Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Big Takeover: Sweet: “Teenage Rampage”

Or, whatever happened to the Glam Slam?  It’s still here (the previous song was from the RAK factory, after all) but it seems to be slowing down somewhat.  This song isn’t so much about Glamour as it is about Politics.  And yet Politics is glamourous for some; almost all politicians, no matter their stripe, have something of a high when they win and take power, much, I suppose, like the honeymoon period of a marriage.  Sweet don’t concern themselves too much with that here – it’s the kids – teenagers! – who are going on a rampage and taking over with their rules, their choices, their own constitution.  (Yes, the kids are going to form committees and hash out their rule -  democratically!)  Say “teenage rampage” now and people think of a melee, a riot, looting, cats and dogs in the street, COMPLETE CHAOS.  And yet that is not really happening here.  The music is by-the-book glam; the delirium documented, however, is real.  The Baby Boom peaked in the late 50s/early 60s, which is in part why so many songs at this time had the word “teenage” in them (“Teenage Dream” by T. Rex and “Teenage Lament ‘74” being the main ones, though as a rule the Glam Slam was all about teenagers, more or less).  Of course there is the fact that this song  (stopped only by the biggest song of the year, Mud’s “Tiger Feet”) appeared just as the effects of the three-day week were really kicking in – more freedom for parents, more freedom for the kids?  Or more chances to seize power, to do whatever they want, to discard the present and think up a future.  Their time is coming, and in looking around who can blame them for wanting to take over? 

Just about everybody who would become major figures in punk and post-punk were teenagers at this time, and I can well imagine some of them are already getting into music that is more adventurous than this; and they were to make music that held to no constitution or united scene whatsoever.  The Sweet had another Chinn-Chapman hit on their hands here, but in the end it sounds more like what would speak to, oh, Tony Blair more than John Lydon (though the Glam Slam got a free pass from the punks – how could something so shiny and unpretentious be bad)?

Next up:  Face to face with…who? 

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

It's a very politically ambiguous song, this one. It came out at a moment of genuine chaos: the most sudden and dramatic collapse of a capitalist economic boom we're ever likely to see (optimism of British business had hit an only recently surpassed high only in April 1973, a boom built on probably even more illusory quicksand than the current false one) and a time when the British working class genuinely seemed to be on the brink of taking power, creating their own state. Quite apart from the wave of panic and paranoia it would unleash among the ruling class, the coming snap election would see an unprecedented wave of dissatisfaction with the British state among Scottish voters, which may yet be prophetic of something far bigger.

And this song has always felt evocative to me of such a moment: the entire paternalistic structure on the brink of being blown apart (as it turned out, that upsurge of working-class power would be the inspiration for a new radicalism of the Right), a world in ferment. But at the same time equating it to that sort of orthodox socialism - the militancy of the miners and other industrial workers, no longer content with the uneasy truce with the ruling class set up under Attlee and formalised when Churchill got back - opens its own problems, because that socialism was inherently suspicious of pop, saw it as a distraction from the struggle, a passing teenage pastime which could only detract from lasting, permanent working-class dominance (an aim which, to many, seemed quite real and believable at the time). So there is an ambiguity here - the song is attempting to articulate a desire to overthrow the established order, and in some ways does indeed dramatise its moment (civil servants being trained to resist whatever a Labour government might do, the Queen being called back from an overseas tour to formalise the election, the loaded question of "Who runs Britain?") but would have been seen as a sell-out, false consciousness, by the people most determined to politicise that desire. It represents a clash (Clash?) of radicalisms, a clash of oppositions.

The Blair connection is an interesting one - I don't think he would have liked this at the time: his tastes would have been much more "serious" rock broadcast late at night on FM (and then cut back a year hence), much more Old Grey Whistle Test than Top of the Pops. For all the problems the leaders of the organised Left at this point would have had with this form of expression, the song does still feel more raw and genuinely working-class than anything Blairite - for he and many of his co-thinkers, this sort of stuff would have been the enemy in a different way.

I think the birth rate was actually declining by the late 1950s: the absolute peak (in the UK anyway) was in the years immediately after WW2, basically the Beatles/Stones generation. Singles sales were quite low in the early 1970s in the UK (especially when compared to the later part of the decade) and this may have something to do with the number of teenagers having declined, and the real boomers having moved on to albums (and indeed to an active disapproval of the single).