Happy House – Siouxsie & the Banshees (1980)

Children eating butter without getting fat while husband’s beat their wives

Happy House by Siouxsie & the Banshees is a commentary on the disparity between the image of happy suburban life on television commercials and the harsh reality of a depressed Britain in the early eighties.

Siouxsie was born Susan Janet Ballion, the youngest, by ten years, of three siblings. Her older brother and sister were both born in the Belgian Congo, as it was known as then – their parents having met there. Her Belgian father was a bacteriologist who milked venom from snakes and her mother a bilingual English/Scot secretary who spoke English and French. They moved to the UK in the mid-fifties and Susan was born in 1957 and she grew up in Chislehurst, South-East London.
It was a isolated childhood; her family were not involved in the local community and her father was an unemployed alcoholic which made it impossible for her to have friends visit her home – although she sympathised with his inability to fit in with a rigid, middle-class society, she would later say that the suburbs inspired “intense hatred” for her.

It is this “suburban bliss” that would seemingly inform “Happy House” – in 1982 when interviewed about the songs apparent cynicism, Sioux would explain that it’s sarcastic, saying that the media, TV adverts etc would project perfect happy smiling families “eating butter without being fat” whereas the reality is that “it is more common that husbands beat their wives”.

Despite the guitar-riff being so important to “Happy House” John McGeoch didn’t appear in the music video.

“Happy House” was also the first recording of the ‘Banshees Phase 2’ as Siouxsie would later reflectthe line up as. Original recording members John McKay and Kenny Morris departed the band acrimoniously on the eve of a national tour supporting the release of the band’s sophomore album Join Hands in September 1979. – they were hastily replaced by Budgie (Peter Clarke) from The Slits on drums and Robert Smith from The Cure (who were going to be touring in support of Siouxsie & the Banshees anyway). Budgie would become a permanent member and in July 1980 Magazine‘s John McGeoch joined as the new permanent guitarist.

‘The Banshees Phase 2’ L-R Budgie, Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, John McGeoch

This new membership brought new colour to the band and The Banshees truly became a new iteration with Budgie’s polyrhythmic drumming and McGeoch’s edgy and atmospheric guitar playing. “Happy House” rhythmically vibes reggae and the indubitable guitar riff that propels the song to the outer-stratosphere could never have been possible without them.

In 1993 Italian dance act Capella used the riff as the basis for their massive club banger “U Got 2 Know”. They got sued for it because of the lack of clearance and I do wonder if Siouxsie et al just hated the sheer cheesiness of it – but for me it’s hard to argue with this much audio-cholesterol – sometimes you just really want a cheeseburger.

Eighteen years later in 2011 The Weeknd sampled “Happy House” on the title track of his debut mixtape House of Balloons and it was, in this writer’s opinion, an artistic interpretation that lived up to the kudos of the original – and was probably responsible for leading a new generation of fans to the original.