Shot By Both Sides

Album: Real Life (1978)
Charted: 41
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Songfacts®:

  • This ominous, claustrophobic song is a paranoid plea for political moderation. Magazine vocalist Howard Devoto portrays himself caught in an ideological crossfire as his enemies, real or otherwise, shoot him from both sides.
  • When Devoto's socialist friend told him his refusal to choose a political master would see him shot by both left and right when the revolution came, the words stuck with him.

    Devoto filed them away and found the right musical outlet when he was helping his former Buzzcocks partner Pete Shelley with some potential Buzzcocks songs. "He played the chord sequence," Devoto recalled to NME, "and I was really impressed, said so, and he just gave them to me there and then."
  • Devoto created a tension-ridden arrangement around Shelley's ascending guitar riff. Buzzcocks used an identical guitar riff on their 1978 Love Bites track "Lipstick," for which Devoto received a co-writing credit.
  • Devoto formed Magazine after the release of Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP. He said his singular reason for the band was to record the song. They released it as their first single on January 20, 1978.
  • When Magazine played "Shot By Both Sides" on Top of the Pops, Devoto transmitted a negative vibe contemptuous of the BBC pop music show. The song dropped three places down the UK charts the week after.

    "There's more to it than meets the eye," Magazine bassist Barry Adamson told Mojo. "I almost think there's a beautifully executed kind of self-sabotage there, which was Howard's calling card in some ways. To do that on the big stage is the thing that would keep your narcissism alive. It was, 'I can give you this, and I can take it away from you at the same time.' And that's where the power is."
  • Critics recognize "Shot By Both Sides" as a post-punk landmark. Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus called it "the best rock and roll record of 1978, punk or otherwise."
  • In his book Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh points to Bruce Springsteen using the same guitar riff for his 1988 B-side "Roulette."
  • Major Magazine fans Radiohead played "Shot By Both Sides" live during their 2000 fall tour. Their song "Just" contains a similar guitar riff.

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