For the third year of the UK’s National Album Day, I’m, quite naturally, going to choose the third LP I ever owned, which is handy seeing as they’ve shoehorned an eighties theme on to it for 2020. I bought the the third and final Adam and the Ants album from the Central Milton Keynes branch of Virgin Records in November 1981, though the story starts with the title track’s single release two months previously.
Has there ever been a more bizarre, surreal opening to a song than Prince Charming? I remember Tony Blackburn premiering the song one Saturday morning and then as soon as it was over, he played the intro again, guffawing loudly over the top of it. Mum said “It sounds like he’s throwing up!” Certainly my pin-up seemed determined to outdo himself in the wacky tacky stakes.
Musically, PC was a source of controversy after Rolf Harris asserted that the composition had ripped off his 1965 song War Canoe.
The Australian has since claimed that he received a sizeable out-of-court settlement and royalties thanks to a musicologist asserting that the numbers are musically identical. However, the song’s producer Chris Hughes remembers the response when Harris first called the Ant to complain:
“Adam had found an old Maori recording of a War Canoe-type song, so he told Rolf, ‘Well, mate, fair enough about Prince Charming sounding like War Canoe, but let’s have a little look at where you got that from.’ As I understand it, there was a bit of a giggle on the phone and nothing else was said. That was the nature of it. I don’t think it was about maliciously ripping people off.”
The other intriguing thing was hidden away on the small print of the single, though naturally, it wasn’t about to escape my forensic examination: ‘Introducing the New Dance Craze “THE PRINCE CHARMING”’. I wasn’t old enough to understand irony but I do remember thinking, “How can it be a dance craze if it’s new? But this was Adam Ant at the supremely confident peak of his powers. If he reckons it’s going to be a dance craze then it probably will be.
Talk about self-possessed.
Prince Charming, with the benefit of hindsight, is where the panto dame well and truly took over. It’s Adam’s marmite song, but even though it was evident the last remaining edges had been well and truly ironed out of the Ants’ oeuvre I’ve always admired how sheer bloody audacious, and how immaculately produced a track it is, with some beautiful seductive harmonies underneath that spine-chilling executioner’s march and silly but sensuous pop veneer.
And of course, it does contain one of the great one-liners in pop, the very telling “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.” It pretty much sums up Adam Ant’s entire career. Did I like the former Stuart Goddard’s new image that was unveiled in his latest costume drama? Not especially. I would have liked a little more evolutions of the white stripe look first, before such a drastic change. But more importantly, it just didn’t look enough like Adam Ant to me.
The single didn’t quite repeat the runaway success of its predecessor Stand & Deliver (1981’s second biggest single and 14th top seller of the decade, fact fans) but it wasn’t far off.
Prince Charming entered at No.2, behind what would be the year’s biggest shifter, Soft Cell’s unfailing Tainted Love. It went on to unseat the million-selling electro cover of the Northern Soul classic the following week, remaining on pole position for four weeks.
Could Adam have peaked already?
I was flicking through Smash Hits magazine a few weeks later when I chanced upon CBS’s full page advert for the forthcoming Prince Charming album.
I couldn’t quite believe the image they’d used, and hoped the album cover would be something different. OK, better. Much better. The picture was hideous, camp, artificial. Adam no longer looked like a pop star who wore make up and fancy clothes, it now looked like the cosmetics and the outfits were wearing him…but, yes, it was the cover.
The record within that artless sleeve gets a bad rap, but in Prince Charming there is actually half a decent album there.
The vivacious opening twosome, Scorpios and Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios (Picasso Visits The Planet Of The Apes) are insanely catchy, boasting bonkers instrumentation, mariachi horns ’n all. They’re the great Ants singles that never were. When I first played the album I was convinced one of them had to be the third single. Instead, they went with Ant Rap? Yes, the pretty, white English guy literally raps on what became the band’s swansong. Like, really?
Rap was a new force in pop music in 1981, and I’m sure Blondie hitting the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the US at the beginning of the year pricked up his ears. Technically, Rapture was the first rap or hip-hop song to top the charts anywhere in the world.
Looking back, Rapture is a great song despite the rap, because, let’s be honest, what Debbie Harry is rapping is complete and utter gibberish. Still, once Rapture hit, other white rap takes on the emerging genre started featuring in the charts – howdy Wikka Wrap and Wordy Rappinghood – and were, by and large, bandwagoning novelty singles.
Ant Rap was no different, layering Bronx beats, a histrionic vocal and, well, not much more really. If the chorus was silly then at least there’s some interesting lyrics in the verses, which see Adam delivering his own style of staccato self-affirmation — declaring that his mighty songwriting transcends the mockery of punks, anarchists and haters.
Ultimately, the anthem is meant to be a battle cry, as the Ants chant about their collective power, matched with a remarkably OTT video shot at Hever Castle, once home to King Henry VIII.
A bit of a movie mash-up on steroids, Adam gurns and gyrates in a suit of armour as he rescues a medieval damsel in distress, played by Lulu. Ironically, Ant Rap stalled at No.3 in the Christmas and New Year chart of 1981/1982 and the band split up months later.
Despite containing two No.1 singles, the Prince Charming album never rose above its No.2 entry position. Ironic considering how rap with a silent ‘c’ many consider the LP to be, but then when the record that stopped it in its 11 tracks went on to become the biggest selling LP of all time (Queen‘s Greatest Hits) it could hardly be deemed a failure.
In retrospect it’s easy to see why detractors saw the Adam Ant of 1981 as a sell out. A year earlier, Antmusic heralded the start of every Ant single being poppier and more commercial than the last.
Our Stu clearly had a knack for earworm refrains, and the interesting thing about that 12-month run of singles from Antmusic in December 1980 to Ant Rap in December 1981 is how each of them are remembered for a bunch of incredibly memorable lyrical slogans, among them “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” and “Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours truly.”
The mysterious disbanding of the Ants in the spring of 1982 still puzzles some of his insect warriors today, but what is certain is that “Yours truly” did so reluctantly.
“I had to. Three of them were on drugs!” he told me during an interview at his London home in 2011.
“But you used Chris Hughes on the Goody Two Shoes single,” I reminded him, helpfully.
“Maybe it wasn’t three then.”
But that’s a solo story for another day.
An earlier version of this article was published here