In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: Single song highlights from 1983.
When Adam Ant approached former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren to help manage Adam And The Ants in the late 1970s, he likely didn’t foresee McLaren’s advice that guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman, and drummer David Barbarossa should leave the group to form Bow Wow Wow supporting 13-year-old singer Annabella Lwin. McLaren’s shock-centric management style also placed the band in a recreation of a Manet’s “The Luncheon On The Grass” on the cover of its first full-length album, See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy—with 15-year-old Lwin posing nude, earning allegations of exploitation from Lwin’s mother and inquiries from Scotland Yard.
Bow Wow Wow’s biggest hit was a cover, but it’s arguable that much of the group’s distinctive style wasn’t truly original, either. The controversy over Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow’s use of the “Burundi Beat,” taken from world music McLaren gave to both bands, called into question how responsible the band was for its own sound. Once again, McLaren had helped to launch a commercially successful product by courting controversy, and again it proved short-lived.
In February 1983, Bow Wow Wow released When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Going, its final album with the entire original lineup. For the first time, the band was writing all the songs themselves, but the distinctive drumming and chanting remain. The first track from that album, “Aphrodisiac,” set the tone with a swampy jungle atmosphere, echoing with tribal chanting, and positively dripping with sex. Lwin, 16 at the time of the album’s release, is in full “come hither” mode, panting the lyrics about the ecstasy of drug-fueled carnal passion that alternate with Ashman and Gorman’s shouts and grunts. That bears repeating: Lwin was still underage while singing a song—for a band with a huge mainstream hit—that boils down to taking drugs to lower inhibitions about having sex with an undesirable person.
Thinking about the construction of the band for too long takes the edge off the song, but then the bass line keeps walking up and down over Barbarossa’s relentless tom-toms, and Lwin’s vocals screech over the multi-tracked chorus. It’s an exhilarating counterpoint to the silly bubblegum pop of “I Want Candy,” and a feeling that Marie Antoinette soundtrack producer Brian Reitzell tapped into when Sofia Coppola used the track in a party scene where Kirsten Dunst’s queen lets loose and seeks the affections of a young lothario.