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1988. I was in the basement of Annie May Swift Hall, pulling records for my late night college radio show on WNUR, and I saw there was a new batch of vinyl albums on the New Releases shelf in the Folk section of the studio. A bright yellow and blue album cover caught my eye, and I pulled it. These Knees Have Seen the World, by The Dinner Ladies. I'd never heard of them. Not surprising. I'd never heard of most of the groups in the station's vast record collection. The album cover and promotional label noted that this was a new release from Hannibal Records, and was produced by Joe Boyd. Neither name meant anything to me. (I was not a college radio DJ because I was a music nerd. To the contrary, I knew nothing about music. I just liked listening to music, and the radio station had a much larger and more diverse collection than anyone in my dormitory. The fact that the turntables and mixing board were attached to a 7200 watt transmitter broadcasting across Chicago was, for me, beside the point.)

The label also noted that Side A, Track 1, "Muscle in the Bud," was banned from airplay in the UK. Interesting, I thought. I took the vinyl LP out of its sleeve and put it on Studio B's preview turntable. A bright, peppy ukulele rhythm kicked in, progressing through three chords, and then in came the vocals. The words seemed to be about the prowess of plants. Grains. The potency of alcohol. The enduring nature of Mother Earth. Or all of the above. The lyrics in the verses were obscure, but the gentle bass (a plucked cello) and backing vocals of the chorus, made sure that this pleasant melodic earworm nestled deep within my cortex.

Muscle in the bud
a little power that'll knock you dead
muscle in the bud
makes a flower of its own bloodshed
lovers stumble from the pub
reeling from the muscle in the bud

For the next year and a half, the song became a staple of my late night explorations of unfamiliar music, one of the few fixtures (along with the Bonzo Dog Band's "Jollity Farm," Ella Fitzgerald's "Mack the Knife," and Ron Grainer's Main Titles to The Prisoner) in my weekly freeform show; and later, once I left college, it even inspired me to pick up the ukulele and learn chords so that I could play it myself.

The song was written by vocalist Mick Jackson (who would soon abandon music for creative writing-- not a bad move, as his novel The Underground Man was nominated for the Booker Prize), with Lorraine Bowen, credited on recorder and piano, Ken Davis, ukulele and guitar, and Julia Palmer on the cello (I assume it was Bowen and Palmer I could hear on backing vocals).

Years later, I can still detect nothing in the lyrics espousing subversion, independence for Northern Ireland, or overt sexuality (at least not human sexuality. There seemed to be several references to plant reproduction) that might lead to the song's banishment from the airwaves. (Was the bud might be a reference to marijuana?) I am left to assume that at some time in the late 1980s the BBC had instituted a "no ukulele" policy.

You can hear it over on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/dwayne_c/the-dinner-ladies-muscle-in

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