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45 at 45: Deconstructing The Flying Lizards’ Money (That’s What I Want)

”We recorded Money in a cold meat fridge in Brixton, London. It cost £6.50. Was I excited when it was a hit? Not really. There was an album by The Flying Lizards but my vocals were wiped off. An actress mimicked my voice, but I don’t know if that worked. Maybe that’s why we became one-hit wonders.” — Deborah Evans-Stickland

The first time I heard The Flying Lizards’ Money (That’s What I Want), at some point in the Bletchley of 1979, this ten year-old schoolboy wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. 

It’s not that I was terribly attached to earlier versions — my father had the Fab Four’s rockin’ rendition on With The Beatles, though it was rarely played, post-’60s at least; and Barrett Strong’s original Tamla take may been the single that gave Berry Gordy and Motown their first hit in the US but, despite its infectious piano riff, slipped through the cracks in the austere Britain of 1960.

Even now, it comes across as a self-consciously cracked cover, dashed off for a bit of a giggle, the very definition of a one-hit wonder clearly inspired by M’s Pop Musik that had dominated the charts earlier in the year. 

This is a blueprint of a blueprint – a record run through some kind of structural analyser, rebuilt with such precision and care but stripped down with a conscious absence of soul.

It reminds me that cover versions needn’t be ‘respectful’ to an original, because hearing The Flying Lizards’ avant garde archness a lot in subsequent years I realised how cleverly it deconstructed and satirised the original: a plinky-clanky recording rooted in the new wave of the day but with those oh-so-dispassionate deadpan vocals with vocalist Deborah Evans-Stickland flatly intoning the lyric, it manages to take the song to places its composer never imagined their baby would visit.

I say ‘a lot’ because it seems that whenever UK TV programmes want to illustrate anything to do with moolah, there are three go-to songs that are always top of the broadcasters’ cash registers: 

Pink Floyd’s Money, with its jangly, transactional till sound effects, was the obvious solution for anything involving spending.

But for many a year, Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money), the Pet Shop Boys satire on Loadsamoney capitalist culture, and the Flying Lizards perennial have also been particularly over-used with any footage of somebody who looks like a slightly snooty yuppie waving their wad around, and much loved by any programme-maker who’s clunkily attempting to make an ironic point. 

Lest we forget, it was record producer David Cunningham, “master of studio decks, tape splicing and the paraphernalia of recording” who led the Lizards, founding the combo in 1976 when he had the idea to “get some musicians together and experiment with sounds”. In what is perhaps the first postmodern pop song, in 1979 this art-pop collective bagged a weird and supremely unlikely hit, inching its capitalist mantra to number five in the British charts the year Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street for “a very very long time.“

And the rest, as Neil Tennant used to say, is history.

Steve Pafford

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