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Thow it on the fire: It’s 40 years since Adam Ant did Strip

For the sixth year of the UK’s National Album Day, the pop powers that be decided that 2023 would be assigned with “the theme ‘The 90s’… to acknowledge the impact the music – and especially albums – have on our lives.”

So let’s scrub that idea and, belatedly, continue the order that says something to me about my life, because the first week of November marks 40 years since I purchased my sixth LP, and the second solo set by one Stuart Leslie Goddard of London Town — in other words, four days after he turned 29 Adam Ant did Strip. 

“The first time we did Top Of The Pops, we were a foretaste of things to come,” Adam Ant declared proudly in 1981. “We did it before Spandau Ballet or any of the ‘look’ bands.”

Indeed, by the end of 1982 the tabloid-fuelled pop revival that Adam had instigated was in full swing. Shiny and “new” teen idols – Culture Club, Duran Duran, Haircut 100, the Human League, and Wham! – were mincing onto the scene and exploiting the aspirational market he had prised open — and having temporarily turned his back on Britain to concentrate on winning audiences abroad, the insect warrior had an uphill battle on his hands if he were to regain his pop crown. 

That he had spearheaded a renaissance in colourful, escapist pop when the charts were clogged with the likes of retro-crud like Shakin’ Stevens and the Stray Cats was testament to Adam’s energy and unshakeable self-belief, arriving at the perfect time to enliven a stagnating rock scene; that he managed to survive in the face of all the opposition that followed attested to his and sideman Marco Pirroni’s inspired collagist sounds and images.

But then, in the autumn of 1983, he came bouncing back with a glossy new album, Strip, and single, Puss ’n Boots. Puss ‘n whaaat? If the ‘serious‘ monochrome music press already found it impossible to deal with our man as a sex-obsessed, “style-over-substance” sell-out, adding the double climax of camp comedy to the mix must have been even more unforgivable.

Times were a-changing though, because I remember when my Ant-twin bestie Steve Day told me he’d heard Radio 1 had revealed the title of Adam’s “comeback” single was called Puss ’n Boots my teenage heart sank a bit.

“Another pantomime reference? Oh, right…” Despite the dire Dick Whittington subplot, I have to admit I quite enjoyed the single and album on its initial release, but then as it was only the sixth long-player I’d ever bought there wasn’t exactly tons to compare it to.

Though markedly more lightweight than the double-drum Burundi beats of the Ants, on Puss ’n Boots the accent was firmly back on a dominant if less thunderous drum sound, courtesy of its producer and guest musician Phil Collins. The B-side was even titled Kiss The Drummer, which is all the more ironic seeing as the Genesis frontman must be one of the least kissable people in pop, even in 1983.

Skipping up “the city” after school on the Monday of release, I bought the feline 45 from WHSmith* in Central Milton Keynes — as the stationery chain were selling it slightly cheaper than our usual and much cooler music emporium Virgin Records. As I sat outside the shop surveying the sleeve, Angela, the newish girlfriend of Steve Day, breezed past and wanted to know “what have you got there?” When I showed her my shiny and new seven-incher, she remarked, “Oh, he looks quite good looking there!” 

Nail. Head. Because if 1982’s Friend Or Foe was preoccupied with the subject of being Adam Ant then the subsequent Strip was largely concerned with sex, with the overall theme and imagery confirming the singer’s obsession with ‘pure sex’ and ‘sex music for Ant people’.

“Sex is the last great adventure left to mankind,” red-blooded Adam once remarked, brimming with more testosterone than a football match. Though that wasn’t enough for some kid at school to call Adam a “poof”, based upon an advert the cover image, because not only was he pouting like Jane Russell on the sleeve — a recreation of her infamous straw-chewing movie poster for The Outlaw — but there was more than a hint of a before/after blow-job scenario on the rear, featuring his then plaything Karen Landau from the Puss video.

Oh, and in ’83 Adam the sexual athlete also had dalliances with Prince Andrew’s ex fiancee Koo Stark (who Puss ’n Boots is allegedly written about), and, most publicly American actress Jamie Lee Curtis, and, well you get the picture. In, out, shake it all about…

Proudly showing more front than Barbara Windsor in Carry On Camping, the vinyl LP even came with a free fold-out poster portraying the former punk Cinders, with his mile-high cheekbones and drowning in lip gloss, as some kind of boiled-suited male stripper in various states of undress, the latter two images showing slightly more flesh than just the Navel To Neck of the song of the same name.

Not really grasping that my favourite pop star was morphing before my every eyes into a porn star for pubescent girls, I blu-tacked the kinky quadriptych to my bedroom wall. Not quite fully realising what my developing sexual preferences might turn out to be, I remember feeling slightly puzzled when I clocked my mother looking at it slightly concerned, yet being (partially) English, saying nothing. 

The lyrics and overall sound were certainly lighter than previous offerings, and notable for the two Phil Collins helmed 45s (Puss ’n Strip) featuring production assistance by MOR knob-twiddler Hugh Padgham (previous job: The Police’s Synchronicity; next job: David Bowie’s Tonight), while the rest of the record was produced by Landscape’s Richard James Burgess — of Einstein A Go-Go fame — and mixed by ABBA veteran Michael B. Tretow. 

“Stockholm’s dead – dead. There’s not even any television after eight o’clock at night and all the porn places have been shut down for tax evasion. The only thing I did in six weeks was go to an Ann-Margret concert.” — Adam Ant, 1983

Recorded at ABBA’s own Polar Studios in Stockholm, the sonic connection to the Swedish Fab Four is the driving force here, with a much less rock / new wave sound replaced by tinny, synthesiser based pop-leaning framework with only the faintest glimpses of Marco Pirroni’s distinctive guitar work.

Not only that, but, although uncredited for managerial reasons at the time, Frida Lyngstad* provided, in her best aristo accent, the spoken word section for the fun but corny title track.

Although Strip’s synthy stylistic shift is very much of its time, if you can ignore the album’s mixture of party campery and anaemic erotica, you might be surprised by how well constructed and rhythmic intriguing a few of its tracks are. Montreal is insanely hooky, while Navel To Neck and Spanish Games hearken back to the fun theme-filled days of yore, even sporting some of the old Ants drum stylings.

If you can struggle to get through the pseudo-disco, Vanity sounds like that year’s Let’s Dance-era Bowie. And in vase you’re wondering, the Vanity in question is unmistakably yet another of Ant’s conquests of ’83 – Prince protégé and leader of Vanity 6, Denise ‘Nasty Girl’ Matthews.

Ian Birch wrote in Smash Hits that Adam Ant‘s (or Alan Ant, as Neil Tennant and Tom Hibbert deigned to mis-moniker him) new songs feature a “new and much fresher style”, specifically noting “more thoughtful writing, more adventurous arrangements” and “sharper singing while the “obsession with sex gets a bit ridiculous but if you keep a sense of humour, it soon fades into the background.” Yet the whole shebang leaves one wondering just what happened in less than three years to take us from the towering tribal aggression of Kings , which had such bite through gleaming teeth, to this often impotent offering?

The lack of bite was felted in the chart position too. Despite Puss ’n Boots and its undeniably infectious chorus hiking its way to fifth position — Adam’s last top ten single, in fact — Strip sold poorly, and, after three straight Top Five hits in 1980, 1981, and 1982, it swiftly became Adam’s least successful album thus far, entering at No. 20 and falling out of the Top 30 the following week. The immovable chart-topping LP at the time? Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers. Never has the changing to the guard felt so pertinent. 

And that applied to my life just as it did to Adam’s.

Although he remained a flamboyant and charismatic enough performer, by the time Strip’s title track was released as a single in December ’83, suddenly Adam Ant’s perennial pop pantos seemed far too juvenile for 14 year-olds discovering sex and sexuality. I needed to put away childish things, and fast.

Case in point: the Puss ’N Boots single was also released on 12” — Ant’s first extended remix — yet Milton Keynes seemed saddled with a faulty batch that kept skipping, despite a lump of blue tack being plonked on the stylus. Believe me, I know. I exchanged the record about half a dozen times, to no avail. Needless to say, it hardly helped, when I was discovering edgier, more threatening music like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and Dead Or Alive’s Misty Circles. 

I think what really clinched it for me was that Adam wasn’t touring Britain at all, and seemed to be devoting all his energies on building a following in the US, which suddenly made him appear remote and distant. 

But, also in terms of a musical package Brit kids could buy into, the Ant 45s weren’t even boasting a vintage punk throwback on the B-side like they used to. Where the faithful had incendiary slices of rock mania like Red Scab or Beat My Guest to look forward to, now we were saddled with lame falsetto-plagued nonentities like Kiss The Drummer and Yours Yours Yours. More like mine mine mine, for for much longer .

I’d started hanging out with a new “weird” crowd too, and walking through my old housing estate in Bletchley, I ran my change of heart past my black-clad spiky-haired friends. Suddenly he looked a bit silly, with a rapidly receding hairline and even (gasp) a lot smaller and less muscular in the Strip video than the person on the four-part poster.

“I don’t think I’m going to buy any more Adam Ant records. I’m into other things now.”

“Oh, well, he’s a good dancer,” replied tall Ian Hall, probably referring to Adam’s recent exuberant, sweat-soaked performance on Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show. I repeated the same thing to the counter staff at Virgin Records, and one of them, who would often, put promotional items and trade adverts, was aghast:

“But you’ve collected everything to do with him. Even if you don’t like the music any more, still buy it, so you can maintain a complete collection. It might be worth something in the future.”

Alas, my mind was already made up, and (christ, are you ready for this?) I set fire to all my memorabilia in the summer of 1985, making a Nic big bonfire of the vanities on the wasteland next to out house, before they built a mini parade of shops and offices. Then, in 1986, I did the unthinkable and threw all the records into the river. Environmentally unfriendly, what? I still shudder at why I did that, but Adam’s stock was so low that I figured no one would even remember him. 

Seemingly confirming my thought process, when that year’s Hits collection was released — basically all the CBS singles from the Kings Of The Wild Frontier to Vive Le Rock albums — it didn’t even register in the UK Top 200 album charts. How the mighty had fallen. After a curtailed and much derided performance at Live Aid, Adam hovered out of view in some kind of celebrity limbo, while new generations of teen pin-up jostled for limelight.

And so both Strip in its album and single forms did indeed turn out to be the last Ant vinyls I ever bought, even though I retained a residual affection for the man who got me into music, even if it wasn’t always done in the best possible taste.

Indeed, I’ve never stopped finding Adam Ant to be highly entertaining, and even got a thrill out of interviewing him twice, in 2000 and 2011, and you have to admit, he’s definitely one of a kind.

Steve Pafford

*Frida’s current partner is Henry Smith, 5th Viscount Hambleden, and heir to the WHSmith empire

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