Britain has thrown up many fabulous pop stars over the last half a century. It’s actually something we seem to specialise in – think John Lennon, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Morrissey etc. And then there’s Adam Ant, to which some of you, particularly if you are under 35 and/or not British might say “who?”.
And it would be a fair question. His profile certainly doesn’t match those aforementioned legends, and it’s been a while since he had anything approaching a hit record but for most of the 80’s here in Britain there were few names more famous, few stars who had greater charisma, flamboyance, and out-and-out showmanship. Nowhere were these attributes more apparent than in his videos, which gave him the perfect opportunity to show off his unique sense of style and theatrical nature.
Stuart Goddard was born in 1954 in Marylebone, London as the only child of parents Leslie and Betty. A sometimes unruly child he eventually developed a love of art as a means of self-expression and after leaving school attended art college, although he dropped out before completing his studies to focus on his burgeoning interest in music joining a band called Bazooka Joe as bass guitarist. It was whilst playing a gig with them at St. Martin’s School of Art in late 1975 that he was to witness the first public performance of a new band called the Sex Pistols, who were the support act that evening. It profoundly affected him and he left Bazooka Joe shortly after to pursue a different musical direction.
After briefly forming a band with the terrible name The B-Sides who rehearsed alot but never gigged he changed his name to Adam Ant (as he would later explain because Adam was the first man and ants are “resilient little buggers”) and formed the first line-up of Adam & the Ants, the group he would find fame with. Initially a four-piece their first album Dirk Wears White Sox mixed punk, funk, soul, and art-house lyricism and imagery and was released to mixed reviews. It was only after more line-up changes and their second album Kings Of The Wild Frontier that they would finally break big. This line-up featured two drummers playing tribal, African-esque beats and low-slung rockabilly guitar work from Marco Pirroni, who would also become Ant’s songwriting partner.
Now you have the back-story I want to look at three videos from the early 80’s when Ant was at his peak that illustrate just why he was was so unique. Let’s kick off with…
Stand & Deliver
Released in May 1981 this song entered the charts at No.1 and stayed there for five weeks selling a million copies in the process. Taking Dick Turpin to some kind of silly extreme the video and lyrics use “dandy highwayman” imagery to extol the virtues of vanity (“try and use a mirror, no bullet or a knife”) and gives Ant a chance to don a fabulous period costume and of course the make-up for which he would also become known including the famous white-stripe across the face. Ant’s style both musically and stylistically really crystalised with this release and suddenly he was the biggest pop star in Britain.
The follow up single to Stand & Deliver upped the anti somewhat in terms of costumes and general all-round flamboyance. The video places Ant in a male Cinderella role,and the whole thing is one giant pantomime including ugly sisters played by men in drag and of course the fairy godmother played by English actress Diana Dors in one of her last screen appearances. Ant’s style is 18th century Regency, very foppish and utterly fabulous. No other pop star at this time would have had the balls to even try and pull this off, and although it borders on the ridiculous it’s saved by Ant’s utter commitment and sense of fun. It’s knowingly done, as in he nows he probably looks a bit ridiculous but as the song says “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” and he really wasn’t scared at all, which is how he gets away with it. This was his second Number 1 in a row, where it stayed for 4 weeks.
Goody Two Shoes
Ant’s first solo single also happens to probably his best. Following neatly on from his work with the Ants, this song about being famous was another No.1 in Britain and a huge hit all over the world being the first single of his to break the US charts. The video entails self-parody, as well as having a not-so-subltle dig at the press who by now were all over him like vultures. Actually, an Adam Ant song and video about the perils of being Adam Ant could be seen as high narcissism were it once again not for his sense of fun and no small amount of self-deprecation. It also helps that it’s a kick ass song.
For a chunk of the 80’s Ant had the world at his feet. Once he had broken the US charts it seemed likely that his star would keep rising. For whatever reasons it never really happened and from here on in, despite the odd big success, his career was one of diminshing commercial returns. It’s a shame because he possessed genuine star quality. In recent years he revealed a life-long battle with bipolar disorder which certainly played a part in him being unable to sustain his success. He’s still around though and his extravagantly titled 2013 album Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter – his first for nearly 20 years – garnered critical acclaim. Later this year he releases the follow-up Bravest Of The Brave, and whilst it probably won’t see him at the top of the charts again it’s nice to see him back in the flow of things. Pop stars like Adam Ant are few and far between and in this age of bland identikit talent show pop starlets we could do with more like him. Don’t you ever stop being dandy Mr Goddard, those of us who know appreciate it very much…