The Fall: Hip Priest
ip Priest” is a (relatively) famous song by the Fall, from a (relatively) famous album. It is a cruelly funny series of barbs thrown at someone who thought he was cooler than Mark E. Smith (and, let's face it, probably wasn't), it features Smith and someone else squeaking “heeee is not... appreciated” in comedy falsetto and it is both groovy and thunderous. It was originally played on record by maybe the most “classic” lineup of the Fall: Smith, Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon on guitar, Steve Hanley on bass and Paul Hanley and Karl Burns manning the drums. It starts with a hop and a skip, coming to loping life on the back of nothing more than a soft kick drum and drum sticks tapping on cymbals. It has been anthologized god knows how many times, and it occupies a deserved place of pride on the as-definitive-as-you'll-get-in-two-discs 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong collection. It is, by any standard I'd care to name, a great song.
But why we're here today is actually just a small part of “Hip Priest.” The song doesn't really have a chorus, per se, but the part I love most might be the pre-chorus bit in a normal song. At a couple of points in the song's nearly eight minutes, Smith suddenly starts yelling “that's hip, hip, hip, hip, hip, hip, hip priest!” For the last couple of “hip”s the band comes in and plays as loud and as shatteringly as they can manage. The best is in the middle, where they do this once and then it all gets very quiet for a little while before Smith rears up again: “That's hip, hip, hip!...”
These moments fascinate me, not only because in an ideal world I would be able to bellow them out at the local karaoke bar (I have done this at home, and it is immensely satisfying), not only because it is my favourite part of the song (and my favourite Mark E. Smith vocal performance; I always picture him bent over with effort), but because it looms so much larger in my memory than in the song. In “Hip Priest,” it happens maybe four times, if the middle counts as two, and the cacophony the band makes is actually pretty thin. It's still good, but like Mogwai's “Helicon 1” the version I hear in my head is a million times better.
But where “Hip Priest” differs in my head from “Helicon 1” is that in this case I'm not really hearing the song at all; recently a friend asked what I thought of the song and I was quite enthusiastic about it, only to realize that in my head “Hip Priest” is an endless succession of Smith barking “Hip! Hip! Hip!” and then the band exploding. In my head, he just keeps going as the band gets longer and louder—I think my head drafts in a little Oneida, some Spacemen 3 and maybe some Stooges for the noise the band makes in this “Hip Priest.” As long as I think about the song, it gets more and more massive, and then eventually something else distracts me and I forget about it. But when I think of “Hip Priest” again, it always starts with Smith audibly filling his lungs to yell out that word again, the band almost palpably straining to hold in check the boom they're about to lower. When I hear the real “Hip Priest” I always like it, but I almost don't identify it with that song in my head any more. I don't know how or why I fell so in love with something that doesn't actually exist, but the end result is two songs to love, even if I'll never actually hear one of them. So drink the long draft (Dan), to he who is not appreciated; and after the real song ends, drink another to all those fragments we carry around that end up meaning more than the music that spawned them.
By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2005-10-05