Siouxsie Sioux (not her real name) is the first punk/ goth sex symbol that I can think of. My brother and many of my friends in high school had, and probably still have, huge crushes on her. I… never really did. Not in the pin-up girl sense, anyway. Obviously I’m a fan. She’s on this list after all. I love the sound of her voice! It makes me want to curl up next to her and stay there forever. The way she purrs in ‘Trust In Me’ as she sings, ‘… like a bird, in a tree…’ makes me, I don’t know, forget about everything happening around me and focus all of my attention on whatever she sings next. I could listen to her all day. I don’t care whether she’s coo-cooing something sweet and sinister into my ear or boldly singing in defiance against the world around her or just shouting at whoever is in the same room as her. Her voice latches on to my consciousness and doesn’t let go. …where was I? Right, Siouxsie Sioux, great singer. & The Banshees were a good band for her, too.
Their song that first grabbed my attention was Peek-A-Boo from their album Peep Show. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I was a junior in high school at the time and was listening to a lot of everything I’ve described before. So, Dr.Demento plus a lot of rock/ synth type stuff that was played on the top 40’s stations of the time. I was starting to get involved with my schools theater program and one day after school I walk backstage and there’s this bizarre music playing. I remember first hearing what sounded like a concertina playing over something recorded backwards. The vocals were of a woman singing and it wasn’t friendly either. It sounded more like a warning to me than anything else. This wasn’t the music I was used to! This was the kind of music you heard when you were lost and overwhelmed in a circus. Not one of the classier ones either. This was music about something dark and sinister that was lurking right behind you. I loved it.
My friends were happy to drown me in Siouxsie & The Banshees albums once I showed some interest in them. Turns out she’d been putting out music for a decade by the time I heard of her. She was a mover and shaker in the early London punk scene and a friend of the Sex Pistols. The music that she recorded then was not at all like the MTV friendly songs that caught my ear. The music she put out in the late ’70s was as angry and aggressive as you’d expect for a punk singer.
Okay, so right upfront I’m going to say that a lot of this is going to sound like what I wrote about INXS. The band as a whole is entirely necessary. INXS doesn’t make sense if you only focus on Michael Hutchence, and Siouxsie & The Banshees doesn’t make sense if you ignore The Banshees. And just like my earlier reflections, I do not know enough about music to properly express how important I feel they are. Steven Severin and Budgie (not their real names either) are the two primary musicians who, along with Ms. Sioux, formed the backbone of Siouxsie & The Banshees.
Steven Severin acted as bassist and composed songs for the band. My understanding is that Steve would write initial versions of songs. He’d present them to the band and everyone would then develop the songs together. How big of an impact did he have? It’s worth noting that Siouxsie had a side project that she was associated with, The Creatures, that basically consists of her and Budgie. I never lost myself in The Creatures songs the same way I did with Siouxsie & The Banshees. It’s possible that Severin’s composition was as big of a contribution to me as Siouxsie’s singing.
As for Budgie… I don’t know how to say, ‘He was the drummer,’ and not make it sound dismissive. Most drummers that I’ve noticed primarily keep the beat and occasionally make a lot of racket when given the chance. Budgie’s drumming was more… melodic? …descriptive? He set the mood for the song instead of just setting the pace. Referencing The Creatures again, they were mostly Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie, a singer and a drummer. Whatever I may say, plenty of people did like The Creatures. If your band is just a singer and a drummer then both of those elements had better be top notch.
So we’ve got clever composition, the smoothest and sexiest voice I’d heard at that point in my life, and a clever and creative drummer. What did they do to stick in my head so stubbornly? My description of the first time I heard Peek-A-Boo hints at it – it created a very specific feeling and image in my mind. I find that to be true of most of their songs of that stuck with me. Their version of Trust In Me is as evocative as Disney’s Jungle Book when imagining a sinister predator coaxing in the naive and innocent – only Siouxsie & The Banshees version is a Hell of lot sexier. Love In A Void is yelling and blaring guitars and pounding drums and sounds very much like someone alone and angry at the world which I suppose goes along with the title. And the lyrics? Well apart from the title I can’t recall any of them. I just looked them up on line and they don’t really speak to me – but how they were sung (or shouted) makes all the difference. This is what separates the talented singers from the rest of us. If I sang, ‘Too many bigots for my liking/ Too many critics, too few writing,’ you’d probably ask if I had some sort of point I was getting at. But when Siouxsie sings it I skip right past the lyrical analysis and get behind whatever cause she seems to be screaming against.
I realize that the songs I’ve mentioned so far mostly fall into the threatening and/ or angry category. Please don’t think that those themes completely represented Siouxsie & The Banshees. In addition to what I’ve already described there was also The Last Beat Of My Heart, a wistful love song where the singer professes her desire to be with whoever until the last beat of her heart. Their greatest U.S. hit was ‘Kiss Them For Me,’ a free flowing and melodic song about the love and costs of glamour. Wikipedia tells me it’s a song about the life and death of Jayne Mansfield. Siouxsie & The Banshees also produced ‘Face To Face’ for the Batman Returns soundtrack. This song was also free flowing and melodic, but the tone is much more suspicious. It’s a good thematic match for Batman and Catwoman’s love/ hate relationship. They also perform a great cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Passenger.’ It’s raucous, energetic, and above all fun.
Souxsie & The Banshees stopped putting out records in 1995. None of the members ever hurt for work as far as I know. They seem to have kept themselves busy with other projects. All that’s left is My Favorite Song Today. This would be the same song whether I wrote this article at age 17, 24, 38, or 44. I bought the Peepshow album soon after learning of the existence of Siouxsie & The Banshees and immediately fell in love with ‘Rhapsody.’ The song starts quietly, with some imagery of a barren landscape and desolation. There’s a mention of a Soviet sun that has never made any sense to me. The pace, volume, and power build until the end of the song when Siouxsie is belting out, ‘and I… have seen all I waaaant to…’ backed by a symphony. ‘Operatic,’ is a good descriptor. It is the most passionate declaration of exhaustion I think I’ve heard. It’s hard to explain the feelings the song inspires in me except to say, ‘grand.’ I don’t know how much of that makes sense, but if you were paying attention a few paragraphs back you’ll know that I’m much less concerned with the logic of the song then the feeling it inspires. I’ll leave that as good last words on the subject.