Special guest MIT sociologist Gary T. Marx interrogates MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE by exploring the super-superveillance powers of distrustful singers and songwriters.
A theme reflected in early rhythm and blues and rock and roll music involves the boasting of a male lover’s super-surveillance powers to discover unfaithfulness. Such songs contained an implicit threat and may be intended to deter. In contrast to songs that came later, here we see watching by an individual rather than a government or the private sector. In 1956, in ‘Slippin’ and Slidin”, Little Richard has been ‘peepin’ and hidin” to discover his baby’s jive, and as a result he ‘won’t be your fool no more‘. Bobby Vee sings that ‘the night has a thousand eyes‘ and that these eyes will see ‘if you aren’t true to me‘. If he gets ‘put down for another‘ or told lies, he warns, ‘I’ll know, believe me, I’ll know‘.
The Who more directly imply the possession of extrasensory powers when they sing ‘There’s magic in my eyes’, in their hit single ‘I Can See for Miles’. The singer knows he has been deceived because, ‘I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles‘.
Hall and Oates sing about the inability to escape their ‘Private Eyes‘, which, while ‘looking for lies‘, are ‘watching you / they see your every move’. The Doors sing about, ‘a spy in the house of love‘ who ‘can see you and what you do‘ and who knows your dreams and fears, as well as ‘everywhere you go, everyone you know’. The Alan Parsons Project makes direct use of technology to discover lies and to tell the deceiving lover to ‘find another fool because ‘I am the eye in the sky looking at you I can read your mind‘.
But the classic song of this type is ‘Every Breath You Take‘, performed by The Police and written by Sting, who reports that it is about ‘the obsessiveness of ex-lovers, their maniacal possessiveness’—written after a divorce. While Sting reports that he reads Arthur Koestler who wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism, he says his song is personal, not political. The female is warned that her faked smiles and broken bonds and vows will be observed by the singer. The song is about surveillance, ownership, and jealousy (Rolling Stone, March 1, 1984). While the song does not mention technological supports for the omnipresent and omnipotent surveillance it promises, it is easy to connect it with contemporary tools. One can hear the song to suggest an encyclopedic list of the means that were coming into wider use in the 1980s:
Every breath you take [breath analyzer]
Every move you make [motion detector]
Every bond you break [polygraph]
Every step you take [electronic monitoring]
Every single day [continuous monitoring]
Every word you say [bugs, wiretaps, mikes]
Every night you stay [light amplifier]
Every vow you break [voice stress analysis]
Every smile you fake [brain wave analysis]
Every claim you stake [computer matching]
I’ll be watching you [reference to video]
Text courtesy of Gary T. Marx, who is also the author of ‘Soul Train: the New Surveillance in Popular Music’ (published in I. Kerr, V. Steeves, C. Lucock, Lessons From the Identity Trail, Oxford, 2008), and of an extensive list of surveillance related publications partly available here.