Skip to main content

Distributed for Intellect Ltd

Brit Wits

A History of British Rock Humor

The Sex Pistols. David Bowie. Pink Floyd. Rebel rockers and provokers of the public, vivid in our memories as much for their subversion of the mainstream as for their signature sounds. Yet what very few people realize is that a substantive part of the weaponry used by these rockers and their contemporaries was humor: outrageous onstage antics, coded cultural references, and clever lyrical constructs were all critical to expressions of youth rebellion that could still slip past the powers that be.

Focusing on key subversive rock humorists, Brit Wits shows how and why humor has been such a powerful catalyst and expressive force in these artists’ work. Distinguishing rock humorists from rockers who are merely sometimes humorous, Iain Ellis trains his attention on those whose music and persona exude defiance—beginning with the Beatles, the Kinks, and Pink Floyd; and continuing through the Smiths, the Slits, and even the Spice Girls—to investigate the nature of rock humor and the ways in which these groups have used it to attack prevailing social structures. Politics and issues of gender, class, and race are all laid open to ridicule, as is the music industry itself—epitomized by the Sex Pistols’s scathing “EMI.” And although lyrics are foregrounded, Ellis demonstrates that a guitar solo, dissident dance move, or antisocial hairstyle may in context be every bit as subversive and humorous as a song.
At once an action-packed look at some of the most notorious rebels of British rock history and a celebration of an underexplored area of humor, Brit Wits compiles essays and critical profiles that look at one of the most effective—and entertaining—means of anti-establishment expression for half a century.

208 pages | 7 x 9 | © 2012

Culture Studies


Intellect Ltd image

View all books from Intellect Ltd


Ellis’s history includes a good deal of interesting material for fans of witty artists like the Beatles or Pulp. . . . His book is very amusing and will contribute to future scholarship on post-war British popular culture.

Popular Music and Society

Table of Contents

Introduction: British, Rock, Humor
    Manifestations Across the Nation
    Home Is Where the Humor Is
    Coordinates and Determinants
    The Ins and Outs

1. Starting Points
Music Hall Comedy
    George Formby
2. The Fifties
American Dreaming
    Lonnie Donegan
3. The Sixties
    The Beatles
    The Kinks 
Wacky Whimsy
    Pink Floyd
    Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band 
    David Bowie, Part One
4. The Seventies
Glam Bam!
    David Bowie, Part Two
    Roxy Music
Goin’ down th’ Pubs
    Ian Dury
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s British Punk
    Sex Pistols
    The Slits
Punk Poetry
    John Cooper Clarke
The Nutty Sound
5. The Eighties
New Romantics
New Traditionalists
    The Smiths
    Billy Bragg
Pop Go the Scots
    The Proclaimers
Manc Lads
    The Macc Lads
    Happy Mondays
6. The Nineties
Girl Power!
    Spice Girls
Cool Britannia
Techno-Shock Therapy
    The KLF
7. The Naughties
2-Steppin’ Out
    The Streets
London’s Anti-Divas
    Lily Allen
Britpop’s Up Again
    Arctic Monkeys
    Art Brut
Welsh Wits
8. Closing Points . . .


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press