‘Little Boxes’

(H/T to THE for bringing these lyrics to my attention. Yes, it must be time for my annual Times Higher Education plug: it’s brilliant! Buy it!!! Ahem.) In 1962, Malvina Reynolds wrote a protest song called ‘Little Boxes’. At first glance, it seems like quite a simple — even childlike — set of lyrics; on closer inspection, though, it’s well worth an in-depth read, which is why I reproduce it here:

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all go to the university
Where they all get put in boxes, little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and there’s business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they all get put in boxes and they all come out the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

(holyjoe.org.)

An homage to Roger Red Hat et. al., this ain’t: this is a fairly heavy swipe at upper/middle-class capitalist existence.

All the more surprising, then, that this anti-establishment ode was co-opted by a mull-national mobile communications company recently for an oh-so-saccharine advert, in which a fresh-faced protagonist strolls through an ever-changing, familiar-yet-alien, but definitely O2-friendly landscape.

Why is this?

My guess is that people have stopped listening to the import of the lyrics in cases like this, as the perceived cuddliness of the music is all. Which is a real shame: when did language stop mattering?

 

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4 thoughts on “‘Little Boxes’

  1. I feel your post would benefit from the alternative lyrics penned by Fred Wedlock:
    Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made for cricketers
    And you shove one down your underpants to protect you in the game
    There’s a pink one and a blue one and one made of aluminium
    But if you stop a Googlie it’ll hurt you just the same.

    Even England’s finest batsmen can get a nasty thump on the middle stump
    Then they all take herbal remedies and they all take quite a lot
    There’s a black one and a gold one and a red one from the Lebanon
    And they’re caught bowled and spaced out cause they’ve all gone to pot.

    But Ian Botham he defies them he’s big and butch and he can clobber them
    He could eat his bat drink Paraquat and crawl on all fives
    But his box still takes some hammer and you may think that’s peculiar
    Til you notice that the dents have all come from inside.

    Seriously though, I’ve always thought it was a silly song – we can’t all be the carefree arty types the author is praising (by implication, if that’s the correct term) – economics would tell us that supply of carefree arty types would soon outstrip demand, and we’d soon need all of those little box people to earn money and pay tax to support their carefree arty lifestyles with benefits, the NHS and sexual health clinics…
    Lyrics often aren’t analysed – see the delayed reaction of the Beeb to ‘Relax’ by Frankie goes to Hollywood, or even the fact that I was happily lulling my daughter to sleep with ‘no surprises’ by Radiohead – until I realised it was all about suicide. I often think when I listen to songs nowadays of those bland, meaningless folk-style lyrics of those songs in 1984. Only now with many more sex references.

  2. But the author isn’t praising said types — it seems to be a pretty savage indictment of the societal pressures on people to conform.
    Get your point that lyrics aren’t often analysed, though, especially when they’re covertly sexual. Hope M enjoyed the sing-song; when are you planning on introducing her to _The Exorcist_?

  3. Perhaps – though as a folk singer and political activist (according to the song’s wiki page – see the great Tom Lehrer’s reaction) it’s not hard to draw that conclusion. We have watched the Borgias, and Alien vs Predator, together…

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