Death Cab for Cutie (song)
|"Death Cab For Cutie"|
|Song by Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band from the album Gorilla|
BGO Records (Reissue)
|Writer||Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes|
|Producer||Gerry Bron, Lyn Birkbeck|
Innes' initial inspiration for the song was the title of an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he had encountered. Stanshall's primary contribution was to shape "Death Cab For Cutie" as a parody of Elvis Presley (notably his 1957 hit "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear"), and he sang it as such, with undertones of 1950's Doo-wop. In the style of several early teenage tragedy songs, such as "Teen Angel", it tells a story of youthful angst: "Cutie" who goes out on the town against her lover's wishes. "Last night Cutie caught a cab, uhuh-huh..." She is killed when the taxicab she is in runs a red light and crashes. Stanshall, as lead singer, details Cutie's doomed journey to the sound of a honky-tonk piano and surging saxophones, while the Bonzo chorus warns: "Baby, don't do it..." Stanshall repeats the refrain in true Presley hip-wriggling style: "Someone's going to MAKE... you pay your fare."
The song became one of the Bonzo Dog Band's better known numbers when it was featured in the Beatles 1967 television film Magical Mystery Tour. Performed in a stage routine by the Bonzos, it accompanied a striptease act, performed by Jan Carson of the Raymond Revuebar, who was enthusiastically ogled by club customers including John Lennon and George Harrison. Paul McCartney had coaxed Stanshall into wearing a pink chiffon scarf to look more "trendy".
The Bonzo Dog Band performed the song in a 1967 episode of the children's TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set, in which the band is gushingly introduced by Michael Palin (who gets the title wrong). The band, called the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at the time, appeared regularly on the show - a so-called children's programme which featured Palin, Eric Idle and other later-famous comedians.
Alex Chilton of Big Star covered the song live on WLYX Memphis in 1975. The song is also referenced on the 1984 Culture Club album Waking Up with the House on Fire, in the song "Crime Time", which is a throwback to the early rock 'n' roll sound. The indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie were named after the song.
While Innes claims the title came from an American pulp fiction magazine, the phrase may have been coined by Richard Hoggart in his 1957 book The Uses of Literacy, which discussed British popular culture and was a pioneering work in the cultural studies field. The term appears in Chapter 8, "The Newer Mass Art: Sex in Shiny Packets", under part C: "Sex and Violence Novels". Hoggart provides a list of "imitations" of the "terse, periodic titles" of these novels, including "Sweetie, Take It Hot"; "The Lady Takes a Dive"; "Aim Low, Angel"; "Sweetheart, Curves Can Kill"; and "Death-Cab for Cutie".
Going further back, a 1949 detective pulp fiction novel by Hank Janson (the pen-name of English author Stephen Daniel Frances) was published in the UK with the title "Slay-Ride for Cutie".
Ben Gibbard used the title of the song as the name of the rock band he founded in 1997, saying "The name was never supposed to be something that someone was going to reference 15 years on. So yeah, I would absolutely go back and give it a more obvious name."
The title and its predecessor instances of the term parallel F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 use of the term "death car" in Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby to evoke foretold impending doom.
- "Arena - The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, 1. Magical Mystery Tour Revisited" at bbc.co.uk Broadcast 6 October 2012.
- O'Connor, Rod (24 August 2011). "Ben Gibbard - Interview". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved 26 August 2011.