Friday, February 13, 2009

'Ant Fever' Sweeps The Wild Frontier

Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni pretty much devised the whole conceptual sound and look of the band that would soon be unveiled, and would create a distinct cultural enclave around the concept of the name Adam And The Ants. The dual drum backing of Merrick and Miall provided the relentless rhythmic drive, and took its inspiration from the Burundi drummers of Africa. Along with Mooney’s thumping bass, Pirroni’s inventive guitar work, and Ant’s unique vocal chants and yodelling yelps, Adam And The Ants unleashed a thundering mix of retro-rock and hook laden glam, laced with raw, invigorating tribal elements. Now signed to CBS, the reinvented Adam And The Ants released the lead out single ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ in July 1980, but the track initially stalled near the frontier of the British top 50 (#48). Its follow up ‘Dog Eat Dog’ would not suffer the same fate. The single captured the band’s raw performance energy, and soon after its September release crashed into the British top 10, peaking at #4 (OZ#22). By this stage, Adam and his Ants had fully embraced the whole pirate persona thing, and everything down to Adam Ant’s face make-up, was soon being imitated by a growing nation of ‘Antpeople’. Self-promoting slogans such as ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople’ helped fuel the surging fire of public fascination with the band, and in particular the flamboyant, and charismatic Adam Ant.

The band’s next single ‘Antmusic’ encapsulated the entire mythology of the band, and became a virtual anthem for the burgeoning ‘insect nation’ of teen fans. Backed by a visually alluring promotional video, which would become the staple of future singles for the band, ‘Antmusic’ invaded the British charts in December 1980 and quickly brushed aside any resistance, to ascend to a peak of #2, early in ’81. ‘Antmusic’ broke Adam And The Ants in Australia, where, following its chart debut during February 1981, the song bolted to #1 just a month later, and reigned supreme for five weeks. While ‘Antmusic’ was riding high on the charts, Adam And The Ants jetted to Australia for a promotional tour, the highlight being a memorable appearance on the ABC’s ‘Countdown’. Whilst Australia were under threat from an ‘ant invasion’, Britain had succumbed completely to ‘Antmania’. Doubtless more British teenagers were sporting Adam Ant brand facial war paint, than KISS had inspired at the height of their popularity just a year or two previous, not to mention an impending surge in the sale of knickerbockers. The album ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’, produced by Merrick (AKA Chris Hughes), established the Ant empire firmly at the top of the U.K. album charts, and hit #1 for the first time during January ‘81, and then unleashing a second wave of sales to surge once more to the summit in March. In all ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ (OZ#2/US#44) spent a mammoth twelve weeks ruling over the British album charts, and was far and away the biggest selling album in the U.K. for 1981. Adam And The Ants were backed by a formidable marketing campaign for an all out invasion of the U.S., but despite attracting plenty of attention, it seemed America wasn’t quite ready for another invasion of British insects.

With ‘Ant fever’ at plague proportions, several earlier songs were re-released as singles during late ‘80, early ‘81. ‘Young Parisians’ (UK#9), ‘Car Trouble’ (UK#33), and ‘Zerox’ (UK#45) were all repackaged to reflect the new self-aggrandized model of Adam And The Ants. None of the tracks had been included on the #1 ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ album, but the album’s title track was quickly reissued in February ‘81, and on its second tilt at the charts, surged to #2 in Britain. The 1979 album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (UK#16) suddenly found an audience via an impassioned throng of ‘Antpeople’ feverishly consuming anything, and everything, Adam And The Ants related. It was the polar opposite of an earlier stated ambition for the band - to perform in a clandestine atmosphere, where Antpeople gather to be entertained.

Having conquered the British (and Australian) music scene, seemingly overnight, Adam And The Ants were now expected to shore up support in their newly annexed ‘Antpeople’ territories with more of the same dynamite music, lest they give ground to the ‘next big thing’. But whilst theatrical excess had undeniably played a role in their rise to fame, Adam And The Ants had the creative substance to back it up. Ex-Roxy Music bassist Gary Tibbs had joined the band in early ‘81, but it was the working partnership between Adam Ant and guitarist Marco Pirroni that would deliver a new wave of knock out hit singles. Adam and his Ants also tweaked their look, well more than tweaked. The new single ‘Stand And Deliver’ announced its own arrival via a blistering horn, and rumbling horses hoofs, leading into the band’s trademark booming drums and vocal chants. The promotional video was as cinematic as they come, and if you didn’t look closely at the mischievous glint in Adam Ant’s eye, you could have been forgiven for thinking the whole affair just a little pretentious. But, really Adam And The Ants, were just having a bit of cheeky fun with history, this time as dashing eighteenth century English highwaymen. ‘Stand And Deliver’ stood tall and delivered its payload at #1 on the British charts - first week in if you don’t mind - and held the charts to a highway ransom for no less than five weeks (OZ#12). In an interesting twist of life imitating art, just a few months later Adam And The Ants had their entire stage set stolen, though admittedly not by highwaymen.

Adam And The Ants attempted to apply the same classical, and historical themes to their next album ‘Prince Charming’, released in November ‘81. The title track single had preceded the album by two months, and became Adam And The Ants second consecutive British #1, beginning a four week run at the top from only its second week in the charts. Ridicule really was nothing for Adam Ant to be scared of at this point, with ‘Prince Charming’ also laying on the charm in Australia (#4), though the U.S. remained aloof to Adam’s bold brand of seduction. The ‘Prince Charming’ album (UK#2/OZ#7/US#94) did receive its share of criticism, seen by some as too camp by way of presentation, and too shallow by way of quality songs. But there were signs that Ant and Pirroni were willing to push the envelope stylistically, even toying with a couple of neo-spaghetti western style tracks ‘5 Guns West’ and ‘Mowhok’. But seriously, how can an album that spawned two British chart toppers, and a #3 with the exuberant ‘Antrap’ (backed by a promo video featuring singer Lulu), be considered lacking in anything? In all Adam And The Ants had accrued a staggering 91 weeks worth of chart time on the British charts during 1981, a feat rarely matched, let alone beaten, by any artist in any calendar year, before or since.

In early ‘82 Adam Ant made the shrewd assessment, that it was possible to have too much of a good thing, and promptly disbanded the Ants. An EP of B-sides by the band was released in March ‘82 (UK#46), but from that point on Adam Ant, would be sans the Ants.


Madam Stan - Ant Liberation Front said...

Excellent post - have been enjoying your potted history of the Ants this last week.
I think a naughty spammer has been stealing your content though:
Keep up the good work!!

A. FlockOfSeagulls AKA Rhys Jones said...

Thanks A.L.F., appreciate your feedback, and the heads up on that nasty little site pilfering my words.
Glad my posts on Adam & the Ants have been well received by members of the Ant Nation.
Cheers :)