“Electric Guitars” – Prefab Sprout
A friend and I once had a discussion about “Perfect Pop Songs.” Without even defining what constituted such a thing, we both started ratting off titles and acknowledging agreement with each other’s selections. (I will save the list for another time.) It didn’t take me long however to call out the Pop perfection of the 1997 song “Electric Guitars” by the British band, Prefab Sprout.
Listen to the song and you will hear what defines our undefined criteria. It’s a short song (3:41) with an easy-to-grasp message by way of simple concise lyrics set to a memorable melody. Not a single word is wasted and there are only two stanzas and a repeated chorus. The lyrics are so well-crafted that you love hearing that refrain repeatedly sung. You soon learn every word and can sing along and recreate the complete musical experience note-for-note in your head.
For the unfamiliar, Prefab Sprout is the vehicle for the brilliant singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon. “Electric Guitars” was the opening track on Andromeda Heights, the sixth Sprout LP and a favorite of many of the band’s devoted fanbase. The album hit the #7 spot on the UK charts but got nowhere here in the US. “Electric Guitars” was released in the UK as the LP’s second single but only made it as far as a disappointing #53.
The song is about having “a dream that we were rock stars.” Whether Paddy is singing about his band really doesn’t matter since this is a dream that we all can relate to. The “hysteria-a-go-go” he writes about places his “we” on the Beatles side of a joyful Beatlemania, even finding them “quoted out of context.” What he is singing about sure sounds like a great place to be. There is an interesting turn later in the song when the opening verse gets repeated with the twist that this wasn’t a dream at all!
Oddly, although there is a somewhat subdued electric guitar riffed throughout the song, the title is somewhat misleading as “electric guitars” are by no means the song’s musical focus. In fact, my then-teenage son once arranged and played a gorgeous piano version of the song that just floored me when I heard it. A telling testament to “Electric Guitars” Pop perfection.
Another thing I love about the song is how the ending of the verse overlaps with the beginning of the chorus through a studio overdub. This always makes me stumble when I sing along, either picking one word over the other, or revising the arrangement with a full stop as if I were singing on stage and had no alternative.
Paddy also stars in a humorous video for the song which features portrayals of some real “rock stars” who are known for playing their electric guitars.
My love for Prefab Spout is strong and one thing that I never tire of is Paddy McAloon’s beautiful singing voice and “Electric Guitars” features him at his best. It surprises me that the song is not more well-known as well as not more admired by the Prefab faithful. Nonetheless, I make my love for it no secret and quite often listen to it on multiple repeats. Now, if only I could get my son, now grown, to record me his piano version.