Golden Brown

I remember hearing it for the first time, sometime in the early 1980s… not understanding most of it, but being captivated by the strange mystic beauty of both the lyrics and the unconventional arrangement – to say nothing of the eccentric use of instrumentation.

Not only does the song Golden Brown feature a Harpsichord, but rhythmically it shifts from 6/8 time to 7/8 in a repeating 13-beat cycle (the instrumental bridge contributes an extra beat in every other measure, which produces a 13/8 time signature) – giving it the most peculiar tempo in all of Popular music.

It is a waltz that is nigh impossible to dance to, and it is a ballad that lacks the typical elements of a pop ballad. British punk/new-wave group The Stranglers could not have composed a more improbable tune, yet it was one of their very few commercially viable songs.

However, it also provoked some controversy when it was alleged that the song referred to drug use – to which principal songwriter Hugh Cornwell responded that the meaning of the song was of a private nature and meant to be obdurately circuitous. The other members of the band concurred that the song was something of an aural “Rorschach Test” in which one heard what one wanted to hear within the verses.

Every time just like the last,

on her ship tied to the mast.

To distant lands, takes both my hands…

…never a frown with golden brown.

As a boy, I felt it was about something beautiful that loomed far away from me… hidden in the shadows of distant Time yet-to-come.

As a man, the song most appeals to me as a cryptic and poetic expression of my feelings for my beloved wife.


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