Even back in the late eighties, we knew Julian Cope was one of the relentlessly weird ones. And I’m not even sure he’d done all that much to earn that reputation by that point. Certainly, some amount of trepidation could be stirred up with his music, first with the post-punk band The Teardrop Explodes and then his solo career, which still felt relatively new at that point. The music was slick pop, but delivered in a way that was angular, aggressive and practically oozing serpentine showmanship. He had the veneer of a dangerous man who happened to have a way with a microphone.
The 1988 album My Nation Underground was officially his fourth solo release, but he was best known in the U.S. (to the degree that he was known at all) for scoring a minor hit with the song “World Shut Your Mouth” (which was also the title of his first solo album from a few years earlier, so he clearly had a strong belief in the sentiment). Forgot death metal, hardcore or even catastrophic industrial mind-scourers, if science every develops a song that can burrow into someone and tears them apart from the inside out, it’s going have the slinky allure of “Charlotte Anne,” the lead single from Underground. Come to think of it, if anyone writes that song, it’ll probably be Julian Cope. Or maybe Nick Cave.
In some ways, the second single from the album is even more interesting, if only for the novelty of hearing Cope apply his distinctive style to a more conventional pop song. He covered “Five O’Clock World,” the 1966 hit by the Vogues (this was well before The Drew Carey Show raised the song to even bigger levels of modern fame). Hearing Cope dig into a silly little pop song about the pleasure of reaching the end of the work day with his usual offbeat aplomb only heightened his blazing uniqueness. He even threw in a little bit of an even more well-know, more safely conventional song, as if to drive the point home. Whenever I wanted a blast of Cope in one of my old radio shows, this was often the song I reached for, even though I felt a little guilty that it wasn’t one of his originals, especially since he was mightily prolific during those years so there was plenty to choose from.
Sometimes, though, I just needed to reach for my favorites. Besides, it’s not as though I wanted the cover because it downplayed Cope’s idiosyncrasies. I liked the way it highlighted them.
(Disclaimer: While there’s loads and loads of Cope material out there, including several compilations, it looks to me like My Nation Underground is out of print and I couldn’t find the song on any of the aforementioned collections. The album is available as a digital purchase if you’re into lining the pockets of music conglomerates and monolithic online retailers at the probable expense of the artist and the absolute expense of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I simply have fewer pangs of conscience posting a song under those circumstances, particularly since this sort of thing should be considered fair use anyway. Regardless, should I be contacted with anyone with due authority over the track demanding it’s removal from the interweb, I will gladly and promptly comply. Especially if it’s Cope since, as alluded to above, he scares me a little bit.)