As I mentioned in the opening post of this blog, as its title alludes to, I am a rather large fan of the man known born as Stuart Leslie Goddard in 1954, known to the wider world as Adam Ant. His music soundtracked my childhood, the Kings of the Wild Frontier album is the first album I was ever given and I still remember, even now, my crushing disappointment when I received his solo album Strip in 1983(4?) for Christmas. The title, the cover, the music- none of it was for me. But that disappointment was a certain distance in the future in 1980. Like three years away.
Back then, there were a certain amount of bands that were doing things that I would come to love, Joy Division, Blondie and The Clash to name just three, but as a sickly child who spent so much time in New Ealing Hospital- hmmm, “sickly child” seems to have a certain “Dickensian aspect” to it, don’t you think? Nevermind. Anyway, I was a child and I spent so much time in New Ealing Hospital that even now, I still refer to it, whenever I’m in Ealing visiting my nan or my aunt, as “my second home”. And I was unaware of these great bands doing great things. Even if I had known them, I suspect Joy Division’s breathtaking final album and the sprawling Sandinista! would have been beyond me. Blondie’s Auto American would definitely have been, I still don’t care for it much now.
That didn’t matter to me though because I had Adam and the Ants. Or, to be accurate, as I lay in that hospital bed in Ealing, members of my family, my mum, my aunt, my uncles, my cousins would bring me a tape of the Kings of the Wild Frontier album and, as far as possible, party on my bed. In my room. How the nurses never chucked any of them out, well, I’m wondering now. I have two copies of this album on vinyl, one of which was a present from my dad’s friend Colin. The other was a present from my uncle Stephen who said that I should have a proper copy of the album as the one from Colin was a pirate copy. At the time, I can’t be sure, but I guess I would have been nonplussed by the pirateness of Colin’s album. After all, there was a certain piratical motif to the album, explicitly rendered in the song Jolly Roger. I still have both copies though, as I do the follow up, Prince Charming- a staggering 750,000 copies sold on pre order. There also existed copies of both Kings and Prince Charming on tape, again courtesy of dad’s mate Colin. As he was dad’s mate, not mine, he backed Kings with Phil Collins debut album whilst Charming had Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast on the other side of the tape. Probably why I retain an irrational fondness for that one.
Aside from that song, there are songs on that album that I, clearly, still live with today. Songs that, as a child, I could never hope to understand as they were intended to be “understood”- especially without knowing Adam’s back story, but songs that sounded absolutely amazing. Songs that still sound amazing. Like Killer In The Home. Which I have always thought sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard, with the pain that comes out in it’s opening lines, “I live the life that I’ve been left/ Leave most things unspoken/ Deep inside Geronimo is tearing me apart”. How could I have known, then, that Adam was singing about his own illness? It seems obvious now. The lyrics, though, combined with some spaghetti western inspired- and “inspired” is exactly the right word for Marco Pirroni’s guitar playing- made a lasting impression on me. And there is the song, Ants Invasion- described in Adam’s Antbox set as a “B movie set in a tower block”, or something like that. When I was a child, the effect of that song, with what sounds like all the ants in the universe descending on our hero at the song’s climax, sounded like the most terrifying thing in the world. How could you not be hooked? Feed Me To The Lions another (great)song to hint at a swirling darkness beneath Adam’s poppy exterior.
Absurdly, I’m nearly 700 words in and only now do I mention the songs that helped create pop history. Adam released three singles from Kings, Dog Eat Dog, Antmusic and the album title track (twice). In the days when you really had to sell a lot of singles to get into the charts, these singles went into the charts and they stayed there. With early singles Young Parisians and Zerox reissued by Adam’s old label to cash in on his new found fame, Adam became the first (and possibly only) man to have 5 singles in the top 40 at the same time. Which I think is some achievement. I had lot of the Ants singles as a kid, although now I’m slightly miffed that my mum let me play with them, rather than keeping me away. I can’t tell you what the first Ants single to grab my attention was, though I know I was bopping around my nan’s living room, hitting relatives to… to Ian Dury’s Hit Me With Your Rhythm stick.
A few years ago, whilst walking through Camden Market with Jo, I was staggered to come across not just Hit Me.. but also something that looked a little like this:
Twenty five years had passed since the release of the single, so the image staring up at me wasn’t as crystal as the one above. But still striking, I think you’ll agree. I was delighted. What can I say about the music held within? Well, with it’s pounding burundi rhythms, impassioned vocals and Marco’s guitar, I think this song may just be one of my favourite tracks ever- No method in our madness/ Just pride about our manner. It still sounds fantastic. The there was the fantastic Dog Eat Dog, which I think I’m right in saying saw Adam’s debut on Top of the Pops and was an emphatic statement of the Ant manifesto. Funnily enough, the Kings single that made the biggest impact on the charts was Antmusic. It hit #2 and was denied the top spot when John Lennon was murdered and Imagine took the top spot. It’s a great song, I don’t think it’s dated but I say “funnily enough” because I struggle to listen to it these days. I don’t know, for me, perhaps it’s a bit like all the old Zep heads who say they can’t stand Stairway to Heaven despite the fact it’s clearly a masterpiece; I’ve heard it too much.
So, that’s Kings of the Wild Frontier. For me, it’s an album that I can’t really listen to without thinking about childhood and family, but even without those associations, I defy anyone to listen to it and not hear one of the most striking albums of the 1980’s.
Kings of the Wild Frontier