Peter Gabriel – Big Time (1987)

“…I’ve had enough, I’m getting out. To the city, the big big city. I’ll be a big noise, with all the big boys. So much stuff I will own

Peter Gabriel Big Time

12″ single

“What happens to you when you become a little too successful” was Peter Gabriel’s explanation for Big Time. Or, I suppose, a comment on unchecked capitalism, consumerism and greed which is as potent today as it was 26 years ago.

This cartoonish, brash song, always brings to mind ABC’s How to be a Zillionnaire (“I’ve seen the future. I can’t afford it.”). It’s the aural equivalent of the films such as Wall Street, Working Girl, Trading Places, Brewsters Millions and Secret of My Success. I can almost see the braces, filofaxes, shoulder pads and red rimmed specs every time I hear this record.

Alongside Sledgehammer this is the other thumping, high tempo, overtly eighties style production on Peter Gabriel’s hugely successful So and the third single to be taken from the album (the wonderful Don’t Give Up preceded it).

To many ears, Big Time hasn’t dated well but I disagree. I love the sound of the fretless bass, which was achieved by one musician fretting the notes while another hit the strings with drumsticks. Another highlight is the funky whacky-wah guitar (well you describe it then!) which gives it an almost seedy feel. The whole song sounds like a competition between the session musicians to see who can get heard the most. When you look at the list of contributors (Stewart Copeland, Producer Daniel Lanois, Tony Levin, PP Arnold on backing vocals) it’s a hell of contest.

Not to be outdone by Sledghammer, the video for Big Time is another stop motion spectacular with a very similar visual style, albeit far more literal, to its predecessor. It’s fair to say that without Sledgehammer’s MTV (or in my case Chart Show) friendly video, So would never have reached the audience it did.

My copy is (of course) the 12″ version, which has the standard extended mix on side A that is par for the course for the 1980’s, i.e. extend the intro, extend the middle eight, inclusion of the still-a-novelty-somehow n-n-n-n-ninetneen style vocal (“big big big ti-i-i-i-i-me”), etc.

Big Time was followed by two further singles from So. In Your Eyes will be familiar to anyone who has seen Cameron Crowe’s fantastic teen rom-com Say Anything, while the distinctively radio-unfriendly but haunting Red Rain tackled acid rain, nuclear fall-out or weird dreams depending on how you interpret it. Neither were to repeat the success of their predecessors.

Danny Wilson – The Second Summer of Love (1989)

“Acid on the radio, acid on the brain, acid everywhere you go, acid in the rain…”

Danny Wilson Second Summer of Love

Whatever happened to Danny Wilson (I’ll ignore any answers involving the current Sheffield United manager who took Barnsley FC to the Premier League in 1996)?

Named after a Frank Sinatra character and saddled with the label “sophisticated pop” (see also ABC, Pet Shop Boys, etc) Danny Wilson’s short career can be remembered for, well not this record apparently. And I think it’s their best.

The band came to the attention of UK (sophisticated) pop fans after the umpteenth re-release of Mary’s Prayer, a charming song which surprised everybody by troubling the US Billboard Top 30 in 1988. Thanks to that success it became a big hit in the UK, no doubt confusing Smashy & Nicey when Danny Wilson turned out to be three people (Gary Clark, Kit Clark and Ged Grimes) and not a journeyman footballer who’d just won the League Cup with Luton Town (see – I really do my research – they beat Arsenal 3-2).

Second Summer of Love, released the following year and leading their second album (Bebop Moptop), has that Del Amitri/Hothouse Flowers thing going on that was so popular at the time. Plenty of acoustic guitars and mandolin high in the mix, a harmonica in the middle eight. All earthy. Organic even.

And all of which is in stark contrast to the actual Second Summer of Love (copyright NME, Melody Maker, etc, etc), a time marked by the rise of acid house, warehouse raves, beats, bleeps, squeaks and other E-fuelled revelry. Acid on the brain indeed.

I can never quite work out whether Danny Wilson are taking the piss or celebrating the Second Summer of Love with this song. I think it’s possibly the former – pointing out that The first summer of love was clearly just a summer long is perhaps a “they’ll never learn” shrug of shoulders and we’d all be back to normal next year. We were (sort of).

And all those references to acid. Well, there was a fair bit of it about and it’s widely acknowledged there wouldn’t have been the scene without it.

Meanwhile, fellow sophisto-pop (copyright me, just now) band ABC had a different take on the whole thing. Ditching the suits and donning the love beads they embraced it whole heartedly, devoting a whole album to the loved-up vibe with Up. Massive fan as I am of ABC, this era never sat comfortably with me, with Martin Fry coming across as an uncomfortable trendy Dad in the video to One Better World.

Nevertheless, I love this Second Summer of Love. I still play it a lot. It makes me smile. I love the mandolin, which beat REM to the punch by 3 years. And I’m a sucker for a harmonica solo (wait til I find my copy of There Must Be an Angel).

My copy is a limited edition 10″ gatefold sleeve (what is it with me and gatefolds?). It’s limited edition no.1669. I know that because it’s “individually numbered” (written in biro) on the top left hand corner where it looks a like a sticker or pressing should be.

So what did happen to Danny Wilson? They were to release one further album but did not enjoy anywhere near the success, splitting up in 1991 and becoming US based writers-for-hire or playing bass for Simple Minds.

Adam & The Ants – Prince Charming (1981)

“Don’t you ever, don’t you ever, lower yourself, forgetting all your standards”

Adam & the Ants Prince Charming

Prince Charming 7″ cover

This was Adam – to steal a phrase from Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys – in his imperial phase. He could do no wrong.

Prince Charming came hot off the heels of the mega-hit Stand and Deliver, which had crushed all before it by entering the chart at no.1 in May 1981 and staying for 5 weeks.

But Prince Charming turned things up to 11.

Gatefold sleeve! For a single!

Photo 21-01-2013 14 19 16

Audacious video. Starring Diana Dors. With dance steps!

How could he fail?

He didn’t. Prince Charming strode straight into the UK singles chart at number two, knocking aside the year’s best selling single Tainted Love the following week and staying at the top for a month before being replaced by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s cover of Lesley Gore’s sixties hit “It’s My Party“.

Adam also thought it high time to update his dressing up box. Just as we had got used to his new image as a dandy highway man, out comes a full regency costume (with the tradmark nose stripe now moved to a three colour affair on his right cheek) for his cinderella role in the video.

But there was more. The final minute of the video also saw him dressed as such misunderstood individuals as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper and TE Lawrence before closing with him back in his dandy highwayman garb.

Prince Charming, it’s fair to say, is not Adam’s strongest single. It was very much a “never mind the quality, feel the width” affair, released at the height of his fame when anything with his name would be picked up. To capitalise on his success, in 1981 there was a slew of re-released material from Adam’s earlier Dirk era. Xerox and Car Trouble both nudged the bottom end of the chart having failed on their original release while Kings of the Wild Frontier, stuttering to number 48 first time round in July 1980, ended up a no.2 6 months later.

While Adam’s songwriting partnership with Marco Pirroni was clearly paying dividends they were probably feeling the pressure of a punishing release schedule and Prince Charming subsequently seems very slight. Gone were many of the tribal drums, chanting, sticks and build to a catchy looping choruses (AntMusic, Dog Eat Dog, Magnificent Five). Leftover was a chorus looking for a couple of verses. It feels rushed. It probably was rushed. A “will this do?” song. Something to keep the momentum going and satisfy the record label.

After the excitement of Stand and Deliver, expectations were high for the be-striped one. To an uncritical eleven year old boy those were met. But thirty years later (hell, even a year later) the appeal of Prince Charming, unlike releases before (and subsequently) wore thin. It’s the only era of Adam’s I never revisit.

Adam might have expanded his dressing up box but Prince Charming was definitely the Emperor’s new clothes.