RADIO STARS – Punk From The End Of The Pier
Every music movement has to have its Chas & Dave – a dubious bunch that appear out of seemingly nowhere (but have really been around – and I mean been around) – who don’t quite fit but who are carried along on the spring tide.
The type of outfit you’d imagine you’d be more likely to catch on a Wednesday night in late September at a Butlins holiday camp, rather than on some sweaty Saturday night at a packed 100 Club on Oxford Street.
When punk broke out like a gawky teenager’s face in ’76 in the U.K., a whole grab-bag of rockers, from the slightly to extremely dodgy variety, ditched the loons, spiked and gelled their remaining hair and poured themselves into drainpipes in order to reinvent themselves as louts.
Some of them were shocking (as in plain bad – The Sniveling Shits anyone, who were not old but otherwise lived up to their name), even to the punks that shocked everyone else. Others produced puzzled scalp-scratching, followed by a loss of interest, followed by a hunt for an NME journalist to beat to a pulp.
And then there were a handful of bands that, momentarily, managed to mount and surf the New Wave before getting dumped off and dragged below the surface again. The best of these latter ensembles were the really rather fun Radio Stars.
“Dirty Pictures” (1977, available on the album, “Somewhere There’s a Place For Us”, on Chiswick and available here) was the insanely catchy debut single by the band. Not really punk at all, more power pop, it assumed a mantle of credibility by getting a release on Chiswick Records, possibly the first “indie” label to emerge to worry at the soft underbelly of the corporate behemoths such as RCA.
The single caught fire nicely and, before anyone could hawk and gob, was nestling just under the Top Twenty on the U.K. singles chart.
But, really, one look at the haircuts on the 7″ sleeve (see top of post) and you had to wonder. Take away the leather jackets and what do we have here, then?
The patent iffiness of the street cred of Radio Stars was only reinforced by the fact Radio Stars had yet to play their first live gig.
In fact, as it turned out, this bunch were no callow youths with a subscription to “Sniffin’ Glue” and a room at mum’s house with a ghastly odor of sweaty t-shirt, rancid socks and incessant wanking.
No indeed, the trio had history and could clearly tell which end was up on a Fender Stratocaster. Andy Ellison had trod the boards as lead vocalist with John’s Children, a little outfit that also had housed a minuscule imp by the name of Bolan, Marc. That would be the Marc Bolan who had been enjoying massive teen dream adulation and worldwide success in the early ’70s as the elven lord of T. Rex, who, despite his familiarity with the woodland nymphs and faeries, tragically failed to notice an oak tree in his Mini’s path in September, 1997 and left us for the Great Dingly Dell in the Sky.
Astonishingly enough, when you consider his usual lyrical whimsy, it was Bolan (before he left the planet) who had penned the song which was smeared all over the “B” side of the 2nd Radio Stars single, the less-than-pastoral “Horrible Breath“:
Meanwhile the songwriter and bassist for Radio Stars turned out to be one Martin Gordon, who had seen duty with Sparks during their first heady days of wine and poses, and the trio was topped off by Mr. Ian McLeod, who together with the other two was busy hiding the fact they had, the day before, been known as Jet, a spectacularly unsuccessful glam rock group (and nothing to do with the gravel-voiced muckers from Down Under).
Jet‘s lack of success was a little puzzling, certainly, at least, to their record company, CBS. They were, after all, regarded as the first supergroup of glam. Not only Gordon, but pianist Peter Oxendale as well had been in the version of Sparks that recorded the classic “Kimono My House” album, from which the single, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us“, burst onto the U.K. charts in a blaze of knitted sweaters and clip-on ties.
As aforementioned, Ellison, along with drummer Chris Townson, were both ex-bandmates of Bolan in the ’60s in the pre-T Rex outfit, John’s Children.
Add guitarist Davy O’List, who was little short of a living legend, following stints with The Attack, The Nice, and the first edition of Roxy Music, hand the producer job to Roy Thomas Baker, riding high for his work with Queen, get togged up by Elton John‘s tailor, share management with Gary Glitter …… what could possibly go wrong?
Ahem ….. well, exactly.
The sound of Jet fell somewhere between Sparks and Radio Stars. Apparently that’s somewhere nobody was remotely interested in going, at least not in 1975. Yet a bunch of Jet tunes, including “Dirty Pictures“, were to resurface as Radio Stars’ staples, albeit with the wheezy synthesizers replaced by brash guitars.
The success Radio Stars were to briefly enjoy (and which they still capitalize upon to this day) was actually no joke. It was fully deserved. Gordon was/is a songwriter of delightful originality, with a repertoire that is humorous and quirky, but also blessed with a strong pop sensibility and a knack for locating and inserting ridiculously catchy hooks into his jaunty ditties.
And he read his satirical rags, jumping on a famous Private Eye cover lampooning U.S. President Gerald Ford for announcing that “(T)here is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration” at a time the U.S.S.R. was at the height of its power…..
As an aside, it should be duly noted that President Ford was not alone among world leaders in making mind-numbing, foot-firmly-planted-in-gob, moronic statements – French nose, Charles De Gaulle, once informed his stunned nation that “China is a big country with a lot of Chinese people living there.”
As for Radio Stars, opportunists is, I suppose, a word that could be hurled in their direction. But I doubt they’d much care.
This is the band, after all, who were bound determined to call their debut L.P., “Bowels Stuffed With Spleen“, until more genteel heads at Chiswick Records prevailed.
The contents, however, were not tampered with and thus is preserved a set of songs exhibiting a sterling lack of taste (an ode to a serial rapist, for example, entitled “The Beast of Barnsley“, and a tribute to the then recently-deceased Elvis Presley lovingly labelled, “Arthur is Dead Boring (Let’s Rot)“.
All this nonsense in an era of sneering rebellion and incendiary political rock ‘n roll statements, of course, forced one to ask oneself a question posed by the band themselves. And, of course, the answer was “no”, but thank the Good Earth Radio Stars went ahead and did it anyway.
They may not be essential cultural and sociological artifacts from an age long past but the two platters’ worth of, as one writer said, “supreme power-pop punk with fiendishly witty lyrics”, are about as much fun as can be had to those of us who think “Detente” is just a particularly powerful Belgium lager! And that’s all that matters.
You weren’t meant to take them seriously, unlike, say, Jimmy Pursey, who obviously thought he should be, for reasons entirely unfathomable to me.
As an official Radio Stars spokesperson points out:
“Radio Stars should not be confused with radio stars, namely stars that produce by means of chemical and electrical discharges, emissions of various radio frequencies, whether constant or pulsed. Radio Stars, no matter whether constant or pulsed, will under no circumstances produce discharges or emissions. Well, under no circumstances to which we can refer in polite company, at any rate.”
So, go ahead – glory in the uproariously daft, upbeat power-pop of Radio Stars without shame or guilt.
You can still do so, you know – their two albums and assorted compilations and live recordings are, to this day, freely available from Chiswick and the band continues to mount the boards, plug in, vaguely tune up and disgracefully thrash on here in 2011, thirty-five odd years on from their cheeky re-invention as “punks” in the first place. And I mean “disgracefully” as the highest of compliments!…..
I suppose, if one were to be asked to suggest a U.S. equivalent to Radio Stars, a close approximation in attitude and general nonsense would be The Dickies, rightfully immortalized as the band who, hands down, wrote the absolute best tribute song ever to Pep Boys.
These morons (said with affection) also liked to trash stodgy standards from other musical genres, such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”, The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, effectively turning each of them into the same 99 m.p.h., amped-up clatter of calamity, clocking in, if possible, at two minutes or less.
Martin Gordon appears to have never stopped making music for a moment, even after Radio Stars fell under the hooves of an ever-restless music business. He also appears to have concurrently perfected, but kept secret, his potion for the preservation of eternal youth.
Now in his late 50s, Gordon still looks pretty much the same as he did in the early ’70s, handsome and youthful, which I’m sure makes many aging tubs and asthmatics want to plant a hobnailed boot squarely in his no doubt still fully functional nuts.
There’s simply no rhyme or reason to who falls apart and who does not.
Gordon’s post-Radio Stars music – of which I know nothing – apparently took a turn away from the New Wave highway and onto the New Age slip road. However a glance at his label’s description of the contents of his “How Am I Doing So Far?” compilation would suggest his wry wit remains intact:
“Featured on this compendium of aural delights are songs about Nigerian email scams, technology (he has ‘missed the universal serial buss’, he rather implausibly claims at one point), relationships with alien lovelies, Heaven run by the Germans, age as a cricketing metaphor, marital problems, xenophobia, instant fame and of course the title track, in which he wonders why despite his plethora of gold chains and mobile phones, nobody takes him seriously.”
It must be acknowledged that there is a strong possibility Martin Gordon is a God-like genius, way ahead of his time and therefore unable to be understood (or even noticed) by mere mortals. If you can open an album with a song entitled “(Oh No, What Shall We Do?) Daddy Lost His Head In A Coup“, you are probably America’s best bet for a competent President in 2012.
I don’t think he’s American but, since Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are clearly not from this Earth, I don’t see why that should matter.
I’ll make up the bumper stickers, shall I?
Visit President-Elect Gordon and other Radio Stars stuff here.
And, for God’s sake, cheer up!
Shortly after posting this ramble about Radio Stars, I was pleasantly floored to receive a missive from the man himself, Mr. Martin Gordon, he who bears the responsibility for giving the world “Dirty Pictures” and all the other delightfully catchy ditties that get under your skin and stay there forever (think scabies – except imagine such a thing being a pleasant addition to your physical form!).
I was most relieved to hear the still youthful, whippet-like songsmith approved of the post and I am happy to report Martin is still making music and wishes to make it clear he has no objection to being “discovered” again on an even larger – hopefully global – scale.
So go say hello to the man himself at www.martingordon.de and you will find a hilarious and voluminous website stuffed with nuggets to look at, listen to and buy from Martin Gordon‘s lifetime of musical excellence in pursuit of the perfect power pop song. Proof positive that his desire for global domination should be given serious consideration.
Boy Gordon – in the 20th and 21st centuries (left to right, no, right to left …..jeez, what is this lad ON!!):
You can read Martin’s complete life story, which, by the sound of it, has included an unseemly amount of laughs. And you can listen to pretty much his entire musical odyssey through the centuries, all on his dime. An excellent way to while away the time on these annoyingly sunny afternoons!
So pay Martin Gordon a visit and pay homage to a uniquely talented nutcase with a penchant for the infuriatingly catchy pop hook. If you know “Dirty Pictures”, the debut single by Radio Stars, you might also want to let him know he already has, in fact, written the perfect power pop song. And that you’re ready for the next slice of perfection from his musical nibs
August 23rd, 2011 at 12:18 am Reply Most amusin’. I am not American, you are correct. And the rest of your facts seem to be equally on the money, as we say in our quaint Cockernee dialect, especially the bit about being noticed. Clearly you are consuming large amounts of vitamin C. Well done!Martin Gordon (for it is he).
August 23rd, 2011 at 8:45 pm ReplyHi Martin:What a delightful surprise to hear from “The Man” himself! It’s funny, when scribbling away on the blog, I’m always vaguely keeping in mind that there’s a remote chance someone whom I’m writing about might just read the post (although I don’t imagine that happening on a regular basis!). On the Radio Stars’ piece, I did actually ponder the Chas & Dave reference at the start in case it caused offense but I’m glad that (as far as I can tell) you were able to keep reading and hopefully realize the great affection I hold for Radio Stars.I vividly remember how impossibly catchy “Dirty Pictures” was when it first came out and I recall rushing out and buying a copy and taking it back to a friend’s house in London by the charming name of Spitt and driving him to distraction by playing it incessantly for the next three days. Luckily he agreed with me that the song was ridiculously catchy but I think he was glad to clip my heels with the front door when I left to return to Scotland a few days later!He and I are still great friends and the topic of the “Dirty Pictures” marathon will still come up every so often. I, of course, still have the single and can see it sitting winking at me from where I sit in my grand mansion (yeah, right!) in Los Angeles, next to The Clash “Bankrobber” and The Radiators “Kitty Ricketts” (treasured for the “B” side.Anyway I am so thrilled to hear from you and that you are still making music with your great sense of humor very much intact. I will be checking out your more recent work which, shamefully, I was unaware of and I’d certainly be more than happy, indeed privileged, to post any snippets of new music you may wish me to chuck up on the net to tickle the lugs of the disgraced masses who are yet to grant you your just reward.Radio Stars have given me a ton of pleasure over the past 35 years and “Dirty Pictures” has never lost its appeal. I, in fact, still find myself, apropos of nothing, bursting out in song with the opening lines of “Dirty Pictures”, which is fine in the shower but tends to cause some alarm in supermarkets and cafes! Not my fault those that don’t recognize it are musical morons!Thanks again for writing, mate, and I wish you every success and every happiness in the future.Neil
September 7th, 2011 at 8:33 pm ReplyThanks for this. I have one dominant memory of the Radio Stars from a gig in Aberystwyth in 1978/1979. During “Nervous Wreck” a mate distracted me as Andy E leapt into the audience – I didn’t see him coming and was knocked spark out. Happy days…
September 10th, 2011 at 6:17 pm ReplyHi Tim:That’s a hilarious story and I’ve passed it on to Martin Gordon whom I’m sure will appreciate it!Neil
September 10th, 2011 at 9:09 pm ReplyHappy days indeed – being comatose was preferable to being conscious even in those distant days, I think. In fact, I believe I remember this event as it led (the following day) to the band becoming insured for damages, which nobody had thought about until that point…As for spontaneously bursting into tunes from my catalogue, I find that my small boy of seven launches occasionally into ‘Shoot the Women First’, which has a similar effect on fellow-travellers.Martin Gordon