8
Aug 08

10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

FT + Popular/118 comments • 16,207 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. 31
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    no i’m not actually marcello — CL didn’t exist yet, and there was a london-only rock-and-listings paper which has got lost in history’s shuffle (the only “name” writer i can half-think of who had cachet was called iestyn something; i’ve never read a word by him, but penman and savage BOTH rate him/her) (even if not each other!)

    (if i wasn’t at work i could look it up)

  2. 32
    rosie on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Marcello @ 30: Time Out was still Time Out in 1978. City Limits splintered off in about 1983-84.

  3. 33
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Iestyn George maybe?

  4. 34
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 8 Aug 2008 #

    1981 according to wiki (sad little stub of a wiki article)

    street life it was called, and idris walters is who i’m thinking of, not iestyn george

  5. 35
    mike on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Presumably this was a different Street Life from the excellent and sadly shortlived national music paper bearing the same name, which ran a superb extended feature on dub reggae in, ooh, I’m guessing early 1976?

  6. 36
    LondonLee on 8 Aug 2008 #

    ‘What’s On In London’ maybe? I just about remember that one.

    Edit: never mind.

  7. 37
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 8 Aug 2008 #

    haha ok i think it turns out i may mean “london-only” in the specialist technical sense of “impossible to find in shrewsbury”, mike — i imagine that IS the one i mean, but i never saw a copy and only know it by repute (did it close bcz it didn’t achieve the countrywide distribution it needed?)

  8. 38
    pink champale on 8 Aug 2008 #

    this is is the first song i have clear memories of actually being at number one, watching as a five year old the video on that bit of swap shop where they counted down the pop charts at the same time as the swapping vimto for spangles board. i liked it a lot at the time, probably because it all felt very exotic and adult and also perhaps because the narrative of being out of your depth in a world you don’t quite understand and can’t do anything about is quite a familiar one at the age when you’re just starting school. i’m sure, being a child of the seventies, i also thought the comical jamaican were a big plus point. and if push came to shove, i’d still have to say it was my favourite rascist reggae song.
    one thought, was “safe european home” in some way an answer record to this (or even the otehr way round) and is it not in any case just as reductive?

  9. 39
    Michael Lee on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Say what you like about dodgy lyrics or musical quality, they guaranteed themselves a play at every single Australian BBQ for the next 20 years, quite the feat in itself…

  10. 40
    o sobek! on 9 Aug 2008 #

    vile song on every level

  11. 41
    Tommy Mack on 9 Aug 2008 #

    Is it really racist? It’s just a song about a gormless prick who goes on holiday and gets himself mugged wandering around the backstreets, isn’t it?

    Maybe it was John Lydon who mugged 10cc – the mad face, a brother from the gutter etc. he was in Jamaica at the time, after all…

  12. 42
    Chris Brown on 9 Aug 2008 #

    Chalk me up as another vote for the four-faced man interpretation.

    I first heard this as the opening track on my Dad’s 10cc best-of CD and for a while I loved it. But now I can’t even stomach the “good” 10cc records, let alone this one. Even ignoring the vocals entirely, the music sounds very slack and off-the-shelf, like some sort of library music for commercials. Although that percussion in the middle is good, but not enough to save the song.

  13. 43
    wichita lineman on 9 Aug 2008 #

    Their previous single was the creamy ballad People In Love, a blue-eyed soul/Macca confection which featured a spectacular bagpipe-guitar line that sounded HUGE on AM radio in ’77. It got plenty of airplay (anyone else remember it?) and sounded like a shoe-in for the Top 5 (well, if Good Morning Judge could make it…).

    So maybe the abject failure of one of their loveliest songs led Stewart and Gouldman to roll up their sleeves and go “RIGHT….”

    Dreadlock Holiday has always made me cringe. I always thought the final verse was about a prostitute. Bloody sex tourists.

  14. 44
    Caledonianne on 9 Aug 2008 #

    I’m with Rosie in refusing to be outraged by it.

    Didn’t get outraged by the – much more prominent – cod-French accents on One Night in Paris from The Original Soundtrack, so in the interests of consistency I can follow the narrative here with impunity.

    Real reason I liked this was the way “I don’t like cricket” (zzzzzzzzzz) resonated with me; I clearly managed to screen out the “I love it” addendum. In fact, I was always singing, “I hate it” in my head.

    It definitely came to mind when I was mugged by a man and two women combo in Rio 25 years later!

    And I don’t like reggae.

  15. 45
    Waldo on 10 Aug 2008 #

    I’m grateful to Marcello for his reasoned opinion on this. I personally was ready for a long-anticipated handbag-swatting session with him over this one. Instead I find myself nodding my head at parts of what he says. What must be added, though, is that anyone who would fain unfettered outrage at the tale this song is telling ought to get out more. I wonder how the same people might react to somebody like Aswad doing a pastiche about one of them wandering around Glyndebourne, getting robbed of his bling by” four faces” called Rupert, Giles, Mason and Marmaduke, nervously professing to his attackers a love for croquet and Mozart before “hurrying back to the tennis court” to sink glasses of Pimms with a girl called Annabelle, who offers to open her legs as a bonus. I’m pretty confident that there would not be a problem with this amongst the same critics. Quite the contrary, in fact.

    And let me assure you, there certainly was not a problem with “Dreadlock Holiday” back in the day. Alas, Political Correctness has a mighty backward reach. Unless I am mistaken, it was voted “Best Single” at the embryonic British Rock and Pop Awards, now the Brits. Quite right too, as it was just sooo good. Pure class in a glass, for me, and it was very gratifying to see it just make the top either side of two long-staying chart toppers, both of which would have definitely seen it kept at bay as one of those truly tragic number twos (eg: “Jean Jenie”, ”Vienna”). This track has the mark of quality stamped all over it, as do the band performing it, and for me, at least, it is quite simply one of the best records of the decade.

    Perhaps as an addendum, I might remind those in the thread who disagree with me on this of two popular tracks by London born and bred reggae artist Smiley Culture from 1984: “Cockney Translation” and particularly “Police Officer”. This second track is hilarious, Smiley jumping effortlessly between Jamaican patois and an exaggerated cockney dickhead accent to outline an exchange between himself and a copper who had stopped him in his car for possession. On eventually recognising him, the star-struck Plod lets Smiley go for the price of an autograph. This record is wonderfully funny and not offensive at all, as (on the other side of the coin) was much of the offerings from Judge Dread, who was enormously popular in Brixton and Stockwell but whom would no doubt raise a few eyebrows in this day and age from those who have a bee in their bonnets about DH thirty years after the event.

  16. 46
    Caledonianne on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Hey Waldo,

    Have a bit of a dicky tum this morning, and was feeling sorry for myself after a disturbed night.

    “I don’t like croquet” was a fantastic pick-me-up!

    Cheers.

  17. 47
    rosie on 10 Aug 2008 #

    As for the “I don’t like cricket … I love it” I always thought there was a touch of coercion in between the two phrases, making our tourist even more of a wimp than maybe he really was.

    Waldo – spot on there lad!

  18. 48
    Waldo on 10 Aug 2008 #

    My pleasure, Anne. And thanks, Rosalind!

  19. 49
    wichita lineman on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Even ignoring the pitfalls of PC, this piece of Graham Gouldman social commentary doesn’t REALLY hold a candle to Look Through Any Window, Bus Stop, or No Milk Today.

  20. 50
    Waldo on 10 Aug 2008 #

    “Bus Stop” contains that charming line: ‘One day my name and hers are going to be the same’, which usually prompted Tracy to turn to her boyfriend and say: “I REALLY love you, Wayne, but I REALLY don’t want to be called Wayne!”

  21. 51
    Chris Brown on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Waldo, I appreciate what you’re saying here, but I think possibly it’s a generational thing. Which possibly won’t affect tomorrow’s kids. Also, though, I think it’s a lot easier to push that “offensive” button when the material is weak, which I think this is. See also Typically Tropical, obviously.

    I would quite like to hear ‘I Don’t Like Croquet’ though.

  22. 52
    LondonLee on 10 Aug 2008 #

    What Chris said, I understand what they’re trying to say with the song and don’t think it’s racist (or at least not intentionally) but it’s just done so cack-handedly that it doesn’t comes off. Instead of the social commentary they probably intended they sound like a bunch of smug rich white rock stars taking the piss out of Jamaicans and their culture.

  23. 53
    SteveM on 10 Aug 2008 #

    It’s never sounded like that to me. Like you say I think they believed thir intentions were good and fans of the song settle for that. Basically I overlook the uglier aspects of DH pretty much the same way I overlook sentiments I disagree with or feel uneasy about in some Jamaican dance music that I enjoy on the same casual level.

    But essentially the problem with Waldo’s argument is that it assumes a level playing field when we must all surely acknowledge that even in a crucial time when punks jumped up to meet dreads halfway this has never really been the case in this country to a lasting extent, even if the pop charts have occasionally suggested a greater balance of cultural understanding and harmony over the years. Hypothetical ‘but if Aswad did the equivalent’ counter is just silly because we KNOW it would never have happened and probably never will.

  24. 54
    Pete Baran on 10 Aug 2008 #

    And to be vaguely equivalent it would probably have to be done as finger-in-the-ear folk or perhaps a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche (admittedly this hypothetical track is just getting better and better).

    As a kid I was never quite sure why it was called Dreadlock Holiday, there are no dreads mentioned directly in the song.

  25. 55
    Billy Smart on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Did the Clash ever write a song inspired by their experience of recording ‘Complete Control’ with Lee Scratch Perry in Jamaica? It was apparently an alarming experience for them.

  26. 56
    Pete on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Not that I know of, though arguably they did record their own version of Dreadlock Holiday in Rock The Casbah.

  27. 57
    will on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Isn’t Safe European Home about Strummer and Jones’s trip to Jamaica the previous year, when they apparently hardly left their hotel room?

  28. 58
    Lena on 10 Aug 2008 #

    I didn’t hear this at the time at all – if you’d asked me about 10cc I would have said “Oh they did “The Things We Do For Love” and I haven’t heard a thing since.” But I was in the US…where “Grease” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” were the big hits, later in the summer, after The Commodores…

    …when I did finally hear this, it sounded kind of lightweight and pleasant, but my mind was being blown on an almost regular basis (this was around ’82) by other things, so it didn’t really stick out in any way – much like “Banana Republic” by the Boomtown Rats – I remember the music much better than the words.

  29. 59
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Those “Safe European Home” lyrics in full: http://londonsburning.org/lyr_give_em_enough_rope.html

    “Every white face is an invitation to robbery.”

    “I’d stay and be a tourist but I can’t take the gunplay.”

  30. 60
    Waldo on 11 Aug 2008 #

    I see with sadness that the Umpire has given Isaac Hayes the raised finger. I guess this means Isaac going into his local cemetery, pointing at a vacant plot and delivering the classic line:

    “Can you dig it?”

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