14
Apr 09

CAPTAIN SENSIBLE – “Happy Talk”

FT + Popular36 comments • 4,421 views

#504, 3rd July 1982

So here’s one destination for punk: a jokey cover version of an old show tune, knocked out at the record company’s request and pushing Captain Sensible firmly down the woeful career path of the professional eccentric. Look more closely and there’s a little bit more going on: backing trio Dolly Mixture are as much a part of the record as the Captain is, and what could be more DIY than giving some mates the chance to be on a number one hit? And I’ll forgive “Happy Talk” a lot for inspiring Dizzee Rascal’s delightfully goofy “Dream”.

But honestly, this isn’t very good. Dolly Mixture lend it some charm, Sensible attacks it with his usual honking gusto, but the record never feels like more than a jolly piss-up – hip-hop pastiche “Wot” (“Well, HELLO ADAM…”) meshes these qualities a great deal better, and shows that the Captain could seem invested in his material when it suited him.

3

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I’m sorry about the trickle of entries lately – some of this has been to do with my travelling and working, but some is just a slight motivational lull now I’ve hit 500. Hopefully things will pick up soon!

  2. 2
    Erithian on 14 Apr 2009 #

    Not great by a long chalk, but endearing all the same. A jolly song performed by someone with no claims to a fine voice but giving it plenty of enthusiasm and not sending it up à la Sid. (Just the slight question in the back of your mind when he does that long note on “Golly baby I’m a lucky cuuuuuuu…” and you wonder where the word’s going – Whew, it’s “cuss”!)

    A highly unlikely return to number one for Rodgers and Hammerstein (their first since “You’ll Never Walk Alone”!) and, famously, the biggest climb yet to number one, from the previous week’s 33 – a record that lasted for many years before we had all this nonsense about, say, Lily Allen jumping up from No 168.

    There were the inevitable stories of record shop owners having to deal with little old ladies asking if they had any other records by “that nice Captain Sensible” and resisting the temptation to flog them Damned albums. It was already interesting to observe the differing fates of the class of ’77 – the Jam were the major chart power, in the top 10 on import with “Five O’Clock Hero”, the Clash were surprisingly going down well in the US, the Stranglers had had almost as great an oddity with “Golden Brown”, while that Geldof chappie was suffering diminishing returns and might have to seek alternative pursuits in the next year or two.

    “Wot”, by the way, was a huge hit in France later that year.

    Number 2 Watch – this and the following number one combined to deny the Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” which would have been good to see at the top.

  3. 3
    peter goodlaws on 14 Apr 2009 #

    This is not even ironically funny, I’m afraid. Sensible appears to be saying: “Look at me. I’m doing ‘South Pacific’!” but actually he isn’t. He’s just being a pillock.

    I knew this song because we had the film soundtrack album at home and the original of this particular song, sung in pidgin English, is a lot better than this, which was clearly pitched as a comedy record. As Tom says, the presence of The Dolly Mixtures was this record’s saviour but I can’t really understand who would have bought it, as it fell between several stools and stands alone as being just plain bad.

    Btw, I have often wondered how many Liverpool fans realize that their renowned dirge is, like “Happy Talk”, from a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. I would expect that the majority (even the older vintage) will swear blind that it originated with Gerry. I could be ruder about this but I am mindful of the date.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I don’t blame you Tom for struggling to muster the enthusiasm for this entry. I found this irritating at the time and continue to do so – even the synth playing oriental style chords sounds cheap – and the bit at the end where he goes vaguely punk is beyond embarrassing.

  5. 5
    Brian on 14 Apr 2009 #

    # 3 “Btw, I have often wondered how many Liverpool fans realize that their renowned dirge is, like “Happy Talk”, from a Rogers and Hammerstein musical.”

    Cheap shot and don’t try to diguise it ! I think you’ll find that we are more aware than you give us credit for.

  6. 6
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I think my attitude to this was coloured at the time by my deep punk-purist dislike of the damned — i thought something along the lines of “at last the capt has found his metier! TICK” — meaning yes it is rubbish but NOT AS BAD AS… etc

    i liked his song about croydon tho

  7. 7
    Matthew H on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I’d never heard of The Damned at the time, and found this deeply irritating. Probably still would – I’m too lazy to find out. Quite liked ‘Wot’; even the spelling made me laugh. Still does a bit, but that’s an issue I’ll have to work through alone.

  8. 8
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Apr 2009 #

    the dates don’t quite match but I actually associate this song with tiswas (it ended its run in april 1982)

    maybe i saw the captain doing something else on eh show, where his shtick would quite comfily fit

  9. 9
    Tom on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I associate it with Saturday AM TV definitely – and Tiswas would indeed fit.

  10. 10
    peter goodlaws on 14 Apr 2009 #

    #5 – It was not intended as a cheap shot, I can assure you. But I will stand by my contention that YNWA is far more assocated with Gerry Marsden than with “Carousel”. This is not a slight, merely a opinion I hold to be true. The ratio may indeed be less with Liverpool supporters but I still suggest that the number of fans ignorant of the song’s origin is not insubstantial.

  11. 11
    Pete on 14 Apr 2009 #

    Its not surprising you had a copy of the South Pacific OST, it still holds the record for most weeks at no.1 for an album. And Happy Talk in the original is pitched a touch as a slightly dodgy pidgin pastiche – pity for Rogers and Hammerstein cos the musical itself touches some very daring race issues for its time (the film neuters many of these subtexts sadly).

    As for Sensible, it just seemed like pure pantomime – fun but he came across as a kids TV uncle rather than trying to do anything particularly interesting with the track (except perhaps rescue it from its dodgy original rendition pidgin English). But when it comes to SOutH Pacific I am more of a Cockeyed Optimist kind of guy.

    I think everyone knows You’ll Never Walk Alone is from Carousel, it was a Trivial Pursuit question after all!

  12. 12
    peter goodlaws on 14 Apr 2009 #

    Yes but Pete, how many Liverpool supporters have ever played Trivial… er no, let’s not go there!

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I’d had this sensation to a lesser extent earlier in the year with ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, but this is the first single that I can remember disliking to the extent that I found it a personal, emotional, affront.

    With his whacky proto-Timmy Mallet persona and chirpy song of novelty and enforced jollity, Captain Sensible reminded me of the more blatant type of childrens’ entertainer, the sort who’d create a consensus in his audience around behaving in a ‘humorous’ manner, which I would then feel duty bound to reject. This certainly seemed to be hugely popular with all other children at the time – I was just born to sorrow!

    As a grown man I now like both South Pacific and the seventies Damned, but this tawdry thing still just makes me really unhappy whenever I hear it. And in a mocking way, not a cathartic one.

  14. 14
    Tom on 14 Apr 2009 #

    At the time I didn’t like it either Billy – it annoyed me. It also annoyed me because my Dad for some reason latched onto the Captain as typical of modern pop stars and their rubbishness, and whenever the topic of pop came up he would take great glee in repeating “I said Captain, he said Wot” again and again as proof that pop was now a busted flush.

  15. 15
    vinylscot on 14 Apr 2009 #

    What an unforgiving bunch you all seem to be!

    I saw the Damned in 77 supporting T.Rex, and enjoyed their early albums, before they went off the boil a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing them in June when they play with the Alarm in Glasgow.

    That doesn’t stop me from enjoying this piece of silliness. I was initially only vaguely aware that it was an “oldie”, but not specifically that it came from South Pacific. I would have thought that most potential buyers (bemused Damned fans and kids) would have thought much the same, so I don’t go along with the “wave of nostalgia” theory. I liked at the time and I like it now – it’s no masterpiece, but a solid 7.

    (One downside – was it because of the success of this that Sting’s execrable “Spread a Little Happiness” from the Brimstone and Treacle soundtrack was released as a single??)

    Finally, I’m quite sure that, by now, the vast majority of Liverpool (and Celtic) fans are well aware of the origin of their anthem. It is often assumed that as football fans we will be culturally ignorant, but this particular fact is drummed into every fan of these clubs precisely to avoid having the p*** taken by others who wrongly assume the intellectual high ground.

  16. 16
    John on 14 Apr 2009 #

    I was shocked when I read that Dolly Mixture were his backing band in a recent Mojo article about the curious case of “Happy Talk”.

    Nice bit of trivia because I thought they were ultra obscure and have an mp3 from them “New Look Baby” which is much fun in a shambolic Bow Wow Wow/Belle Stars kind of way.

    That and the incongruity of the performer are the only interesting thing about this record which truly stinks and seems to be an irritating novelty song in any incarnation.

    The South Pacific angle makes it seem even more cynical than the intended sardonic delvery. PJ Harvey was at least able to truly subvert the most iconic song from the soundtrack, rather than this giggling family friendly version.

  17. 17
    Tom on 14 Apr 2009 #

    #16 – Dolly Mixture got the deluxe reissue treatment a few years ago courtesy of Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley. Though truth be told I never actually traded up from the knackered old C90 of their stuff I had – it seemed the right format somehow.

  18. 18
    snoball on 15 Apr 2009 #

    I file “Happy Talk” along with “The Birdie Song” by The Tweets (#2 in October 1981). Irritating novelty seaside tunes, representative of an “enforced-jollity-at-all-times” mentality. “you-must-have-fun-we’re-on-holiday-why-aren’t-you-enjoying-yourself-you’re-spoiling-it-for-everyone-else”

  19. 19
    ace inhibitor on 15 Apr 2009 #

    I’ve also got a softer spot for this than most. Does it maybe depend on whether you generally find the singer-who-can’t-really-sing stretching beyond his or her capabilities endearing, or just annoying? I think the fact that he can’t really sing makes it sound like he almost means it – you’ve got to have a dream, and mine is that I’m a decent singer…

    I was also thinking that the 1982 No.1s, and the last 6 in particular, sound like an interesting conversation between shiny/playful/ironic pop and sincere/mature/meaningful pop and the dangers inherent in both; pushed too far in one direction things can get a bit forced (House of Fun) irritatingly wacky (Happy Talk) or start to prowl the boundary between reality and artifice in a slightly worrying way (GTS); go the other way and you make it just too easy to take the piss (Ebony and Ivory, A Little Peace, Hey Laydee). & this conundrum has maybe always been around (its certainly always around in my head, and music consumption), but I’m associating it particularly with the early 80s, hedonism v seriousness in response to mass unemployment and the nuclear shadow blah.

  20. 20
    JonnyB on 15 Apr 2009 #

    *sigh*

    So, basically, I found this series a couple of weeks back, being quick on the uptake, like. Via Mike. Thanks Mike! So I’ve been reading back in the archives through all the reviews and conversations about this great, great music that I love to bits. I haven’t left any comments, as joining a conversation several months old is never quite as rewarding, but I’ve ever so much been looking forward to a new one being posted so I can…

    Oh. It’s Captain Sensible doing ‘Happy Talk’.

    I was eleven. I’d never heard of The Damned, I’d never heard of South Pacific. Even at eleven, it made me cringe. A few years on, all I can add to an agreement of snoball’s #18 summary is that there are novelty songs that burst out at you, that have been crafted with wit, with love, with originality. And there are things like this.

    Hullo all.

  21. 21
    Pete on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Hi Jonny. Welcome. And feel free to jump back to old posts, especially the early ones as all the comments on those were destroyed so whole new conversations are likely to stretch on!

  22. 22
    Tom on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, welcome Jonny! Better times ahead, I promise!

    I need to put something about the comments in the about page I think – it’s quite common for old posts to suddenly generate conversation.

  23. 23
    Billy Smart on 15 Apr 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Captain Sensible performed Happy Talk on Top Of The Pops on three occasions. These are the first two (the Christmas edition we’ll come to in the fullness of time);

    1 July 1982. Also in the studio that week were; Visage, Dollar and Natasha, plus Zoo’s interpretation of ‘Murphy’s Law’. John Peel was the host.

    8 July 1982. Also in the studio that week were; Imagination, Trio, Odyssey and Bananarama. John Peel was again the host.

  24. 24
    Martin Skidmore on 15 Apr 2009 #

    I have a soft spot for Captain Sensible as the only star musician I’d met twice (until recently, anyway) – once on the Damned’s first tour (and I saw them with T.Rex too, but didn’t speak to any of them), then again about ten years later when he was greeting people at the door of a record fair in Leicester. He didn’t remember me, unsurprisingly.

    I also have a soft spot for Dolly Mixture. My oldest friend ran a website about them for ages, and their ‘Demos’ was his favourite album. Like Tom, I still have the C90 my friend made for me of it.

    Nonetheless, this is rubbish, and 3 is about right.

  25. 25
    wichita lineman on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Re 19: “hedonism v seriousness in response to mass unemployment and the nuclear shadow”

    Everything went exceeeedingly colourful in 1982, a belated flipside to 1980’s unrelenting monochrome (Closer/Crocodiles/MASH/McLean). It was all teased up, frizzy blonde hair, lurid lipstick, bows and ribbons, the much ridiculed rara skirt. Bananarama and the previously mentioned Belle Stars bossed the look, which was mirrored by the super-chirpy no.1s we’ve been witnessing.

    I wasn’t aware of the original, so this take didn’t pall quickly, and was most pleased with its colossal and unexpected leap from 26 to 1 in a single week.

    Also I’d been to see Dolly Mixture – in their decidedly un-82, proto-86 Oxfam gear – supporting Orange Juice at the Venue, Victoria, in January. After that they played Croydon’s Warehouse Theatre to about 40 people on a seemingly monthly basis, and I saw them every time. No wonder I was pleased when this got to no.1 and earnt them a Melody Maker cover. It’s hard for me to be objective – but without the DM backing this is no better or worse than Whispering Grass.

    It seemed to disappear sharpish – six weeks at no.1 would have tested even my patience.

  26. 26
    LondonLee on 15 Apr 2009 #

    I liked this a lot, not enough to buy it but still, I liked it. Puts me in mind of Nick Park’s line that “you can’t write charm” it’s just something that comes natural, like, and I think this record has lots of it.

    I posted a Dolly Mixture song on me blog the other day, probably considered the “famous” one but I’m no scholar of their oeuvre.

  27. 27
    rosie on 15 Apr 2009 #

    The Captain is taking a poke at something bigger and considerably less absurd than he is, n’est-ce pas? A pointless piss-take, I thought at the time, and I don’t feel enlightened for being rteminded of it now.

    The South Pacific soundtrack, along with those of Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I (and probably others, but mainly those) were part of the wallpaper of my formative years. I won’t hear a word against any of them! The first song I ever learned to sing in French was not Frère Jacques, nor even Sûr le pont d’Avignon but

    Dîtes-moi
    Pourquoi
    La vie est belle
    Dîtes-moi
    Pourquoi
    La vie est gai

  28. 28

    i don’t actually think CS is mocking the song and its heritage so much as mocking the idea of himself singing it, seeing it just as a vehicle for him to be silly and sappy with — he is and ever was an amiable fellow

  29. 29
    John on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, like #20 I was a bit dismayed that the old posts were seemingly closed to new discussion. You would obviously know if there was something new and it does show up new comments now, though you feel silly posting in older threads. It’s good to know that all the old commentary remains open.

    Don’t think I’m able to offer up much in the way of meta analysis in the context of the era, but I’ve been following it for a while and have been very pleased with the dizzying pace it moved last year, great to be up to the 80s already.

  30. 30
    intothefireuk on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Being aware of both The Damned & South Pacific this single didn’t bother me at all. He’s so obviously taking the piss that it negates any irritation caused by the naffness of it. I enjoyed ‘ Wot’ and ‘Glad It’s All over’ a good deal more though. Not enough parrots on shoulders in pop now !

  31. 31
    чaтЪлaн4ик on 24 May 2009 #

    Да таков уж наш современный мир и боюсь наверное с этим ни чего не поделать:)

  32. 32
    rosie on 9 Jun 2009 #

    The Damned were playing at The Canteen in Barrow last night. There was a double-decker bus with blacked-out windows parked in Michaelson Road all day, the sort of bus that football teams travel together in. When I was coming home I could hear them play, though didn’t recognise anything, and even on the far said of the road one could smell the sweet fragrance of burning herbal su… oh my goodness, those clouds were really freaky!

    How art the mighty fallen!

  33. 33
    Mike Atkinson on 15 Jul 2010 #

    This seems like the right place to mention that a limited edition Dolly Mixture box set has just been issued, featuring “CAMBRIDGE 1978 – I WAS THERE!” sleeve notes by yours truly. (Originally written as a blog post in 2003.)

  34. 34
    wichita lineman on 16 Jul 2010 #

    …and “Croydon 1982 I was there (a bit later)!” notes by me. It’s a beautiful looking thing, pretty much everything they recorded, though it doesn’t include the Dolly Mixture Theme which used to start every gig. Bah.

  35. 35
    Mike Atkinson on 20 Jul 2010 #

    Well now, there’s a thing. My blurb was used on the mock-up of the booklet which is used on the website, but “sources close to Dolly Mixture” tell me that the blurb was never actually used on the printed version. But it’s good to see wichita lineman’s more all-encompassing essay in its place!

    (Note to wichita lineman: Curiously, I also saw Orange Juice at The Venue in Victoria, but with The Bluebells supporting. Fairly sure it was August 1981, not long after Poor Old Soul came out.)

  36. 36
    phil6875 on 15 Apr 2015 #

    ‘Happy Talk’ wasn’t even in the Top 50 best selling singles of the year, a distinction it shared with ‘Beat Surrender’.

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