If you split the theme song to “Are You Being Served?” through a prism it might conceivably separate out into Prolapse’s “Visa for Violet & Van” on the spoonful-of-sugar-makes-the-noise-go-down side and Ladytron’s first single “Playgirl” on the other.
I must admit that I never liked the British sitcom this theme song derived from. The show was ugly and dull in that drearily 70s way —all polyester and over-emphatic, wincing attempts at humor. But the theme song —all forty-five seconds of it— evoked a halcyon time of glamour and jet-set living, a forgotten near-past that never really existed anyway. It’s done with breezy humor and a knowing wink, topped off with a soupçon of jaunty Whipped Cream and Other Delights-esque cheesiness.
Prolapse, bless ‘em, rhyme “risqué” with “stingray” on “Visa.” (Leave it to the professionals, kids.) That’s not the only reason to love this song, which first appeared on a CD accompanying Brit music mag Volume and reappeared (in slightly noisier form) on the band’s third album, The Italian Flag.Linda’s airy, slightly bored recitation of coolly playful nonsense (a metaphysical shopping list?) contrasts perfectly with Mick’s gruff, intense philosophizing. It’s held together with an irresistible lock-groove bassline and delightfully wheezy synth howls. Only Prolapse could corral such a potentiallyawry song with such effortlessness.
Ladytron’s “Playgirl” evokes a suffocating world of hermetically-sealed femininity —the laugh that trills through the song is brittle; the protagonist “sleeps [her] way out of [her] hometown;” she “choke[s] on cigarettes” to mark time. It’s as heartbreaking in its way as Roxy Music’s excoriating “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” (although less noirishly psychosexual), concisely outlining a life that’s almost over before it’s even begun. The fact that the song is also ridiculously catchy rescues it from mawkishness.
Photograph by Madame Yevonde, circa 1938.
Much of Prolapse’s oeuvre is out-of-print. Try Amazon, Ebay, or your local purveyor of fine used CDs. Ladytron’s first album, 604, is readily available.