Song of the Week – She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Cult is a band out of the UK that was led by lead singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. Although they formed the group in 1983, I hadn’t caught wind of them until they released “She Sells Sanctuary” in 1985.

I can’t remember where I was the first time I heard this song but I recall that it grabbed me immediately. How could it not? It launches with a captivating intro. It starts with the sound of a buzzing bee, then distant, distorted guitar for 4 bars that gives way to the full band backing a locomotive riff.

Duffy told the story of how he came up with the intro in an interview with Johnny DeMarco:

It sounds like a silly old story, but we were recording “She Sells Sanctuary” in a studio in London called Olympic, where Zeppelin and Free used to record… I was in there during “She Sells Sanctuary,” and I found a violin bow, and I started to play the guitar with the bow like Jimmie Page. I did it to amuse Astbury, who was in the control room, and in order to make it sound weirder, I just hit every pedal I had on the pedal board. Then once I stopped banging the strings and doing all that, I played the middle section of the song, which was kind of a pick thing with all the BOSS pedals on, and that sound just leaped out. The producer went, “Hold it, hold it, that’s great!” And we decided to start the song with that mystical sound.

When Astbury comes in on vocals, you might think Jim Morrison was reincarnated. Clearly I’m not the only one that hears the similarity of their vocal timbers. Astbury covered two songs (“Touch Me” and “Wild Child”) on the Doors tribute album – Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors.

Then he went on to actually become a member of the Doors! Well, at least performing under the name Doors of the 21st Century (or D21c) with original group members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger.

The title of the song never makes it into the lyrics. But the clue to its meaning come in the line:

And the fire in your eyes keeps me alive
Inside her you’ll find sanctuary

The singer finds sanctuary in his relationship with the woman that has “the fire in your eyes.”

The version of “She Sells Sanctuary” that I first heard (and featured here as the SotW) was the one released on the Cult’s 1985, second album, Love. But “SSS” was released on a 7” single before the album came out (and without the iconic intro).

Enjoy… until next week.

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