My musings on the tragic career of the Only Ones awakened a memory of a single I had thankfully forgotten, until now.
1980, thanks to a student grant I had enough money to buy singles and the Only Ones had a new release. I was still pretty excited about the band, their previous album had been one of my all-time favourites, I bought the record without previously hearing it.
It was ‘Trouble in the World’
I while back I gave some advice to bands about how not to make a terrible record (no need to thank me guys)
The Only Ones had already broken one of the rules by becoming more interested in drugs than the music itself. They had become a little sloppy in their focus, and when that happens there was always someone willing to take over.
Record company CBS where now getting seriously worried about the lack of return on their investment. Peter Perrett might look like Andy Gibb on drugs but the expected record sales where not happening. In the 70’s, until time when recorded music became almost valueless, a company would sign a band they loved and then proceed to change them into something else. The first warning sign was usually the dodgy cover version, then it was time to bring in the producer.
Colin Thurston was brought in to produce the album Baby’s got a Gun. To be fair he didn’t do a bad job on most of that but his previous record had been Second Hand Daylight by Magazine which had announced keyboards where back in town. For some reason someone somewhere had decided that the thing that had been holding the Only Ones back was a lack of state of the art keyboard frippery.
Something was wrong from the first bars where drummer Mike Kellie was forced to keep a four to the floor disco beat but this was compounded in a matter of Nano seconds by the introduction of keys.
There’s a problem with technology, it might sound great when it first comes out but within a couple of years it sounds terrible, it might possibly sound retro and great again but that could take years. The Only Ones were a classic rock band with great drum and guitars and bass. On this recording John Perry is allowed one bent note just to show he hadn’t disappeared completely. The rest is a record that declares it is from 1980, it was shit then, it hasn’t aged well either.
Naturally the fans of the band liked the band because of the sound they made, if you are going to change the sound you had better be confident lots of new people will like it because the old fans won’t.
But there was worse
By the chorus the nasal Tones of Perrett had been joined by what could only be described as ‘girlie vocals’ in a call and response episode. I’m sure by this time most of the blood had drained from my face such was the horror. Occasionally I would play the single again just to check it hadn’t been a trick of my mind but every time the experience was just as horrible. It’s not a bad song but it’s a bad record which, of course, did the band no favours at all.
It’s a familiar story, occasionally it works for a band, Simple Minds were transformed by agreeing to cover ‘Don’t You Forget about Me’ which transformed their fortunes and their credibility. Billy Bragg was subject to a significant record company investment around the time of ‘Sexuality’ which made no difference to his album sales whatsoever. More often this is the last ditch for a band, the change of direction just alienates everyone.
It took record companies a long time to learn their lesson. Eventually music became so financially worthless they have let anyone with a following just get on with it, or they sign artists on the musical equivalent of a zero hours contract and sack them at the first sign of faltering income.
In retrospect it started my disillusionment with the star maker machinery and heralded the start of the 80’s (there had been a phoney war since 1978 but now shots were being fired on anger). Colin Thurston was ready to embrace the new age to the point where he produced ‘Rio’ for Duran Duran.
It was going to take a while for rock to come back into fashion, critics were sharpening their knives for the band and were suggesting Perrett would be a lot better off without the thumping drums and Perry’s fluid guitar. Luckily, by the time the band limped to a halt Perrett was in no shape for any musical adventures.
Anyway, make up your own minds, do let me know what you think, dud or forgotten classic ?