Golden Brown

Album: La Folie (1981)
Charted: 2

Songfacts®:

  • The band spent years denying persistent accusations that the lyrics are about heroin use and trade, claiming that different listeners will hear different things in the lyrics. Hugh Cornwell finally copped to the drug reference in 2001, when he said, "It's about heroin and also about a girl." This girl was Cornwell's Mediterranean girlfriend at the time - who had golden brown skin.

    Playing down the drug angle was not for fear of repercussions, but because they didn't want the song reduced to merely a drug song.
  • The song originated when keyboardist Dave Greenfield experimented with a musical passage. While Greenfield perfected the synthesizer/harpsichord backing texture, Hugh Cornwell wrote 10 minutes worth of lyrics. He cut them down to fit the song.
  • No one considered the song more than just an album track, until radio stations in England started playing the song. Drummer Jet Black had always thought of it as a hit song and pushed for its release as a single. It became their biggest hit and one of their most popular songs with the fans.
  • Stranglers bass guitarist Jean Jacques Burnel says in an interview with the online music magazine Reminiscin': "We were written off by then. There was a new record company at the time that had taken us over because they have swallowed up our previous record company. They said punk was over and we were finished, and then we forced them to release that record. They said it didn't sound like The Stranglers and that you couldn't dance to it, etc. They released it before Christmas thinking it would kinda die a death, but it developed its own legs. As a result it won an Ivor Novello award that year."
  • The Stranglers lineup between 1975-1990 was Hugh Cornwell (Guitar/Vocals), JJ Burnel (Bass/Vocals), Dave Greenfield (Keyboards/Vocals) and Jet Black (Drums). In 1990 Cornwell left and the band continued with a new singer and a new guitarist.
  • This song features a '60s type harpsichord riff with an unusual time signature. The intro (and the parts like it) sound like three bars of 3/4, then one of 4/4, with the rest just straight 3/4 like a waltz.
  • This was The Stranglers highest charting single in the UK, and EMI's highest selling single for many years.
  • This song peaked at #2 in the UK, behind The Jam's "Town Called Malice/Precious." The Stranglers' record label, EMI, objected to the Jam's single being available in both a studio-recorded 7-inch version and a live 12-inch version. They argued that the Jam's fans were buying both versions of the single, stopping "Golden Brown" from reaching #1.
  • This song was featured in the 2000 film Snatch.
  • The album title La Folie is French for "Madness."

Comments: 21

  • Michael from ViennaI have always liked this song because of the tact change and the use of the harpsichord. It is refreshing between the monotonous rhythms that are common in popsongs. I play baroque music myself, so the sound of the harpsichord and tact change are both are familiar to me. I think they were right that didn't want it to be classified as a song about drugs but let everybody have his own interpretation. Of course the title reminds of heroin, but the lyrics rather seem to refer to a exotic woman.
  • Michael from FloridaI saw the Dave Brubeck YouTube clip - it is clearly an edit, and it is acknowledged as such by the poster. You can find the original identical clip on YouTube, where they are actually playing Take Five. Watch the drummer at the start of the clip, and watch Dave's hands on the piano, he's not playing the notes of Golden Brown. This is the actual original clip, you can see it is identical to the clip where they appear to be playing Golden Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT9Eh8wNMkw
  • Davido from LondonThe Dave Brubeck YouTube clip is a clever edit. They never did it for real.
  • Siha from UkI could find no Brubeck version but I found this: https://bit.ly/2WjvdC9
    Maybe you guys were mistaken about Golden Brown being older than The Stranglers claimed?
  • Andy from Kent, UkJohn from Derry is right. There is a clip on YouTube of the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing it. I have not been able to establish the date, but believe it to be 1964. Whatever the exact date, however, the saxophonist on the clip is clearly Paul Desmond, and as he died in 1977 it must pre-date the Stranglers' release by at least four years.
  • John from Derry Could someone correct me, was the original tune golden brown first done by dave brubeck in 1964
  • C. Dot from London Se15As a user of heroin with a 30 year addiction, I knew 'Golden Brown' was about heroin. Great song though
  • Fluxius from Los AngelesI think Dave from Dublin has a point. Opium comes in sticks, about 6" or so and (depending on morphine content) can be anything from a very light brown (almost yellow ochre) to a darkish brown colour. Heroin is derived from opium, so perhaps when Hugh was inspired to write the song he combined the golden brown skin of his girlfriend and the colour of the opium. Just food for thought I guess.
  • Dave from Stapleford, United KingdomActually, Jet Black (the drummer) reckons that it's about Marmite!!!
  • Dave from Dublin, IrelandDespite the denials it's not about drugs, it clearly is, in particular Opium.

    Golden brown finer temptress
    Through the ages she's heading west

    The Opium trade began thousands of years ago in modern day Iran, Irag, Turkey, and Syria.
    Then in 1300 BC Eygpt became the biggest exporters of Opium under Tutankhamen, with it eventually making its' way to Europe [West]

    Raw opium is yellow, amber colour, and could indeed be described as "Golden Brown"

    The video for the song features images of Egypt, and could therefore be directly referencing the role that country had
    in getting the Opium to Europe.
  • Kaz from Chicago Heights, IlAlso love this song. The opening riff into the first verse always reminded me of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five"; in a very subtle way, which is why it originally caught my ear! '-)
    -Kaz, Chicago Heights, IL
  • Andrew from Victoria, BcAlso appeared in the movie "Away We Go"! Amazing movie.
  • Anne-marie from Perth, Australiathis song was also heavily featured in the Australian movie "he died with a falafel in his hand" (2001) directed by Richard Lowenstein, based on the book by John Birmingham. It is played several times throughout the movie, including in the opening scene where a guy is seen sitting in a chair, having OD'd on herion... he has a kebab (with a falafel i assume) in his hand, the white sauce dripping down his arm... which was nice imagery. It also features throughout the movie as the main character plays is frequently on his guitar in the background of scenes. this is a brilliant movie, i highly recommend it! I guess it was chosen based on the premise that this song was written about heroin... even if it wasn't, that's a well-known association.
  • Hendrixlover from Does It Matter?, Cai like the added beat in the riff to make it 7/8. martin, i dont think its 3/4 but 6/8 like it says in the description on the page. no matter, awesome song nonetheless
  • Paul Marlo from Perth, Australiasnatch ... my favourite movie!
  • Dom from Newquay, Englanddennis i don't know how that happened. i'm sure there are a few of their tracks you would recognise

    the bassits, JJ Burnell lives in the village where i grew up. he used to (maybe still does) run a pub there. he also taugh karate lessons to the local kids and adults. i remember he was very fit and very good at martial arts

    us villagers loved our punk landlord
  • Dennis from Newton, Ma3/8/2007 Th My musical interests span most musical genres (except I have not learned to like C&W and Opera). I started with my grandmother's newest purchases at the time (Belafonte' Live at Carnegie Hall & Les Campiones De Le Chanson) at 4 or 5. I even still listen loud to some Metallica and classical music. I have always preferred alternative as opposed to overplayed. And so I am still amazed that the first time I ever heard or even heard anything about Golden Brown and/or the Stranglers was on the way to Hollywood just a few weeks ago. If anyone has any insight on how someone who is really into music could have missed that classic I'd be grateful to hear it.
  • Ben from Vancouver, United StatesI've inrtoduced Golden Brown to many a female, followed by the viewing of "snatch," and it seems to be a hit. Not to mention its one of the most memorable songs I have heard.
  • Martin from Sydney, AustraliaIn addition to being one of very few pop songs played on a harpsichord, this tune has the most complex rhythm of any pop song I know. Pop songs are usually 4/4, occasionally 3/4. Golden Brown is mostly in 3/4 but has one part (at the start and between the verses) that has three bars of 3/4 then one of 4/4, and repeats like that, giving a 13-beat cycle. Try and dance to that!
  • Travis from Laconia, NhThis song was in "NARC" too.
  • Nate from Atherton, CaAppeared in the movie "Snatch." Great tune.
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