Artist Spotlight: Adam and the Ants

When the album poll results came out, I realized that not enough of us are fans of Adam and the Ants. Kings of the Wild Frontier was way down at #100 on my ballot, and there was no Ant representation anywhere on the results. I’m not an expert on Ant, and I don’t regularly celebrate his entire catalog, but I had to include this album. His swashbuckling confidence and unique sound left an indelible imprint on music as it shifted between post-punk and new wave.

I mean, those drums, that bass line! That declaration – “A new royal family, a wild nobility, we are the family!” So, I’m going to evangelize Adam and the Ants, hoping I can woo some new fans into the fold.

Formed in 1977, (with early members who departed to form The Monochrome Set) Adam and the Ants were not taken seriously by the British music press. Although they had devoted fans, and Ant was in the punk movie Jubilee, they were seen as empty S&M poseurs. They needed an image overhaul if they were going to survive. In 1979 Ant begged Malcolm McLaren to manage them. McLaren was in a post-Sex Pistols lull in his career. His attempts to break though the softcore porn industry with a musical about teenagers (thankfully) didn’t go anywhere, and he was trying to conceptualize another band that would undermine the music industry. He had spent some time in Paris, and was influenced by the African music he heard there. He suggested the Ants incorporate Burundi drumming, as well as an updated pirate aesthetic. McLaren saw his former fashion partner Vivienne Westwood drawing inspiration from 18th century design in her new work, and he perceived that music would return to the idea of heroism. However, McLaren believed Ant would be too hard for him to control, so he convinced the other three members of the band to defect. McLaren recruited Annabella Lwin, and Bow Wow Wow was born.

Ant rallied, and taking the sound and image developed with McLaren, he hooked up with former Rema-Rema and Siouxsie & the Banshees guitarist Marco Pirroni, and filled out the new lineup with two drummers and a bassist. Fueled by the need to out-do McLaren at his own game, Ant was gratified when Bow Wow Wow never rose above cult status, but his first album post-makeover was #1 on the UK charts, and had three hit singles. The aforementioned “Kings of the Wild Frontier” was #2, “Dog Eat Dog” was #4, and “Antmusic” was #2.

Adam and the Ants were one of the most successful bands of the New Romantic movement. (McLaren had been right about the direction fashion and music would take.) They followed up in 1981 with Prince Charming, which went to #2 on the UK album charts, and contained the hit singles “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming.”

Adam and the Ants broke up after this album, and Ant went on to record as a solo artist. He continued to have success in the 80s, but nothing like the theatrical splash he and Pirroni made with Kings of the Wild Frontier. The lessons hard-learned from McLaren left their mark. Ant had style and swagger, but he was able to harness his natural talent and charisma to a new kind of sound. “Don’t you ever stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome … ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”