Friday Song: “Hanging Around”

A 1977 song by the Stranglers gets an update by a band with a similar sense of humor

Friday Song: “Hanging Around”

I came across this song very recently, but it dates back to 1977, when it appeared on the Stranglers’ debut album, Rattus Norvegicus — the scientific designation for the sewer rat.

The Stranglers were formed in 1974 in Guildford, Surrey, and were initially called the Guildford Stranglers. Their founder, Brian Duffy (“Jet Black”) had attained a degree of financial freedom from running a fleet of ice cream trucks and a successful liquor store. In his mid-30s, he decided to take up his passion for drumming again by forming a band. His ice cream trucks became the band’s early tour buses.

The Stranglers went through many iterations and personnel changes, with Black and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel the mainstays. After years of health problems and occasional absences, Black stopped performing in 2015, and died in December 2022 at the age of 84.  

The Stranglers became a mainstay of the burgeoning punk rock scene in the UK, and are one of the longest-surviving bands to have emerged from that era. They’ve had 23 Top 40 singles in the UK, and 19 Top 40 albums. More songs by the Stranglers have been licensed for use in commercials than from any other punk band. The song featured today was licensed for use in commercials for the French Wonderbra.

“Hanging Around” was never released as a single, as the Stranglers released three albums in 13 months, and didn’t want a single from the first album to interfere with sales of the next album. A cover of the song by Hazel O’Connor in 1981 reached #45 on the UK charts.

Musically, the song is built around a distinctive bass line written by Burnel, which also creates an odd, bouncy tempo.

Lyrically, “Hanging Around” was inspired by scenes of people hanging around the clubs the band played at the time. This quote from the book, “The Stranglers: Song by Song,” gives you an idea:

. . . a woman in red who was always there getting drunk and passing out, which used to make us laugh. There are also references to a friend of ours called Garry Coward-Williams, who was always smiling, and a friend of his we called Duncan Doughnuts, who was 20 going on 40. I could never believe how old he looked. His whole manner and appearance was of a middle-aged man.

Other lyrical inspirations included a gay bar around Earls Court Road, and a sacrilegious joke about hanging around on Easter.  

Ghost’s cover is from their new 5-song EP Phantomime, which includes their versions of songs by Tina Turner (poignant now), Genesis, Iron Maiden, and Television. Every video featuring these songs uses the same artwork, which strikes that cool-silly-creepy line Ghost walks. My only critique is that the guitar solo uses the band’s stock tone, while the song to me calls for a dirtier, beefier guitar sound.

Aside from that quibble, it’s a pretty refreshing cover.