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Aug 08

10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

FT + Popular/ • 7,233 views

#426, 23rd September 1978

On one level the ‘plot’ of “Dreadlock Holiday” is hugely important to any judgement of it. On another, not at all, but let’s recap anyway. The narrator is a tourist in Jamaica – he gets mugged for his silver chain and returns to the comfort of his hotel where a woman tries to sell him weed.

Nobody comes out of the story well: the song’s parent album was called Bloody Tourists, and the narrator is a simp, trying and failing to fit in (“concentrating on truckin’ right”) and then fleeing to the hotel at the first sign of trouble. But the island isn’t exactly a welcoming place either, and the message seems to be that if you’re a white tourist, any approach is misguided and nowhere is entirely safe from the scary dark other looking to hustle you at every turn.

This, to my mind, makes for a rather mean-spirited song, a lose-lose game whose main purpose is to make 10cc seem clever and cynically realistic. I haven’t ever been a great fan of 10cc, precisely because I feel there’s this callous smirk behind a lot of their music, and “Dreadlock Holiday” crystallises the feeling for me. That makes me dislike it more than whatever racial or cultural politics might or might not lurk underneath the song: I am sure an extensive comments thread will tease them out!

On the other hand, “Dreadlock Holiday” is often superlative popcraft: that shimmering, unmistakable percussion intro that makes the song a sampler’s or mash-up act’s dream, and the massive chorus – seized on out of context by Sky Sports for an effect darkly comic enough that I’m sure the band enjoy it greatly. Even here, though, the cynicism runs deep. The song, light reggae which slides skilfully from awkward bounce to clammy paranoia, is an inversion of the lyrics’ theme: if you want to be a tourist, it says, stick to the studio and you can happily steal stuff from them. “Dreadlock Holiday” is in some ways the unpleasant opposite of 1978′s other reggae-related #1, “Uptown Top Ranking” – a wiser, crueller denial of its open celebration. Impressive work in its way, but it leaves a nasty taste.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    inakamono on 15 Sep 2009 #

    As someone who’s only recently discovered Popular, and getting to this a long time after the discussion ended…

    but my take on this song has always been fixed in my mind by a moment in a pub in Oxford late that year, when this was followed on the jukebox by probably the best of the pre-No.1 singles by a band that will be commented on Popular a couple of years down the timeline, when the public gets what the public wants.

    While the ‘boring old farts’ were wimping off about a stolen necklace and running home to the safety of a hotel swimming pool and a prostitute — in real life it smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs, with his life swimming around him and drowning.

    A cheap holiday — do it today…

    It’s a moment that stands out really clearly in my mind: how utterly distant the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ had become. And the difference in their reactions — the one running away and seeking pleasure, the other consumed by anger and an urgent, infectious refusal to accept.

    It’s a moment that stands in my memory close to the first time I heard “Anarchy” a few months after it came out, something I can only describe as a Taoist moment of understanding. It wasn’t about different types of music; it was about a different way of living.

  2. 102
    richard thompson on 13 Aug 2011 #

    I always thought it was something hotter not something harder

  3. 103
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2011 #

    It only occurred to me recently, the girl in the last verse is not a prostitute but a ganja dealer. “My harvest is the best” and all that, c’mon!

  4. 104
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    I always imagined that this song was racist (though it’s one of the number 1s from the time when I was listening to pop music that I don’t actually remember hearing at the time), but I had never seen it ‘outed’ as such by anyone until now. Whether it is or not I never much cared for it anyway and, indeed, I never really ‘got’ 10cc at all (mostly before my time and I had no urge to retroactively discover them) though I did like a couple of Godley and Creme’s hits from a few years later. I can see all the clever-clever things they did with their music but it doesn’t really have much to say to me, and obviously if the majority here are correct, it isn’t something I would want to hear from this record anyway. Still, it’s about average to me so I’ll give it 5.

  5. 105
    Ed on 30 Oct 2012 #

    @90 That Jimmy Savile and his notoriously high moral standards.

  6. 106
    punctum on 30 Oct 2012 #

    Judge Dread was apparently at it as well. Talk about projection!

  7. 107
    Erithian on 30 Oct 2012 #

    Yes, I mentioned the other day elsewhere on here about Judge Dread’s quote in a Record Mirror interview circa ’75 that there were “a few 14-year-olds I wouldn’t mind giving one to”. The kind of thing you could say back then, presumably. I wondered in a chat with the Swede whether Paul Gambaccini maybe thought at the time that his own sexual preferences were more of a career threat than Savile’s, being the Radio 1 new boy and all that, otherwise he might have taken it further. So many ifs…

  8. 108
    Mark G on 30 Oct 2012 #

    I heard “Up with the Cock” the other day, at the end of some US whorehouse ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary. Unlikely, I thought. It sounded like Jasper Carrott, which Bigs Six and Seven didn’t…

  9. 109
    Auntie Beryl on 24 Mar 2013 #

    Just revisited this upon the YouTube. “I heard a dark voice beside me” is an awful lyric, one repeated, and I’m quite surprised it isn’t referenced in the above discussion.

    Either way, this stinks.

  10. 110
    weej on 2 Nov 2013 #

    Erithian @ #107 – I was going to make a joke here, but it would probably be unwise. I’ll give it another few years.

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