The Flying Lizards: “Money (That’s What I Want)”
After skipping last Friday, Cover Friday is back this week, with a great one-hit wonder: The Flying Lizards, doing the classic “Money (That’s What I Want).” It’s a song that’s been played countless times by good and bad bands alike — co-written by Motown’s Berry Gordy, it’s a particularly notable song also for having been the first hit for Motown, as recorded by Barrett Strong in 1960. The Beatles may have done the definitive version (I think so, anyway), but no one has done it with quite the panache of The Flying Lizards.
This is probably the first Reselection where I literally knew almost no details about the band, and although I have just now done a little Googling to find out more, the only thing I’ll add that I didn’t already know is that the plinky sound running throughout the song is not a guitar or toy instrument, but rather a piano that has had objects laid across the strings inside the piano itself, resulting in the very odd, sharp yet muted tone (which I won’t try to describe any further because, well, you can hear it right here yourself). I remember quite vividly how bizarre the song sounded on the radio when it came out back in 1979 (on the band’s debut album The Flying Lizards). I thought it sounded like it must be some off-the-wall German group, but as it turns out (okay, another fact I just learned) the band was actually a pair of British art-school friends, augmented by a couple of improvisational musicians for the album. For a while, the song was on American radio quite frequently (apparently only making it to #50, although I could swear I remember Casey Kasem introducing it on “American Top 40”), and it sounded unlike anything I’d heard before. Although the song’s element of surprise may have disappeared over the years, it still sounds like a song well ahead of its time, and unlike any radio hit I’ve heard since — a true pop oddity.