David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 99: The Headboys (The Shape Of Things To Come)

August 3, 2020

Today, kiddos, we go from England, to Scotland, to Italy, to Israel, to the United States, to Belgium. What a long, strange trip. And it's not a linear one.

We will start in Morgantown, West Virginia, U.S.A. It's 1979 and I'll buy just about anything that looks New Wave, anything catchy, edgy, sharp, succinct, crisp, simple, provocative. Everywhere I turned, this wave was crashing, and I am not even sure where I discovered it all, especially the stuff that wouldn't make it on American AM/FM radio (which had embraced Joe Jackson, Blondie, The Cars, etc.).

Sometimes I heard a song somewhere, maybe in the middle of the night, and I would immediately love it. One such song was "The Shape of Things To Come" by The Headboys, at best a one-hit wonder in England (where the song cracked the Top 50) but a no-hit wonder in the United States. A Scottish band, their debut album, The Headboys, has never even been reissued in CD format, as far as I can tell. The album had a few good songs, but "The Shape Of Things To Come" stands out. The song had a great guitar riff alongside a dual keyboard threat of both piano and organ/synthesizer. New Wave seemed to bring about a whole generation of "air keyboards," and "The Shape of Things To Come" along with The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," The Motors' "Love And Loneliness" and Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him" suggested that good piano playing didn't have to be excluded by post-punks.

The music for "The Shape Of Things To Come" was accentuated by befitting dramatic lyrics. In the opening, omens, harbingers, and oracles take us back to ancient times:

Caesar's praying for rain/Lightning flashes around

The prophet is screaming/His head hits the ground

You should hear the warning/If you read the signs

Play with your own life/but don't play with mine.

Sure maybe, those crazy Romans put way too much belief in prognostication, but we dare not find that in the Bible, do we? Not according to the second verse:

There was Moses and me/when the wind took the change

He hands out the menu/He moves out of range

If you knew the action/You'd see yourself blind

Play with your own life/But don't play with mine.

Not sure I quite buy the Ten Commandments as a menu; I didn't think I had the option to order a la carte, but I am no Biblical scholar. If I can, I might reserve a table.

So, there seems a lot potentially going on in "The Shape Of Things To Come," more than just the dynamite keyboards. I have always wondered if The Headboys wrote this song because the title phrase is catchy and well-known, or were they alluding to the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. (There is a third theory, that they were just of a generation that loved sexual puns -- headboys, shapes, and, well, you can figure out the rest; after all, they were contemporaries of Ian Dury, Nick Lowe and others who loved their sexual innuendoes).  And in wondering that, I dug a little deeper today about the song and Wells' novel to see if there is a connection.

If you don't know Wells book, the Englishman wrote it in the early 1930's about a horrific future that predicted World War II in Europe, especially Hitler and Germany's rearmament and attempt to take over the world.  A lot of his other predictions haven't come true yet, but this is 2020 and his novel does extend to 2106, so I will withhold judgement. For the moment, Wells saw the signs for European lives, and they weren't favorable.

So, I loop back to Scotland's The Headboys. Apparently there has been one cover version of this song, although it is called an adaptation. It is by a Belgian band, dare I point out, a "Flemish" band, De Kreuners (in 1995) with the Dutch title of "Wat Komen Moet Dat Komt," which seems to be roughly translated as "What Comes of That?"  They must be pretty popular somewhere, as they have released a dozen albums, which is 11 more than The Headboys, despite forming at about the same time. De Kreuners still waited 16 years to "adapt" the song.  Not sure what adaptation means but the link above does provide an identical-sounding clip.

Is this copyright infringement? Not sure where the reparations go when you are choosing between the Scots and the Dutch.

"The Shape of Things To Come." The Headboys. The Headboys. 1979. RSO. Link here.

Day 98: Stone Temple Pilots "Interstate Love Song."

Day 100: Phil Collins "I Missed Again."

See complete list here.