Stan Ridgway

CamouflageThe Big Heat
The Big HeatThe Big Heat
This Town Called FateNeon Mirage
Big Dumb TownBlack Diamond
I Wanna Be A BossPartyball
Calling Out To CarolMosquitos
Peg And Pete And MeMosquitos
Train Of ThoughtAnatomy
Beloved Movie StarHoliday In Dirt



Stan Ridgway playlist



Contributor: Alan Haines

Stan Ridgway occupies and documents the gritty and seamy side of American life; the lives of the disparate, disillusioned and desperate are subjects that Stan returns to again and again. If this sounds gloomy, it is. He succeeds in getting under the skin of small town and suburban America, revealing the scars left by the struggle people have to survive, some good, many bad.

Although he’s been a musician for well over 40 years, with 12 solo albums to his name, he is relatively unknown in the UK. He regularly collaborates on songs and albums with his wife, the wonderfully named Pietra Wexstun.


Stan’s 15 minutes of fame came with the song Camouflage that, to my astonishment, became a huge hit across Europe in 1986 and reached number four in the UK charts. Even though this paranormal account of a young soldier’s struggle to survive a patrol in Vietnam was an all-American tale set “in the jungle wars of ’65”, it didn’t grace the Billboard Top 100. I suppose this ‘one hit wonder’ tag has meant his name crops up in pub quizzes now and again but Camouflage isn’t really representative of his song writing. However, it is such a bloody great song that I’d be stupid to leave it out of my Top 10 picks.

Stan Ridgway was the voice and inspiration behind the band Wall of Voodoo but in 1983, after six years, he left to do his own thing. The band continued for another couple of years. Stan’s first solo album was The Big Heat released in 1986. He hadn’t been idle in the intervening years and had collaborated with Stewart Copeland from the Police on a track called Don’t Box Me In for the film Rumble Fish starring Micky Rourke. The Big Heat included Camouflage and eight other tracks.


The title track was released as a single, although it was originally a Wall of Voodoo song that the band had performed live. Named after the 1953 film starring Glenn Ford, a film noir classic, the song follows a shady chase across several states in the USA. Stan’s deadpan, cynical delivery effectively captures the black and white imagery and menace of the old films.

He returned to the theme of the fugitive and the paranoia of being pursued in This Town Called Fate in 2010. This featured on the Neon Mirage album with Stan’s trademark twanging guitars and harmonicas. His work is often said to be resonant of Johnny Cash, perhaps one reason why Wall of Voodoo played Ring Of Fire live. Fate is a real place, a small city in Texas. Stan should be made a Freeman of the City for putting it on the map!


His flair for storytelling can be heard brilliantly in the song Big Dumb Town from the 1996 album Black Diamond. There’s a Hollywood setting for this tale of a smooth operator who unsettles everyone he does business with. The guy might be living his version of the American Dream but they don’t trust him and they resent his success. As the lyrics go: Yeah, the bankers all smile, but when you pass they frown, you’re just a little too smart for a big dumb town.


The frustrations and fantasies of the little man in the workplace are perfectly captured in the surprisingly jaunty I Wanna Be A Boss from 1991’s Partyball album. It was released as single and reached 13 in the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The accompanying video for this shows a miniaturised Stan, bouncing around the office of the guy who finds his job unrewarding and is dissatisfied with his lot.

Staying with Partyball for my next pick of a top ten song by Stan Ridgeway and I’ve selected Overlords. This song is about work of a very different kind; hard, physical back-breaking labour in some type of penal camp of the future with two glowing purple moons. I read this song as a take on a society similar to Orwell’s “1984” with the lyrics: It’s been ten years and a day after World War Nine, they pushed us to make meaning and from their meaning was our crime. An example of Doublethink?

He’s never been afraid to cover the sorry and sordid (see the lyrics from Knife And Fork on Black Diamond!) as in Calling Out To Carol from his second solo album Mosquitos in 1989. My copy came from the long gone and much missed Andy’s Records in Cambridge. It was also a single but only reached number 91 in the UK. However, it managed a creditable #19 in Belgium and #23 in the Netherlands. Funny old world! It tells of a guy who rings his former girlfriend, a prostitute, who is entertaining a client when he rings her. The song has a reggae style and is actually both humorous and dark in parts with references to police protection, a photo spread in a pornographic magazine and the impossibility sometimes of getting through to her: Callin’ out to Carol gets a busy tone, Sees a lot of people but she lives alone, Pick up the receiver – love will come and go, But Carol was the girl that everybody got to know.


Another song from Mosquitos makes my Stan top ten. This is Peg And Pete And Me, a tale of illicit sex and murder. We’re on strong Stan Ridgway territory here with betrayal, drink, prison and a small-town setting. The song tells a moralistic story as the narrator learns the hard way not to trust some women.

Train Of Thought from 1999 and the album Anatomy is my penultimate choice. A song about lost opportunities in love. A deceptively simple song with an infuriatingly catchy hook that runs through it. Just love this song.

And finally, I shall close with a song from the 2002 album, Holiday In Dirt. This is a collection of songs that for one reason or another didn’t get included on other albums at the time. So, Stan gathered them together and stuck them in one place. Fortunately, they are really good songs and for me the standout track is the first one, Beloved Movie Star. It’s about aspirational and hopeful actors in Hollywood as recalled by Stan in the liner notes: “Not a day went by when you wouldn’t see another young hopeful with stars in their eyes getting off the bus. Hollywood is a state of mind and not a city really. It’s a dream. And like any dream, eventually you wake up”. It has a lovely sound with a harp and Pietra on keyboards.

Stan Ridgway continues to record music that challenges the American Dream, and he shows he isn’t afraid to move into new territory. Do give the 2012 album Mr Trouble a listen and also the ambient sounding Blood, a score he wrote with Pietra Wexstun for the pop surrealist artist Mark Ryden’s 2003 exhibition. A final mention must go to the 2016 album Priestess Of The Promised Land, another collaboration with Pietra. Stan may never have the recognition he deserves but he remains one of the most important authentic voices of the American way of life.



Alan’s copy of ‘Mosquitos’ from the much missed Andy’s Records



Stan Ridgway photo 3



Stan & Pietra







Stan Ridgway official website

Beyond Tomorrow: Stan Ridgway fan site

Donald Gibson interview – No Depression (2010)

Paul Zollo interview with SR & Janis Ian – American Songwriter (1999)

Stan Ridgway biography (AllMusic)

Alan Haines is now retired and enjoying not going to work but doing things he wants instead, such as reading, listening to music, researching family history and walking the dog.

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  1. John Hartley
    Nov 16, 2022

    Hadn’t come across Stan Ridgway before today. Really enjoyed reading about him here! Always good to see musicians writing about the tough realities of life.

  2. Alan Haines
    Nov 19, 2022

    Hi John, Thanks for giving my post a read and a listen. I hope you enjoy Stan’s take on life in the USA. If you like his stuff please do visit his Wall of Voodoo era. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

  3. Glenn Smith
    Nov 19, 2022

    Alright nice work Alan, an interesting choice. I reckon Stan’s had two slices of his fifteen minutes as Mexican Radio was pretty much his lyrically (respect to Marc Moreland) and of course the fabulous Camouflage. Don’t Box Me in was a great choice on your list, that soundtrack is quite brilliant and the collaboration between Stan and Stewart was spot on. I’d also highly recommend Brothers on Wheels. Whether Stan knows it or not, his voice is part of that 80’s/90’s soundtrack, thanks for this great appraisal.

    • Alan Haines
      Nov 28, 2022

      Hi Glenn, thanks for your kind comments. You’re quite right of course about Mexican Radio. That song was the first time I heard Stan’s voice (I was in Bradford at the time and even now I link Stan Ridgway and that underrated Yorkshire city together!) and I just couldn’t get the song out of my mind, so I bought the Wall of Voodoo album ‘Call of the West’. One of THE great American albums.

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