Back in 1986, I remember opening the latest issue of NME and reading about this "great new band" called Sigue Sigue Sputnik. They were cheeky in their "Fleece The World" t-shirts, a sneering critique of Live-Aid's "Feed The World" mantra. It was a sentiment I understood, but found to be just a tad too jaded for my taste. It was the '80s after all. SSS were soon everywhere. As with all overnight successes, the handful of years the band spent germinating underground, supporting Johnny Thunders, was never reported. All we heard was that Sigue Sigue Sputnik were the biggest band on the planet and, as a result, they would be selling commercial ad space between the songs of their debut album, Flaunt It.
The nerve of those guys.
Not only were they proclaiming that "the music" was secondary to "the look", they had freakin' ads between their songs. Considering most of us were already fast-forwarding past commercials whenever possible, the idea of buying an album with commercials on it seemed absurd.
Of course, in the 27 years since Flaunt It was released, Sputnik mastermind Tony James has come to look like freakin' genius, at least as far as predicting how Music and Commerce would become intertwined in ways that once seemed unimaginable.
So, was Tony James really a genius decades ahead of his time? While I appreciate his tireless dedication to the premise, ultimately, I just don't think Spigue Sigue Sputnik had the songs. Plus, ABC came along a year earlier employing much the same schtick and hiring two non-musical members based on their appearance alone. They'd also had great songs to back it up, scoring huge hits with "Be Near Me" and "(How To Be A) Millionaire".
In a way, forming Sigue Sigue Sputnik was the most "punk rock" thing Tony James ever did. In doing so, he bypassed a myriad of other potentially high-profile opportunities that might have brought him more success, but at the expense of his integrity and self-respect. And, yes, that is a pink pineapple wig Tony's wearing.
Technically, James could do no wrong in my book. As the guitarist for original UK punks Generation X, his street cred was forever solidified. Still, he was anything but high profile in those pre-internet days. I went literally years with my ear to the ground so as not to miss the faintest rumble of activity. There were rumors that he was forming a band with Steve and Paul from the Pistols, or that he'd started a band with Stiv from the Dead Boys, but none ever panned out.
Years drifted by with nary a whisper and then, BLAMMO, he and Sputnik were everywhere.
For all the constant demanding of our attention, what did Sigue Sigue Sputnik really accomplish? What's their legacy?
I decided to try answering that question for myself by revisiting Flaunt It. After all, it had been produced by the almighty Giorgio Moroder, so how bad could it possibly be?
Of course, that carries more weight now than it did then simply because Moroder's reputation has had thirty years to be carefully cultivated into the monolithic legend that it is these days. Fortunately for him, very few people remember that he produced Flaunt It.
Not that I think SSS gave him much at all to work with song-wise. The album is, for all intents and purposes, 11 variations on the same song ("Love Missile"), which wasn't really such a barn burner in the first place. Imagine reducing the very core of Eddie Cochran's sound to a single bass line and a Dixie Cup snare then photocopying it for the express purpose of making photocopies of each photocopy, until the original is rendered illegible.
Thankfully, there is so much more to the Sigue Sigue Sputnik story that you and I might have never known if not for Tony James' affectionate (and detail-intensive) retelling of the entire story on the Sputnik website [LINK].
This admittedly riveting "in his own words" glimpse into the world of one of punk's godfathers as he painstakingly dreams up his next musical project and takes it all the way to #1 is a must-read for any music nerd.
Out of the many revelations, the one that sticks with me the most is how big a supporter Mick Jones from the Clash had been, going so far as to run sound for the band's early live shows. Can you imagine showing up to see Sigue Sigue Sputnik and one of the main guys from The fucking Clash is running sound?
Naturally, when he got sacked by The Clash, his schedule opened up considerably, yet it seems to have never occurred to James to, I dunno, form a band with Mick Jones since both were exploring the same dub-oriented territory anyway. Of course, Jones would go on to form Big Audio Dynamite (a name someone in the SSS camp came up with, it turns out) before eventually...some two decades later...forming Carbon/Silicon with, you guessed it, Tony James.