The literal meaning behind The Stranglers’ opus ‘Golden Brown’


Contrary to popular legend,’Perfect Day’ is not about drugs. It’s about a day that’s spent in good company, and in a pleasant environment. And contrary to popular legend, ‘Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds’ is not about drugs, but based on a drawing Julian Lennon presented to his father, which propelled his popular muse. And then there’s ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’, which was the story of a little toy who comforted a young boy as he journeyed from childhood into the uncertain waters of adulthood (the last one is a bit of a stretch, to be fair.)

‘Golden Brown’, on the other hand’ is a very different beast. For one, it’s actually about drugs, at least it is according to Hugh Cornwell, who wrote the lyrics. But he was loath to admit it to the public but acquiesced to the pressure after bassist J.J. Burnel revealed the meaning to the public at large. But there’s more to ‘Golden Brown’ than might initially meet the eye, and for Cornwell, the song is as much about the enduring presence of love at a time of cholera in the mind.

“’Golden Brown’ works on two levels,” he once explained. “It’s about heroin and also about a girl. Essentially the lyrics describe how both provided me with pleasurable times.” But it wasn’t the lyrical content that inspired so many to purchase the record, but it was the seductiveness of the melody: Wet with atmosphere and rich in sonic experience, the song signalled a more mature outlet that showed that punk was as malleable as the author intended it to be.

It was an unlikely choice of single, but it didn’t hurt that the band were regarded as pop’s bete noire by that point in their trajectory. More happily, the song presented something of a rebirth for the band, scraping the bottom of their rungs in an attempt to hit popularity.

“We were written off by then,” Burnell admitted.”There was a new record company at the time that had taken us over because they have swallowed up our previous record company. They said punk was over and we were finished, and then we forced them to release that record. They said it didn’t sound like The Stranglers and that you couldn’t dance to it, etc. They released it before Christmas thinking it would kinda die a death, but it developed its own legs. As a result it won an Ivor Novello award that year.”

The song wound up becoming the band’s standout hit, creating a new sense of integrity in a band that had once likened a woman’s privates to the fruits that are commonly sold in a local Tesco. It ended up in an episode of Black Mirror, a TV serial that delves into the obsession of technology over the desire to touch that most foreboding of needles. But its longevity is more to do with the backdrop as opposed to the poetry or the metaphor that ties the song together under one roof.


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