“No More Heroes” — The Stranglers

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Photo by Kayla Koss on Unsplash

Most of us don’t believe in heroes any more. Unless you’re talking about front-line healthcare workers.

In the midst of a pandemic, these fine men and women go to work every day, putting their health…and ultimately their own lives…at risk to care for others at their time of greatest need.

In the UK we’ve started referring to our “NHS Heroes”, the people who work on the front-line in the National Health Service.

Recently, greater recognition for the important work they do has rightly been extended to other key workers — those caring for the elderly and infirm, retail workers making sure food supplies are maintained and delivery workers who allow the rest of us to stay at home in relative safety from the disease currently sweeping the world.

So, at face value, I’m not sure I’d agree with The Stranglers — it isn’t that there are “No More Heroes” any more, it’s just that they turn up in scrubs rather than armour nowadays

But on closer inspection, that’s not the point The Stranglers are making in “No More Heroes” at all.

They’re not singing about the need for more righteous knights on white steeds rescuing damsels in distress. Or business leaders who win through all odds to make a fortune. Or political leaders like Winston Churchill saving the nation in its hour of greatest need.

We often associate heroism with grand gestures.

Now, more than ever, heroism is about the small gestures.

Holding someone’s hand as they breathe their last, isolated from friends and family for the protection of them both.

An encouraging word to someone who doesn’t realise they already have all the strength they need inside them to make it through their troubles.

Even just turning up to work, putting on your scrubs and reporting for duty in a busy hospital…exactly like you’ve done thousands of times over the years, except now it’s different…

When you think about it, there are millions of heroes around the world. We’re not nearly as short of them as we’d fondly imagined.

No, the traditional “knight on a white steed” isn’t what The Stranglers sing about in “No More Heroes” at all. They’re singing about the heroes who speak up in the face of dogma, even at the risk of suffering for their non-compliance with orthodoxy…

Trotsky was no saint, but he stood up to Stalin, a man several orders of magnitude worse, and came to a brutal end one day in Mexico City at the hands of a Soviet agent.

As a punk band with revolutionary left wing ideologies at their heart, The Stranglers kept going with their metaphors from the early day of the Soviet Union by giving Lenin a mention…

But as well as being left-wing, The Stranglers were somewhat more “Art School” than your average punk band, so they had some more sophisticated references up their sleeves for us.

Firstly, Elmyr De Hory — a celebrated art forger who successfully sold thousands of paintings he’d forged to some of the world’s most respected collectors by claiming they were Old Masters.

And Sancho Panza — the “everyman” companion from “Don Quixote”, always there to drag Don Quixote’s flights of fantasy back down to something closer to reality with his asides, jokes and earthy observations.

Rather than calling for the return of knights on white steeds, The Stranglers are asking more people to stand up for what they believe in and serve the interests of us all by calling out lies, fantasy and self-interest wherever they find it.

In “No More Heroes”, that runs the gamut from protesting against the Soviet elite who caused the death of millions of ordinary people to relieving rich, entitled superficial people of their ill-gotten hordes of cash by selling them “Old Masters” which weren’t anything of the sort.

Real heroes put reality and serving others before dogma. They call out the Emperor when his new clothes don’t really do what his tailor claimed.

That’s why there aren’t “No More Heroes”. There are millions of them.

The healthcare workers, those looking after the old or infirm, the retail staff, the delivery drivers, the utility workers keeping the lights on and the water flowing.

These people have always been heroes, doing jobs we wouldn’t want to do, often for rates of pay that significantly undervalue their importance to the smooth functioning of society.

It’s just a shame it took the greatest threat to global health for 100 years for us to realise that.

In addition to its timely message, “No More Heroes” has one of the rarest things in rock music…even rarer in the brutally simplistic world of punk…an organ solo.

And not just any organ solo…one of the greatest organ solos in popular music. Right up there with Ray Manzarek’s performance on the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and Matthew Fisher on Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.

Amongst those other classics, to be fair, I’d put the organ solo on “No More Heroes” in third place, behind “Light My Fire” and “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” respectively. But it’s no disgrace to take the bronze medal slot against world class competition like “Light My Fire” and “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.

“No More Heroes”…in a rare move for any rock track, and rare to the point of non-existence in punk, specifically…is driven all the way through by Dave Greenfield on his Hammond organ.

Even if you think you don’t like punk, I promise you’ll be captivated by Dave Greenfield’s organ work on “No More Heroes”…topped off by a very Ray Manzarek-style solo, it has to be said.

Punk was mostly about nihilism. But The Stranglers’ more intellectual fare was looked upon with suspicion by many of their punk peers because they ploughed their own furrow and refused to follow exactly the same path as their punk rock peers.

Which is ironic, as celebrating people who refuse to jump on a bandwagon heading in the wrong direction is precisely what “No More Heroes” is about.

But if there is one bandwagon you can safely jump on these days, it’s the bandwagon of support that’s building for all those fine people who risk their lives and health every day just to keep the rest of us safe.

There aren’t “No More Heroes”. There’s millions of them.

(PS: If you’re watching the YouTube video, turn the sound up to get the full effect — it’s very quiet for some reason. The Spotify track is more like it.)

https://open.spotify.com/track/3A6Ty55vQ1NC06EiB1fi9z

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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