Story Of A Song: Iggy Pop’s ‘Play It Safe’

Soldier, released 40 years ago this month, was seen by Iggy’s paymasters Arista as a great opportunity for mainstream acceptance.

The Idiot and Lust For Life were now distant memories, and the label’s new head of A&R Tarquin Gotch and big boss Clive Davis were ‘taking an interest’, in Coen Brothers-speak a la ‘Barton Fink’.

As band (including ex-Pistol Glen Matlock and ex-XTC keyboard man Barry Andrews) and crew assembled at the legendary/infamous Rockfield Studios in south Wales, producer and fellow ex-Stooge James Williamson was feeling the pressure, apparently at times brandishing a bottle of vodka in one hand and loaded pistol in the other.

The Soldier sessions were long and laborious. No-one seemed to be steering the ship. Iggy was bored, brooding in deepest Monmouthshire. Then, one night, the proverbial saloon doors swung open and David Bowie swanned in with trusty assistant Coco Schwab. The mood changed instantly. Iggy lightened up and the old megawatt smile returned.

Around the dinner table, Bowie told the story of John Bindon, friend of the Krays, one-time Led Zeppelin bodyguard, part-time actor, alleged lover of Princess Margaret and possessor – also allegedly – of an unnaturally large appendage.

Iggy was fired up. Next morning, he and Bowie jumped into the studio and cooked up an ironic rumination on the lure of the criminal world, with some choice quotes lifted almost verbatim from Bowie’s monologue. Originally titled ‘I Wanna Be A Criminal’, it featured a classic Bowie descending chord sequence, icy synths and a superb vocal from Iggy.

Fellow Arista signings Simple Minds, hard at work recording their album Reel To Reel Cacophony in the studio next door, were enlisted to provide amusing faux-Cockney backing vocals (you can also hear Bowie over the talkback mic at the song’s outset).

Some of the more libellous words about Bindon and Princess Margaret were later excised (Bowie apparently sidled up to Iggy at New York’s Mudd Club in early 1980 and begged him not to include them) and the song was finally released as ‘Play It Safe’, possibly Iggy’s self-conscious comment on his loss of nerve. But he still mustered a brilliantly insane ad-lib towards the end:

Rockin’ and reelin’ like Al Capone
Slippin’ and slidin’ like Joey Gallo
Movin’ and groovin’ with the Son Of Sam
Splish splash, I was Jim Jones!

Bowie had once again inspired his friend to create some of his best – if hardly commercial – work, and the best track on Soldier (though I also have a real soft spot for ‘I’m A Conservative’). The album stalled at #62 in the UK chart and made a one-week appearance at #126 in the US, hardly a success in terms of making Iggy a mainstream concern. He stuck around on Arista for one more record, the forgettable Party.

Predictably, it was Bowie who would again inspire Iggy four years later to create his most effective album of the 1980s: Blah-Blah-Blah.

ECM to Electro: New ’80s Playlists

Check out some brand new, specially-curated movingtheriver.com playlists on Spotify.

Nothing if not ambitious (and eclectic), the ultimate aim is to create a near-complete guide to 1980s music, genre by genre… And we’ll need your assistance from time to time too.

The first batch of five playlists showcases some great singles of the 1980s, classic new age and ambient sounds, a selection of electro/breakdance bangers and choice ’80s cuts from iconic jazz label ECM.

You can find them all on the new Playlists page, and I’ll be updating it regularly. Happy listening…

 

 

18 Memorable TV Ads Of The 1980s

The British film industry struggled during the ’80s. But at least we made good ads…

Brands were forking out big money for TV spots. ‘Celebrities’ frequently appeared and esteemed directors (Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson, Roland Joffe) were occasionally at the helm. Even Ken Loach, down on his uppers, got in on the act (see below).

To some, the proliferation of well-made TV ads was a sure sign of a nation in fine health. To others, it was just another ugly symbol of the Thatcherite dream, corporate capitalism running riot in the most divisive of decades (yes, including the one just gone…). Bruce Robinson, for one, was in the latter camp – he spent the entire length of his 1988 movie ‘How To Get Ahead In Advertising’ decrying the industry.

But here are some ads that remain totally fresh in the mind. On viewing them for the first time in 30 years, almost all raised a titter of familiarity – pure comfort viewing. Maybe it’s the soft-focus tint of nostalgia, but don’t they seem warmer, more imaginative, less desperate for your attention than the current crop? Or did they bring to bear all the evils of corporate ‘storytelling’ for the first time? Over to you…

18. The Guardian: ‘Points Of View’ (1986, directed by Ken Loach)

17. Clorets: ‘Security Guards’ (1989)

16. Maxell: ‘Break The Sound Barrier’ (1984)

15. Ready Brek: ‘Central Heating’ (1982)

14. BT: ‘Ology’ (1988)

13. The Milk Board: ‘Accrington Stanley’ (1988)

12. Tunes: ‘Return To Nottingham’ (1985)

11. Yellow Pages: ‘Bike’ (1985)

10. Yellow Pages: ‘JR Hartley’ (1983)

9. Yellow Pages: ‘Train Set’ (1985)

8. Shake ‘n’ Vac (1980)

7. BA: Club World (1987)

6. Toshiba: ‘Hello Tosh’ (1985)

5. Big Track (1980)

4. Hamlet: ‘Photo Booth’ (1987)

3. Heineken: ‘Water In Majorca’ (1988)

2. R Whites Lemonade (1980)

1. Quatro (1985)