Six Pack: The Prodigy's Greatest Hits

With The Prodigy’s explosive sixth studio album, ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ primed for a March release, group mastermind Liam Howlett looks back on six of their biggest tracks.

Voodoo People
Find it: Music For The Jilted Generation (1994)

Liam Howlett: “I wrote a lot of songs for Music For The Jilted Generation very quickly. We came back from playing in America in 1993 and realised the rave scene was totally over for us. I’d just heard the first Rage Against The Machine album and I was following my head, following what I was into at that time. I called some mates who played guitar and tried something different.

“Did I wonder if it was commercial suicide? I didn’t really care at that stage. It might seem brave now but it wasn’t at the time. We were big in the rave movement but that scene was dead so we didn’t have anything to lose. We were really confident too and had been experimenting with lots of different things.

“I was on a roll. I knew exactly what I wanted to create. I wanted to capture the energy of our beats and guitar funk-punk. The first thing I did was Their Law and that was total experimentation, I had no idea if it would work. All I knew was that I wasn’t into the old sounds. I wasn’t hearing dance music I liked so Rage Against The Machine became my benchmark – it felt like the next logical step for hip-hop. Voodoo People was written right after Their Law and, although that was probably a better example of mixing the beats and guitars, Voodoo People was the moment rock fans liked us.

“Leeroy [Thornhill, dancer] was the most nervous about it. He was still more into the previous thing but you can convince anyone if it works live and that song worked really well live.”

Find it: Fat Of The Land (1997)

Liam: “I wrote that in ’95, only a year or so after Voodoo People. I seem to have waves where I’m quite creative and I was writing very quickly at that point. I’d heard Foo Fighters’ Weenie Beenie and I really loved that song and the whole album. I loved the sound because it just sounded like a band in a room and there was so much energy in that room. I got together with Jim Davies [former Prodigy live guitarist and former Pitchshifter guitarist] and we created this riff.

“This was Keith [Flint’s] first vocal track and, up until that point, it had always been me on my own with the band on the couch chopping one out, pouring a glass and going, ‘Fucking yeah, come on!’ I’d got the rough cut of the track and Keith popped in to see what I was working on. I played it to him, thinking of it as an intro for the record. He said, ‘If ever there’s a track that I can sing on, it’s that one.’ I thought, ‘OK, well let’s try it’. I hooked a mic up and it worked straight away.

“After we finished the track, we drove home with it blasting on the car stereo and I just knew it was the next single. I didn’t have any other tracks but I just knew that one had to go out straight away. I was on the phone to the record company the next day going, ‘This tune is going to fuck you up’.

“It led to the media saying that we should be banned. It was just fucking ridiculous. What were they worried about? They didn’t like what he was saying? That’s his fucking personality. Also lots of people started comparing Keith to John Lydon just because he shouts down a mic and that was unfair. I didn’t give a shit about the tabloids though. But that song took everyone by surprise. Chris Evans was on Radio 1 at the time and wouldn’t play it and then no-one at Radio 1 would play it.

“I knew that would go to Number One, everyone was talking about it, you could just feel it. Something was happening, you could feel it was important. We were lapping it up too, we weren’t scared of anything. The only problem we had after that song was that I couldn’t get the album done fast enough.”

Find it: Fat Of The Land (1997)

Liam: “That’s one of my favourite tunes and it was another from the same period. Breathe, Firestarter and Smack My Bitch Up more or less followed each other. I’d been messing around with the demo of Breathe for ages. Then I thought it would be good to get Keith and Maxim on a track together. It worked live and it reminded me of the Sex Pistols. In fact, it was probably our most Pistols’ moment.”

“For me, the Pistols were a real influence but not for Keith. He’s more into The Jam but I’m into the Pistols. I’d never rip them off though because that feels like you’re cheating someone. If I rip someone off, it’s with a sample and I pay for them.”

**Smack My Bitch Up **Find it: Fat Of The Land (1997)

Liam: “I didn’t do that song to be deliberately controversial but, once we started the ball rolling, it was definitely an opportunity to push the boundaries as much as we could. The original lyric was, ‘I smack my bitch up like a pimp’ from the Ultramagnetic MCs’ Give The Drummer Some. That line in their song always made me laugh because, within the realms of hip-hop, it had a comedy value to it because it’s so absurd.

“We adopted the phrase as more of a fist-in the-air statement of, ‘Let’s fucking go!’ Then you get the train-spotters who jump on the literal meaning of the lyrics and get upset about it.

“The track wasn’t getting any air play and then we decided it was important to push all censorship laws, which is why we made the video really full on. I was always into discovering where the boundaries really are – that’s the way excitement happens. There are a million bands who are happy just to make nice tunes but we’re not one of them. We wanted to push people’s emotions and thoughts.

“We were using an absurd lyric to get people’s attention to push a point further. But I don’t think people got that. The tabloids were on our backs and I didn’t want to talk to any of them. I would have had to defend myself rather than explain myself. I turned on the TV and Tracey Emin was talking about it and they debated it in the House Of Commons and, as far as I was concerned, it had done it’s job by that point. People knew we weren’t smacking women and that statement was no different to me than some absurd art.”

**Spitfire **Find it: Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned (2004)

Liam: “That’s my favourite track on that album. As soon as I’d done that track I thought, ‘First track on the album,’ because, once you put it on, you can’t deny it. It definitely set the tone and the attitude, though I think maybe the album version is a little long.

“It was hard work getting my head right for the album but I actually had a lot of fun writing it. My regret with Spitfire was that I couldn’t get either of Maxim or Keith on the song. The band relations were at an all-time low at that point. I was holding the reigns too because, without the music, there wasn’t anything. I had to forget about them and just write the tunes, and I’m sorry if their feelings got hurt. Every time I tried to make it work with them it didn’t happen because relationships were too fucked up. I decided to make it an album that was about me – it was still a Prodigy album but just a different one. We needed to do it in order to give us space and allow ourselves to move forward.”

“All bands go through some shit at some point and it’s easier to talk about it now than it was at the time. I explained to them that, unless we could make a something at least as good as Firestarter, then there was no point in bothering. I knew people would go, ‘Fucking hell, why the fuck is Juliette Lewis doing this?’ But I liked people thinking that, it was challenging people’s thoughts again. Now, people don’t seem to question her so much – they’ve accepted her.”

**Run With The Wolves **Find it: _Invaders Must Die _(2009)

Liam: “We all agreed at the beginning of the sessions for [fifth album] Invaders Must Die that we’d be totally honest with each other. We weren’t going to humour each other and waste time. There was going to be no, ‘Oh go on then, let him do his fucking bass part if he wants to’. It was: ‘No man, that’s fucking shit. Let’s move on’. We were really honest and didn’t get upset with each other.

“We weren’t looking to make nice music either, we wanted to make something venomous. That’s what happened with Run With The Wolves. Keith was particularly partied up at the time, he was full of red wine and screaming in my ear, and we laid down his original vocal on another beat. The vocal was fucking cool but the beat was almost funky. The vocal was too hard for the beat, so we put it on the shelf. Then Dave Grohl happened to email me to offer to do some drums.

“He said, ‘Dunno what you’re up to but I’ve just finished touring – fancy doing a collaboration? Maybe I’ll send you a load of drums…’ It was fucking good timing and meant that it happened very naturally, which is the only way these things should happen. I hate it when people ring other people up and say, ‘Hey Dave, come and play drums at the Brits with us.’ It don’t happen like that for us.

“I was careful not to treat Dave like a drum loop as well – if he was going to be on the record, he was going to be on the record. I didn’t want to take a one bar loop and sample it because that’s shit. Then that track got built up and there’s a lot of venom in those lyrics.”

Tom Bryant

Tom Bryant is The Guardian's deputy digital editor. The author of The True Lives Of My Chemical Romance: The Definitive Biography, he has written for Kerrang!, Q, MOJO, The Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Mirror, the BBC, Huck magazine, the londonpaper and Debrett's - during the course of which he has been attacked by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bass player and accused of starting a riot with The Prodigy. Though not when writing for Debrett's.