I was over at MyVinylDreams yesterday, and djjedready had posted a Siouxsie + The Banshees 12″ of “Peek-A-Boo” that I wanted to comment on and then it struck me: DEVO had a single with the same title! You don’t suppose…? Could it be overdue for another virtual smackdown in The Monk’s Squared Circle Of Pain®? It’s been two years since we had one here at PPM and Covid-19 or not, it’s time for some smack talk.
While there had been several songs titled “Peek-A Boo” for our purposes, we’ll consign ourselves to the New Wave/Post-Punk bands we’re all about. DEVO got there first in 1982 with the lead off single from their make-or-break fifth album, “Oh No! It’s DEVO!”
While DEVO’s third album had yielded a hit with “Whip It,” their follow up, “New Traditionalists” had done donuts in the parking lot of album sales. The “DEVO-goes-Zoom” appeal of “Through Being Cool” failed to connect with the fickle teen market who had taken to “Whip it.” Big guns had been brought in. The album was produced by Hot Shot Producer® Roy Thomas Baker; maker of hits! But to these ears it sounded just like DEVO had since 1980. Increasingly synthetic with walloping dance beats and guitars and drums being edged out by machines. No different than from the last album, which DEVO self-produced at far lower cost than RTB, I’m sure.
DEVO may have held the producer at bay since there’s none of his penchant for stacked harmonies to show for his work here. The biggest sonic distinction here was the hard, flat, synthetic beats that were like a sock in the jaw. The songs weird chorus was of a guttural pirate [as seen in the video] shouting “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” followed by Mark’s exhortation of “Peek-A-Boo!” The latter as run through a synth for some rubbery distortion.
The band were really couching their songs of social dissonance in as bouncy and ironic a sonic setting as possible. Gerald Casale was on record as saying that the song, which used infantile metaphor, was about noting the shadowy underbelly that society demands we keep well hidden. The performance of this tune was very much a “digital cartoon” as the cover blurb of their 1988 album, “Total DEVO” would later claim. I did like the synth riff that called attention to the dark aspects of the theme like a warning claxon in our midst. It’s certainly a typical example of “high DEVO.” Here’s the band performing it live in the Great White North a [gulp!] decade ago.
Six years later, Siouxsie + The Banshees released the lead off single from their 1988 album “Peepshow,” in the completely unique “Peek-A-Boo.” That album probably got its name from this rather amazing song that examined the power dynamic between dancer and gazer at an actual peepshow. If the subject matter was far darker than the pop chart norm, then don’t tell the chart police because the song hit number 16 in the UK and was the band’s first charting single in the Billboard Hot 100 at number 53. But if the subject matter here was unusual, the song itself went much further off the map.
The song was begun a year prior as the band took brass and drum elements from their version of John Cale’s “Gun” and began manipulating them in a sampler…backwards. Laying a foundation that sounded like a fife and rum corps from hell. Their producer was the “game for anything” Mike Hedges, who had already worked with The Associates at their most florid, so the rulebook was duly jettisoned up front.
The forwards and backwards elements of the song almost meshed to attain a shambolic chaos crackling with vitality as the conventional elements of the song, like bass and guitar were pared down to the bone to achieve something extraordinary this time. Drummer Budgie added a second thunderous drum track going forward, over the whole thing and the wheezing accordion from Martin McCarrick added the odd cherry on the top of this dazzling single. When they had finished making this one obviously, it was destined for much more than B-side status. Why not enjoy this alternative student film version of the video with directrix Helen Pearce cutting a fairly competent figure as a Siouxie impersonator?
As much as I love those Spuds, they were no match for the SATB juggernaut having a late-in-the-game burst of extreme creativity with their own “Peek-A-Boo.” The latter is one of the most distinctive singles that the band ever issued and I’m still astonished that it charted as high as it did in America. What were we doing right back then?
Also, when I was researching this post, I made the astonishing discovery that the “Silver Dollar Mix” as released in the UK on 12″ and on the 2002 “Best Of ” 2xCD was an 8:12 edit of the full monty 9:58 North American “Silver Dollar Mix” that was played in full on the US 12″ and even the Canadian 12″ and CD5 from our friends in the Great White North!