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.

THE MOTIVE 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."

THE GROOVE "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 pointed smile.

"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 them out.."

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."


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- krong!"

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 White Room."

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 gig."

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.


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 you're doing."

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 exciting."


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