Sunday, March 08, 2015

Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop (1986)

This treatment of the UK's early-'80s resurgence in pop music—known in the US as the "second British invasion"—encompasses so-called New Pop, focusing mostly on Culture Club, but also Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, and many others. It's written by Dave Rimmer, then of Smash Hits. Interesting trivia: another Smash Hits editor, Neil Tennant, served as agent in getting the book deal. I should explain my use of scare quotes and "so-called," because it largely explains my indifference to the book and its many insights. British pop of the early '80s wasn't that important to me. I loved (and still do) ABC, the Human League, and Culture Club, but have little use for Adam & the Ants, Duran Duran, and most of the others, with occasional exceptions for specific songs. I was convinced by my experience of it in the '70s (later confirmed in books such as Fredric Dannen's Hit Men) that pop radio had essentially become a fraud, controlled and manipulated by corporate interests. The "second British invasion" seems to me still little more than stuffing the charts in an attempt to recreate more lucrative times. The mass of "New Pop" does not stand up to the mass of the '60s British pop, nor are its highs comparable to the earlier highs. It doesn't mean there wasn't great music in the '80s too, and I was grateful Rimmer's focus was Culture Club when it could have been Duran Duran. At the same time Rimmer is explicitly constrained by his relationship with Boy George O'Dowd, Jon Moss, and the others, and altogether too focused on his "New Pop" thesis, supported by too much extraneous chart analysis, to get to the real story there, as I see it, which is the person and the persona of O'Dowd. O'Dowd's affair with Moss remains a tantalizing mystery and I get the feeling it's the best way in to the Culture Club story. There's no way Rimmer was going to write that story in 1986—not without a lot of unpleasant fallout likely—and it really was never what he intended. Just so, from my view, I think the title needs to be adjusted slightly: Like 1968 Never Happened.

In case it's not at the library.


  1. What I never got ab this one, or, specifically, got ab the infamy of the title, never having read it, is why make punk your target? I don't mean in the sense of 'why pick on punk' but it doesn't really make much sense. As if the new pop was any closer to the pre-punk long hair, long solos rock establishment than punk or new wave?! Perhaps we're supposed to infer a link to disco, and its more open gayness, and celebration of artifice, but that title, in fact, and the diy-synths that powered most of those outfits were plenty punk, if you ask me. It's also false to make too much of any supposed antagonism betw punk and disco. Punks were playing disco, or trying to anyway, by '77/'78 latest. Again, the disco sucks people were primarily long haired classic rockers. Remember, by '82 Gang of Four were performing w/ dry ice and dancing girls! Even the origins of hiphop makes most sense as an organic third-way hybrid of punk and disco. What all these movements-- new pop, punk/newwave, disco, hiphop-- had in common was that they were pop challenges to Zeppelin/Floyd orthodoxy. And, of the, I'd agree the new pop was the least creatively productive, give a Dare or "Careless Whisper" here and there.

  2. I think the contrast is supposed to be more about seeking commercial success rather than rejecting it, which is taken as one defining ethos of punk. But it's all muddled here, because rejecting commercial success was also an article of faith for hippie classic rock, which many punk-rockers were rejecting too.