(post-) punk gems v. 11 — Captain Sensible, effortless interpreter

Happy mittwoch, reading listeners!

Each Wednesday, as many of you know (welcome first-time viewers!), I dig up a typically under-heralded gem from the (post-) punk era for your listening pleasure.

This week, though, I want to share one of the worst–or best, depending upon your take on punk aesthetics–tunes associated with folks who constituted the cacophonous beauty of 1977.  On June 17, 1982, the day I departed the US for my first-and-only visit (so far) to the UK, A&M Records released “Happy Talk,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from South Pacific, by Captain Sensible of The Damned. (Warning: ribald language to follow.)

As you can tell, the tune is maximally insipid, and the Captain assures a reporter from New Music Express that, first, The Damned aren’t breaking up and, second, that tedium is the whole point of The Damned–but in a different register. “The whole point about The Damned was always to be as pathetic as possible and just be as childish as we could. It was always just one big tantrum, there wasn’t anything we actually wanted to say. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t carry on.” And lo: they’re scheduled to appear at Rebellion Fest 2013, along with Sham 69, The Buzzcocks, Peter Hook’s new band, The Exploited, among others.

After “Happy Talk” spends two weeks at number one (July 1982), the Captain reports to NME: “I’m there because the rest of the music in the Top 30 is just a pile of shit. It’s just a pile of crap, just drivel. It’s all so meaningless isn’t it? … Like Visage who were on (Top of The Pops) today, did you see them? They walk around all po-faced and pretentious … They’re just trying to hide from the truth that all they’re doing are three chords songs like everyone else and it doesn’t mean a fucking thing.”

Whether “Happy Talk” deserves to be cast upon said pile, too, is difficult to say. It’s artifice without pretensions, but maybe on vinyl–or on the radio–it’s more difficult to parse than on the telly, where it’s clear the Captain is determined to mock rather than rock.

You can find the movie version of “Happy Talk” here and–oh, why not–here’s Visage that same summer, on TOTP:

This history, of course, is lovingly documented in George Gimarc’s Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, which I can’t recommend highly enough to the fanatic fans among you. It’s got to be among the top two books on that era (wink wink) available at fine bookstores everywhere.

I hope to see you Sunday!

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2 thoughts on “(post-) punk gems v. 11 — Captain Sensible, effortless interpreter”

  1. I have strong memories of my older brother purchasing and regularly playing the single ‘Happy Talk’ and finding immense humour and satisfaction in the fact that Capt. Sensible could be so brazen. I know my Mum enjoyed it too.

    Being younger and still taking the importance of the 7″ and by then 12″ single far too seriously, I complained that music isn’t about being funny or ironic.

    With all that said, who knew The Damned would go on to release a whole album as equally lacking in seriousness with 1985’s truly pointless ‘Phantasmagoria’.

    And then there’s Visage who terrible songs aside contained a post-punk who’s who that merits a long examination.

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