by Tiana Feng

Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand by the Primitive Radio Gods was a massive one hit wonder in the 1990s. The song appeared on the band’s debut major label record in 1996, Rocket. It falls under the genre of alternative rock but more accurately termed “indie” nowadays. This term “alternative” came from putting the idea of new music and re-contextualizing the music of the past into a single art form. The indie description of the song comes from the fact that it sounds under produced and to us indie fans, a very immediately recognizable quality.
Let’s take a listen to the original song:
Primitive Radio Gods- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand
The song is uncomplicated and has a very simple harmony structure and melody made up of C major, E minor and F major chords throughout. There rhythm of the drums just loops on and on. The intertextual qualities come from the fact it uses an autosonic quotation for the line “I’ve been downhearted baby”. The line comes from BB King’s song “How Blue Can You Get?” which is distorted the slightest way to show the artist’s anguish.
BB. King- How Blue Can You Get
The song has been covered by many artists, however the general characteristics of the song as well as the emotions are very similar, with the exception of the version by The Copyrights which is in a pop-punk kind of style. Most of the tracks as well as the artists remain in the cultural and musical genre of indie music. Most of them however removed the B.B. King Sample which is what makes the original song so effective and powerful when the artist sings the sample line at the end.
John Nolan- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand[audio:]
Glenn Case- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand[audio:]
C.Layne- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand[audio:]
The Copyrights- Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand[audio:]
The original video shows the artist lamenting in front of this phone booth which symbolizes his inability to reach the people he had once cared for. He is in front of the phone booth throughout the video as he continues to let time pass by. This idea of lamenting while time passes by is a popular theme in the genre of indie music.

For my project in a series of blog posts, I am going to challenge the original context and genres of this song with a proposal to a large scale project. The ultimate illusion in music is the illusion of structure and form. What about this song creates that powerful lamenting tone of hurt and regret? “There is nothing in the sequence of notes themselves that creates the rich emotional associations we have with music, nothing about a scale, a chord, or a chord sequence that intrinsically causes us to expect a resolution.” (Levitin 108). This is why on continuing posts I will propose to change the context and differ how the song is going to be performed and what effect it would have on the meaning of the piece as well as on what kind of listeners would be listening to it.

Most of what we hear comes from what we experience throughout our musical listening and we learn to make sense of it. Our neural structures continually modify with each new song we hear and each re-listen of an old song. This explains how I was able to write three separate papers or projects on the same song (this is number 3). Our brains learn a kind of musical grammar that is specific to the music of our culture, like how we learn to speak the language of our own culture.

Pg 108. Levitin, Daniel J. “This is Your Brain On Music”. London England: Penguin Books LTD, 1998.


3 Responses

  1. Forest

    Nicely done! I’m looking forward to reading these – maybe finding some new appreciation for the song.

    Even better? I can totally play C, Em and F! Suh-weet.

  2. Kelli Anne Siller

    Just thought you might find it interesting to know this song parallels Charles Dickens book Great Expectations. My English teacher is having is write a paper about it tommorow.