“There’s A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis” (1981); “Innocence” (1989); “Fifteen Minutes” (1989) by Kirsty MacColl

Why Kirsty MacColl isn’t a household name is beyond me. In her relatively short career, she wrote and performed some wonderful pop classics. The daughter of legendary Scottish folksinger Ewan MacColl, and stepdaughter of no-relation-to-Pete Peggy Seeger (whose “I Was Going to Be an Engineer” is the best damn feminist song ever written), Kirsty was signed to Jake Rivera’s Stiff Records (original home of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe) at the age of 19 and promptly churned out “They Don’t Know,” a classic pop song that didn’t do so well for her but was Tracey Ullman’s first big hit. She only managed to put out five albums over the next twenty years, but they are all great.

Her songs here at Cloth Monkey Radio cover three facets of her remarkable songwriting talent. “Fifteen Minutes” is a wonderfully snarky look at fleeting fame and the shallow idiots who worship celebrity (“City banker looks are in/the heartless heart, the chinless chin”). It has a weird discordant rhythm that warms my heartless heart.

“Innocence” churns along like a runaway train, full of her pithy takes on the idiots that surround her (“You’re sending off those bottle tops for your free piece of mind”).

And, obsessed with American country music like all New Wavers, she wrote the wonderful “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.” (“There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis/Just like you swore to me that you’d be true/ There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis/But he’s a liar, and I’m not sure about you.”) Great stuff.

Personal note: until I pulled up the videos above, I had never seen her in action. What an adorable little lass.

Tragically, poor Kirsty was killed at the age of 41 when, vacationing in Mexico with her teenaged sons, she was struck and killed by a speedboat while they were snorkeling in a restricted area. Her family pursued the driver, the son of the local sheriff, for years to no avail.

And might as well include her first single, which became the breakout hit recording for Tracey Ullman:

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