I recently got hold of Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond’s ‘The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way’ for a quid in my local Amnesty bookshop.
Cheap at the price: written in 1988, the book purports to be a foolproof guide to creating a hit single.
But then you never can tell. It might not be wise to take it too seriously because Cauty and Drummond are very naughty boys.
The former was once in ’80s pop agitators Brilliant and Zodiac Mindwarp while the latter is of course an industry veteran, a member of Liverpool proto-punks Big In Japan (also featuring Holly Johnson, Budgie and Ian Broudie) and later the manager of Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.
The two pop pranksters got together and made some serious money from their genre-busting (read: nicking bits of other records and stitching them together), giant hits as The KLF, The Timelords and The Justified Ancients Of Mu-Mu, before announcing their retirement very publicly onstage at the 1992 BRIT awards in a hilariously inappropriate send-off.
Two years later, they burnt a million quid on an island off the west coast of Scotland to make a point about…something. Even they didn’t seem too sure, as evidenced by this interview with Gay Byrne on Irish television:
All bluster aside, these days ‘The Manual’ makes for fascinating and weirdly relevant reading. When it comes to the pop biz, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Cauty and Drummond correctly predicted how chart music would turn out…forever. The following was written when the UK record industry was thriving and studios had never been more popular:
‘It’s obvious that in a very short space of time the Japanese will have delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off all that crap about going into studios. A kid with a box of records, two Technics turntables, a sampler and drum machine can have a number one.’
Another aspect that jumps out is the section on ‘trademarking grooves’, especially in the light of the recent Pharrell Williams/Marvin Gaye ‘Got To Give It Up’ lawsuit controversy.
Cauty and Drummond claim that ‘copywright law…has been developed by whites of European descent – 50 percent for the lyrics, 50 percent for the top-line melody. Groove doesn’t get a look in. If copyright law had been in the hands of blacks of African descent, at least 80 percent would have gone to creators of the groove.’
Controversial and prescient stuff. But where are the lads now? They’re probably doing OK, although Drummond already looked pretty ‘ancient’ in 1994…