The band had two different lineups over the years, with Adam Ant (born Stuart Leslie Goddard) at the helm of both incarnations. Back in 1975, Ant played bass in Bazooka Joe, the band who headlined the Sex Pistols’ first show, but he soon left to start his own group. Originally called The B-Sides, it wasn’t long until the band renamed as The Ants, eventually becoming known as Adam & the Ants.
The band made their radio debut on John Peel’s influential radio show in 1978 but proved unpopular with the music press, signing to Decca Records, releasing their debut single Young Parisians and being dropped just a year later. Luckily they were soon picked up by Do It Records, who released the band’s debut album Dirk Wears White Sox.
Frustrated with the band’s lack of mainstream success, Adam Ant hired Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ notorious ex-manager, who suggested that all the members except Adam leave to form a new band. In 1980 the band’s new lineup debuted, featuring Marco Pirroni (guitar), Kevin Mooney (bass), Chris Hughes and Terry Lee Miall (both on drums). Signing to CBS Records, the band’s second album Kings of the Wild Frontier reached number one in the UK charts and produced three hit singles.
The band’s third album Prince Charming was released in November 1981, and was a huge success, leading to the band winning a Brit Award and a nomination at the Grammys. Unfortunately, just a year later, the group disbanded, citing a lack of internal enthusiasm and Ant launched a successful solo career, which lasted until 1990. Despite only having a short (and tumultuous) career, Adam & the Ants managed to produce a number of excellent records, and their legacy is still felt thirty years later.
# 10 – Zerox
Taken from the band’s debut album released in 1979, Zerox refers to the Xerox machine and uses the photocopier as a reference numerous times throughout the song. As well as lyrics discussing plagiarism, this idea of copying is used in the song’s instrumental, the track begins with a single guitar riff before it is copied by another, louder and more distorted, guitar which goes on to form the song’s main hook.
As the song goes on, yet more riffs are added to the mix, ranging from surf-esque to bordering on a-tonal, creating an intense wall of sound which is impossible to ignore, assaulting the listener almost like photocopy toner blackening a perfectly white piece of paper. The irresistible madness of this “wall of sound” is further highlighted by the addition of the falsetto elements which come in about half way through the song, adding further drama, like harmonious banshees.
During the song’s final minute the titular hook becomes repetitive – almost as if Ant is making multiple copies – though this never becomes boring thanks to the wild and shrill guitar solo which seems to take over the track at this point. It is almost as if the band are commenting on the laziness of repetitive copied pop hooks.
This track’s title is also thought to be a reference to David Bowie famously labeling himself as “a human Xerox machine,” but with deranged and striking songs like this, Adam Ant & the Ants need never fear being accused of copying anyone else.
# 9 – Car Trouble
This peculiar track was the band’s third single, and is a remake of their song Car trouble (Parts 1 & 2), with this new version dropping all of the lyrics from Part 1 and featuring a clean and far more slick production.
In an absolutely genius move, the song’s bass-heavy drum-intro manages to perfectly emulate the sound of a car struggling to get started. This is a hugely smart move, immediately getting the attention of anyone listening, who would surely be intrigued by this clever instrumental element. Drums also form a huge part of this track, which features a rousing drum beat full of mini-rolls, which are the perfect accompaniment to the song’s bright and glossy guitar chords.
On the surface, the song’s lyrics seem to indeed be about “car trouble” (the unusual styling of the song’s title has always been used, for some reason), however, once the references to ice cream begin, one can’t help but wonder if the band – famous for their innuendo – are perhaps referring to something altogether more provocative.
The song’s outro, where Ant seems to be singing a duet with himself is great to sing along to and, along with the summer-y guitar, would surely earn Car Trouble a well-deserved place on any 80’s-rock road trip playlist. It’s no surprise that this underrated Adam & the Ants track has become somewhat of a cult favorite.
# 8 – Friends
The band’s final single, released in 1982, Friends forms part of The B-Sides EP, which consisted of fan favorite tracks which had previously been released as B-sides to other singles (Friends was the B-side of Ant Rap). To put it plainly, this song is funky, featuring a sultry bass riff and some velvet smooth guitar chords. A modern listener can’t help but notice the clear influence which tracks like this must have had on bands like the Arctic Monkeys and their contemporaries.
The lyrics are almost entirely made up of Ant listing all the notable figures that he claims to be friends with, including Michael Jackson, Shirley Bassey and Michael Caine, seemingly to blag his way into a nightclub. Throughout the song, Ant adopts an over the top cockney accent, as if he is embodying a wheeler-dealer type of person who would try such desperate and brash measures to get into a club.
Friends had previously been recorded in 1978, and it displays a type of very British tongue-in-cheek humor which, had it got more attention at the time, might have resulted in the public warming to the group at an earlier stage in their career. Still, despite being the band’s swan song, we should all be grateful that this silly and effortlessly catchy track finally got the attention it deserved.
# 7 – Kick
Another track from The B-Sides, Kick was the B-side of Car trouble, however, that version of the song had completely different lyrics to the single release (both of these tracks were re-recorded in an attempt by Ant to show that there was still life in the band despite its all-new lineup). Kick is a very short track, clocking in at just over 90 seconds, but what a 90 seconds it is.
This song is the epitome of “short but sweet,” mixing edgy, distorted guitar with a pounding drum beat and some yowling, almost punk-like vocals. As is often the case with Adam & the Ants, the lyrics are essentially meaningless (unless they are some kind of obscure double entendre), with Kick having repeated references to a one-armed man. Indeed, the hook regarding the one armed man is among the band’s most infectious and is perfect for fevered audience participation. This hook takes the song to its end, and it’s not hard to imagine this under-utilized track being a great way for the band to finish one of their live shows.
Kick is perhaps a little more jagged than the band’s usual work, and this could be a reflection of Ant’s desire for the new lineup to prove themselves. Either way, this is a 90-second extravaganza of pure post-punk/new wave excellence which hits, appropriately, like a kick to the face.
# 6 – Ant Rap
Ant Rap, a track from Prince Charming is one of the band’s most weird songs, which is saying a lot. As the name suggests, Ant Rap is a rap-rock track, with slight elements of new wave thrown in for good measure. Although it begins with a delicious bass riff, there are surprisingly little instruments on the song, which consists mainly of a snare-heavy drum beat, complimented by liberal use of cowbell and some carnival-esque whistles. While there are some almost ambient guitars which drone lightly in the song’s background, the only notable use of the instrument is a single theatrical chord which occurs at the end of the track’s first third.
Although it seems unlikely that contemporary rap fans would care for the track, it needs to be considered in context to be properly understood. Back in the early 80’s, there was next to no hip-hop scene in the UK – the first label dedicated to native hip-hop wasn’t founded until 1986 – so for a rap-inspired track to attain success (Ant Rap reached number 3 in the charts) is really quite impressive.
Of course, there are some who would label the track as an embarrassing appropriation of US rap, and these criticisms are not without merit. But rather than worrying about these tangential concerns we should instead concentrate on the song, with its camp, catchy lyrics (some of which are in French) and nuanced instrumental. Perhaps we should just take Ant Rap at face-value, as a soft and silly piece of period rap not asking to be taken too seriously, just wanting to get feet tapping.
# 5 – Dog Eat Dog
The opening track of Kings of the Wild Frontier, Dog Eat Dog was also the band’s first top ten hit. The song features an exciting and varied instrumental, blending a glorious Burundi beat with some Clint Eastwood-like Wild West guitar. The mix of these two contrasting cinematic sounds, as well as the primal chanting in the background, gives the track a real wild and untamed atmosphere, which is perfectly appropriate for the song’s subject matter.
According to Ant’s 2007 autobiography, the title was inspired by a Margaret Thatcher quote and refers to a scenario in which people will do anything to survive, even if it is to the detriment of the well-being of those around them. On Dog Eat Dog the band take this Darwin-esque mind frame and apply it to the music industry, turning the track into a description of the cut-throat and competitive nature of their work.
While at first the song’s repetitive chorus might not seem well suited to the songs vicious subject matter, it is actually rather brilliant, reflecting the tenaciousness and stamina required to make it in the music industry. This was something which Adam & the Ant’s, who had to fight for their success, would be all too aware of.
The exciting and intense instrumental is at the heart of Dog Eat Dog, but the song’s brutal but ultimately inspiring message is no doubt equally responsible for the track’s much-deserved success. This is an essential Adam & the Ant’s song which marked a turning point in the band’s chart success.
# 4 – Ant Music
This was the third single from Kings of the Wild Frontier and essentially acted as an advertisement for the band’s unique sound and aesthetic. The lyrics, and accompanying music video, openly encourage young listeners to drop the music they’ve been told they must listen to by the music industry (disco is the genre the video specifically targets) and should instead listen to “Antmusic.”
As well as being an attack on what the band saw as a stale and samey music industry, actively placing their sound in opposition to the status quo was a canny way to market themselves as anti-establishment and slightly dangerous – two guaranteed ways to court the youth market.
Luckily, the track is interesting enough for the gamble to pay off, enticing listeners with an African drum-lead opening and a memorable, breathlessly delivered chorus hook. The guitars are truly something to behold on Antmusic; they are huge, distorted and effortlessly glamorous; the perfect accompaniment to the band’s outrageous outfits and Ant’s erratic and compelling dance-style.
As well as serving as a great way of persuading young listeners that the band were doing something new and different, Adam & the Ants managed to back up these claims with a superlative instrumental and a captivating chorus, marking the group as a tempting and engaging alternative to the status quo.
# 3 – Stand and Deliver
After tracks like Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic managed to chart highly, it was only a matter of time until the band achieved their first number one single and Stand and Deliver, the first single from Prince Charming, managed to reach this career milestone.
For this new single, the band built on their ostentatious image by styling themselves as “Dandy Highwaymen.” In many ways Stand and Deliver builds on the themes of Antmusic, presenting the band in opposition to the establishment, this time placing the current fashion trends in their sights, encouraging listeners to be braver with their sartorial choices.
The track is centered around the “highwayman” theme, opening with a trumpeted warning that the band are on their way, followed by the frantic whinnying of a horse. The drums during the chorus even seem to mimic the firing of old-fashioned pistols, while the grinding and rousing guitars are perfectly suited to an exciting old-fashioned car (or, in this case, cart) chase. Meanwhile, the backing singers bark and whine in provocative ways, allowing Ant’s soaring lead vocals to take center stage.
For many, the track has become a 1980’s essential, it was even voted Britain’s 15th favorite 1980’s number one in a 2015 poll, and it’s not hard to see why, with its joyous instrumental perfectly complimenting the song’s theatrical and memorable theme.
# 2 – Kings of the Wild Frontier
First released in 1980 and peaking at number 48, Kings of the Wild Frontier was re-released a year later, following the band finally breaking through, and peaked at a far more respectable number 2. The top end of the charts is a much more appropriate place for a song like this to be, as it is one of the band’s most wild productions.
Kings of the Wild Frontier is theatrical, to say the least, featuring the best example of the crazy yelped vocals the group are famous for, as well as an incessant, rather threatening, drum beat. This ominous atmosphere is heightened by the slurred, treasonous lyrics, which playfully asserts that Ant and his contemporaries are aiming to overthrow the monarchy.
While the problematic lyrics – which suggest that a Native American lurks beneath Ant’s white skin – are alarming and jarring to a modern listener, if you can see beyond these dated ideas you can’t help but be in awe of the track’s genuinely savage and ferocious instrumental, not to mention the layers upon layers of vocals which build to create a really intimidating and atmospheric soundscape.
While the song’s subject matter has not aged well, the music itself certainly has, with intense, dark guitar riffs and an unstoppable tribal drum beat rubbing against each other to create a track which displays a surprisingly barbaric side to the band.
# 1 – Prince Charming
There really is no other track which could possibly top this countdown. As well as being utterly ubiquitous with Adam & the Ants, Prince Charming is a defining track of the 1980’s new wave/new romantic scene. But even more than that, it is simply an incredible piece of music.
From the opening strum to the nigh-on iconic wails which follow, almost everything about Prince Charming is perfect. The triumphant guitar chords, the life-affirming lyrics, the subtle-but-essential background bells; there’s really nothing you could possibly do to improve this track. It feels only right that the song is at the very forefront of the band’s legacy.
Even the music video was impeccable, featuring a gender-swapped Cinderella story (complete with mustachioed ugly sisters) which was the perfect visual to go with the song’s open minded lyrics. You could release Prince Charming today and it would still hugely resonate with young people. In fact, the song featured during a key scene in an episode of the influential teen drama Skins in 2007.
Given the track’s message about being true to yourself and ignoring your critics, it’s not hard to read the song as a reflection of Ant’s extraordinary self-belief. It must have been massively rewarding for him to see hoards of fans screaming the lyrics alongside him, no doubt mimicking the music video’s famous arm movements.
It’s a shame, therefore, that less than a year after the track’s release, the band announced they were breaking up. Still, Prince Charming managed to cement the band as an iconic part of 80’s culture, letting the unbridled spirit of the band live on for decades to come.
Over their short career, Adam & the Ant’s managed to release an extraordinarily varied discography, full of new wave and post-punk tracks which have stood the test of time. It’s only with hindsight that the general public have come to appreciate just how avant-garde and progressive the band were. Although it was some time before the band managed to achieve breakthrough success, the fact that they are still appreciated today goes to show just how truly ahead of their time Adam & the Ants really were.
Updated November 9, 2020