In which ‘South Pacific’ meets punk rock meets kids party singalong…
Happy Talk, by Captain Sensible (his 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, 27th June – 11th July 1982
This is a record you can’t properly imagine until you’ve heard it. If that opening sentence left you stumped, then just go ahead and press play before reading my attempts to describe it… I know, right? It’s woozy, a bit trippy, very end-of-the-pier rinky-dink. And to be honest, I quite like it.
Happy talkin’, Talkin’ happy talk, Talk about things you’d like to do… I’ve never seen ‘South Pacific’, and so wasn’t sure how faithful this cover was. But it is pretty similar to the original showtune, with the brass and strings replaced by very ‘of their time’ synths. It reminds me, a little, of Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s wild take on ‘It’s My Party’: another classic tune done up for the early eighties. Only less unhinged.
Well, slightly less unhinged. In the video, and on Top of the Pops, Captain Sensible, dressed as half pimp-half pirate, gives the impression that he is well under the influence of something a bit stronger than coffee. There’s a dancing parrot, too, and a backing girl-group called the Dolly Mixtures. You’ve got to have a dream, If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?
That there is a hook I can get behind. I’m not one for motivational messages in songs, but this one can’t be argued with. No dreams = no dreams coming true. Simple. Cue the organs. It’s one of the more unexpected themes of 1981-82: chart-toppers that sound like fairground rides. ‘Ghost Town’, ‘House of Fun’, now this. Was it intentional? Or is it just that they were using cheap synths? It also calls to mind Adam Ant’s use of music hall brass from ‘Goody Two Shoes’.
Captain Sensible’s day job was as a member of The Damned (the first British punk act to release a single back in 1976) and this record featured on his first solo album. The giant shift in sound from punk to this might be explained by the fact he had become a pacifist vegetarian the year before. The punk-est moment comes when the Captain leaves a big old pause in the Golly baby I’m a lucky cu…….ss… line that has you wondering if he’s about to drop a giant ‘c’-bomb in this family-friendly single (Although you could also argue that him recording an old showtune in this novelty style is already as punk as it gets…)
I’ve said it many times before: at least make your songs interesting. This one certainly is. A harmless singalong for the kids and their grannies, that actually subverts by just existing. Captain Sensible wouldn’t have many other hits, while The Damned have reformed and disbanded several times over the years. He has also formed his own political party (the ‘Blah!’ Party), and – much more impressively – recorded the theme song for nineties snooker/quiz show ‘Big Break’.