I was watching a recent re-run of Top Of The Pops, currently in the middle of 1985. Mainly the 1985 repeats are confirming that at the top end of the pop charts 1985 was a terrible year. Occasionally something brilliant shines through the dross. Last week it was Scritti Politti. They did the same thing to me last year when I was left broadsided by Absolute. This time it was The Word Girl, a genuine top ten hit. The Word Girl's reggae rhythm, shimmer and lighter than air vocal melody make it is mid 80s pop, there's no mistake about that, but its instrumentation, arrangement, production and Green Gartside's voice lift it way up above the songs that surrounded it in the chart. It floats, promising to go somewhere else, then drawing back. The digital reverb makes the song seem like it is constantly echoing itself.
It is also not a song to be taken at face value, not a simple song about a girl but a song about language and meaning. The title can also be read as The Word 'Girl'. What seems to be a song about a girl becomes an oblique discussion about obsession and possession, gender politics, the meaning of words, the construction of language. Green had decided to shift into making pop music holed up in Wales following several panic attacks. He listened to American r'n'b and read Marxist theory. Speaking to Sounds in 1985 he said (of The Word Girl) "I was taking stock of all the lyrics of the songs for the new album and, lo and behold, in every song there was – this girl, or that girl. It seemed a good idea to show awareness of the device being used, to take it out of neutral and show it didn't connote or denote certain things. It was important to admit a consciousness of the materiality of referring to 'girls' in songs."
The Word Girl
Scritti Politti's journey is succinctly told in this excerpt from a documentary about Rough Trade.