THROWBACK THURSDAY: Portishead – Glory Box [1994]

Question: what links anarchic cartoon show South Park and arguably the stand-out track on Portishead’s debut album, Dummy, which celebrates its 25th anniversary today (it was released on 22 August 1994)?

The answer, is of course, Isaac Hayes, who as well as playing the titular ‘Chef’ on the popular show (before he reportedly left over a controversial Scientology episode) recorded a track called Ike’s Rap II for his 1971 album Black Moses – which would go on to provide the backing track for the Bristol band’s Glory Box.

Isaac Hayes’ Ike’s Rap II formed the cornerstone of Glory Box

When the annals of pop history come to be written, Glory Box might well be up there with the likes of A Day In The Life or I Am The Resurrection as one of the best album closers of all time – the gut-wrenching lyrics of Beth Gibbons (“Give me a reason to be… a woman”) pouring emotion all over a shuffling beat and descending chord riff so sexy it deserves to be R-rated.

As Gibbons told The Guardian in 2014, on the occasion of Dummy’s 20th anniversary, Glory Box has long been misinterpreted as a paean to more traditional male and female roles.

“People think it must feel great when everybody loves you all of a sudden, and it does,” she admitted “but there are other sides to it. I don’t feel like this now, but at one stage I was thinking you write songs and you hope you’re gonna communicate with people – half the reason you write them is that you’re feeling misunderstood and frustrated with life in general.

“Then it’s sort of successful and you think you’ve communicated with people, but then you realise you haven’t communicated with them at all – you’ve turned the whole thing into a product, so then you’re even more lonely than when you started.”

According to the band’s Geoff Barrow, Glory Box, which was the third single to be released from Dummy, faced opposition as a single track as the band felt it sounded “too commercial”.

As he told Pitchfork in 2008, “he felt it was fine in a body of work, but not as a standalone track. We lost the argument really. But we bought houses! [laughs] It’s great, but the other side of that, when you play live, I feel like a bit of a performing monkey sometimes.”

Also worth a listen is the B-Side, Toy Box, an even-more trip-hop sounding version of the track, if that was possible. 🙂

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