With synthesizers, sampling and the dominance of dance helping to pry the skeletal fingers of basic values — old-farty things like melody and lyrics — from their traditional vise grip on popular music, the world is wide open for such high-concept jokers as Bill Drummond. Although America proved largely immune to his mischievous machinations, the UK was Drummond’s lab, a proving ground for a series of colorful sonic marketing experiments, one of which topped the singles charts in 1988.
Born in Scotland but arriving in the music biz via the 1977 Liverpool scene, Drummond was a founding member of Big in Japan, launched the Zoo label with Dave Balfe and then became the manager of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. (He was largely responsible for some of the more outlandish escapades of the former and celebrated in song by Julian Cope of the latter.) Later, as an A&R man, he worked with Youth’s wretched Brilliant, a mid-’80s group whose lasting cultural significance amounts to its inclusion of ex-Zodiac Mindwarp keyboardist/guitarist Jimmy Cauty, with whom Drummond concocted the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (JAMS) and launched a label, Kopyright Liberation Front (KLF).
Rapping and shouting inspired nonsense in exaggerated Scottish accents over a diverse collection of second-hand artifacts (lifted from Queen, Led Zeppelin, Abba, Dave Brubeck etc.), the JAMS — billing themselves as King Boy D and Rockman — pasted together the energetic 1987, a loopy dance album that isn’t unlike a lot of sampled records, but proceeds from an entirely different cultural understanding. As the JAMS neglected to obtain any clearances, the LP was promptly sued out of circulation by Abba’s attorneys. (After its commercial withdrawal and destruction, a re-edited 1987 EP — with all of the illicit borrowings unceremoniously deleted — was offered to consumers in exchange for their original copies of what had become, in a stroke, an unbelievably valuable collector’s item.)
Who Killed the JAMS? offers more of the same post-hip-hop fun, pumping up Eurobeat with bites from your favorite records — Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” Sly Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” etc. — thrown in wholesale. At times using relevant sound bites to answer a spoken remark (as in Dickie Goodman cut-in records), the LP merrily pisses on itself but reveals a viciously self-serving and proto-racist outlook in “King Boy’s Dream,” a short rap delivered over an insane hacking-cough-and-finger-pop percussion track: “I ain’t no B-boy / I hate that shite / Those golden chains and Def Jam hype.” In other words, it’s okay for me to copy the work (both conceptually and literally) of African-Americans, but don’t mix me up with that culture.
The History of the JAMS expands the six-track Shag Times compilation by two items. Both versions contain three of the group’s 1987 singles (the non-Beatlesque “All You Need Is Love,” the Houstonized “Whitney Joins the JAMS” and the Petula Clark-based gospel “Downtown”) plus “Don’t Take Five (Take What You Want)” from the first LP and two cuts (“Candyman” and the Sly-stolen “Burn the Bastards,” retitled “Burn the Beat” on the US record) from the second. To that, History adds “Porpoise Song” (a Donna Summer jam from Who Killed the JAMS?) and “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” a genuine (if inexplicable) UK summer-of-’88 chart-topper — the title and lyrics refer to the Doctor Who TV program — stitched together from glam-rock classics by Gary Glitter and the Sweet and released under the Timelords pseudonym. Typical of the duo’s penchant for self-amusement, they celebrated their victory with a DIY book entitled The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).
Abandoning one guise (but retaining Disco 2000, the entity responsible for an entertaining 1989 45 of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” that sounds like Bananarama on a rap tip), Drummond and Cauty found their forte as the KLF, releasing — in numerous mixes — an infectiously overloaded house hit, “What Time Is Love?” Elevating a slogan and a beat to absurd heights, The What Time Is Love Story is ostensibly a collection of “cover versions and soundalikes.” In the meantime, the KLF had already moved away from such thumping and kineticism and were claiming pre-eminence in the ambient house field with Chill Out, a 50-minute travelogue of slowly alternating organ chords over which Fleetwood Mac, train sounds, radio news reports, sped-up Elvis Presley, a steel guitar (etc.) are gently laid. Sounding like an accidental recording of 1970 Pink Floyd sessions during which all the participants have either left or fallen asleep, it’s the pleasantly attenuated soundtrack to a non-existent film that is easily forgotten.
Drummond’s solo album, The Man, is a tastefully understated country-rock collection of original songs with backing from, among others, nearly all of the Triffids and the Voice of the Beehive. Although the Man’s vocals and melodic sense both fall somewhat short of good, his confidence and clever lyrical wit makes a good go of the sarcastic “Julian Cope Is Dead” (a very belated answer to Cope’s “Bill Drummond Said”), “Ballad for a Sex God” and the pseudo-sappy autobiography of “I Believe in Rock & Roll.” In addition, the exuberant “I’m the King of Joy” puts a Scottish accent to Jonathan Richman-like folk pop and winds up the album’s easy highlight.
Continuing to explore spacey trance music, Cauty joined Alex Patterson in a side band which began recording an album as the Orb. The duo managed to release one EP before splitting. When the partnership abruptly collapsed, Cauty reportedly erased Patterson’s efforts from a work-in-progress and released it under the Space moniker. Patterson, meanwhile, kept spinning the Orb.