Jan 09

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Stand And Deliver”

FT + Popular127 comments • 14,176 views

#479, 9th May 1981

When it comes to pop, “style over substance” is an enduring criticism: almost as powerful as it is dumb. So often pop plays a shell game with the ideas – using style as a mask or code to make sure the right people get the substance; or using the excuse of artistry to get away with the most outrageous leaps in style. “Stand And Deliver” is a stylist’s manifesto in lyric and sound, and in the record’s worst line – “Deep meaning philosophies where only showbiz loses” – Adam buys into the binary himself and betrays a certain fretful conservatism. Why not turn philosophies into showbiz, like the rest of the New Pop was doing? (It hadn’t done the Beatles or McLaren any harm, after all)

But even as Adam sang that line he wasn’t living it: the rest of his song was busy turning showbiz into philosophy. By most accounts Adam was too uptight to fit into the New Romantic, Blitz Kid scene, but this song takes its spirit and turns it into slogans you could understand in the playground: “I spend my cash on looking flash”; “It’s kind of tough to tell a scruff the big mistake he’s making”. Adam is singing about the joy of dressing up, of let’s pretend – grabbing a look or sound and living it. The tribal double drums from his breakthrough singles stayed but the image changed, Native American chic replaced by 18th century loot: highwaymen, Georgian blades, pirates. And that fed back into the sound – instead of the unyielding Burundi patterns of “Dog Eat Dog” or “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, the rhythms in “Stand And Deliver” are full of flourishes and gallops.

The result was intoxicating, thrilling. Already a star, and a canny, watchful star when it came to his business, Adam Ant must have known that his first new material of ’81 had a good chance of going straight in at the top. To his credit he made a record that deserved to. Later he would play the pantomime card too often, but on “Stand And Deliver” he pitches the costume drama just right – a riot of colour and a tiny hint of danger. Seeing the video I knew this record was more of an Event than anything I’d heard before.

Certainly “Stand And Deliver” is built as an event, from the horns that announce it to the savage “Yah!” that ends it. The thing that strikes me about it now is how fast it is: at a rough estimate it’s topping 140 bpm and it feels like a steeplechase, punctuated by those stick-clashing breaks and accompanied by war whoops. These cries and hollers added needed and marvellous colour to Ant tracks – the man wasn’t a great melodist or harmonist – and also reinforced the impression that being an Ant was a wonderful job, a life of brigandage and comradeship. At the climax of “Stand And Deliver”, the faux-tribal calls of his previous hits are suddenly shifted into the 18th century setting with the gloriously idiotic chant of “fa diddly qua qua!”. Not for the last time one is struck by the loyalty of the resolutely un-dandyish Marco Pirroni et al. as they sang along, but it was so worth it.

What did it mean? It meant Adam Ant had flair and balls and a sense of the absurd. It meant he was a star. The little boys understood: for me everything about “Stand And Deliver” – the music, the look – was brilliant. The moment Adam Ant crashed through the window above the banqueting hall was the moment I became quietly obsessed with pop. I have never had the confidence or dress sense to be a dandy highwayman, but if it’ll have me I’d still pledge my allegiance to the Insect Nation.



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  1. 1
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    awopbop aloobop a lop bam rococo

  2. 2
    Conrad on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Adam worked very hard to realise his vision, and “Stand And Deliver” perhaps represents the pinnacle of that journey, certainly as the perfect marriage of 3 minute pop single and accompanying video. The video is everything it should be, and more. It brings the whole concept of the song – and Adam – to life. Its witty, imaginative and utterly compelling – everything great pop should be. It was an Event – absolutely. The story of Adam injuring his leg in attempting his own daredevil stunts was quickly circulating around school.

    Tom – you pick up on the gang mentality, the exuberance, the sense of wanting to be part of this band of brigands. I think that was critical to Adam’s success. While he was the undoubted star (and his partnership with Marco the foundation of the band’s T-Rex like run of hits in 81), the kids (particularly the boys) bought into Adam And the Ants as a group. The loss of his Ants left Adam alone as an increasingly absurd faux-vaudeville performer; the post-punk edge that inspired the Burundi beats or the “them or us” gang mentality of the early releases completely missing.

    But that’s for later. For now, Adam was the biggest pop star in the country.

    Is the first New Pop number 1?

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Tom is spot on. There’s a slight problem with writing about this song for me, as I consider the next Ant number one to be the absolute quintessance of Antism as a philosophy.

    But for my eight-year old self, this song really did sound like a riot of rhythms, slogans and poses. In actual fact, slightly too much was going on here for me to be able to take in: The sensory experiences of hearing the single and seeing the video were highly divergent ones, and I prefered the music to be anchored to the more comprehensible visual narrative and aesthetic of the video, rather than skittering off all the time into tangents, as it seemed to without the television guide-pictures.

    Adam was probably slightly more of a girls’ thing, than a boys one, the girls claiming greater allegience and understanding of the phenomena than the boys – the first time that I was aware of this happening toward a pop star.

  4. 4
    Conrad on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Billy – wasn’t it a case of the girls fancying Adam, the boys wanting to be him?

    I imagine this happened with Bowie and Bolan too – but Adam was the first pop star of my pophood that I became aware of this happening to.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 9 Jan 2009 #

    #2 Watch. A week of ‘Stars On 45′ (the medley craze one of the overriding pop phenomena of 1981, though none of these singles quite got to the very top) followed by a whopping four weeks for Shakin’ Stevens ‘You Drive Me Crazy’. Neither are anything like as good as ‘Stand & Deliver’.

  6. 6
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I think I and the boys I knew who loved Adam wouldn’t have used the word fancied to describe what we felt but it was surely part of it.

  7. 7
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Though come to think of it, of all the dressy homosocial pop idols (i.e. most of ’em) Adam is one of the least androgynous seeming. I don’t think this is to do with the bodiced beauties in the vids, more that the sociality he’s evoking is very much pre-sexual: maybe just cos I was 8 when he hit big, but the Ants always seemed a playground mob to me. Of course his earlier songs were a lot more sexed-up: Dirk Wears White Sox is full of vaguely S&M stylings. And later on he tried to combine his panto pop and sexy sides on the rather embarassing “Strip”, which flopped monstrously.

  8. 8
    Billy Smart on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I know that its a song with a poor critical reputation, but I think that ‘Puss ‘N’ Boots’ is one of the most acute pop representations of hetrosexual male lust that I know.

  9. 9
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    this only just occurred to me, but the social and political philosophy behind bow wow wow (“see jungle see jungle go join yr gang YEAH city all over go apecrazy”) is cheekily descended from rousseau’s much-contested 18th-century conception of the “noble savage” (that education and civilisation spoil the natural goodness and etc of the child); adam’s — by contrast, but also by close-neighbour-evolution* – valorises 18th-century outlaws (highwaymen; pirates); figures presumably (in rousseau-esque terms) already spoiled by civilisation…

    anyway i don’t know what to make of this except to reiterate that i really like sofia coppola’s film about marie antionette

    *BWW-music and antmusic share a common root and indeed musicians

  10. 10
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    It’s complicated slightly by the fact that – dodging a bit around the Spoiler Ant-lion here – Adam also valorises aristos: the whole 18th century is a giant toybox seen through an Antian lens. (philosophy vs showbiz again!)

  11. 11
    Martin Skidmore on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I love this, but at the time, or at least at the time of the earlier big hits, I was also rather bewildered and astonished by the new Ant phenomenon. I’d seen Adam and the Ants live in, I think, 1977, at Barton Hill Youth Club in Bristol, supported by, as I recall, Jordan. They were dreadful: clumsy punk, lacking any kind of flair. It seemed almost inconceivable that they could have turned into this excitingly glamorous pop juggernaut.

  12. 12
    pink champale on 9 Jan 2009 #

    pink s – though bow wow wow’s album cover pastiched déjeuner sur l’herbe which was if anything a rejection of rousseauian ideas presenting the nude in a modern sophisticated settting instead of an idealised pastoral classsical world. (er, not that anyone saw the ancient greeks as noble savages). anyway, i suspect malcolm mclaren is not a man to let philosphical consistency get in the way of putting a naked 14 year old on a record cover.

  13. 13
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    of course the S in S&M stands for an 18th-century figure who was both aristo and outlaw, and believed in encouraging savage natural (and indeed unnatural) passions!

    adam ant is our lewis namier: discuss

  14. 14
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    i think the word “apecrazy” trumps all possible philosophical consistency! cf also eg “sexy eiffel tower”

  15. 15
    Martin Skidmore on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Has no one mentioned yet that the musical style and clothing style were Malcolm McLaren’s idea? Obviously they didn’t get far with it before he, then their manager, took basically the whole band except Adam to form Bow Wow Wow (which is why there are such strong similarities), but clearly these ideas were what made the new lineup a huge success.

  16. 16
    pink champale on 9 Jan 2009 #

    rousseau sez: home taping is killing music

  17. 17
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    15: the clothing style was surely vivienne westwood’s idea

  18. 18
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    My understanding is that MM – called in as a branding consultant! – suggested the tribal drumming and native american get-ups but the pirate and highwayman (and latterly the panto stuff) were Adam’s own extension of it.

    The beginning of Like Punk Never Happened has a great pen-portrait of Adam the washed-up punker, drinking endless cups of tea in Bromley and plotting his course to stardom.

  19. 19
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Number 1 when I was born: a noble philosophy by which I’ve lived my life ever since. (Well, since adulthood anyway, the less said about my teens, the better…)

    Surely a number 10? An instant classic and completely unlike anything else I’ve ever heard (apart from people who’ve swiped moves from Adam since). Always loved Adam’s lyrics too, bravado, swagger, wit, but laced with hints at the paranoid narcissism that would eventually drag him down.

  20. 20
    Conrad on 9 Jan 2009 #

    #15 – the recruitment of Marco was a big step forward in the writing and arranging department. MP knew how to build hooks around Adam’s embryonic and relatively basic melodic ideas.

    they also recruited some fine musicians – people like gary tibbs had played with roxy music.

    BWW didn’t have the songs did they.

  21. 21
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I spent a sleepless night (OK, a sleepless 5 minutes) deliberating whether this was a 9 or a 10. In the end I decided that if I was deliberating that much I should probably go for the 9. My conscience is still Adam’s though.

  22. 22
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    BWW certainly had the songs! and when they didn’t they swiped them off someone else (viz “see jungle”, which is based on some mbaqanga classic iirc)

    cassette pet, see jungle and i want candy are all very playable LPs, dodgy provence and ahem-over-the-line marketing notwithstanding

  23. 23
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Don’t really know BWW, Gotta say, I find the original Ants’ Dirk… hard going. They definitely hit their stride once Marco, Merrick et al came on board.

    I don’t know what’s wierder; that someone would pay Malcolm McLaren for his advice about being a pop star, or that it would actually turn out to be brilliant.

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I love this for it’s insouciant energy and devil-may-care attitude. It’s like a Crackerjack skit somehow made cool. For all it’s success I don’t recall too many people adopting full on regency garb on the streets – although I suspect Prince was taking notes

  25. 25
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jan 2009 #

    (anecdata: just now searching for adam ant songs in um pirate-booty form, i discovered that a LOT more of the dirk/sox era is available than its merits would support, and a lot less of the actually good stuff)

  26. 26
    Erithian on 9 Jan 2009 #

    A bit surprised to see Billy reckon Adam was more of a girls’ thing, particularly as he was eight at the time. My nephew was nine, a couple of years older than Tom, and was RIGHT into Adam and the Ants at the time. I was with him and his stepdad when the Ants appeared on a TV show, and his stepdad just went “Awww… skill!” which was the vernacular of North Wales primary school kids of the day.

    It was a new experience for me to watch someone in my family younger than me getting into a pop act in a big way. While your Durans and Spandaus will have appealed to the Blitz Kids, this version of the Ants was a treat for their kid brothers, and every boy who ever wanted to play at pirates or whatever. And yes, this was a great single – unlike so many other acts on here they did get their biggest hit with their best record.

    And they sure livened things up that year. Think how big they were in the first half of ’81 in particular – with the help of cash-in re-releases they had “Antmusic” at 2, “Young Parisiennes” at 9, “Kings of the Wild Frontier” at 2, “Zerox”, “Dirk” and “Cartrouble” lower down the chart, then this entering at number 1 (only the second act since 1973 to do so), all by the first week of May – and the parent album spending 12 weeks at number one, the longest run by an artist album of new material since “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (only the Grease and SNF soundtracks and the Carpenters’ greatest hits having had longer runs in the meantime).

  27. 27
    Conrad on 9 Jan 2009 #

    #23 – Malcolm McLaren was a visionary. “Duck Rock” is an astonishing achievement, and years ahead of its time.

    And I think his £1k’s worth of advice to Adam was about the best £1k Adam ever spent, even if MM did then sack him from his own band!

    #22 – I’ve always found BWW strident and messy, but I’m really going on the singles. Perhaps I should explore one of the albums

  28. 28
    Elsa on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I generally prefer Bow Wow Wow to Adam because they took everything further and their musicians were just plain better. But yes, BWW occasionally applied their piratic principles to real life: listen to their “Hello Hello Daddy (I’ll Sacrifice You)” followed by Gilberto Gil’s “Aquele Abraço”. Did they think no one would notice? However, Adam did have some kind of magic commercial touch at this point & did more with less vis-a-vis BWW, notably on this wonderful track.

  29. 29
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    #26 the vernacular of kids everywhere! An approving “yeah, skillFUL” or “skill” was definitely as far as my articulated popcrit of Adam went at the time.

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re 19: “paranoid narcissism” really shows through on the next Adam entry….. at which point he started to irritate me (retrospectively I love it, and Ant Rap). Everything up to and including S&D is SO gleeful, more slogans per line than anyone since Chuck Berry. My own problem with S&D is its slight rhythmic resemblance to an out-of-control three-wheeled go kart. Dog Eat Dog, KOTWF and Antmusic had been so heavy and driving, Marco’s Duane Eddy guitar adding a half-speed, laid back grace to the Burundi thud. So, an 8 for me.

    A quick word for the beautiful Cartrouble which, along with Xerox, was a fixture in the 1981 Independent Chart Top 5. Powerpop? Glam punk? It’s a miraculous noise, as uplifting as Shake Some Action or September Gurls or Roadrunner. And it includes the tense, emotionally-sung line “You don’t need anything after an ice cream.” Is that a sexual reference that I don’t get? Have I been missing out all these years?

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