Radio Stars formed in the wake of “supergroup” Jet. Not the middling Aussie band, but rather the 70’s project formed between members of Sparks and a gaggle of musicians who played with Marc Bolan, The Attack and Roxy Music. That record is worth tracking down in its own right, but a bit harder to find in proper reissue these days. After Jet split, Martin Gordon hooked up with Andy Ellison (from the Nuggets-era stompers John’s Children) and Ian Mcleod to form the backbone of Radio Stars.
Sparks’ influence is evident here in Gordon’s songwriting. There’s the same pageantry and huge sound amid cheeky subject matter and splashy glam overtones. Radio Stars lean in closer to punk, making this akin to the chopped furor of Big Beat, which Sparks released the year prior. The idiosyncrasies give the record a longevity well beyond their era, making this feel like the oddball discovery it is but still letting it blare on the speakers in fine fashion.
The follow-up, Holiday Album, didn’t chart as well and Gordon left the group, who disbanded shortly after. Though Ellison would attempt to use the name later in the 80’s, but that iteration never had the vitality of the original Radio Stars. For what its worth, though, Songs For Swinging Lovers cements them into the canon of punk and glam essentials.
Most English class of ’77 punk LPs are about both anarchy in the UK and being bored of the USA. The debut LP from reinvented glam band Jet addresses bookish girls with good personas, unsavory culinary combinations and dull, dead Arthur. Singer Andy Ellison formerly fronted ‘60s Mod outfit John’s Children and songwriter Martin Gordon played bass on Sparks’ Kimono My House.Together they pack charisma and quirks into spunky power-pop overflowing with music hall yuks. While America checked into Hotel California, lucky Brits got “Nervous Wreck,” the only Top 40 ditty to turn “electroencephalograph” into a toe-tapping refrain. Barry Walters
Radio Stars’ debut album appeared hot on the heels of two tremendous singles, “Dirty Pictures” and “No Russians in Russia” (from the Stop It EP). Neither track made it onto the album (although early pressings included a bonus 45 coupling the two), but they were scarcely missed as the band sauntered through a dozen tight, punk-inflected odes to some decidedly unpunky subjects: “Eric,” about a man named Eric; “Macaroni and Mice,” misgivings over the contents of certain foreign-owned restaurant menus; “Nice Girls,” about nice girls; and “Good Personality,” about ugly ones. Also featured is “Nervous Wreck,” Radio Stars’ first hit single and positively the only record in history to feature the word “electroencephalograph” as an intrinsic part of the chorus. Musical puns also abound: “Nice Girls” opens with a grinning lift from “Pinball Wizard,” while “Buy Chiswick Records” delights in spinning utterly out of synch with itself.
Amid such madcappery, the British tabloids could not resist hauling out a few examples of supreme bad taste with which to whip the band. “The Beast of Barnsley,” a churning, near-military paean to a period serial killer, drew anguished commentary from the killer’s wife, who claimed she could no longer go to a pub in case the song turned up on the jukebox. Radio Stars promptly placed the song on the B-side of its next single, in the hope that it would. The maniacal chant “Arthur Is Dead Boring (Let’s Rot),” meanwhile, started life as a disrespectful assault on the recently deceased Elvis Presley, but was renamed to avoid the attentions of the King’s grieving followers.
Alternating between fast songs and faster songs, short songs and shorter songs, Songs for Swinging Lovers never loses sight of the melodic genius that has always been songwriter Martin Gordon’s calling card. Indeed, it is that sense of melody that not only ensures the album’s longevity, but confirms it as one of the few punk-era albums not to have become horribly dated by the passing years, while the jokes and light-heartedness remain equally fresh. Dave Thompson
and from way back when… NME (02.12.1977)
What with television currently obsessed with unpalatably dodgy plays and bleeding heart profiles of adolescent dementoids like Billy, Jimmy and Harry The Dog of Millwall on Panorama (the sound-track of which is ramalama-dolequeue rock cutely numbered by CSM last week), Radio Stars, bless ’em, come across like an aural Fawlty Towers – fast, furious, dead tight, blustering and blisteringly funny. And what, we ask ourselves, is ultimately the more worthwhile reflection of le kondishion ooman, squire? Radio Stars’ ramalama-hamming is the sly, slick, sick sound track for Page Three of The Sun, where spicy / sordid stories jostle with some bint’s juicy bits.
Take cut four / side one, the best rock’n’roll song I’ve heard – er, well, this week anyhow. Called ‘The Beast of Barnsley’, it’s their odd ode to the eccentric miscreant who was recently put away for ‘doing naughty things to innocent women from behind’ (without their consent, natch). The title is chanted in unison in best Glitter Band style (with a chirpy “Who’s a naughty boy?” slipped into one channel) as the conclusion is reached, “He’s a creature, all right”. No wonder The Beast’s mother collapsed on hearing it (after some enterprising hack had played it to her, asking if she thought it should be banned – no prizes for the correct answer, which appeared, of course, on Page Three, etc.).
Bad taste, eh? Unacceptable, huh? No more so than say, the Byrds getting Whiskey-a-Go Go patrons frugging to their electrified ‘Bells Of Rhymney’ back in the 60s. And certainly preferable to the puerile proliferation of Pro-plus punks pathetically bleating their po-faced political naivety at self-pitying emotional retards who take all that gulf about Ulster and the price of sulphate seriously, for Chrissakes. Which is by way of saying that Radio Stars stick out from the fetid morass of garage bands on fly-by-night labels like Nureyev’s whatsit through his leotard.
Only they’re more fun than guessing a ballet dancer’s religion. Jeez, not only do these guys play real good’n’snappy bop-a-long rock, they’ve got a fistful of ace chewns and there’s not a whiff of pretension about them. Their 77 synthesis of all that was right and proper in the T.Rex / Lennon-McCartney / Neil Innes scale of things makes for laudable and laughable (as in loveable) listening. Together with the top-notch double-A single (the dizzy ‘Dirty Pictures’ and the daffy ‘No Russians In Russia’) you get a freebie 12-inch album, which includes a motherlode of little gems brilliantly produced (poo poo, dirty word) by bassist Martin Gordon, shoving in tricks and jokes at the correct junctures. Besides ‘The Beast’, there’s ‘Is It Really Necessary’, which begins in the studio next door, swiftly developing into a middle-period Beatle-y number, hut Ian Macleod’s well-in-check guitar ferocity much tougher than Hari would’ve done it.
And the rumbustious, never reckless ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, a 40-second HM 12-bar pastiche (“Nothing Happened Today”) worthy of Martin Mull, a foreign food muck warning (“Macaroni’n’Mice”), a song about a guy called ‘Eric’, and, and… Oh, sod this, there’s not a duff track on the thing and I’m off to play it again. Monty Smith