487. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin

More evidence that 1981 was a leap-forward for the charts. The year in which the decade truly began. Because this, this next record, it is… truly…

It’s My Party, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin (their 1st and only #1s)

4 weeks, 11th October – 8th November 1981

something? It’s a leap-forward, for certain, because we’ve heard nothing like this before at the top of the charts. Whether we ever needed to hear anything like this at the top of the charts is another question. At its most basic level, this is a cover of the Lesley Gore hit, a #9 (and US #1) in 1963. Except the original has been deconstructed, mashed, blended, twisted and fricasseed until what is being served up is almost unrecognisable.

I’m enjoying it, at first. The intro is the best bit: woozy drums, weird far-eastern sound effects, and the Cry if I want to… line chanted like a mantra. But as it goes on, the song veers in one direction then another, then another. I count three complete changes of tone and style. No, make that four. I’m starting to feel dizzy. Can I just hand over my next WTAF award now?

Is this good? Or is it terrible? I can’t think of many records that straddle the line so completely as this. There are flashes – mainly when the charm of the original manages to shine through – where it’s really fun. But there are other times when it feels like this production is being controlled by a five-year-old banging away at the settings on their toy keyboard. Perhaps you could look at this as haute-couture music: just like nobody actually wears the clothes that come down the runway in Milan; probably nobody would listen to this by choice anymore. But the sounds and techniques used here would filter on down through the decade…

Or maybe that’s generous. Acts like The Buggles, and Soft Cell (who literally just took their version of a sixties gem to the top) have shown that you can sound ridiculously modern – emphasis on the ridiculous – and still make a great pop song. This one gets very lost along the way: there’s a moment, after the wedding bell sound effects and a theatrical gasp, when the final chorus clicks, and you can see that Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin had it in them to make this a great pop record. But, hey ho, it doesn’t last. Give me the sassy, swinging original over this any day. (Actually, I’ve just realised the difference between this and Soft Cell. Soft Cell lovingly re-crafted a classic; this sounds, at times, like art school students taking the piss – see the annoying way Gaskin squeals at the end of every ‘you’, for example.)

The Dave Stewart involved in this is not, as I immediately thought, the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This DS was a keyboard player and composer for various prog-rock bands throughout the seventies, before he hooked up with his former backing singer, Barbara Gaskin. Soon afterwards, they scored this huge hit, by far their biggest. They still work with one another, and have released seven albums together. And I do wonder if they chose ‘It’s My Party’ because it is such a typically old-fashioned, bubblegum hit, and the re-imagining is therefore so shocking. A few years later they tried to repeat the trick with a version of ‘The Locomotion’ that only made #70.

I still don’t really know what to make of this one, even after repeat listening. It is certainly something… Is it avant-garde, or just dumb? Impressive, or unlistenable? I can’t help thinking of that quote from ‘Jurassic Park’: they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never stopped to think if they should…

For the first time in a while… A #1 that is missing from Spotify…

486. ‘Prince Charming’, by Adam & The Ants

A very happy new year to all who read this! In the real world it’s just turned 2022, but in Number Ones World it’s the autumn of 1981…

Keeping up the ‘too much sugar before bedtime’ vibe of ‘Stand and Deliver!’, Adam & The Ants second chart-topper comes in with a similarly hyperactive intro. Aaah-haah, heeyyy-haaah! the Ants yodel and chant, like a band who’ve been stranded in the jungle for years, staying alive only by feeding off the flesh of their weakest member…

Prince Charming, by Adam & The Ants (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, 13th September – 11th October 1981

I have the feeling that, back in his youth, Stuart Goddard AKA Adam Ant was the bane of his teachers’ lives (I’m a teacher myself, so can spot them a mile off – the ones you describe as ‘spirited’ and ‘energetic’ in report cards.) Though, to be fair, most pop stars probably were little nightmares in the classroom.

And I think the school analogy can be extended, even after the shouts have faded and the song has slipped into a thumping, clumping rhythm. Don’t you ever, Don’t you ever, Stop being dandy, Showin’ me you’re handsome… It sounds like a playground chant. Prince Charming, Prince Charming, Ridicule is nothing to be afraid of… Or is it a mantra, something that Goddard had to say to himself each morning, before he slipped back into the mascara and lip-gloss required of Adam Ant?

I’m waiting for this song to break out of its plod and really kick. But it never does. There’s a bit more chanting, and a lot of repetition. ‘Stand and Deliver!’ was much more fun. Though, ‘Prince Charming’ is a smash-hit so far removed from the usual structures of a pop song (apparently Goddard chose such a slow pace deliberately, so that it wouldn’t be played in discos) it’s quite impressive how well it did. A sign of just how red-hot The Ants were in 1981.

Like ‘Stand and Deliver!’, ‘Prince Charming’ has another bizarrely entertaining video. Adam plays a male Cinderella, put upon by two dragged-up ugly sisters. Diana Dors, in one of her final screen roles, plays his Fairy Godmother. He goes to the ball, dressed in what is now the iconic Adam Ant look, and the other party-goers gag. At the end, he smashes a mirror, and appears as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper, Lawrence of Arabia (?) and, finally, as the Dandy Highwayman from his previous #1. As a video it’s great fun, and as a message it’s actually quite powerful: boys can look rugged as Clint Eastwood and boys can cake themselves in make-up and look like Adam Ant. Ridicule is nothing to be scared of!

I just wish I liked the actual song as much as I do the video. But I’m still finding it a bit of a plod, and isn’t really growing on me. And before you know it, that’s all from Adam & The Ants. They would have just one more hit, the uncharacteristically laid-back (only kidding) ‘Ant Rap’, before splitting up in early 1982. Adam’s solo career will follow on very soon from that, he was very much the driving force behind the band, and we’ll be hearing from him one last time atop the charts very soon.