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Killing an Arab



"Killing an Arab" is the first single by The Cure. It was recorded at the same time as their first LP in the UK, 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).

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.

Lyrics and music

Composer Robert Smith has said that 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". 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".

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".

Controversial content

The track has a controversial history, since it has often been viewed as promoting violence against Arabs. 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 provided an exacerbating talk-up prior to playing the record in October 1986. Smith and Elektra 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. It saw controversy again during the Persian Gulf War and following the September 11 attacks. "Killing an Arab" was the only single from the Three Imaginary Boys era not to be included on that album's 2004 remaster although it remains available on the albums Boys Don't Cry and Standing on a Beach.

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. During the band's 40th anniversary tour, the lyrics and title were changed back to "Killing An Arab".

Covers

"Killing an Arab" has been covered by Frodus on the 1995 Radiopaque compilation Give Me The Cure, and again in 2004 by DJ Riton. Also, the Electric Hellfire Club copied it on their 2000 Cleopatra Records compilation Empathy for the Devil. The DBs regularly covered the song during their early punk period. Santigold covered the song at Lollapalooza. NYC band the Reign released a cover of it as a single in 2014 on (F.R.O.G Records).

Track listing

7-inch single #"Killing an Arab" #"10:15 Saturday Night"

Personnel

  • Michael Dempsey – bass guitar
  • Robert Smith – guitar, vocals
  • Lol Tolhurst – drums