hardcore
Length 4:47
Label Sympathy for the Record Industry
Writer(s) Courtney Love
Producer(s) James Moreland, Eric Erlandson
Hole singles chronology
"Retard Girl"
(1990)
"Dicknail"
(1991)

"Retard Girl" is a song by American alternative rock band Hole, written by vocalist and guitarist Courtney Love, and released as the band's debut single in April 1990 by Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Drawing on the influence of no wave and noise rock bands of the time, the song features distorted guitars, heavy bass, and unpolished, aggressive vocals from Love. Its lyrics utilize a narrative of a girl being bullied on the school playground to extend to greater themes of alienation and self-identification, and was written by Love after a group of men allegedly tried to gang rape her while she was working at a Jumbo's Clown Room in Los Angeles.[1] The single was produced by Love's then-husband, James Moreland.[2][3]

Origin and recording[edit]

Love is known to have written "Retard Girl" prior to, or within the first few weeks of, Hole's formation as the song was performed at Hole's second live performance in 1989.[4]

The first and only known studio version of "Retard Girl" was recorded at the band's first studio session on March 17, 1990 at Rudy's Rising Star in Los Angeles. The band was given $500, by Sympathy For The Record Industry's president Long Gone John, to record the session, which was initially meant to only include the song, however others were recorded alongside it, including "Turpentine", "Phonebill Song" and "Johnnie's in the Bathroom." "Retard Girl" along with the latter songs were released in full form on The First Session EP in 1997. The session was produced by Love's then-husband, James Moreland, with additional production by lead guitarist Eric Erlandson.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

Love revealed the meaning of "Retard Girl" in a 1990 interview with Flipside, a Los Angeles fanzine:

"'Retard Girl', that's our single. It's about getting picked on in school, anyone who's ever been picked on in a big way, or a small way. I just got this vibe one day about how when I was in school I was really shy and sort of picked on and I swore that I would never pick on people who were picked on."[5]

In a 2010 interview on VH1, Love also mentioned that she had written "Retard Girl" after an incident in which she was almost raped while working at Jumbo's Clown Room in Los Angeles: "I was almost raped, and I ran out onto Melrose, and nobody would help me... I was so angry, I wrote "Retard Girl"."[1]

Musically, the song was performed in Drop D tuning and follows a simple structure; opening with a bass line, progressing to distorted guitars and featuring aggressive vocals. The composition highlights the band's initial no wave and punk rock-influenced sound, inspired by the likes of Sonic Youth. The lyrics in the song tell a story of a girl being ridiculed on the school playground, though they likely are metaphorical in context. The line "As shines the moon among the lesser fires" in the second verse of the song is a direct reference to Roman poet Horace, pulled verbatim from Odes, a book of Latin lyric poems composed in 23 BC.[6]

All releases of the single list the songwriting credits collectively as Hole, however BMI's website shows that "Retard Girl" was written by Love alone.[7]

The single also featured two b-sides, "Phonebill Song" and "Johnnie's in the Bathroom". "Johnnie's in the Bathroom" is a noise track featuring Courtney Love reading diary entries to distorted guitar picking, accompanied by unidentified lounge music and what seems to be a recorded conversation between Love and a phone sex operator. The song exhibits again the band's no wave and noise rock influences. "Phonebill Song" is a punk-style track composed of three chords, and seems to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Love spending too much time talking on the telephone, with lyrics like "Before I go to sleep / Get it away from me / Gotta run the phonebill up."

Packaging and artwork[edit]

Different pressings of the single featured alternate color schemes.

The single was released by Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1990 on 7" only. The first pressing was on white vinyl with inserts, followed by blue and pink versions later on. Generic black vinyl versions were also issued later with a golden color scheme on the front cover. Several different versions of the front cover were produced in differing color schemes, which features a picture of a young woman hanging upside down from a tree limb. The woman in the photograph is Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland,[8] a longtime friend and bandmate of Courtney Love, and the photo was taken in guitarist Eric Erlandson's backyard.

Single track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Retard Girl"   Courtney Love 4:47
2. "Phonebill Song"   C. Love, Eric Erlandson 1:48
3. "Johnnie's in the Bathroom"   C. Love, E. Erlandson 2:17
Total length:
8:52

Musicians and personnel[edit]

Hole
Technical personnel

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Behind the Music. Courtney Love. VH1. June 22, 2010
  2. ^ "The Courtney Love and James Moreland Divorce". Public Records Site. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  3. ^ Bush, John. The Leaving Trains at Allmusic
  4. ^ "Holelive.com - The Ultimate Hole Trading Community". Holelive.com. Retrieved December 11, 2010. 
  5. ^ Love, Courtney (October 1990). Flipside (68).  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  6. ^ "As shines the moon among the lesser fires" is an English translation of a lyric from Horace's Book I of Odes, written c. 23 BC.
  7. ^ "BMI Repertoire Search, BMI.com". BMI.com. Retrieved April 8, 2010. 
  8. ^ Brite, Poppy Z. (18 December 1998). Courtney Love: The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. pp. 103–4. ISBN 978-0-684-84800-6.