Back during the last days of high school and the beginning of my college career, music was richly diverse. It was the days of punk rock’s influence whose ethos pretty much threw out the blues-based mega-elitism of the musicians’ playing abilities in favor of a stripped down musical sound built upon a pop foundation. The outcome of these bands, primarily consisting of late Baby Boomers and early Generation X-ers, was a throwback to the essence of the early days of rock & roll and Brill Building pop confections. Additionally, these musicians were scouring the world for new sounds of which they could incorporate into their own music, giving rise to “world music.” But, before that term took off in the wake of Remain in Light by Talking Heads (1980), Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Peter Gabriel’s self-titled albums from 1980 and 1982 and Graceland, Paul Simon’s seminal 1986 album.
But, just before those albums appeared, a lesser known punk band called Adam and the Ants were struggling to find a sound as they were attempting to navigate the punk underground in England. The band needed a unique sound they could sell to the kids. Thus, upon the invitation of band namesake Adam Ant, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren was asked to manage the band. First, McLaren dressed the boys in the band up as pirates, decades before Johnny Depp became Jack Sparrow. Then, McLaren told the boys to throw out the punk sound and replace it with a more pop sound only set to what is known as the Burundi Beat.
Burundi is a small country in central Africa whose native tribal drummers were recorded in the early Seventies by a couple of French anthropologists. Although this academic recording sold very few copies, somehow one ended up with McLaren. The recording was made of 25 tribal drummers whose rhythmic beatings were used for various religious ceremonies and secular events. So, when Adam and the Ants co-opted a watered down version of the rhythm and applied it to their pop/rock/dance songs, the band’s first album showing off this new sound took England by storm. And, Antmania was born, albeit very briefly. It was at this time that the evil genius McLaren struck. He stole all of the original “Ants” and made them the backing band for a 14-year-old yet physically mature for her age Burmese singer Annabella Lwin and rechristened as Bow Wow Wow. McLaren also stole the sound of the Ants as well.
So, the battle was on. Adam hired a new set of Ants, including his new songwriting partner guitarist Marco Pirroni. The band went on to have UK hits like “Antmusic”, “Prince Charming”, “Dog Eat Dog”, among others. While, Bow Wow Wow had one hit, their cover of “I Want Candy”, which was just a minor hit in the States. But, after one more album, Prince Charming, Ant went solo, only bringing along his new musical partner Marco. And, together they concocted one of New Wave’s finest albums, Friend or Foe, which was released in 1982.
Immediately, Ant’s first solo video “Goody Two Shoes” was a huge hit on MTV, which then crossed over to the radio to become his first Top 10 hit in the United States. Finally, Adam Ant was a world-wide pop star. “Goody Two Shoes” was the only song whose rhythm allowed me to witness a 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound chiseled defensive lineman to do an Adam Ant “dance” imitation down the hall of a dorm. It was a sight to behold. Still, Friend or Foe yielded one more hit song, the slyly sexy “Desperate but Not Serious”. This album was truly a hedonistic party classic of its time. The album is nothing but fun danceable pop/rock hybrid that brought African rhythms to the world.
Unbelievably yet not surprisingly, that Burundi Beat brought out the Campus Crusading Fundamentalist Christians (and remember: I AM a Christian) out of their depths to condemn the direct use of African rhythms because they represent the summoning of evil spirits. While, if you did just a little college library research you could discover that the Burundi used this rhythm in celebrations of their dead relatives and the life force of nature and Earth. That was my first run-in with the Christian far-right concerning their racist views of rock music. In other words, these people would love to remove all rolling from the definition of rock & roll, which is code for removing the “black” for the music of the youth of all American teens and twenty-somethings. If these people had just used their time to befriend the undesirables, the world might be better off today. Instead, they peddled neo-McCarthyism that is so rampant today.
Anyway, Friend or Foe is another great example of the New Romantic movement of London 1980-82, but more importantly, this album is a classic example of great New Wave music. I must admit that Friend or Foe is one of my Top 30 New Wave Albums from the original, and still greatest, New Wave.
One day, I HAVE to tackled a Top New Wave Albums. But, until then, pop Adam Ant’s solo debut on your turntable, in your CD player or just stream it, crank up the volume and just enjoy the pure joy Adam Ant puts on display as he sings the twelve songs on this classic album. This is another example of a classic album that has been overlooked for far too long.