Monday, 14 January 2013

My Top Ten Operator Songs

Many, many years ago, when they had such things, my mum used to be a switchboard operator. The stories she could tell about the things she heard! Do we even still have operators? I can't imagine too many people dedicating a song to a pre-recorded "virtual switchboard". Press one for "the romance is dead".

Special mention to Operator Please, the band who recorded the amazing Just A Song About Ping Pong and The Operator by The Coral, which is actually about getting kidnapped and operated on by a bunch of psycho surgeons. Or something.

10. Gladys Knight & The Pips - Operator

As if calling her boyfriend to apologise for all the bad things she's done wasn't enough of a chore... poor Gladys has to go through the operator too!

9. Pete Shelley - Telephone Operator

Ever fallen in love with a video you shouldn't have?

Wikipedia informs me that if you play the arcade game Dance Dance Revolution, you get to dance to this song... in an arcade. Glad I don't believe anything I read on wikipedia.

8. Talking Heads - Dream Operator

Probably has nothing to do with making a telephone call... though you can never be sure with David Byrne. Still: quite lovely.

7. Nick Lowe - Switchboard Susan

How many telephone puns / innuendos can one songwriter squeeze into one song?
When I'm near you girl, I get an extension
And I don't mean Alexander Graham Bell's invention
6. Jim Croce - Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)

Or, if Jim's moustache is too much for you, can I recommend the rather fine Jesse Malin cover version?

5. Chuck Berry - Memphis, Tennessee

I make no apologies for the fact that this was already featured in my Top Ten Memphis Songs. It's a stone cold classic.

4.  The Rah Band - Clouds Across The Moon

In space, the intergalactic operator can't hear you scream.

If the future really looks like the Rah Band imagined it would in this video, I'll want my money back.

Never mind. I'll try again... next year... next year... next year...

3. The White Stripes - Hello, Operator

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Jack White's phone still had an operator. He probably refuses to use any of them new-fangled ones.

2. Dr. Hook - Sylvia's Mother

Dennis keeps trying to get through to Sylvia. Her mother just wants him to leave her alone. The operator keeps demanding "forty cents more" to continue the conversation "for the next three minutes".

1. Tom Waits - Martha

I almost gave this one to Dr. Hook, which would have been suitably anti-cool of me. But then I remembered
Operator, number please
It´s been so many years
And she´ll remember my old voice
While I fight the tears
Hello, hello there, is this Martha ?
This is old Tom Frost
And I am calling long distance
Don´t worry ´bout the cost...

Tom Waits sounds like a weary old man on this recording. The scary / crazy thing is, he was 24 years old when it was released...

Those are the songs that get me calling the operator - but which one would be your hold music of choice?


  1. It's the wrong sort of operator, but any chance of a special mention for "Operator's Manual" by Buzzcocks

    1. Special mention, yes, but I can hardly squeeze both Shelley & The Buzzcocks into the same list!

  2. Surely Sade..Smooth Operator, even if there isn't a telephone to be seen or heard..

    1. Yes, I don't really like it, but it should at least have been in consideration.

    2. This was my vote as well :)

  3. My first job was as a BT operator and I was one of the last people in Leamington to be trained on the switchboard before it all went digital.

    As for songs... all I can think of is the theme tune to Hong Kong Phooey which I know doesn't count.

    1. Well I can sing it start to end word perfect, full accent impersonations: in my world that makes it count!

    2. You don't say... you don't say... you don't say...

  4. ELO's Telephone Line? (Annoying really but couldn't bring myself to name a Carpenter song....)

    1. Came close, but I'm saving it for another list...


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