Record Review: Bow Wow Wow – “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over Go Ape Crazy!” UK CD [part 2]

Bow Wow Wow 1981 [L-R] Ashman, Barbarosso, Lwin, Gorman

[…continued from last post]

“Mickey Put It Down” was a case of McLaren using Disney archetypes to tell a story as old as rock and roll. Girl pines for boy to pay attention her when he’s smitten with his guitar. The essential sound here is classic BWW with Barbarossa laying down a Burundi beat [though a little more Latin accent on his kit] and Gorman lubricating the groove with a funkalicious bass line. Ashman added stinging leads over the top and it was all capped off by the call and response vocals between Lwin and the guys. Unlike the earlier extended mixes, the running time was a succinct 3:02.

The tempo picked up for McLaren’s successful attempt to bring Gilbert + Sullivan to the Post-Punk age on “[I’m A] TV Savage.” The fast tempo supported lots of witty, multisyllabic wordplay from the band and this one was bound to get caught in my brain pan for hours at a time. The very timely and canny Ronald Reagan references in the lyrics were particularly sure-footed. The minor key “Elimination Dancing” added a slightly sinister undercurrent to the sound as it allowed for some of McLaren’s most outré lyrical flights.

Use your muscles,

‘Cause it’s with your muscles that you most easily obtain knowledge

Elimination Dancing

After that the joyously upbeat “Golly! Golly Go Buddy!” allowed for Gorman’s exceptionally frisky bass line to dance, fleet-footed through what was now side two of the LP. “Things slowed down and shifted musical gears considerably for “King Kong.” It began with acoustic strumming and fretless bass before the drums and Monkey Chant joined in as the song progressed.

bow wow wow go wild in the country censored cover artNext we got the one 12″ mix substitution that  felt worked. “Go Wild In The Country.” The batty song consisted of a slower paced verse structure that sped up and got much more manic for the chorus. The structure of the song was no cut-up here and swapped around, but the extension worked via extended instrumental breaks. A bit more typical of early UK 12″ mixes of the era, but there’s a lot to be said for maintaining the integrity of the song’s narrative flow.

bob wow wow orangutan cover artThe slow motion Funk of “I’m Not A Know It All” was almost the most traditional lyric here. It could have been part of any Pop song of the previous 20 years, but the wordless chanted middle eight added some fire to the proceedings.”Orang-Outang was the second instrumental tracks here [originally the album had the instrumental of “Prince Of Darkness,” you may remember from yesterday]. This was actually released as a single in North America! As the Surf Rock revival was still over a dozen years out, we can fault its timing as a single if not its beauty and fire. Acoustics and electrics by Ashman were the stars here in a feast for Ennio Morricone fans. The added Flamenco handclaps were oil on the saddle.

The closing “Hello, Hello Daddy [I’ll Sacrifice You]” was an absolutely batty Samba with nice interplay between the Jazz guitar and Funk bass as Annabella sang McLaren’s most left field lyrics, which I’m still trying to parse. They’re possibly about Jungian archetypes and the power of anima, but seem too steeped in misogynist fear of the feminine for that.  It all would have ended there but this CD found time for one bonus track, “El Boss Dicho” [The Boss Said]. The B-side to “Go Wild In The Country” was a brief instrumental that functioned well here as a coda to the album that had just climaxed in the weirdness of “Hello, Hello Daddy [I’ll Sacrifice You].”

In spite of the involvement of the arch-maniuplator, McLaren, Bow Wow succeeded with their debut album ultimately because they ultimately had the goods to deliver the odd mixture of severely hybridized music styles and social theorizing that McLaren was intending to explore through them. That they were perhaps ultimately intended for McLaren to sell clothing in his World’s End boutique is perhaps more typical of his hijinx.

Less typical was the manner in which McLaren skirted outrage by using nude photos of the underage Lwin to court controversy and notoriety. His idea to stage a photographic recreation of Manet’s “Le Déjuner Sur l’Herbe” looked like he was attempting to court the same kind of controversy that led the the creation of the Salon De Refuses after the Salon rejected Manet’s submission of the pointing for consideration in the show.

Edouard Manet: Le Déjuner Sur L’Herbe [1863]

It almost seemed to me as if McLaren lacked confidence in his provocative Post-Capitalism, Third Wave inspired lyrical theories and hastily decided to add hot-button sexual content to overstuff an already filled sandwich. That he chose to play footsie with child pornography was disturbing to me. When Lwin’s mother heard about the cover she instigated an investigation by Scotland Yard. McLaren could have hardly hoped for a better outcome.

More disturbing was the tale of his unrealized dreams of a magazine to be called “Chicken” with a Bow Wow Wow take affixed to the cover.

When stories emerged last autumn about Chicken magazine, it appeared that Malcolm McLaren was up to particularly bizarre tricks. The tale was that he was about to launch (with backing from EMI) a child porno magazine featuring Annabella.

“Chicken wasn’t hard-core porn, or even nudes. How could we get something like that in the shops?” McLaren asks ingenuously. “My original idea was to print a magazine, put the cassette on the cover, and so shove it onto newsagents. You could introduce Bow Wow Wow to a much larger audience, rather than putting it in a little corner of a record shop and have it disappear because it’s too small. The non-visual aspect of cassettes is a bit of a problem.

“I thought that all the songs were very sexy, because they’d all come out of the idea of a sex picture I’d been writing at the time in Paris, which is why you have songs like ‘Sexy Eiffel Tower.’ I felt they should all be put in the context of a cheesecake Playboy-type magazine. I wanted to come up with the most audacious title, so I thought of Chicken because of its pedophiliac connections.

“I put it to EMI, and they agreed to sponsor it. I was getting Sony to take ads. It also had ‘Young Scientist of the Year,’ with him doing a whole approach to technology and the idea of the work ethic going out of the window, and the possibility of generation gaps beginning to be destroyed-the old idea of teenage rebel becoming unfashionable. The fact that your old man of 50 could be as big a baby as you at 13 because he might be out of a job after working in Rolls Royce for 30 years, in the same way as there’s no point in you at 13 going to school when you can stay at home and work in video with your old man.”

The project was stymied, after EMI executives heard of an Arena TV program being made about the launch of Bow Wow Wow: A TV film crew was present at a photo session for the magazine, at which one of the extremely youthful models burst into tears. According to McLaren, a photographer came within six inches of the model’s face for a close-up. According to Chicken editor Fred Vermorel (who resigned immediately afterward), the eight-year-old was ordered to “show a bit of arse.”

“It got blown up out of all proportion,” McLaren pooh-poohs. “EMI got worried, and voila: they stopped everything. A very stupid move, because had we brought out the magazine that cassette would have been a very, very big hit.”

Excerpted From Trouser Press #64, interview Chris Salewicz

To read the full interview by Salewicz with McLaren, go to the Trouser Press Archive. It’s certainly interesting. Let me just state that this sort of thing would not come within a hair’s breadth of flying today, thankfully. Fortunately, Bow Wow Wow survived this baggage to create vibrant music even after parting ways with McLaren’s machinations. They put their considerable instrumental chops into a less contentious vessel with Ashman asking Lwin to provide the lyrics that resulted in the less weird but equally strong “When the Gong Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going.” But that’s a story for another day.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to Record Review: Bow Wow Wow – “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over Go Ape Crazy!” UK CD [part 2]

  1. telefrank says:

    I am really digging this deep dive into these amazing songs. When listening to T.V.Savage and reading the lyric sheet alongside, I swear they’re repeatedly saying “titty, titty’ – tell me I’m not wrong. So cheeky!


  2. Perhaps Malcolm had a real dark side, or perhaps he was an amoral provocateur who would grab at anything controversial to gain publicity, foreshadowing the rise of modern politics. Either way, the records he touched (and made himself, later) are pretty damn brilliant.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Hard to say. I certainly found him “perhaps he was an amoral provocateur who would grab at anything controversial to gain publicity.” but it’s my belief that the artist [if not psychopathic] always reveals through the art. This seeps out of the subconscious. But McLaren did make fascinating records that I try to always have in the Record Cell. I came to fandom with him grudgingly, as I also felt that he was “an amoral provocateur who would grab at anything controversial to gain publicity,” but over time saw such merit in his waxings that I didn’t feel exploited in listening to them. In this sense, McLaren was much like Sigue Sigue Sputnik to me. Their record sparked appeal but I had to get over my wariness, that held me at arms length at first.


  3. Gavin says:

    Fascinating to read the reviews and comments about this band and album.
    I have just bought “Your Box Set Pet” cd set after deliberating for a while,but I am currently reading Paul Gorman’s biography of McLaren (quite a tome) and have just arrived at the BWW section of his career.Then you came along with your posts PPM and I had to bite the bullet.
    Initially it was their clothes that interested me, as I am a huge Vivienne Westwood fan and have two vintage Pirate tops as seen in many of the BWW photos,but I did like their music as a teenager in the 80s.I am looking forward to hearing all of their other recordings in the box set.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – So the synergy got to you, eh? I quite like BWW. I think the band were quite good. If Adam hadn’t gotten his band poached by McLaren… who knows? At least Pironni was a real talent and gave Adam the tunes that conquered the world for a few years. I have four BWW CDs that have about 90% of the box, so I was good on letting that one pass by. Fave though has still got to be the “W.O.R.K.” 12” version. It knocks walls down!


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