Listen to this track by glam-pop new wave dandies and top ten selling merry-makers Adam & The Ants. It’s “Antmusic”, a smash hit single as taken from their second LP Kings Of The Wild Frontier.
This iteration of the band is actually the second of its life. The first version that was formed in 1977 had Adam Ant (nee Stuart Leslie Goddard) backed by a group who would later back away from him entirely at the behest of then-manager Malcolm McLaren. They would go on to form Bow Wow Wow without Adam, with many of the same musical textures guiding their approach. And what was that approach? Well, it was a classic move in post-punk strategy, which was to skip the blues and go right back to Africa. For Adam’s part, and Bow Wow Wow notwithstanding, it worked out very well for him indeed. He formed another version of Adam & The Ants around himself, including guitarist Marco Pirroni who would serve as his co-writer. They would craft a catalogue of hits that became staples on the pop charts in Britain in the early eighties.
This was one of them, and one that crossed the ocean as a herald of their arrival. “Antmusic” is an anthem to their sound, with a streak of rock star arrogance running through it that made it pretty compelling as pure pop music. Besides its echoey guitar, call-to-arms vocals, and insistant two-kit beat, another of the things that gave it such impact was an important understanding of a particular aspect when it came to pop music by the early eighties; tribalism.
Adam & The Ants were a new sensation in the beginning of that decade, with this song being a banner under which they sailed onto the charts. They matched their unique sound with the right look, too. By 1980, visuals were paramount. Every band had to have some kind of visual hook as well as an aural one, which is a big part of the reason why eighties pop was often so luridly presented when it came to haircuts and clothes.
Adam & The Ants nailed this down pretty well, too, costuming themselves as a sort of 17th century group of glammed up pirates from the south seas, set upon sailing alongside the pop charts and boarding them during a time when pop fans were very divided when it came to what they wanted. It helped that Ant and Pirroni knew about pop hooks, and also how to combine that subterranean post-punk guitar sound with Bowie-esque glam rock, mixing that with Africanized drumming to make it into an appealing whole.
Apart from those defining elements in the music itself, there was a sense of swagger and arrogance that seemed to seap right through their sound, with self-referential call outs to their own prowess that are similar to what would be found in hip hop around the same time. This is where the sound and the image converged into something that really spoke to the tribal impulses of music fans at the time. Fueled by that attitude, this song is a commercial for the band’s music and persona in a very purposeful way.
At the time, bands had very clearly demarcated lines when it came to fans. Rockers, two-tone fans, goths, new romantics, punks, and beyond were all distinct musical tribes, sometimes with very little crossover. To create something new, and to sell a lot of records to match Adam’s ambitions, the band had to be creative. This song was a way to batter down the walls a bit, and to overtly put the band up against all comers by directly challenging that unwritten code in an age when music fans felt that they had to stay in their lanes; “that music’s lost its taste, then try another flavour, ANTMUSIC!”
It certainly worked out, with several top five records including this one and in multiple countries, and with singles like “Stand & Deliver” on the follow up album Prince Charming continuing that considerable momentum. Of course, the band would collapse under the strain by 1982. Adam wouldn’t falter though. He’d go solo from there without a pause and continue his rise, at least for a while. His 1982 hit single “Goody Two Shoes” would push him father up the charts as a solo artist in North America. And by 1985, he’d appear at Live Aid with many of his contemporaries, with that event largely breaking down the tribes that had been so prevalent in music at the beginning of the decade just by globally presenting so many acts of the era on the same stage.
After some health issues, and with varying levels of success chartwise over the years, Adam Ant is still an active performer and recording artist today. You can catch up to him at adam-ant.com.