9
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.

9

Comments

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  1. 31
    Tom on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Yes “Cartrouble” is terrific – I always thought Suede lifted a lot of their sound from that record.

  2. 32
    Billy Smart on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re #26. Oh, we boys liked Adam a lot, don’t get me wrong, but our female peers claimed that they had a deeper understanding of him than we did, i.e. they fancied him. Adam Ant must have been the first popstar that I noticed my female peers liking, Sting probably being an older sisters thing.

  3. 33
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Cartrouble is ace. But only the single version tacked on the end of the Dirk/Sox CD, the album versh is only really good for the amazingly percussive kick drum that goes on for what seems like hours at the start.

  4. 34
    wichita lineman on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re 31: Very Suede isn’t it? Brett A never convinced me AT ALL with his supposed sexual deviance, though, whereas Adam A seemed positively on a mission.

    I don’t want to get bogged down in catalogue number world, but I’ve never got the chronology of Cartrouble – was it released as a single after the group signed to CBS, as a cash-in?

  5. 35
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re: #30, yeah, Dog, KOTWF are definitely freer and wilder sounding, but S&D is just such a rollicking tune, all the sprawling elements from their early singles are kicked into something more compact and cohesive, like T Rex just when they shortened the name.

  6. 36
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re: #34
    Carbtrouble: not entirely sure, but I think you’re right – recorded Dirk-era then bunged out retrospectively to cash in on the new band’s fame.

  7. 37
    Tommy Mack on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Just read my typo: obv. Cartrouble, not Carbtrouble – that came later when his waistline expanded…actually, so did cartrouble, when he chucked his engine block at some drinkers in Camden (who, let’s face it, probably deserved it if the folks I’ve met drinking in Camden are anything to go by ;-) )

  8. 38
    LondonLee on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Excellent review Tom, as I was reading it I was getting the impression that this must have been an important record for you, then you confirmed it at the end.

    I must admit I did prefer Bow Wow Wow too (especially ‘Your Cassette Pet’) as they were sexier and a little less pantomime. As was said above this is a very “Crackerjack” kind of record, like some kid’s telly skit come to life.

    The production is a little bit everything-but-the-kitchen-sink for me (the stripped-down ‘Ant Music’ is more my speed) which was often the case of “event” singles releases in those days, but the sense of a runaway train the band are having a hard time keeping up with is what makes it so thrilling.

  9. 39
    will on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Nothing much to add except that for about 18 months the Ants were the most thrilling thing in British pop. And in 1981 they were simply perfect for us tweenies, the generation who might have remembered the Pistols, but were too young to really appreciate them.

  10. 40
    Mark M on 9 Jan 2009 #

    Re 9: Marie Antoinette is an ace film, one that seems to have been willfully misunderstood. Surely the most blatantly Ant-flavoured film was the now long- forgotten “Trainspotting with highwaymen” Plunkett & Macleane.

  11. 41
    ace inhibitor on 9 Jan 2009 #

    as a late arrival at popular I’ve been happily gorging for the last week (thanks tom) on (roughly) 65-73. this may have skewed my response here slightly, but… strikes me the obvious ancestor for AA & S.A.D is Benny Hill’s Ernie (the fastest milkman in the west). All the elements are there – the dressing up; the song-as-character (admittedly Benny sang in the 3rd person but the promo film made it clear that he was Ernie); the TV/film historical reference points; the spoken verses with a bit of a tune in the chorus, the galloping rhythm, er, the horses…

    Meanwhile, I thought Bow Wow Wow’s great moment was W.O.R.K – ‘Wuh! Oh Ar Kuh N O, no no my daddy don’t’ etc, dole-age gleeful celebration a million times better than ‘Young guns’ which I don’t think we’ll be discussing? and an answer record of sorts to something which we will be quite soon.

  12. 42
    ace inhibitor on 9 Jan 2009 #

    not young guns – wham rap

  13. 43
    AndyPandy on 9 Jan 2009 #

    I’d disagree that he hit Number One with his best track I thought this was far inferior to the genuinely original and exciting fusion of disparate elements that were ‘Dog Eat Dog’, ‘Antmusic’ and ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’. The previous autumn I remember the KOTWF album being played in the youth club and them it defintely was a boys and girls thing but by this stage Adam and the Ants fandom had been largely ceded to the girls. But maybe we’re talking about 2 different things here and that with kids of primary school age Adam was still very appealing to both boys and girls at this stage but that this wasn’t necessarily the case amongst slightly older boys by the ‘Stand and Deliver’ era.

    PS For anyone who hasn’t already read it Adam Ant’s autobiography is well worth getting hold off. For a humble, interesting and well told story (and which never shies away from confronting his later mental health problems in an extremely candid way) it takes some beating. I don’t think I’ve ever read an autobiography which has given me such a feeling that its subject is such a thoroughly decent and likeable person.

  14. 44
    Malice Cooper on 9 Jan 2009 #

    All the girls at school seemed to fancy Adam, those who weren’t closet lesbians in their quest to be David Sylvian anyway.

    Personally I never quite caught the craze. This was a good pop record but their cover version of Rolf Harris’s “War canoe” which followed this was very dreary. “Ant rap” was an appalling noise but great at the same time and you did get an advent calendar picture cover if you were one of the first 200,000 to buy the single.

    I would say this was by far their most commercial single and with the exception of “Dog eat dog” is probably their best.

    Record companies mercilessly dragged out their old recordings which were all fairy horrible and deserved their original chart positions. I would be surprised if many people over A-level age bought their records.

    Nobody tried to look like Adam at my school either, but a few of them have gone on to wave guns around.

    Like LondonLee I preferred Bow Wow Wow especially when Annabel told B A Robertson what she thought of his interviewing techniques.

  15. 45
    ace inhibitor on 9 Jan 2009 #

    looking like adam would have been a bit of a challenge, surely, when the look changed with every single

  16. 46
    DV on 9 Jan 2009 #

    My old flatmate said that he always reckoned that it was Fat Marco who did all the “Awwww”s on Adam Ant records. He also saw Adam & the Ants live.

    To this day, whenever I see a doorway placed high above the ground, I always wonder if it is there for Adam Ant to jump out of.

  17. 47
    Matthew on 10 Jan 2009 #

    This is marvellously Dionysian stuff, and so kid-friendly: as a 6-year-old I had no objection to music, but I needed spaceships and cowboys and dandy highwaymen to give my imagination something to latch onto, to make it a winning proposition.

    Adam was certainly fanciable, but was it a sexual thing? I had a girlfriend who wasn’t even born at the time of this record who asserts that Adam Ant was the first person she fancied, long before she even had the muddiest inklings about actual sex. I suspect it was always just as much about wanting to be him, for boys and girls alike. If popmusic doesn’t let you dress up like a fool and have hair-raising fairytale adventures then frankly I’m not sure I can see the point.

  18. 48
    lonepilgrim on 10 Jan 2009 #

    it’s only in retrospect that I realise how bizarre much of 80s pop was – in this case: let’s use african drumming, duane eddy guitars and dress up like a panto act and we’ll have a hit!
    nowadays a band like vampire weekend parades it’s african influences as evidence of how cutting edge it is – kids today, eh?

  19. 49
    Doctor Casino on 11 Jan 2009 #

    “If popmusic doesn’t let you dress up like a fool and have hair-raising fairytale adventures then frankly I’m not sure I can see the point.”

    This sums it up for me, and nails why, discovering this song at maybe age 23, it still rang true and Adam still seemed like the coolest dude on the planet. This is a 10 easily for all the reasons already discussed – it’s just a blast to listen to this! Even the “change keys to raise excitement” trick feels fresh and new, and the total cacophony of overlapping hooks at the end, carried by the straining “Staaaaaaaaand and deliver!” – this is what Tom wanted “Sugar Sugar” to be I think.

    Resurrection Watch – nobody has yet mentioned the sad 2000s-era rewrite by Adam himself, “Save The Gorilla,” but I’ll go ahead and remind everybody…

  20. 50
    Pete Baran on 11 Jan 2009 #

    Save the gorilla, only for those with strong constitution. Recorded for the Dian Fossey charity and then pulped when Marco refused to let them use it. I can see why even he baulked at the Its For Charity line.

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=wRQehI77oIY

  21. 51
    lonepilgrim on 11 Jan 2009 #

    having watched the original video on youtube – after a gap of 28 years – I can’t help noticing how much Johnny Depp as Captain Jack owes to Adam

    and apropos of nothing – how different would Stuart Goddard’s career have been if he’d been around a few years earlier as a prog outfit? – Gong meets Tolkein as: Edam and the Ents

  22. 52
    Alan on 11 Jan 2009 #

    (repeating a comment posted elsewhere)

    Cartrouble is where the Futureheads got their sound from. consciously or not – it’s eery how much it sounds like them.

  23. 53
    Matt Cibula on 12 Jan 2009 #

    This was such a Great Big Pop Thing that it even trickled down to small towns in the rural U.S. west, where we lived. My brothers and their friends painted their faces in full Adam war regalia when we went to the concert in Portland, Oregon (I didn’t because I brought my girlfriend). He did not disappoint for drama, flash, or any of the things Bis claimed to want in pop music.

  24. 54
    peter goodlaws on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I could take or leave Adam and the Ants. Certainly not top dollar imho. I do remember Adam going on TISWAS and Sally James asking him just one question, something on the lines of “could you explain the origins of the ant concept?”. Before Adam had time to answer he was “flanned”. I don’t recall him being too overjoyed.

  25. 55
    rosie on 14 Jan 2009 #

    Adam and the Ants sailed way over my head, I’m afraid. But then, this is a definite sign that at age 26 I really wasn’t the target audience for this sort of thing.

    I liked the outfits though; very becoming on a man. I craved being a New Romantic at this time but with a toddler in toe and precious little money coming in, and no generous Poor Little Rich Kid trust fund to allow me to buy the eye-stingingly expensive outfits required, there was sod all chance of me being allowed within twenty miles of Blitz!

    The chronology confuses me. Weren’t AatA past their peak by this time? I say this because when I think of them I think, not of Cambridge where I was living (and patronising Andy’s Records in Mill Road) but of the juke box in the Gardener’s Arms in Hull.

    Anyway, listening again I find Adam more agreeable than I thought at the time – recalled as sounding like jumped-up football chanting. All the same, I can’t squeeze more than a 5 for this and that’s pushing it.

  26. 56
    The Wolfmen on 15 Jan 2009 #

    The week’s most read post! Fantastico

  27. 57
    CarsmileSteve on 15 Jan 2009 #

    oh, hey marco!

    man i loved adam. shakey was cool and everthing, but adam was clearly, monumentally, more of a pop star. was it 110 weeks on the chart in 81? i know it’s around that figure. mind you, i did always have “kiss this guy” moments with the lyrics, viz, “join this instegnation” (no i do not know what an instegnation is either, but it sounded a bit like insurrection i guess), also “the way you look you’ll qualify for next year’s uninspection”. but still a 9 because there’s a better one to come…

  28. 58
    Neil B on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Re #34 : “Cartrouble” was first released as a single in early 1980. It flopped of course (except on the indie chart), but was reissued (or repromoted) a year later and made No.33.

    As for “Stand & Deliver”, I think it is by far Adam’s best No.1, though not his best single. I am a big fan of the early stuff (“Dirk…”, “Zerox” etc) but also love the Ants’ pop material eg. “Kings…”, “Antmusic”. I was a big fan when I was 9, and still think most of their hits have aged well.

  29. 59
    Bow Wow 4ever on 9 Mar 2009 #

    Hi Bow Wow just want u to know i am one of your greatest fan and i am still hoping that i will meet u some day.Bye bye

  30. 60
    Mark G on 9 Mar 2009 #

    That’s the wrong Bow Wow, mate.

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