Sunday, September 22, 2013

Captain Sensible's "Happy Talk": Punk Goes Rodgers & Hammerstein?

Well, if you thought the Jam's journey from "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" to "Beat Surrender" was strange, clearly no one ever told you about Captain Sensible and "Happy Talk."

Captain Sensible was the original bassist for the Damned. If the Clash were revolutionaries, the Sex Pistols were anarchists, and the Jam were mods, then the Damned were the band that didn't give a shit about any of that crap and just wanted to have a good time. The Damned's main claim to fame is that they were the British punk band of "firsts": first to release a single, first to release an album, and the first to tour America. While being "first" didn't necessarily make them the "best," I have to say they were pretty great, all things considered - and by "all things" I mean "not being able to play their instruments in the least." In his AMG bio, Ned Raggett refers to them as "the band initially judged 'least likely to'"; ironically, their career lasted decades, as they gradually learned a chord or two and even branched out into goth rock. Personally, I'd rather listen to Damned Damned Damned than Nevermind The Bollocks any day.

The funniest part about the Damned is that their drummer went by the name of Rat Scabies and their bassist went by the name of Captain Sensible. Here are their priceless "bios" from the original Damned Damned Damned liner notes:
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: Age 25. Instrument: guitar. Hobbies: cricket, psychedelic music, jazz. Philosophy: "I'd rather be poor and keep playing 'til I'm 60, 'cos I actually enjoy all this rubbish."

RAT SCABIES: Age 23. Instrument: drums. Hobbies: breaking things. Ambition: "Plenty of booze, plenty of women, all the drugs I can take and somewhere to live while I'm doing it."
Which brings me to "Happy Talk." "Happy Talk" is a cute little number sung by the Tonkinese character Bloody Mary at the beginning of Act II in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. It is, quite possibly, the last song anyone would ever associate with punk rock.

Somehow, in 1982, Captain Sensible went solo, and when he did, his debut single was a tacky synth-pop cover of "Happy Talk."

So ... was it a joke? Was he serious? The Damned, after all, were the ultimate punk pranksters. And what could be a bigger prank than covering a show tune? Ultimately, the world may never know. But I'm assuming it was a joke. The thing about joke singles, however, is that they're supposed to stay a joke.

Only, Britain didn't get the joke, because the song went to #1. Wait a second. Isn't the Queen supposed to step in and prevent this sort of situation from occurring in the first place? Or is that now a parliamentary power? I'm not up to speed on those sorts of procedures.

Perhaps the funniest part of the whole thing is that Captain Sensible wasn't even the Damned's lead singer. So here's a riddle for you: is a joke song funnier if it goes to #1? Does that make it less of a joke, or more of a joke?

You decide.


Herr Zrbo said...

How was this number 1??? Britain, what was wrong with you?? Should we just blame it on Thatcher??

Little Earl said...

Oh, spare me your Yankee superiority. Was this really that much worse than "Ebony and Ivory"?