Beam Me Up, Scotty - How to have a number one (The JAMs way)- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: Beam Me Up, Scotty - How to have a number one (The JAMs way)
- Date: February 1989
- Journal: Offbeat
- Author: Christopher Mellor
- Type of resource: Interviews
- Status: original
- No. views: 8776
- Description: based around The Manual; background on Doctorin' recording and promotional campaign; what they think of pop, SAW, U2, etc.
Beam Me Up, Scotty - How to have a number one (The JAMs way)
By Christopher Mellor (February 1989, Offbeat)
The Timelords, aka The Jams, aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, aka
the KLF, aka Rockman Rock And King Boy D, aka James Cauty and Bill
Drummond, aka the ultimate pop pranksters, are at it again. After
storming the charts with the horrendous Doctorin' The Tardis last year,
they have wrilten down everything they have learnt about getting to
Number One in a concise manual. If you follow their instructions, they
claim, you too could "Realise your childish fantasies of having a Number
One hit single...thus guaranteeing you a place forever in the sacred
annals of pop history".
It's like a dream come true. Its 78 pages of easy-to-follow text takes you
step by step from being at home on a Sunday evening, in anytown, on the
dole and listening to the UK Top 40, through choosing a groove, some
samples and a tune, spending a week in a 24 track studio (and how to pay
for it, sort of), on to getting a distribution deal, a lawyer and an
accountant, mixing the record, and on into promotion, plugging, sales
forces, and ultimately, theoretically, watching the thing shoot up to the
top of the pops. It all sounds beautifully simple and I guess thats the
message - it is. The boys are big enough to admit that if they can do it,
anybody can. It's true. You don't have to be a great singer, songwriter, or
musician. You can sample other people's sounds, buy a singer, and make
up a tune that sounds almost, but not quite, like somebody On the
downside it will cost you over UKP20 000.
And as they point out, "Other than achieving a Number One hit single we
offer you nothing else. There will be no endless wealth, fame will flicker
and fade and sex will still be a problem."
I can just imagine some poor kid diligently following the instructions -
recording a song in a 24 track studio without any money to pay for it in
the hope of his record being a hit, then not being able to get a distribution
deal or his money because the record is crap. Next, his parents sue The
Jams for getting him in such a mess.
Bill: "We could say sorry..."
But what are they trying to do? Destroy the whole pop cultural myth? If
anybody can have a Number One, what happens to talent, stars shining in
the firmament? Everybody needs somebody to look up to. Somebody to
wish you could be like, somebody to gossip about, somebody you're glad
you're not when you find out that they're drunk, drugged or depressed
because of the pressure of YOU watching them.
Are they cynical old rockers who've lost their love of pop, clever audio
scientists manipulating new technology, the pop powers that be, and
ultimately the kids who buy the records for their own evil ends, mostly to
fill their already overfowing coffers with lucre? Or perhaps they are just
two guys in love with pop, addicted to music, who accidentily put
together a sure-fire hit and decided to go for it
Let's go for option three, gang.
Bill: "We followed the instructions in the book, except for the original
idea of setting out to make a Number One record. It became obvious after
two or three days that we were onto something big."
"Jimmy had the idea of using the Dr Who theme. We spent weeks trying
to do a House mix but the only rhythm that would work was the Glitter
beat. Of course, we thought nobody's going to want to listen to the Glitter
beat, it's so naff. It started off all ethnicy, like a jungle rhythm. We were
hitting walls with sticks and everything."
I DON'T LIKE TUESDAYS...
"Tuesday will be Big Doubt City and nothing's going to change that.
What stuff you have got down is sounding like total crap. It's not just
your paranoia telling you it's crap. It is crap."
Bill:"lt's right what we said in the book. On Tuesday we had mussive
depression. The engineer wanted to go home because he hated what we
were doing. By the end of Tuesday, though, we knew what we'd got and
decided to go for it, nothing was too cheap."
...BUT I LOVE THE REST OF THE WEEK
"We searched for the lowest common denominators. We put in 'You
Wot!?!' and 'Bosh! Bosh! Bosh!' after we decided that. We found out
later that Pete Waterman was working an a Dr Who track at the same
time. It was just a case af who did it first, because the Karma was right
for it to happen."
He probably had the vibe but gave up when he couldn't fit the tune into
the 4/4 House format.
The rest, of course, is pop history. 14 plays on Radio One in the week
before release, a high chart entry, Top Of The Pops and one week at that
coveted Number One spot, ("something your mum can understand").
Doctorin' The Tardis was one of those records that was either going to hit
real big or totally bomb, but what stopped it staying at Number
One was probably the boys trying too hard to be clever. The 'car makes
record' ploy, which helped gain some original interest, didn't go down too
well with the tabloids.
"The Sun and Mirror hated it. We thought they'd love it, interviewing a
car, but it degrades all their other 'exclusive' stories. They could smell we
were sending things up and they weren't in control of it. They wanted to
talk to us, an expose."
This playful attitude, exposing and hampering with the mechanisms of
the industry, means that they will probably never get away with having a
hit record again. And even when they made it to the top they did their
best to give it up.
EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY
"We were doing Top Of The Pops and Morrissey was on doing Every
Day Is Like Sunday and we thought f--, this is brilliant, he is brilliant, he
should be Number One, not us. So we approached Gallup and asked if we
could swap with Morrissey."
Needless to say it didn't work.
"I guess we're both too stupid to think things through properly. And we
wouldn't want to try and have another hit anyway. One sort of gets it out
of your system."
EVERYBODY'S A BORING BASTARD REALLY
And as for setting out to destroy the pop myth, Bill and Jimmy are big
suckers, just like anybody else, for a bit of glitter, bright lights and a
"We like pop as much as anybody else. I like to believe Elvis was
different but... everybody's a boring bastard really."
But it's fun to pretend and it's nice to believe that anybody else can do it.
"It's sad what happened to Acid House. It could have been really great.
The media is so hungry to eat things up they destroy a movement before
it has the chonce to run its course. In the summer you could imogine
everyone having a go with a sampler in their bedroom. By September no
hip dude on the block would be seen dead doing it. Of course, knowing
about Acid involves a certain amount of research.
Jimmy: "I go to clubs sometimes to keep up with whats happening."
Bill: "I thought you went to enjoy yourself."
Jimmy: "Oh yeah... but it is partly research, you hear about things and
want to find out about them."
Bill: "Yes, you hear about some new drugs and just have to go and try
Alright, clubs are good for new things, but what can you gain from the
biggest pop people of the moment, like Stock Aitken Waterman?
Bill: "We don't want to emulate them but we do admire them. They have
made some absolute classics."
Pet Shop Boys?
"They're the best British pop group, maybe the best in the world, but we
don't want to be like them either."
ROCK 'N' ROLL - HEY! - ROCK 'N' ROLL
Bill: "Of course, we were 'born to rock' ourselves!"
Jimmy: "And I'm a heavy metal guitarist really."
So your time will come again?
Jimmy: "I hope not!"
Bill: "I see rock as being like Trad Jazz. All the parameters are stale, it's
not exciting anymore. It's just like - remember the good old days.
Presumably U2 are not aware of this but the machinery behind them is
totally, cynically geared up to milk as much money out of their fame as
possible. But rock will carry on for a long hme because it's still bloody
good fun geffing up on stage with an electric guitar and going bzwoom-
Pop, rock, whatever, it's all transitory and not important. It forms part of
the soundtrack to peoples' lives, it helps them understand how they feel.
You know, landmarks, moments, memories. In 20 years the sampler will
be as redundant as the guitar is now. There'll still be ageing blokes
playing rock in pubs and other ageing blokes playing samplers in pubs...
and then it will be gone. No more pop.
Bill: "We can't imagine a time without it but in the 40s they could never
imagine an electric guitar, in the 60s they could never imagine a sampler.
Now, can you imagine a time without electric guitars?"
Not yet anyhow, as Jimmy admits...
"In two years time we could be playing guitars again, anyway."
MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!
But we still haven't come to the real burning question. They had a
Number One hit in the UK. It also hit in territories as diverse as New
Zealand and Greece and even made inroads into the US Billboard hot
100. That's a lot of records! And a lot of money. So what have you done
with the dosh, bros?
Bill: "We've spent it all, and everything that might be coming to us."
They've made this film, y'see.
Bill (with just a touch of irony): "It's the ultimate rock stars folly... and
we're creative artistes. It's a happening in a car, a road movie called The
Hmm. it doesn't sound much like a road movie.
"OK... The White Road then..."
Anyway, they've done the location shooting in Spain, and there's some
more studio work to do in the UK, so it should be ready in the late spring.
"We're going to show it as a silent movie, with live music, like a rock
Kinda like a mini Pink Floyd, or something? But, before that, there's
more to do, like a new LP.
"It won't be sample based. If people want more of what was challenging
in '87 they'll be disappointed."
And there's the film soundtrack, the first bit of which is available now as
a 12 inch, What Time Is Love, which is doing well in, of all places, Italy.
So there's still plenty left to achieve after the thrill of a UK Number One.
DEDICATION... THAT'S ALL YOU NEED
Jimmy: "Yeah - we haven't had a Number One album in America!"
Bill: "Hold on!"
So what's it all for? A laugh?
Bill: "No, it's a need, like having a crap. You need to do it. People look at
the humorous content and think that's all there is to it. At 17 you're into
whatever's happening, then you go through a cynical period, trying to be
serious searching for the most obscure stuff that nobody else is into. Then
you get past all that and you let everything, including humour, into what
But, ultimately pop's not that important. It's transitory, silly.
Bill: "Some days it's not important but others it's the most serious thing
in the world. Sex, drugs and loud music will ALWAYS be incredibly
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