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National Album Day No. 5: Adam Ant’s Friend Or Foe

For the fifth year of the UK’s National Album Day, the powers that be decided that 2022 “will take as its theme Debut Albums, following themes set in previous years including Women in Music and the ’80s.”

That’s pretty convenient, because 40 years years ago to the very week I purchased the first solo debut album by one Stuart Leslie Goddard of London. 

Welcome to Friend Or Foe by Adam Ant then.

Released on 11 October 1982, the Friend Or Foe album was Adam Ant’s first LP release as a solo artist, following the chart-topping hit Goody Two Shoes and the top ten title track. 

Although the Ants had disbanded, the other key player in the band stayed loyal to the insect warrior, however trying that could sometimes be. Bursting with energy and variety, Adam and right-hand man Marco Pirroni try a little of everything on this album — plastic soul, weightless pop, twangy, moody instrumentals, — with convincingly joyful if occasionally cheesy results. There’s a healthy dollop of rockabilly rhythms too, and in retrospect it’s easy to see the delightfully dashing Made Of Money as a mid-nineties Morrissey pastiche a decade too soon.

Guitar foil Pirroni was very much Adam’s Mick Ronson with writing credits. Indeed, since the teaming of the ways in 1980, the axeman had co-authored virtually all of Ant output (minus the B-sides, which largely dated back to the dandy highwayman’s punk past). That man called Marco would play on and co-produce the album, and co-write all of the original songs, i.e. everything except the one which marked Adam Ant’s first official cover version. 

The first time I heard a Doors song it wasn’t being sung by Jim Morrison. On that second Monday in October 1982, I came home clutching Friend or Foe, and listening while scanning the credits I found, unusually for such a prolific songwriter, my favourite pop idol had included someone else’s tune for the first time. ‘All songs written by Ant/Marco except track 6* The Doors.’

The song was called Hello, I Love You. 

My mother heard the track billowing out of my bedroom and exclaimed, just as she’d done just a few weeks before when she’d heard Midge Ure’s reimagining of the Walker Brothers’ No Regrets…

“That’s an old song! That was by a band called The Doors in the ‘60s. They were American, and the singer was Jim Morrison. He was very good looking, and he always wore leather trousers. He got in trouble for exposing himself on stage. Then he died in the bath, in Paris.”

Mini pop history lesson over, but hey, at least mum shared a birthday with Morrison. Adam meanwhile, shared the fallen frontman’s fondness for leather trousers — in my eyes, the only two pop stars that have ever pulled off wearing them properly — and a confident swagger.

It’s that boyish bravado that’s all over Friend Or Foe.

This may be cheese, but it’s classy cheese.

With its music hall melody and some cheeky whistling, Adam clearly put his all into Something Girls. In fact, there’s a bit of whistling on there album as a whole, and the record makes interesting use of percussion too, bringing breezy new beats and rhythms to the songs. Bogdan ‘Count’ Wiczling’s drums are bright and prominent in the mix and have a lively depth to their sound that make you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of his kit on occasion. 

The brass section that was introduced on Prince Charming’s Scorpios also makes a blaring jive-ready return. As FreakyTrigger pointed out, this was a modish choice but also a thorny one. In the early eighties horns had invaded pop to a degree rarely seen before and surely never since: they are one of the defining musical sounds of the era. So using them risked cliché.

Initially the horn revival had been led by the likes of Dexys Midnight Runners and Two-Tone bands like The Specials and Madness, who used their legacy in soul and ska to add muscle and authenticity to their sound. 

Although Come On Eileen had yet to be released, Dexys were clearly in Adam’s mind when he put the spirited, sardonic three minutes of self-defence that is Goody Two Shoes together – the “pretending that you’re Al Green” line is generally interpreted as a dig at Kevin Rowland, and indeed it’s hard to work out whether the whole song is defending asceticism or a swipe at it.

Of course, the song is the best known hit from the album, and the only chart-topper of Adam’s solo career, reaching No. 1 in the UK and Australia, No. 2 in Ireland and his biggest hit in the States, climbing to No.12 on the American Billboard Chart.

The Friend Or Foe album followed at 16th place there, and No. 5 in Britain – a decent showing but nothing compared to the sales the Ants had enjoyed, though Mr Showbiz probably took some comfort in his Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and an MTV Award for Sexiest Man Alive.

With Desperate But Not Serious, an argument could have been made that Adam Ant could/should have been the next David Bowie — there’s an unique artistry at play here which is both a product of its time and also chameleonic and ahead of its time.

Sadly, as third single from the album, Serious’s No. 33 chart placing signalled the death knell for Adam’s premier pop status, and when he returned in 1983 it was with the hard work knee-jerk of Puss ’N Boots and Strip, a couple of pop pantos too far. His career never really covered.

There were, after all, always other styles and stars to follow. 1982 was the year ABBA, Blondie and The Jam followed the Ants in enforced implosion, while Duran Duran and Culture Club were, in the words of Roxy Music, another act about to fizzle out, just tryin’ to make the big time.

Few of them had the weirdly messianic intensity and gumption of Adam in the prime of his stardom, though. The era of the pop ideologue and idealist was gradually slipping to its end.

Steve Pafford

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