College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 7

7 peek

7. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Peek-A-Boo”

One of the biggest hits ever crafted by Siouxsie and the Banshees began as a mistake. Following a string of splendid studio efforts through the the late-nineteen-seventies and the first half of the eighties, the iconic group decided to make a covers album, working with producer Mike Hedges. Entitled Through the Looking Glass, the record largely bypassed instantly recognizable songs (the band already had experience with trafficking in that area, thanks to their hit cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”) in favor of far more esoteric selections. Among them was a lively take on the John Cale song “Gun.”

“When we were recording it I turned it over — which you can do on analog tape — and it sounded amazing,” Hedges later explained. “We recorded forward drums over the backwards track –—crunchy and loopy, kind of hip-hoppy. Then we added accordion and bass, although there’s only one piece of bass on the entire track. It was all very quick. From turning the tape over it probably took the best part of a day and a half to finish the song.”

The original notion was that the resulting new original could serve as the B-side for the planned single, the band’s cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.” Quickly, though, everyone realized the track being developed was too good to be relegated to an afterthought. Quite the contrary, the song, entitled “Peek-a-Boo,” would become the lead single to the next Siouxsie and the Banshees album, Peepshow, released in 1988. Utterly dominant on the college charts through that fall, “Peek-a-Boo” had the distinction of being the song atop the inaugural Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Though a clear commercial success, the song wasn’t tame or otherwise buffed into something comfortable for listeners. Hedges insists that it was more daring that anything he’d worked on up to that point.

“It was one of the most experimental things I did at the time that actually worked,” Hedges said. “The Banshees were very, very experimental, and at that time in the music business you could be experimental. There was no pressure to do anything in a straight style, which isn’t really the case any more.”

The song has a buoyant sense of fun about it, in part because of the way the chorus directly borrows from the snappy wordplay of the jazz standard “Jeepers Creepers,” written by the famed team of Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. (Once the similarities were point out, Siouxsie and the Banshees retroactively added Warren and Mercer to the songwriting credits on “Peek-a-Boo.”) The other lyrics are a little darker, because Siouxsie Sioux was delivering a strong, angry message about the state of the culture.

“The stereotype of a woman is perceived and felt, forever projected,” Sioux told MTV at the time of the single’s release. “And I just think with the advent of more and more video being used, I’m sort of just very disappointed with the way it’s so limited how people are projected. It reminds me of the Stepford Wives films. I just think everyone’s becoming so modeled to the perfect ideal of what even a woman or a man should be like. It really disgusts me, and ‘Peek-A-Boo’ is really a reaction against that kind of control that I think is coming through in the media.”

Since “Peek-a-Boo” had its origins in an inadvertent bit of sampling, it’s perhaps appropriate that it later served to undergird another song. Years later, the tracks was sampled in a Sir Mix-A-Lot song.

“I remember Geffen sending us the Sir Mix-A-Lot version for our approval,” Sioux said. “We approved it with no fuss. We’d never heard ourselves sampled in anyone else’s material before, which was an amusing novelty.”

 

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.

The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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