Killing an Arab

"Killing an Arab" is the first single by the Cure. It was recorded at the same time as their first album Three Imaginary Boys (1979), but not included on the album. However, it was included on the band's first US album, Boys Don't Cry (1980).[2]

"Killing an Arab"
Killinganarab cov.jpg
Single by the Cure
from the album Boys Don't Cry
B-side"10:15 Saturday Night"
Released22 December 1978 (UK)
9 February 1979 (UK reissue)
Recorded20 September 1978
GenrePost-punk[1]
Length2:21
LabelSmall Wonder, Fiction
Songwriter(s)The Cure (Robert Smith, Michael Dempsey, Lol Tolhurst)
Producer(s)Chris Parry
The Cure singles chronology
"Killing an Arab"
(1978)
"Boys Don't Cry"
(1979)
Official audio
"Killing an Arab" on YouTube

The song's title and lyrics reference Albert Camus's novel The Stranger. Because of the title, the song has drawn controversy for promoting violence against Arabs, which songwriter Robert Smith pinned on the public's lack of knowledge regarding the novel. Shortly after its release, Smith said, "It just happened that the main character in the book had actually killed an Arab, but it could have been a Scandinavian or an English bloke."[3] In 2003, Smith acknowledged that, "If I knew it before, I would have called it 'Standing on the Beach'. It would have avoided many troubles."[4]

Lyrics and musicEdit

Composer Robert Smith said the song "was a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in the 1942 novel L'Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus".[5] The lyrics describe a shooting on a beach, in which the Arab of the title is killed by the song's narrator; in Camus' story the protagonist, Meursault, shoots an Arab on a beach, overwhelmed by his surroundings. Meursault is condemned for his honesty about his feelings. He is considered an outsider (or "stranger") because "he refuses to lie" and "doesn't play the game".[6]

Upon release, Melody Maker compared the song to "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Music critic Ian Birch wrote: "As 'Hong Kong Garden' used a simple Oriental-styled riff to striking effect, so '[Killing An] Arab' conjures up edginess through a Moorish-flavour guitar pattern".[7]

This song lends two of its lines to the titles of one of the Cure's compilation albums, Standing on a Beach, and to its CD/video counterpart Staring at the Sea.

ControversyEdit

Since the song's release, "Killing an Arab" has been controversial and viewed as promoting violence against Arabs.[8] A 1978 NME article described the song's title as "at first glance irresponsibly racist," with Robert Smith responding, "It’s not really racist, if you know what the song is about. It’s not a call to kill Arabs."[3]

In the US, the Cure's first compilation of singles, Standing on a Beach (1986), was packaged with a sticker advising against racist usage of the song after a student DJ on WPRB Princeton offended listeners by insensitively introducing the track prior to playing it on the radio in October 1986.[9] Robert Smith and Elektra Records requested that radio stations discontinue airing the song and saw the sticker as a compromise to prevent having to pull the album from sale entirely. Smith conceded that the song was "being used increasingly by certain reactionary factions of the media, most notably by some particularly brainless DJ's, as a part of a wave of anti-Arab feeling currently existing in some parts of America."[10] Chris Parry, who produced the song, said that "if it was called 'The Stranger', we couldn't have had this problem."[11] Smith conceded in 2003 that he should have titled the song "Standing on the Beach" instead.[4]

The song saw controversy again during the Persian Gulf War and following the September 11 attacks.[12]

The song was revived in 2005, when the band performed it at several European festivals. The lyrics, however, were changed from "Killing an Arab" to "Kissing an Arab". Smith added a whole new opening verse when the band performed it at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 1 April 2006 as "Killing Another". The "killing another" lyric was also used during the 2007–2008 4Tour. The band performed the song as "Killing an Ahab" with lyrics inspired by Herman Melville on 2011's Reflections Tour.[13] During the band's 40th anniversary tour, the lyrics and title were changed back to "Killing an Arab".[14]

Track listingEdit

7-inch single

  1. "Killing an Arab"
  2. "10:15 Saturday Night"

PersonnelEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Mathews, Liam (2 August 2017). "10 Ways The Sinner Is and Isn't Like The Cure's Song "Killing an Arab"". TV Guide. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  2. ^ De Muir, Harold. "An Interview With Robert Smith of The Cure". Eastcoast Rocket. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
  3. ^ a b Apter, Jeff (2008). Never Enough: The Story of The Cure. Omnibus Press. ISBN 9780857120243.
  4. ^ a b "The Cure 2003". www.picturesofyou.us. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  5. ^ Cure News number 11, October 1991
  6. ^ Camus, Albert, The Outsider, Penguin Classics, 1989, p. 118 (afterword by Albert Camus, 8 January 1955)
  7. ^ Birch, Ian (24 March 1979). "Practical Poprock". Melody Maker.
  8. ^ "Robert Cristgau - Creative Censorship".
  9. ^ Pareles, Jon (21 January 1987). "Rock Group Accedes to Arab Protest". Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  10. ^ "The Cure asks radio stations not to play 'Killing an Arab'". UPI. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  11. ^ "Robert Christgau: Creative Censorship". www.robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 2022-12-19.
  12. ^ Robb, Sean K. (29 October 2001). "'Oh God, not again': Robert Smith on Killing An Arab". Chart. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  13. ^ Bradshaw, Calum (20 July 2018). "Killing an Arab: The Cure try to reclaim their most controversial single". New Statesman. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  14. ^ "The Cure Concert Setlist at British Summertime 2018 on July 7, 2018". setlist.fm. 7 July 2018. Retrieved 1 November 2019.