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Adam Ant, Visage, Dead or Alive and the first singles I ever bought

Remember, remember the fifth of November, right?

“Why don’t you buy records by anyone else?”, Steve Day, my fellow Antfan and school chum three years my senior, asked me one day in the summer of 1982. That’s him bending over my bed around that time, actually. No sniggering at the back please.

Having initially regarded such a purchase disloyal to Adam and his merry insects and my paltry pocket money fund (I was on a solitary pound a week – oh, the luxury), I, slightly reluctantly, had a look at Woolworths’ singles counter in the Central Milton Keynes shopping centre and settled on Visage‘s Night Train, along with two others that slightly appal me even now that I can’t quite bring myself to list them*. Though I did redeem myself later that year when the Human League’s shiny Mirror Man became only the fourth single I’d bought that wasn’t Ant-related.

With my having turned 14 in June 1983, Steve’s younger brother Paul Day — precisely a year a month and a week my senior — started taking me to a Friday night adult club at Peartree Bridge called The Joint. Way ahead of its time and extremely alternative before we even knew what alternative was, it was basically The Blitz for the Home Counties.

The second time we made our way there, with one Phil Winsor in tow, Paul suddenly turned to us as we left the canal towpath and enquired, “Have you two told your parents you go to a gay club?” Immediately I had a cacophony of alarm bells in my head but I played it cool. “Oh yeah, no problem,” I lied.

Truth was, despite having been chatted up in the unisex toilets by a guy in full make up the week before (and the first out gay person I ever met, take a bow Andrew Murray) it hadn’t even occurred to me that there may be more of the same lurking inside the darkest recesses of this end of week glamour fest. Initially at least, we really did just go for the music and to dress up a bit, as long as it was regulation head to toe black topped off with hair spikes a plenty, natch.

OK, yes I’ve heard it already: Ian McCulloch called and he wants his hairdo back.

After downplaying that little bombshell, Paul then got on to the subject of bands. He really did have the coolest music taste. Through him I was introduced to the propulsive leftfield world of Ultravox, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen, Heaven 17, Soft Cell, the Associates and especially The Cure – Robert Smith becoming my visual role model after all. Suddenly Adam Ant’s perennial pop pantos seemed far too juvenile for teenagers discovering sex and sexuality. I needed to put away childish things, and fast.

“Do you like Dead Or Alive?”, was his next question.

“Er, I don’t know.”

“They’re cool. You’d like them. The singer, Pete Burns, looks a bit like Boy George, but they’re way cooler than that. More underground and punky. He wears these animal contact lenses that make the whole of his eyeballs black.”

Some say the band were courting a gay audience with this single. I really don’t think they were

I resolved to take a trip to our beloved Virgin Records emporium the following day and have a rummage through the racks. Paul came with me for guidance. Suddenly I had my very first 10″ in my hands. “If you buy that, it’s got their two previous singles on it as well’ said he. It was a deal. £1.99 for What I Want, Misty Circles and two versions of the A-Side, I’d Do Anything. I’d discovered my new pop idol.

Mind you, the single was yet another flop for DOA. They had to resort to an off-kilter cover of That’s The Way I Like It in the spring of ’84 to gain their first (minor) hit. Oh, and more than a memorable debut on BBC’s Top Of The Pops:

A few months later and Monday Nov 5th 1984 saw both Visage and releasing singles on the same day – Steve Strange’s collective with Beat Boy, and Burns and co. with a brand new song entitled You Spin Me Round (Like A Record). Naturally, I took to Virgin after school to obtain them both on the day of release. The DOA came in a beautiful double pack sleeve with fan fave Misty Circles wheeled out yet again. Two different 12″ singles were to follow. Blimey, CBS are really keen to make this one a hit, I thought.

In 1984 neither act had the luxury of even the slightest whiff of airplay, so when I got home to play the singles I was hearing both songs for the first time. Lesley Ainscough rang me up from her favourite haunt, the Coffee Hall phone box, and asked me what I thought.

“Beat Boy is fantastic”, I exclaimed. “But You Spin Me Round is awful. It’s a clattering mess. What have they done?”

What they’d done is roped in the then almost entirely unknown production team of Stock Aitken and Waterman to helm the track. Though at least I recognised the names from the brilliant Divine single You Think You’re A Man earlier that summer. I bought the 12″ too, and both songs are similar in both sound, structure and melody, so I still to this day have no idea why I took against You Spin Me Round, at least on those first impressions.

Anyway, what did I know? The single took an eternity to get noticed, and thanks to the simple but striking video’s heavy rotation on Sky Trax, the MTV style music show on Sky Channel cable TV (the fledgling forerunner of SkyBSB), I grew to love the song. And, shock, horror, eventually the public did as well.

In early 1985, the single had been hovering just outside the top 40 when the unthinkable happened, and on 5 February, Spin Me inched up to No.40. I couldn’t contain myself. “It could be on Top Of The Pops on Thursday, in the Breakers section!”, I exclaimed to my sister Stella and anyone else within a five mile radius. “If that happens it could be a big hit!”

My crystal balls served me well, as a clip of the video was indeed played, and it had the desired and expected effect. The next week the song was the highest climber, up at 19, giving DOA their biggest hit. But there was no stopping it. It rose to five then two, and on Tuesday 5 March, 1985, a full four months after release, You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) sat at pole position, and topped the charts for two weeks. It was the longest ever chart climb to the singles summit.

It’s still a great record, and yes, I was lucky enough to interview Pete Burns as well (three years after my first go at interviewing the Ant man himself), for Gay Times magazine back in 2003, a good couple of years before Spin was reissued and made the Top Five again on the back of PB’s memorable stint on Celebrity Big Brother.

Morrissey later applauded this particular performance of Spin Me as ‘demonic’

Visage‘s Beat Boy didn’t even make the Top 75.

Phew, I’m glad to get that offloaded. I think I can go to bed now.

Steve Pafford

Cover image: Adam and the two Steves, 1982. Photo by David Pafford

In 2018 and 2019 I penned the essay liner notes for expanded CD remasters of the first three Visage albums here, here and here.

*OK, OK; the other two singles just might have been Natasha England’s contemporary cover of Iko Iko and David Essex’s Me And My Girl (Nightclubbing). Please don’t tell anyone

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