Wednesday, 6 February 2008


Another big hit from the eighties yet to resurface on Radio 2 or Capital Gold or Heart FM - isn't it wonderful how the computerised carousel system of contemporary radio playlists filters out all history bar the 200 or so records most universally known and least likely to cause listener discomfort? - and Sputnik themselves are yet to be assimilated into any readable eighties tapestry, even if that were the last thing they would have wanted.

Sputnik, and in particular their debut single, set the critical dividing lines with irretrievable finality; between Melody Maker and NME, between mischievous and worthy, between pop and rock, maybe between life and death. MM adored them, but NME, beached on the grey beach of half-an-hour-of-Aretha-every-morning-teach-dignity worthy, were not inclined to give them much credit; for their final verdict they engaged Morley himself, who as a Mancunian was naturally suspicious of what he might term "Southern spivs" though I suspect kicked himself several dozen times for not lassoing them to ZTT (that having been said, however, I note that the Flaunt It! album did not appear in the MM's end of year Top 30 but turned up at #43 in the NME list thanks, apparently, to high-placed votes from D Quantick and M Sinker).

Although I could foresee SSS' eventual doom, I liked them a lot; the Action Man box as album concept was amusing and different and Moroder did a fine production job, keeping them firmly in the middle of their far left road but also conjuring up beats as hard and swervy as other key 1986 records, including Janet's Control, Test Dept's Unacceptable Face Of Freedom, The The's Infected and On-U Sound passim. Even if the gaps between tracks intended for adverts were as semi-filled as the commercial breaks in the early days of Channel 4, the concept was nicely aware of its own inherent fate.

And "Love Missile F1-11" was a sweet monster. Now it sounds exactly how it was intended to sound; an exact cross between the affable anxiety of the second Suicide album and the meticulous cleanliness of Moroder's E = mc2, pink and playful with its Carl Perkins-via-Hot Butter synth riff, Tony James' guitar detonating in some of the right places and singer Martin Degville yelling gleefully about US bombs, unfed millions, fashion's dead (with a fantastically minute swoop of an in-and-out orchestral flourish), giving head and shooting up - in other words, everything that most 1986 music wasn't. Indeed, Sputnik's approach isn't dissimilar to that of a poppier, lighter Young Gods - one takes absolute pleasure in the random jabs at the Fairlight as though it's Christmas morning and the group are merrily playing with their exciting new toy; voices and exclamations going up and down scale like the Goons (and SSS are also responsible for one of the great personnel details in British pop - Chris Kavanagh and Ray Mayhew on electric drums). Amiably outrageous and softer than it appears, it's a natural pop flipside to the more classical approach of Mick Jones' contemporaneous BAD; and it's little surprise that James and Jones have now ended up reunited in the same band - the excellent Carbon Silicon.

TV loved them but worthies didn't, including Radio 1's Simon Bates who smashed the single live on his show (he didn't survive the Bannister purge long) in favour of the more palatable/acceptable/compromised likes of Amazulu and Latin Quarter, and the record sped up the charts but was finally kept in third place behind two unquestionably "worthy" (as in "dull and...") current and future multinational corporate chart toppers, Billy Ocean's "When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going" and Diana Ross' "Chain Reaction" - ironically, SSS set themselves up in the Apple/PiL/BEF/RoL tradition of corporations (but with the partial exception of the KLF, have such ideas ever branched out into successful non-musical waters?). And as the Beastie Boys suddenly burst into the market towards the end of 1986, the maxim about doing it first and then going for the hype seemed to have been proved, to Sputnik's disadvantage. Still, they have persisted and survived in their various ways and a reminder of their sneaky tongue-out power is long overdue. Would that we had an equivalent today.