Wednesday, 12 July 2017
Their star shined brightly, but briefly, at the end of the 80s - but that doesn’t mean Transvision Vamp should be dismissed out of hand, just because they imploded barely five years after their formation. Led by blond bombshell Wendy James, and merging a mainstream pop sound with a punky backbone, Transvision Vamp emerged at the same time that several other female fronted bands started to make waves, such as The Primitives and The Darling Buds. Whilst it is probably pushing it to call this scenario a “scene“, especially as The Primitives always sounded more indie, these groups did seem determined to restore some order to the charts, which by the mid 80s, had been battered and bruised by the gated drum sound and the mostly horrific (Bananarama excepted) exploits of Stock Aitken And Waterman.
Transvision Vamp covered all bases. Once they started to get some hits under their belt, James found herself being lined up for interviews with pop rags like “Smash Hits”, and became something of a mainstream commodity - even though the band themselves didn’t really have anything in common with the likes of Jason or Kylie who were featuring in the same magazines at the same time. Part of this was obviously down to James’s ultra glamorous look, from day 1 she was a pop star in waiting - albeit one who wanted to be in a guitar band, who toured relentlessly, and as such, became a sort of UK equivalent of Blondie. Listening to these songs today, it shows you just how dull some of our so-called pop stars nowadays actually are. The band looked the part, and there were some great songs in their cannon. Maybe there was a little bit too much of style over substance, but seriously, if you don’t like “Baby I Don’t Care”, you probably don’t like breathing either.
In this blog, I will list each of the band’s UK releases, with selected images and notable items per release. The two albums the band issued in the UK were reissued in 2013, and cobbled together all known A-side edits, B-sides, and remixes from the relevant period, meaning that all of the band’s singles from 1987 through to the end of 1990 now contain nothing rare - so that means anything goes for the releases from “Revolution Baby” through to “Born To Be Sold” in terms of what to buy. As such, every format for the first nine singles are shown, and details of the two LP’s are also included.
Formed in 1986, Transvision Vamp were initially presented as a duo of James and Nick Christian Sayer, and bagged a deal with a major label from the off - unlike The Primitives - by signing to MCA. Their debut single, “Revolution Baby”, featured the pair dressed up like cartoon characters, James looking like a big haired punk-rock version of Barbarella, complete with sci-fi looking ray gun. The pair were photographed against a garish background - the sleeve was designed by none other than Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid. The 12” release added an extra track, and featured the same images of the pair, but switched round, so that James now appeared on the right hand side of the sleeve. It would be the first of ten specific single releases, all of which would come complete with personalised catalogue numbers - this one was TVV1.
Revolution Baby/Vid Kid Vamp (7”, MCA TVV 1)
Revolution Baby/No It U Lover/Vid Kid Vamp (12”, MCA TVVT 1, different p/s)
Tell That Girl To Shut Up
For the follow up release, the band were now presented as a four piece, consisting of James, Sayer, the brilliantly named Tex Axile (probably not his real name) and future Bush bass player Dave Parsons. Their energetic cover of Holly And The Italians‘ “Tell That Girl To Shut Up”, whose bolshie-esque demeanor seemed to be a perfect fit for James’ rebellious image, used another garish sleeve, in a sort of 3-D design (but without 3-D glasses). Extended mixes were created for the 12” and CD Single editions, with the (forthcoming) album mix tagged onto the CD edition simply to boost the playing time (this format was pressed as a then rarely produced format, the picture CD). In keeping with the previous single, all formats also included a non-LP B-side, the wonderfully titled “God Save The Royalties” (which was actually another track off the LP, “Psychosonic Cindy”, played backwards) whilst a limited number of 7” editions came housed in a fold out poster bag sleeve. These were also denoted by a different catalogue number on the sleeve, and even though a lot of mentions on the net of Vamp singles issued in this way suggest the regular vinyl edition was tucked into the poster one, I have seen 7” singles with the catalogue number for these limited editions actually printed on the labels themselves (even though the matrix numbers look to be the same as the standard releases). Try before you buy. This world of remixes, flipsides, and quirky collectors formats would become a common approach for every single that followed.
Tell That Girl To Shut Up/God Save The Royalties (7”, MCA TVV 2)
Tell That Girl To Shut Up/God Save The Royalties (Posterbag 7”, MCA TVVPR 2)
Tell That Girl To Shut Up (Extended Mix)/(Knuckle Duster Mix)/God Save The Royalties (12”, MCA TVVT 2)
Tell That Girl To Shut Up (Extended Mix)/God Save The Royalties/Tell That Girl To Shut Up (Album Mix)/(Knuckle Duster Mix) (CD, MCA DTVV 2)
I Want Your Love
The riotous brilliance of “I Want Your Love” was next up, seen by many as the band‘s real breakthrough moment. Housed in a sleeve which featured James more prominently on the cover than her band mates - a trick repeated on several other releases later on - this was the first of the band’s singles to be issued as a 3-track ‘maxi single’ on 7”, an approach that would be repeated on every future release as well. The band logo featured on the previous two releases was changed to a far more simplistic design, and would be used on the remainder of releases associated with the debut album.
Alongside the obligatory 12” mix of the A-side for use on the 12” and CD editions, one of the B-sides, “Evolution Evie”, was included in either ‘acoustic’ or ‘electric’ form, dependent on which format you went for. As if to further show that James was being used as a form of eye-candy-esque promotion for the group, initial copies of the 12” were housed in a fold out poster sleeve, the reverse of which featured a photo of James alone without her bandmates. As the singer, she was always going to get increased attention, but it seems the record company knew they could use her photogenic features as a way of drumming up interest in the band, just as Chrysalis often did with Blondie. The CD Single release here was done as a 3” release, albeit housed in a 5“ slim line jewel case, which sort of defeated the object.
I Want Your Love/Sweet Thing/Evolution Evie (Acoustic Version) (7”, MCA TVV 3)
I Want Your Love (I Don’t Want Your Money Mix)/Sweet Thing/Evolution Evie (Electric Version) (12”, MCA TVVT 3)
I Want Your Love (I Don’t Want Your Money Mix)/Sweet Thing/Evolution Evie (Electric Version) (Posterbag 12“, MCA TVVTR 3)
I Want Your Love (I Don’t Want Your Money Mix)/Sweet Thing/Evolution Evie (Electric Version)/Tell That Girl To Shut Up (3” CD, MCA DTVV 3)
Revolution Baby (Re-Release)
With the band now expanded to a five piece by the addition of drummer Pol Burton, the band’s debut single was re-released, complete with new catalogue number, and a far more stylish sleeve second time around. The limited edition version of the (3 track) 7” came with a free poster featuring photos of the band - the photo of James was also used for the 12” picture disc release, which unlike most picture discs from the period, came in a printed PVC sleeve with the band name and title on the front, and a barcode sticker on the back. The CD edition, meanwhile, included one of the B-sides from the original release, “Vid Kid Vamp”, in remixed form. There is also some suggestion that the A-side itself was a different mix from the first release, but I don’t have an original release to compare it with at this present time. If it was different, it seems odd that the expanded version of the debut LP issued in 2013 doesn’t include it, given that the primary objective of that reissue was to gather up all the rarities from the period.
Revolution Baby/Honey Honey/Long Lonely Weekend (7”, MCA TVV 4)
Revolution Baby/Honey Honey/Long Lonely Weekend (7” with poster, MCA TVVPR 4)
Revolution Baby (Electra Glide Mix)/Honey Honey/Long Lonely Weekend (12”, MCA TVVT 4)
Revolution Baby (Electra Glide Mix)/Honey Honey/Long Lonely Weekend (12” Picture Disc, MCA TVVTP 4)
Revolution Baby (Electra Glide Mix)/Honey Honey/Vid Kid Vamp (Remix)/Long Lonely Weekend (3” CD, MCA DTVV4)
“Pop Art”, the band’s first LP, was issued at the tail end of 1988. Several of the song titles gave an indication of the band’s interest in celebrity and pop culture (“Hanging Out With Halo Jones”, “Andy Warhol’s Dead”), whilst others had wonderfully irreverent names (“Trash City”, “Sex Kick”, the aforementioned “Psychosonic Cindy”). It went top 5 in the UK, and established the band as proper pop stars, and James as a sex symbol in the mould of Madonna. Picture disc copies used an alternate variant of the cover photo, obviously in an attempt to boost sales.
The 2013 reissue was part of Universal’s “Re-Presents” series, which saw various expanded editions of albums now under their wing being released for a number of artists. You won’t find much of a mention about this in the packaging, it will just look like a standard expanded reissue, although there is a reference to it in the revised catalogue number.
The expanded “Pop Art” is the only of the two reissues to include previously unavailable material, as CD1 is boosted with the 4 tracks the band recorded in session for the BBC Radio 1 Andy Kershaw show. I could be wrong, but a quick Google suggests this was the only Beeb session they did, and I guess Universal figured this was the best way to put this material out on the market - had they done three or four, there would have been enough for a separate album. All of the single mixes, B-sides and 12” mixes from the period fill up disc 2.
Pop Art (LP, MCA MCF 3421)
Pop Art (Cassette, MCA MCFC 3421)
Pop Art (CD, MCA MCLD 19224)
Pop Art (12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, MCA MCFP 3421)
Pop Art (2xCD, Universal UMCREP 2021)
The last single to be released from the first LP, “Sister Moon” appeared in both 7” and 12” mix form. James appeared on the single cover alone - and the picture disc release, whilst opting for a totally different picture, also used an image that just featured the lead singer on the front. Although later Vamp singles often referred to the a-side appearing in 7” form, every single after this one used the album mix as the “single version”.
In a slight break of tradition, the 12”/CD bonus tracks included an alternate version of a track from the album (“Sex Kick”) whilst a select number of the gatefold edition came with a free “Wendy James Personality Poster”. Anybody who had never heard of the band before this could have been forgiven for assuming that James was a solo artist who went under the Transvision Vamp pseudonym.
Sister Moon (7” Mix)/Oh Yeah/Walk On By (7”, MCA TVV 5)
Sister Moon (7” Mix)/Oh Yeah/Walk On By (7” Picture Disc, MCA TVVP 5)
Sister Moon (Groove On)/Walk On By/Sex Kick (Ciao Portobello)/Oh Yeah (12”, MCA TVVT 5)
Sister Moon (Groove On)/Walk On By/Sex Kick (Ciao Portobello)/Oh Yeah (12” in gatefold p/s, MCA TVVTG 5, some with poster)
Sister Moon (7“ Mix)/Oh Yeah/Walk On By/Sex Kick (Ciao Portobello) (CD, MCA DTVV 5)
Baby I Don’t Care
Lead single from the 1989 “Velveteen” long player, and arguably the high point of the band’s career. A soaring, bratty and brilliant piece of punky-pop, the band’s pop culture fascination was on full display here, as the cover showed the (now 4-piece) band in front of a huge photograph of Elvis Presley.
The gatefold 7” featured a glamorous shot of Wendy inside, the gatefold 12” used a more pop-art image, with the same photos of Elvis and Wendy, reprinted in a bold and bright colour montage a la Warhol, spread across the entire inside of the sleeve (giving you 10 Wendy/Elvis images in total). A demo of “Sex Kick” was on the 12” and CD editions, which despite originating from the earliest sessions for the debut album, appeared on the expanded “Velveteen” instead in 2013.
The track was later covered by another blond bombshell, Jennifer Ellison, whilst the promo video saw James appear in a selection of mostly skimpy stage outfits, further enhancing her sex kitten image. The “Abigail’s Party” mix, which took it’s name from a 1977 stage play, was one of three 12” mixes later included on the 2002 “best of” release on Spectrum, also titled “Baby I Don’t Care”, where it was joined by mixes of “Tell That Girl” and “Revolution Baby”.
Baby I Don’t Care/Time For Change/Strings Of My Heart (7”, MCA TVV 6)
Baby I Don’t Care/Time For Change/Strings Of My Heart (7” in gatefold p/s, MCA TVVG 6)
Baby I Don’t Care (Abigail’s Party Mix)/Sex Kick (Demo Version)/Time For Change/Strings Of My Heart (12”, MCA TVVT 6)
Baby I Don’t Care (Abigail’s Party Mix)/Sex Kick (Demo Version)/Time For Change/Strings Of My Heart (12” in gatefold p/s, MCA TVVTG 6)
Baby I Don’t Care/Saturn 5 (Demo Version)/Time For Change/Strings Of My Heart (CD, MCA DTVVT 6)
The Only One
Housed in a similar style to “Baby”, complete with the new stylised, but simple, band logo (which was changed from an upper case font to a lower case one for the next two singles), “The Only One” this time saw the pop culture moment provided by Marilyn Monroe. There wasn’t much in the way of fancy formats for some reason, but you can always try and buy the different pressings of the 7”, which included issues with both paper labels, and silver injection plastic “labels”.
The Only One/The Mystery Song/Love Me (7”, MCA TVV 7)
The Only One (Extended Version)/The Mystery Song/Love Me (12”, MCA TVVT 7)
The Only One/The Mystery Song/Love Me/The Only One (Extended Mix) (CD, MCA DTVVT 7)
Landslide Of Love
The Vamp’s “Motown” moment, this 45 went back to the multi formatting frenzy of earlier releases, with a 7” picture disc being issued which, yet again, featured Wendy alone on it’s frontage - although this time, the entire band were featured in the image on the B-side. There was also a cassette edition, featuring a slightly elongated version of the image found on the standard 7” release, which also omitted both the band name and the A-side title, to avoid cluttering up the front cover.
The 12” and CD editions featured an extra track unavailable on the 7” formats, “W11 Blues”, in which James recites a Dylan-esque rambling monologue about a night out in West London over an electronic drum pattern. Limited edition versions of the 12” were housed in a gatefold sleeve, complete with another sultry image of Miss James contained within. The 12” pressings included an extended mix of the A-side, whilst the CD - at the time - rather pointlessly replaced this with the album version. Like “The Only One”, it was listed as a “7” Version”, but as far as I can make out, it’s the same as the LP mix.
Landslide Of Love/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (7”, MCA TVV 8)
Landslide Of Love/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (7” Picture Disc, MCA TVVP 8)
Landslide Of Love/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (Cassette, MCA TVVC 8)
Landslide Of Love (Extended)/W11 Blues/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (12”, MCA TVVT 8)
Landslide Of Love (Extended)/W11 Blues/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (12” in gatefold p/s, MCA TVVTG 8)
Landslide Of Love/W11 Blues/Hardtime/He’s The Only One For Me (CD, MCA DTVVT 8)
Notable for it’s ten minute long closing title track, “Velveteen” arrived in the fall of 1989. It maintained the band’s hybrid mix of pop and punk attitude, but wasn’t afraid to dabble in other styles - the sultry swing of “Bad Valentine” (later issued as a fan club only single) and the aforementioned glamour of “Landslide Of Love”. As per “Pop Art”, a picture disc edition was released but this time around came inside a standard sleeve, albeit with a unique cover image, which simply featured the album title and band name against a textured background.
Both “Pop Art” and “Velveteen” spawned Video EP releases, which featured the relevant video clips on each release - the “Velveteen” release came in a sleeve not too dissimilar to the picture disc edition. Both were released after the promo campaigns for the LP’s were at an end, and thus featured all the videos from each album (unlike Bowie’s “The Next Day” DVD, as an example).
The 2013 double disc reissue of the album was probably not of great interest to any completists who already had the record and multiple formats of the singles, as all of the bonuses on this - all present on CD2 only - had been released before. It’s an obvious starting point for any newbies, but it would have been nice if some unreleased material had appeared - the band’s fourth single from the LP came backed with live tracks, suggesting a complete gig performance is sitting in the MCA vaults. There are some minor artwork differences to the original release - there is a thin coloured border around the outside of the front picture sleeve - and some nice pictures inside. At the risk of sounding like a dirty old man, you can never have too many photos of Wendy James in your collection.
Velveteen (LP, MCA MCG 6050)
Velveteen (Cassette, MCA MCGC 6050)
Velveteen (CD, MCA DMCG 6050)
Velveteen (12” Picture Disc in unique sleeve, MCA MCGP 6050)
Velveteen (2xCD, Universal UMCREP 2020)
Born To Be Sold
Final 45 from the “Velveteen” album, “Born To Be Sold” may have had a vicious sounding title, but musically, had an air of languid restraint about it. The same could not be said about some of the B-sides - “Kiss Me” seemed to consist of little more than James howling down the microphone in that croaky but vampy voice, whilst the live recording of “Last Time” was indeed a noisy bash at The Stones’ classic.
The limited edition 7” came with a free band logo badge (complete with “Levis” legend down the side), which was glued to a 7”x7” piece of card, which reprinted the single cover (plus “free badge” blurb) which was designed to lie inside a shrink wrapped bag, in front of what was more or less, a standard edition of the single (ie. Open a sealed copy, take away the front piece of card with it’s badge, and you’d be left with a normal 45). Only difference was that the catalogue number was changed, and this particular variant appears on both the rear of the single and the labels themselves.
The limited edition 12” came with an eye watering poster insert - it’s more of a fold out mini-mag, with the band history and tour dates on one side, and a band portrait on the other. Not widely publicised on the net is the fact that in order to stop the poster from falling out the side of the sleeve, copies also came with a wraparound paper sash style thing, which went across the record and thus had to be removed in order to extract the vinyl or the poster.
Born To Be Sold/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live) (7”, MCA TVV 9)
Born To Be Sold/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live) (7” with free badge and insert, MCA TVVB 9)
Born To Be Sold/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live) (Cassette, MCA TVVC 9)
Born To Be Sold/Kiss Me/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live) (12”, MCA TVVT 9)
Born To Be Sold/Kiss Me/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live) (12” with poster and wraparound “obi“ style banner, MCA TVVTB 9)
Born To Be Sold/Down On You (Live)/Last Time (Live)/Kiss Me (CD, MCA DTVVT 9)
(I Just Wanna) B With U
1991 heralded a slightly new, “softer”, Transvision Vamp. The punky racket of the older material was toned down, and the band seemed to adopt a slightly more funky, Madchester-esque sound, although this softening of their sound would later cause MCA to kick up a fuss about their new direction. And yet, listening to this material now, it seems astonishing that the record company were seemingly unhappy with the way the band were going - not only was the change in direction not really that radical, but the inventiveness of these new songs, including the B-sides from this period, suggested the band could have had a long future in front of them.
“(I Just Wanna) B With U” was the first single from the “Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble” long-player. In keeping with the earlier releases, the 7” and Tape formats appeared as 3-track releases, with the 12” replacing the LP mix of the A-side with a 12” version. On the cover of the single was a collage of band images, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that James was trying to dispense with her sex kitten image - several of the photos saw her wearing a rather un-glam beanie hat. However, the limited, numbered, gatefold 12” (housed in a unique, rather plain, sleeve) opened up to show a centrefold image of James in full on sultry siren mode. A free poster, which featured a blow up image of the standard single sleeve, was also tucked inside, and there was even an extra, exclusive B-side.
Suffice to say, the remixes and flipsides from this period are rarer than the earlier ones, thanks to the lack of an expanded reissue of the “Babble” album. The gatefold 12” will give you all the essential items, the remaining formats all use the standard picture sleeve as their front cover, so will be of interest to completists.
(I Just Wanna) B With U/Swamp Thang/Straight Thru Your Head (7”, MCA TVV 10)
(I Just Wanna) B With U/Swamp Thang/Straight Thru Your Head (Cassette, MCA TVVC 10)
(I Just Wanna) B With U (The Nightripper Mix)/Swamp Thang/Straight Thru Your Head (12”, MCA TVVT 10)
(I Just Wanna) B With U (The Nightripper Mix)/Swamp Thang/Straight Thru Your Head/Punky Says (12” in unique gatefold p/s, MCA TVVT 10, with poster)
(I Just Wanna) B With U (LP Version)/(The Nightripper Mix)/Swamp Thang/Straight Thru Your Head (CD, MCA DTVVT 10)
If Looks Could Kill
There seem to be conflicting reports about the end of the band. After the final single, “If Looks Could Kill”, performed only reasonably well in the charts, MCA reportedly lost interest in the band, and saw no reason to release their third album. However, a quick look around the net shows a series of releases on the usual formats, many of which seem to show what look like UK (or, at least, European wide) catalogue numbers. And that’s before we mention James’ admission that the band were worn out through constant recording, promotion and gigging, and that they simply threw in the towel, rather than consider taking a break. Whatever the reason for the finale, and whatever the status of the album’s UK availability, “Babble” marked the end of the group.
With another brace of quite superb B-sides, “If Looks Could Kill” was a decent swansong. Most formats featured a sleeve which mirrored the montage layout of the previous 45, only this time with James featured alone, on which she adopted an anti-pin up girl look by brandishing a fake moustache. The limited edition 12” used a different sleeve which saw her wearing a huge sombrero.
The CD Single was a thing of beauty. It was housed in an ingenious circular sleeve, which opened out as you twisted it open, and featured - once more - James alone on the cover, this time looking like a Bardot-esque movie star. The 12” mix of the A-side, available on both the standard and limited 12 inches, was replaced by the LP version, whilst the live B-side on this edition was also different to that on the 12” editions.
By 1992, both The Primitives and Transvision Vamp were no more. Grunge was happening in the world of indie rock, but more worryingly, the pop scene was spawning the insipid Take That, and the likes of Wendy James were being replaced by MOR types like Amy Grant and Boyz II Men. Thankfully, Madonna was still keeping the blond bombshell popstar genre alive, and the forthcoming Britpop scene was rumbling into view thanks to the ongoing existence of many of the Madchester bands. James is still making solo records, but who do we have now as the UK’s face of female pop? The AOR slop of Adele and the bland nothingness of Jess Glynne. Do yourself a favour, and hunt “Pop Art” and “Velveteen” down and you will realise the 80s wasn’t all about Living In A Box and Paul Young. Transvision Vamp, 25 plus years on, I salute you.
If Looks Could Kill/My Friend The Tom Cat/Puppy Dogs Tails (7”, MCA TVV 11)
If Looks Could Kill/My Friend The Tom Cat/Puppy Dogs Tails (Cassette, MCA TVVC 11)
If Looks Could Kill (Voodoo Hipster Mix)/My Friend The Tom Cat/Puppy Dogs Tails/I Want Your Love (Live) (12”, MCA TVVT 11)
If Looks Could Kill (Voodoo Hipster Mix)/My Friend The Tom Cat/Puppy Dogs Tails/I Want Your Love (Live) (12” in envelope sleeve, “Sombrero” p/s, MCA TVV 11)
If Looks Could Kill/My Friend The Tom Cat/Puppy Dogs Tails/Tell That Girl To Shut Up (Live) (Limited CD in circular sleeve, unique p/s, MCA DTVVT 11)
SELECTED OTHER RELEASES
Pop Art - The Video Singles (1988, VHS, MCA CFV 04902)
The Velveteen Singles (1989, VHS, MCA MCV 9002)
Bad Valentine/A Message... (1990, 7”, MCA BV1, fan club only single)
The Complete 12”ers Collection Vol.1 (1990, Japanese CD, MCA WMC5-75, includes all “Pop Art” era 12” mixes and all B-sides except “No It U Lover”, acoustic version of “Evolution Evie” and only one version of “Vid Kid Vamp”)
Little Magnets Versus The Bubble Of Babble (1991, CD, MCA MCD 10331)
If Looks Could Kill (1991, VHS, MCA MCAV 10347, includes videos for “If Looks Could Kill” and “(I Just Wanna) B With U”, plus 3 oldies)
Mixes (1992, Japanese CD, MCA MVCM-142, includes non-UK mixes of “(I Just Wanna) B With You” and “Twangy Wig Out”)
Kiss Their Sons (1998, 2xCD, MCA MCLD 19376)
Kiss Their Sons - The Video Collection (1998, VHS, MCA MCV 60054)
Baby I Don’t Care (2002, CD, Spectrum 544 981-2, includes 12” mixes of “Revolution Baby”, “Baby I Don’t Care” and the ‘Knuckle Duster’ mix of “Tell That Girl To Shut Up”)