Classic Rock Wiki

"Golden Brown" is a song by the English rock band The Stranglers. It was released as a 7" single in December 1981 in the United States and in January 1982 in the UK, on Liberty. It was the second single released from the band's sixth album La Folie. It peaked at No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart, the band's highest ever placing in that chart.


  • 1 Overview
  • 2 Meaning
  • 3 Musical composition
  • 4 Music video
  • 5 Chart performance
  • 6 "Number Two" poll
  • 7 Cover versions
  • 8 Track listing
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links


Originally featured on the group's album La folie, which was released in November 1981, and later on the USA pressings of Feline, "Golden Brown" was released as a single in December 1981, and was accompanied by a video. It reached No. 2 in the official UK Singles Chart in February 1982, behind "Town Called Malice" by The Jam.[3] The comparatively conservative BBC Radio 2, at that time a middle-of-the-road (MOR) music radio station, decided to make the record the single of the week, a surprising step considering the band were almost as notorious as Sex Pistols only a few years before. The band claimed that the song's lyrics were akin to an auralRorschach test and that people only heard in it what they wanted to hear, although this did not prevent persistent allegations that the lyrics alluded to heroin (although in an interview with Channel 4, drummer Jet Black quipped it was a song about Marmite).

The single was a hit around the world, scaling the Top 10 as far away as Australia. It was also featured in the films Snatch[1] and He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, and is included on both soundtrack albums.


There has been much controversy surrounding the lyrics. In his 2001 book The Stranglers Song By Song, Hugh Cornwell clearly states "'Golden Brown' works on two levels. It's about heroin and also about a girl". Essentially the lyrics describe how "both provided me with pleasurable times".[4]

Musical composition[edit][]

The main body of the song has a 3/4 feel and is pitched halfway between the keys of E minor and E-flat minor, possibly to accommodate the tuning of the harpsichord. The instrumental introduction, in (a very flat) B minor, is unconventional. The keyboard vamps in 3/4 while the harpsichord overlays that in 6/8 and every fourth bar is in4/4. The music was largely written by keyboardist Dave Greenfield and drummer Jet Black, with lyrics by singer/guitarist Hugh Cornwell.[5]

The BBC newsreader Bill Turnbull attempted to waltz to the song in the 2005 series of Strictly Come Dancing. In February 2012 when interviewing Stranglers bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel on BBC Breakfast, Turnbull described the attempted dance as "a disaster", Burnel responded that the alternating time signatures made "Golden Brown" impossible to dance to; in contrast, a song written entirely in 6/8 is not unusual in waltzing.

Music video[edit][]

Two shots from Golden Brown: the band performing the song in Leighton House and as explorers.

The video for "Golden Brown", directed by Lindsey Clennell, depicts the band members both as explorers in an Arabian country and non-Arab Muslim Countries (sequences include images of the Pyramids as well as the explorers studying a map of Egypt) in the 1920s and performers for a fictional "Radio Cairo". In addition to the Pyramids, the video is intercut with stock footage of a madrasa in Uzbekistan, the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran and Great Sphinx, Feluccas sailing, Bedouins riding and camel racing in the United Arab Emirates. The performance scenes were filmed in the Leighton House Museum in Holland Park, London.

Chart performance[edit][]

Chart (1981–82) Peak


Australia (Kent Music Report)[6] 10
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[7] 7
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[8] 8
France (IFOP)[9] 73
Germany (Media Control Charts)[10] 63
Ireland (IRMA)[11] 3
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[12] 8
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[13] 10
Poland (LP3)[14] 13
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[3] 2
Chart (1991)1 Peak


Ireland (IRMA)[11] 25
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[15] 68


"Number Two" poll[edit][]

In a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the nation's favourite singles to have peaked at number two, conducted in late 2012, "Golden Brown" ranked fifth behind "Vienna", "Fairytale of New York", "Sit Down" and "American Pie", and just ahead of "Waterloo Sunset" and "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever".[16]

Cover versions[edit][]

  • In 1996, British hip hop group Kaleef had a UK Top 40 hit with their re-working of this song.[17]
  • Also in 1996, the duo Better Daze covered the song on their album One Street Over.
  • In 1997, soul singer Omar revived the song and took it back into the UK Top 40.[18]
  • In 1997, Emer Kenny included the song in her self-titled album.[19]
  • Also in 1997, Better Daze released "Remix Project" on Ubiquity Records, containing a remix of their cover version by Scribe, and two remixes by Fila Brazillia.
  • In 2006, English jazz singer-songwriter Symeon Cosburn covered the song on his album Breakfast With The Blues.[20]
  • In 2007, British singer Jamelia sampled the song with her single "No More".
  • Also in 2007, fictional character Janey York (played by Crissy Rock) sang this song in the first series of Benidorm.
  • In 2008, the British band Cult with No Name recorded a piano-based cover of the song on their album Careful What You Wish For.
  • In 2009, Frankmusik sampled "Golden Brown" in his song "When You're Around".
  • In 2010, the song was one of the 'contemporary classics' featured by the Jamaican band The Jolly Boys on their Great Expectation album.
  • Also in 2010, the song was covered by the scrumpy and Western band The Wurzels on their album A Load More Bollocks.
  • In 2012, Mariachi Mexteca remade the song with Hugh Cornwell playing guitar and singing.[21]

Track listing[edit][]

Songs, lyrics and music by The Stranglers.

  • 7" (BP 407)
  1. "Golden Brown" – 3:28
  2. "Love 30" – 3:57