Wire at the Stereo Society
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Wire at the Stereo Society
Wire: I Am The Fly
After Pink Flag, which shocked us all by the ferocity of the favorable reviews, we had to make an interim single before embarking on what was to be Chairs Missing. Suddenly, the group was on the precarious edge of commercial viability, despite the limited response to the first single from that record (Mannequin). The singer and second guitarist, Colin Newman, had acquired an MXR Flanger pedal (I forget how, but I remember acutely that the one I bought out of my own pocket, specifically for the single’s recording sessions, was over £100 ($200 in 1978). The essence of the single seemed to be turning all the controls to maximum. That became the introduction to the track, and a classic sound. Somehow, that introductory sound reminds me inescapably of Colin’s personality.
We experimented considerably on these quick sessions (taking about three days for the whole recording). The loutish singalong chorus was a cheerful departure (‘I am the fly in the ointment/I can spread more disease/Than the fleas that nibble away/At your window display’). People often took Wire more seriously than they took themselves, but everyone cared deeply about what they were doing. The control room arguments were endless and furious, although the most bitter shouting exchanges would usually generate an improvement in the record under construction. Anyone’s idea was accepted for tryout; the good off-the-wall ones raised the standard, the bad ones raised a good laugh.
At EMI, executives were mildly roused by the vinyl result. Wire had not been a group to schmooze unduly; their friends were acquired strictly through the medium of the music. One particularly conservative executive, a frequent corporate cultural adversary, commented in a marketing meeting that ‘it’s funny, but it really sticks in your head’. The cross-cultural appeal was appreciated. Two years later, I was on the phone from London to a friend in New York when the song came on WPLJ in the background of her hotel room. The timing was so corny, it had to be real. It wasn’t American big hit radio, but the track was working for people and it was half way to culture shock having a strong reaction from New York and Los Angeles.
When the second album was recorded, there was hot debate about whether I Am The Flyshould be included, the spirit of the time being to provide as much value on the album for the fans as possible and not resell them something they had already acquired. But the strength of the track forced it on us, even if it was the middle track on the second side of the vinyl album.
– MT March 2000