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Aug 08

10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

FT + Popular/118 comments • 15,062 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. 1
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Following close and intense study, I can confirm that 10cc are the only act in this list in the running for the titles of both the best and the worst number ones ever. The reason for their decline is unclear. By 1978, 10cc were only half the band they used to be; Godley and Crème had left in 1976 to pursue their own paths, commencing with the testing but not unenjoyable triple concept album Consequences – not quite the British Escalator Over The Hill (not even in the same cosmos, let alone the same postcode), though it does contain some intermittently inspired verbal improvising from a sloshed and stoned Peter Cook – before diverting into videos, Proper Hits and Trevor Horn. The remaining duo of Stewart and Gouldman specialised in artful but rather studium-filled AoR, and a crucial element to 10cc’s music had been lost. However, this was the same duo responsible for “I’m Not In Love,” and there had been a history of other suspect tracks like “Oh, Effendi” from 1974’s Sheet Music, so “Dreadlock Holiday” is less easily explicable.

    Let us attempt to bend over backwards to be completely fair to the song; it is highly possible that “Dreadlock Holiday” is a barbed commentary on the endemic ignorance of cultural tourism (note the possible double meaning of the album title Bloody Tourists) – the holidaymaker who’s come to Jamaica because he read about Marley in Harper’s and Queen’s, who immediately gets held up by four muggers for his silver chain and attempts to wriggle out of his predicament with cringe-inducing, well-meaning but dumb touristy quips (“I don’t like reggae – I LOVE it!”). He escapes back to his hotel swimming pool “sinking Pina Colada” and encounters a woman prepared to give him “something hotter,” prompting the ejaculatory exclamation “Don’t like Jamaica – I LOVE her!” – the idea presumably being that our accidental tourist can only abide the surface glamour and not the coldly rationalist reality (“Don’t you walk through my words, ‘cos you ain’t heard me out yet”), so the scenario isn’t that far from the Pistols’ “cheap holidays in other people’s misery.” Also, the marimbas and distant, Coke can popping open organ ripples are a remarkable precursor of what, through Alex Sadkin’s work with Grace Jones and others in the early ‘80s, would briefly become pop’s lingua franca.

    None of this hides the essential ghastliness of concept and execution of “Dreadlock Holiday,” which in attempting to be well-meaning and sardonic actually comes across as hugely patronising (“I saw four faces, one mad, a brother from the gutter”) and finally contemptible – the unlistenable cod-Jamaican accents and patois which Stewart and Gouldman adopt throughout the song. Bearing in mind that we are now less than a year away from discussing *** ******, “Dreadlock Holiday” could be presumed a premonition of other trends to come. But that Economy Size Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum-package carrying trio, even at their most absurd, at least made a game and serious attempt to grapple with and develop the elements which influence their music, while the 2-Tone movement, which would also explode into public view in the following year, would end up making things like “Dreadlock Holiday” – in the year of Steel Pulse, the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism – instantly antiquated and crass. Apart from a minor hit with an acoustic reworking of “I’m Not In Love” in the ‘90s, “Dreadlock Holiday” was to be 10cc’s last British hit single, and an unfortunate end to a generally remarkable chart career.

  2. 2
    SteveM on 8 Aug 2008 #

    It’s a shame as I really like the music – does the three note intro take it’s cue from anything specific? There’s always the Destiny’s Child mash-up I suppose.

  3. 3
    Pete on 8 Aug 2008 #

    At least it doesn’t make a Jamaica joke, which to be fair would have fit in with the rest of the sorry tale. Always liked the tune as a kid, but on obtaining a 10CC Best of (bundled with a Godley & Creme retro too) the failings of DH became overly clear. I think its quite a good example of how you can overstep a mark, both by trying to be too clever, and actually being not clever enough.

  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 8 Aug 2008 #

    This is why I’m glad I rarely pay attention to lyrical content! I am happy to remain blissfully ignorant and enjoy this jaunty tune Which Is About Cricket Er Yes. I’d like it equally (not more) if it was an instrumental.

  5. 5
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Isn’t she offering him “something harder”, to rhyme with “Pina Colada”? No matter. I zoned out on this when it was a hit, simply because it struck me as bloodless and smug, a cheap joke crassly executed, and a really, really poor approximation of reggae rhythms. It hasn’t aged well – apart from the aforementioned Destiny’s Child mash-up, which was quite good fun at the time (and which we can freely discuss at a much, much later date).

  6. 6
    Pete on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Cricket in 1978, we’d won the ashes in Australia and were having a nice summer against Pakistan (Botham took eight wickets and scored a century).

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Mm, this is the one instance where I do approach the song as a guilty pleasure; I love the pop craft of it, while finding the narrative regrettably racist (though Marcello makes a valiant effort to show how it could be a well-meaning song, this is certainly not the impression that it’s ever left me with)

    I’ve already learned two things from this thread that I didn’t know. I have always heard that line as “four faces, one matt”, which is admittedly worse! I’ve also always assumed that the woman who appears in the last verse made the narrator a sexual offer (a prostitute?), rather than marijuana, which seemed to be saying to me “these blacks may be muggers, but at least their birds are fit”. As twists in tales go, it seemed to add another layer of offensiveness.

    The afterlife of this song has been surprisingly prolonged. In the early years of 20-20 cricket, I lived a mile away from Edgbaston and used to hear “I don’t like cricket!! I love it!!” blaring unbidden through the skies every time that somebody hit a six throughout summer days. Then I ill-advisedly went to an eighties disco and saw a lot of undergraduates respond to this with delighted recognition a couple of years ago.

  8. 8
    jeff w on 8 Aug 2008 #

    stevem – that image must be the back cover of the sleeve, surely? You can tell by all the small print at the bottom.

    (I like it though)

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 8 Aug 2008 #

    You’ve got the date wrong, I note pedantically.

  10. 10
    lex on 8 Aug 2008 #

    that shimmering, unmistakable percussion intro that makes the song a sampler’s or mash-up act’s dream

    NOOOO I still have horrid memories of 2ManyDJs desecrating Destiny’s Child by “mashing” this “up” with ‘Independent Women Part 1’ :(

  11. 11
    Tim on 8 Aug 2008 #

    I always heard it as “four faces, one man” and assumed that the fellow in question was there with three women, which still makes a sort of sense, to me.

  12. 12
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Hmm…my tactic when preparing these responses is to:

    a) listen to the record and take down the lyrics in shorthand whenever audible/intelligible;

    b) check with Gary and Mary’s indispensable No 1 Lyrics site and use that as a base;

    c) listen to the record again to double check for lyrical mistakes.

    So it could well be “four faces, one man” and the “mad” was Freudian/wishful thinking on my part. The only other possible explanation is that all four of 10cc were being mugged which I find unlikely if there was only one mugger, especially with big man Kevin Godley to hand…

  13. 13
    rosie on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Not going to get embroiled in the politics of it. As a song I like it, at least a 6, possibly a 7 from me. It’s an enjoyable, summery song as far as I’m concerned, and well-executed with it. I’ll leave the exegesis to others and I’m refusing to be outraged by it.

    Sometimes the commentary feels a little like those politicians who conveniently decided that The Satanic Verses was unreadable (it isn’t.)

  14. 14
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    I read The Satanic Verses all the way through and thus came to the informed conclusion that it was tedious, puffed-up Hampsteadian slash fan fiction.

  15. 15
    rosie on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Ah, well, Marcello, we’ll talk about it some more when we get to the station ;)

  16. 16
    vinylscot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    I also hear it as “One mad”, and DJP, remember they didn’t have big Kevin Godley to look after them by now, as he had departed along with Lol Creme (wonder if he regrets that name now, lol)

    This was typical 10CC, tieing themselves up with their own cleverness. They claim the song was based on actual events, and it appears they had about four different ideas which they wanted to include, so rather than having more than one song, they tried to cram them all into this one track, with the result that, whatever you think of any underlying racism/sexism, the song is clumsy as a whole (a bit like this sentence). It’s been suggested earlier that it was all done with the best of intentions, but Stewart and (esp) Gouldman should have seen that it wasn’t working and put some more work into it. The cod-Jamaican accents in particular we could have done without.

    I do think there is an element here, also shown on the album “Bloody Tourists”, of Stewart and Gouldman trying to prove something to the other two and/or themselves. There are quite a few songs on the album which are just too clever for their own good – “Shock on the Tube”, and “Anonymous Alcoholic” being the two which spring to mind. 10CC always used humour in their lyrics, even in the later (four man 10CC) albums like “How Dare You” and “Deceptive Bends”, but here it was forced, and stilted – it was disppointing to have a 10CC album where the lyrics are not a strong point.

    Then to cap it all, they refused to release the most obvious single on the album, “From Rochdale to Ocho Rios”, but as it was a light-hearted calypso, maybe they felt they would be typecasting themselves.

    All in all, 10CC’s third best #1, and I would agree with Tom. probably a 4.

  17. 17
    SteveM on 8 Aug 2008 #

    So was there any real controversy or objection to this song at the time in the press, or among DJs voicing opinion on air?

    I am intrigued by the contrast between pleasant music (it may sound bloodless but from a tehnical pov it seems to tick all the basic boxes) and unpleasant sentiment/context here. I wonder if we will have other examples of this to come on Popular that seem quite so stark.

  18. 18
    Alan on 8 Aug 2008 #

    i always heard “four faces, one man” but it makes no real sense thinking it through – sorry Tim. that’s what I get for not thinking about the overall meaning.

    still weird that only the mad-faced leader of the 4 indeterminate ppl would look like a brother from the gutter. were the others more well to do? i guess he was only focussed on the confrontational chap, hence only saw the others as faces.

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 8 Aug 2008 #

    I wonder if you could defend ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ as being a work of magical realism?

    It would, at the very least, explain the hydra-headed mugger.

  20. 20
    SteveM on 8 Aug 2008 #

    or it was a man with four faces, like the cherubs of Ezekiel!

  21. 21
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    my raw memory of the chronology of these times is distressing unreliable, but surely by this point in 78, virgin frontline had hired j.rotten as its reggae ambassador and ferried him off, with viv goldman from sounds to document and promote, to jamaica itself to meet some of his heroes, and make (good) decisions who they should release LPs by? (there was a lovely sounds feature competely with pasty lydon disporting himself happily on the beach: this was NOT tourism, one-and-all concluded, bcz of his role making good reggae available to the world) (i’m not being remotely sarky either — lydon is someone i have a LOT of time for)

    chris salewicz — another well-informed commentator — had run a two-part piece in nme on the reggae greats

    so in the rock press a line was certainly being drawn between the cognoscenti who “got” dread; and useless lightweights who were faking it (not necessarily a reliable line — haha i know which side i would have placed myself on emotionally; i was rather patronising towards my college chum P when he became a big reggae fan 18 months later, even tho — with hindsight — he totally put the legwork in and bought and listened to a TON of records, whereas i as so often contented myself with having read about it all beforehand)

    in fact i think the 10cc split had very much already left the ones stuck with the name the moral losers — for a triple concept LP, consequences got an unusually concerted attempt at fair judgement from punk know-it-alls (=me) (and even peelie ircc); and i think the “other two” def didn’t get any kind of benefit of the doubt pointed their way… there were Important Battles to be Fought and they were useful as an Awful Moral Example in all kinds of ways

    (i have to say i look back on my year-zero self with a mix of pride — so spunky and determined to CHANGE THE WORLD! — and horror — so incredibly ignorant!)

  22. 22
    vinylscot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    SteveM, I’m pretty sure there was no controversy at the time. Most radio DJs back then just played nice tunes and didn’t really care for the music enough to consider the lyrics.

    Also, 10CC were rather a clean-cut bunch of chaps and it probably wouldn’t dawn on anyone to have a look at their lyrics.

    However, if Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson had recorded it…

  23. 23
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    i think vinylscot is correct that there was no fuss to speak of in the World of Grown-up Papers and Radio (let alone TV), which (quite apart from being apolitical in the terms we’re discussing) was fairly passive towards pop back then — i wasn’t in london yet so i can’t answer for the relics of the bohemian press (time out still in 68er agit-prop mode; the one i’ve never seen copies of, penman loved it — was it called “in the city”?), but i would be startled if they hadn’t copped attitude; and yes, the rock press were by now largely parti-pris and pro a strictly-roots take on reggae — melody maker a lot slower on the uptake as ever in those days

  24. 24
    Alan on 8 Aug 2008 #

    “didn’t really care for the music enough to consider the lyrics”

    i would dispute this generic connection/construction!

  25. 25
    vinylscot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Alan, I did say “most”. Certainly not all, but do you really think DLT, Noel Edmonds and the like spent much time actually listening to music?

  26. 26
    LondonLee on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Whatever their intentions it’s a perfect example of why middle class smarty pant white boys should stay away from trying to make clever jokes about race or even play with reggae (Paul Simon did a better job with ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, what’s 10cc’s excuse?), it just falls flat on its arse. I can forgive a song a lot if it has a good tune and is well made but this doesn’t quite overcome its problems, even at 15 when it came out I thought it was a bit dodgy.

    It’s a long fall from “I’m Mandy, Fly Me” to this.

  27. 27
    Alan on 8 Aug 2008 #

    sure, maybe they didn’t care AND they they didn’t consider the lyrics. but i’m disputing the connection from one to the other in general. both that you would only consider the lyrics if you cared for the music, or that you couldn’t both care and not consider the lyrics.

  28. 28
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    (i have to say i look back on my year-zero self with a mix of pride — so spunky and determined to CHANGE THE WORLD! — and horror — so incredibly ignorant!)

    I echo this sentiment! As a by-product of hanging out on this blog over the last few weeks (from “No Charge” onwards, basically), I’ve had to stare quite hard at my own Year Zero teenage self, and it has been a revealing process.

  29. 29
    Matthew H on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Another vote for “one mad” here. I like the tune, wince at the execution – like many above.

    10cc are playing the Mick Jagger Centre, five mins walk from my house, in October. Well, I SAY 10cc; the flyer makes pointed mention of Graham Gouldman and no one else. Anyway, I thought I might as well pop along, until I looked at the damage – 30 quid!

  30. 30
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Mark, you’re thinking of City Limits.

    Re. 1978 radio, Blackburn in particular spent most of his time ranting against the Callaghan Government, strikes etc. though the likes of Travis and Edmonds were still very much in Radio Tip Top/ignore the outside world/It’s All Fun denial mood.

    At the opposite end of the ’78 pop telescope – “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” by the Clash whose protagonist goes out in search of “real” roots culture, finds glamorous cabaret instead and ends up crouched in a corner realising he understands nothing; it’s one of the loneliest of all pop records.

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