Thursday, 10 October 2013
Adam And The Ants
A few years ago, as Adam Ant quite publicly battled mental illness, it proved good fodder for the tabloids. The former Prince Charming, falling from grace. As such, when Ant began to edge back to the world of music and live performance, some figured it was a car crash waiting to happen, and indeed, reports began to circulate that some gigs hadn’t quite gone according to plan.
But 2013’s critically acclaimed “Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter” has proved the doubters wrong, and by all accounts, Ant’s solo shows have been a cause for celebration - each show a lengthy trawl through all the hits, including stuff from the early days, when Ant fronted Adam And The Ants.
The Ants were formed in 1977, and over the next few years, went through an alarming number of line up changes - Wikipedia lists all the personnel changes if you wish to indulge yourself, but effectively, there was the “original” line up of the band, and the double-drummer version(s) that made all the hit records. Adam became part of the punk scene, and was thus in the right place at the right time when Derek Jarman started casting for his punk movie, “Jubilee”. It was the start of a thespian career for Adam (he spent much of the 80’s as an acting superstar in the US) but was also the beginning of The Ants’ recording career, as they were invited to record two songs for the soundtrack LP - “Deutscher Girls” and “Plastic Surgery”. The LP was issued by Polydor subsidiary Eg, and thus saw the vinyl debut of the group. A number of other songs were recorded in demo form, but remained unreleased.
However, the group’s appearance on this LP didn’t initially seem to garner any interest from the record companies, until Decca approached them during the latter part of 1978. The label, having been home to The Rolling Stones in the 60s, had slightly fallen out of favour since then, dealing mostly in classical music, but was seemingly determined to get on the punk bandwagon - and thus offered the band a single plus album deal. The band’s debut 7” was therefore released in October that year, the completely un-punk “Young Parisians” - a record which sounded like Sparks covering Jacques Brel, it was done deliberately to confuse people who wanted to pigeonhole the band, but was also done as a “test” on the record label to see how much control Decca were prepared to give to the band. The more punky “Lady” adorned the B-side. The single didn’t quite set the world alight, but Decca initially remained true to their word, and were prepared to issue the band’s debut LP.
Trouble was, there were various financial issues going on at Decca, and even though the band had demoed even more new material, with more than an album’s worth of new songs ready to record, the label admitted they were unable to market the band properly and let them go. Having built up a rapport with punk fanzines, and having garnered something of a live reputation, the group did not disappear from view despite this disappointing setback, and after Adam was featured on the cover of one of the UK music weeklies, they came to the attention of independent label Do It, who signed them in 1979.
But Ant secretly wanted to be a proper pop star, and was disappointed by the relatively small sales of the record. He employed ex-Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren to try and help boost the band’s profile, whose first job was to encourage the rest of the band to leave the group and join a new outfit he was putting together, Bow Wow Wow. This probably wasn’t the activity Ant had expected. But McLaren remained as his manager, and it would actually turn out to be a masterstroke - as the “new” version of the band that Adam put together, would turn them into superstars.
Do It were still owed a single, and an interim line up of Ant, drummer Jon Moss and future regular collaborator Marco Pirroni decided to rework the opening track from the LP, “Cartrouble”. The plan was to release an EP called the “Antmusic” EP, on which the re-recorded song would be joined by some unreleased material from the Do It vaults, but for some reason, the EP never materialised. An edited version of the reworked “Cartrouble” did surface instead as the band’s next single, backed with “Kick”, one of the tracks that was due to appear on the cancelled EP. Rather confusingly, labels quoted the A-side as being “edited from the ‘Antmusic’ EP”.
The new 5-piece line up of the group was finally put together thereafter, with Ant and Marco joined by bassist Kevin Mooney, and the dual drumming force of Merrick and Terry Lee Miall. They garnered major label interest again, and were signed to CBS during 1980. The first single by this line up, “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, demonstrated perfectly the new “Burundi Beat” sound, and with the distinctive, twanging, Duane Eddy guitar licks courtesy of Marco, the Ants new sound was a stylish and unusual move away from their punkier beginnings, and the single only just failed to hit the top 40. The band had also developed a highly unusual “Highway Robber meets Pirate” look, and people across the country painted Tipp-Ex across their face in an attempt to look like Adam. The image saw the band being lumped in with the New Romantic movement, even if the music was more tribal and guitar driven than the likes of Spandau and Duran Duran.
With The Ants starting to make waves commercially, Do It decided to reissue “Zerox” - and released 3000 copies that were “accidentally” mispressed. The b-side was another of the songs from the abandoned “Antmusic” project, “Physical” - no mention was made anywhere on the record of the new b-side, and the only way to identify a copy was by the matrix numbers. Meanwhile, the “current” version of the band re-recorded the track as “Physical (You’re So)” for the b-side of their next 45, “Dog Eat Dog”, which opened with Adam scowling the lyric “eat your heart out, Do It”, as a response to their cash in pressing.
“Dog Eat Dog” gave the band their first top 10 single, and the following album, “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, issued in November 1980, eventually hit the top of the UK album charts. The first batch of copies pressed featured a different version of the next single, “Antmusic” - later copies played the single version instead, which amongst other things, lacked the fade-in intro, and was about 10 seconds shorter. Initial copies of the LP also came with an “Ant Catalogue” insert, I think any with the catalogue are the first pressing with the alternate “Antmusic”, but I am not sure if there were less catalogues than there were “first pressings“, as the Shergold family home’s version of the LP plays the alternate mix, but has no catalogue inside.
The “Antmusic” single gave the band another top 10 hit, and CBS then decided to reissue the “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” 45, and this time got it into the top 10 at the second time of asking during Spring 1981. The single was basically the same as before, but the colour of the band name on the front of the single was changed from white text to red. Music and catalogue number remained unchanged. It was then the turn of the band’s former labels to get involved as well - Decca repressed “Young Parisians” (it was also the subject of a 1989 white vinyl 12” reissue on Damaged Goods), whilst Do It issued “Zerox” again with a slightly remixed version of the a-side. This mix has become the more common one, and has been used whenever an Ants CD has been released that includes the song, with one exception - the original 1979 mix was included on the 2000 boxset “Antbox”.
During 1981, Mooney was replaced by one time Roxy Music bass player Gary Tibbs, and the next wave of new material started to surface. First up was the incendiary chart topper “Stand And Deliver”, complete with a video starring Amanda Donohoe, which was edited for single release. The follow up, the glorious stomp of “Prince Charming”, also hit number 1 - and had an equally famous video star, this time being blonde bombshell Diana Dors. The album of the same name charted at number 1 in November 1981. A remixed version of the genius “Ant Rap” (“Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours truly!“) went top 10 when issued on 45 in Xmas 81. The b-side, “Friends”, had originally been recorded (and abandoned) when the group were on Do It, and the original recording was another track potentially lined up for the “Antmusic” EP. The CBS recording, despite appearing first, was thus later referred to as the “second version”.
In 1982, with The Ants now the biggest pop group on the planet, labels that had dealt with the group in a former life started to cash in again. The two tracks from the “Jubilee” LP were given a belated 7” release by Eg, although the version of “Deutscher Girls” featured a couple of new vocal/lyrical overdubs to make it more ‘radio friendly’ - the sleeve used a still from the movie. Some countries credited it to “The Original Adam And The Ants”.
Meanwhile, Do It issued the “B-Sides” EP as a 7” and 7” picture disc release. This three tracker included “Physical”, the original (previously unreleased) version of “Friends” and an alternate mix of “Kick”. Also released, finally, was the “Antmusic” EP, which included all these songs plus the full length, and previously unavailable, reworked version of “Cartrouble”. Strangely, despite the cash in releases having brought the Ants’ story full circle, these “archive” singles would actually turn out to be the group’s swansong.
As Ant made his way back into the studio in 82, he decided to disband the group. There were various reasons - the level of fame that they had attracted had caused internal problems, but feeling unable to take a break due to record label pressure, Adam decided the situation could be resolved by simply going solo instead. He also claimed other band members lacked “interest”, and admitted that much of “Prince Charming” had been mostly recorded by him, Marco and Merrick, with the remaining band members actually contributing very little - songs were more or less complete by the time they came to add their contributions. The first Ant solo single, with involvement from Marco and Merrick, was initially credited to “Adam And The Ants” on both the acetate test pressing (the handwritten credit was scribbled out), and initial copies of the commercially released 7”, before later copies were correctly credited to “Adam Ant”. Antmusic would continue, but in a different form. An Ant solo blog will follow in the future.
Compilations And Reissues
Indeed, most Ant collections tended to care little about what was solo or not, and it really was a case of anything goes. A 1994 flipsides collection, “B Side Babies” (CD, Epic 480362 2), also covered band and solo material up to the end of the 80s, although several B-sides - for whatever reason - were not included.
Before the release of the “Antbox” set (3xCD, Columbia 500782200 3) in 2000, some of the material taped for those early Ants debut albums that were never to be, had appeared - albeit in re-recorded form - thanks to several releases of sessions by the band from the BBC archives - namely 1990’s “Peel Sessions” and 1996’s “The Complete Radio 1 Sessions” (CD, Strange Fruit SFRSCD 099). However, both releases have been deleted, so are increasingly hard to find.
The first notable Ants LP reissue came in the early 80s, when “Dirk Wears White Sox” was issued by CBS in a new sleeve, using typography of a similar style to that used on “Kings” and “Prince Charming”. A number of songs from the Do It original were removed, and replaced by both sides of the “Zerox” and “Cartrouble“ 45’s, at Adam’s request, in order to “make this material available again”. The album reappeared in the mid 1990’s in it’s original cover, with some of the “removed” material installed as bonus tracks at the end. The original vinyl LP mix of “Cartrouble” was still absent, and depending on which pressing you bought, the version of this song that started the album was either the reworked 7” mix from 1981, or the reworked 12” mix from 1982.
All three Ants albums were reissued in 2004 - they all used the original track listings, plus bonus tracks, and used the same cover art as the original pressings, but the existing typography for the band name and album titles were removed, and replaced instead by a specialised “logo” design around the border that incorporated them both in one. The reissue of “Dirk” included everything from the “Zerox” and “Cartrouble” singles, and the entire “Antmusic” EP (as well as, of course, the original UK LP mix of “Cartrouble“ now back in situ), whilst the CBS albums concentrated mainly on previously unreleased demos of songs both included on the relevant LP - and not.
The following year, Ant’s solo albums from the 80s were reissued in similar style, and were also made available in a boxset called “Remastered”. The box was designed to also hold the reissues of the Ants albums (a big chunk of foam was shoved into the box to stop the solo CD’s from rattling about), whilst the box included an exclusive rarities album, “Redux” (CD, Columbia 519731 2), which was split roughly between previously unreleased material from both the band and the solo years.
The most recent reissue, and possibly one of the best, is 2009’s “Original Album Classics” (3xCD, Columbia 88697 94210 2). This nifty little boxset includes reissues of the three Ants albums in vinyl style card sleeves, and feature the expanded track listings of the 2004 editions. However, the artwork has been restored to the original 1980s designs, meaning that the reissue of “Dirk” comes in the ‘colour’ CBS sleeve from the early 1980s, as opposed to the black and white “Do It” original. Intriguing. Meanwhile, “Kings” includes both the original LP and later single mix of “Antmusic”, the former appearing as the first of six bonus tracks.
Given that The Ants ceased to exist in the early 80s, the back catalogue is relatively simple, at least when viewed in it’s basic form - a number of singles on one format only, and until the turn of the century, three studio albums that, quirky pressings aside, sounded more or less the same as they always did. The compilations and posthumous releases detailed above are important, and in some cases, essential. The list below is of all the UK singles that were issued between 77 and 82, and the original pressings of the LP’s, although I would suggest that only the “original“ version of “Dirk Wears White Sox“ is of interest to newcomers, given that the 2009 boxset covers all the bases music-wise.
Dirk Wears White Sox (1979, LP, Do It RIDE3)
Kings Of The Wild Frontier (1980, LP, CBS 84549)
Prince Charming (1981, LP, CBS 852681)
Young Parisians/Lady (1978, 7”, Decca F13803)
Zerox/Whip In My Valise (1979, 7”, Do It DUN8, later pressings play either alternate mix of A-side or “Physical” on B-side)
Cartrouble (Edit)/Kick (1980, 7”, Do It DUN10)
Kings Of The Wild Frontier/Press Darlings (1980, 7”, CBS 8877)
Dog Eat Dog/Physical (You’re So) (1980, 7”, CBS 9039)
Antmusic (7” Mix)/Fall In (1980, 7”, CBS 9352)
A.N.T.S (1981, Flexidisc, Lyntone 9285)
Stand And Deliver (7” Mix)/Beat My Guest (1981, 7”, CBS A1065, some in poster bag in diff p/s)
Prince Charming/Christian D’Or (1981, 7”, CBS A1408, some in gatefold p/s)
Antrap (7” Mix)/Friends (1981, 7”, CBS A1738, some in “advent calendar” p/s, some pressed as picture disc in clear bag)
Deutscher Girls (7” Mix)/Plastic Surgery (1982, 7”, Eg EGO5)
The B Sides EP: Friends (Do It Version)/Physical/Kick (Alternate Version) (1982, 7”, Do It DUN20, some pressed as picture disc)
The Antmusic EP: Kick (Alternate Version)/Physical/Cartrouble (Part 1)/(Part 2)/Friends (Do It Version) (1982, 12”, Do It DUNIT20)
For those of you who like to know these things - the “B Side Babies” release includes all the CBS flipsides, except “Press Darlings”. “Young Parisians” tends to appear on most best of sets, as does “Deutscher Girls”, but “Lady” and “Plastic Surgery” remain a bit more obscure - the latter is on “Antbox”, but “Lady” seems to only be available on pressings of the “Young Parisians” single, be it either the Decca original or any of the later re-releases.