88 Lines About 44 Women

Album: Hotel for Women (1981)

Songfacts®:

  • The Nails lead singer Marc Campbell wrote the lyrics to this song, and composed the music with their keyboard player David Kaufman. The song is exactly what the title says: a brief description of 44 women, each getting two lines of verse.

    Campbell went into what he calls a "trance state" when he started writing about the women, some of whom were real, some that were made up, and some he's not sure of, as Marc believes his mind may have constructed a few of the memories.

    One of the women in the song - the one whose line is "Tanya Turkish liked to f--k while wearing leather biker boots" - became Campbell's girlfriend about 30 years after he put her in the song. In a 2012 Songfacts interview, he said: "I got divorced three years ago after 18 years of marriage and it was devastating. Somebody said, Marc, have you checked out this thing called Facebook? So I checked out this thing called Facebook and I hooked up with some old friends in Manhattan, and we decided I was going to drive to Manhattan from Texas and visit my old friends and have dinner with them. And one of the women that attended was Tanya. Well, we hooked up and the rest is history." (Here's our full interview with Marc Campbell.)
  • The lyrical approach to this song was inspired by a 1970 book length poem by an underground poet named Joe Brainard. His collection was called I Remember, and every line began with that phrase, for example: "I remember with fried shrimps in restaurants, not enough tartar sauce."
  • If the backing track to this song sounds like a preprogrammed keyboard track, that's because it is. The Nails had a studio/rehearsal space in the New York apartment where they lived. David Kaufman turned on the rhythm track to their Casio keyboard, and Marc Campbell played along on drums. They liked the sound and recorded it onto a cassette tape.

    The track they recorded was a little under five minutes long, which gave Campbell enough time for 88 lines of lyrics (44 couplets). He told us: "Curiously, 88 is a pretty cosmic number. There are 88 keys on the keyboard. "Rocket 88" was a key rock and roll song. So I wondered, what can you write 88 lines about? What can you write 44 couplets about? Well, I mean, what is there, really, other than women? Maybe cars for some guys. But what were the big things in my life at that time? Sex, drugs, rock & roll. So it came down to women. I didn't have to really think twice about it. I'm actually making it sound as if I made a choice. I didn't. It just was obvious."
  • Marc Campbell wrote the lyrics in about two hours on an old typewriter. Many listeners assumed he was boasting about his sexual conquests, but that wasn't the case. He explained: "As I was flowing along and writing it, I instinctually felt gaps needed to be filled in terms of my characterization of women. I wanted to achieve some kind of epic uberwoman. You know, one that kind of encapsulated all of these women, woman as a source of energy and inspiration for me. And that's kind of how it panned out."
  • The Nails were a punk band working with a small indie label when they recorded this song in their home studio as a demo. When they got some quality studio time in Manhattan to record an EP, Campbell pushed to include "88 Lines" in the project, but most of his bandmates thought it was "rinkydink" and wanted to leave it off. They ended up including it on that EP, Hotel For Women, which was released in 1981.

    The EP found its way to the influential BBC DJ John Peel, who started playing "88 Lines" and championing the song. Peel's approval carried a lot of clout, and the rush was on to sign The Nails. Campbell, however, sabotaged their showcase gig. With the record reps looking on, he went rogue and refused to play the song, eventually falling down drunk into the drum kit. After the show just one company, RCA, expressed interest and signed the band. They released Hotel For Women as a full-length album in 1982, but didn't release the song as a single. According to Campbell, the first pressing of 100,000 copies of the album sold out, but RCA refused to do a second pressing. In 1984, The Nails recorded their second album for RCA, Mood Swing, which contained another version of "88 Lines About 44 Women" that was released as a single. They also released a radio edit of the song to make it suitable for broadcast, but the song never got a big promotional push and didn't chart.

    It wasn't until 1993 that the song was available on CD - it was included in a compilation called Living in Oblivion. It has since appeared on many compilations and has garnered new fans through streaming services, satellite radio and YouTube. In the '00s, The Nails bought their masters back from RCA and have released remastered versions of much of their previous material.
  • This song created a dilemma during live performances, as The Nails had seven talented musicians but all that was needed for this song was a simple keyboard track and some drums. It also sounded nothing like their other songs.

    At first, they made it a bit of a joke, with the band members standing around on stage while Marc Campbell read the lyrics off sheets of paper. They later decided to just have the band leave the stage, with Marc sitting on a stool, performing to a recorded track. "It was so hard to pull off live that I almost made it into a performance piece, a poetry reading," he told us. "It was almost embarrassing to do live because the band was big and '88 Lines' was an atypical song of ours. The other songs were big and fat and Doorsy and gothy and here was this thing that really kind of stuck out in our set. And so by setting up a stool and doing it on a backing track, it was effective. It was dramatic."
  • The band missed a big opportunity for a slot on MTV when they didn't make a video for this song, since RCA wouldn't commission one (although they did pony up for a video for another Nails song, "Let It All Hang Out"). When YouTube emerged, many fan videos of this song appeared, some quite clever. Marc Campbell put together his own video, but it was too racy for YouTube.
  • Devo was happy to finally profit from their work when companies wanted to use their songs in ad campaigns, but Marc Campbell of The Nails had a hard time reconciling his punk sensibilities when offered the corporate cash.

    In the late '90s, Mazda asked to use "88 Lines" in an ad campaign. Initially, Campbell refused, saying he's "totally against this idea of rock songs being used to promote big corporations." His bandmates, who were married with children, convinced him to take the deal, but Marc held fast in refusing to sing new lyrics to suit the ad, so a soundalike was used for the new Mazda-friendly lyrics.

    There were three commercials in the campaign that used the song, so it was a nice payday for the band. Campbell tells us that he got tipped to what would have happened if they refused permission. "The guy at the ad agency contacted me privately. He probably could have lost his job for this. He said, 'Marc, if you don't sell us the rights to this song, we're going to duplicate it. We'll change it slightly. But we're going to go ahead and do it anyway and you're going to get f--ked.' That's what made me go, Okay. And that's what they would have done. It's been done time and time again. '88 Lines' has appeared in many, many forms to promote many, many things. Not long ago it was used in the Dexter ad campaign for the TV show. It was '26 lines About 13 Psychos.' We sued them and won. The State of Massachusetts used it in an anti-drinking campaign, and you know what, we sued them, even though we were behind what they were doing. But it was such a blatant ripoff."

Comments: 5

  • Esskayess from EarthCampbell didn't mention in the interview whether Tanya still wore leather boots when...
  • Smitty from Seattle, WaThe tune of the humming between verses sounds an awful lot like Chad and Jeremy's "A Summer Song."
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenA clever parody of this song called "88 Lines About 44 Presidents" can be found online.
  • Ted from UsaThe Nails stole this song from a 1980 Magnavox television commercial. in the commercial the music is the same. the commercial rhymes the word "magnavox" with "bobby-sox".
    Here is a link to the commercial that the Nails stole from: https://youtu.be/UPX2EOkvHu4
  • Smartalek from BostonSuch a brilliant song -- one of those that just sits in the back of your head, dormant, for weeks, months, maybe years at a time, and then one fine day, you'll find it running through your inner ears.
    And of course, you have your own personal list of lyrics for it...
    don't you?
    You know you do.
see more comments

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