Who: Not The Nine O Clock News
What: The Ayatollah Song (b/w "Gob On You")
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound
I sincerely hope that the comedy show "Not The Nine O'Clock News" doesn't need much in the way of introduction for most "Left and to the Back" readers - if it does, I'm afraid I'm going to direct you to the Wikipedia entry on the topic rather than spend paragraphs overworking the words "groundbreaking", "popular", and "seminal" before we even get to describe a note of the content of this record.
Whilst whole retrospective documentaries have been created about the show itself, the spin-off vinyl was actually relatively successful in the album charts and remains rather less explored as a subject matter. Two top five albums ("Not the Nine O'Clock News" and "Hedgehog Sandwich") boosted BBC Record and Tapes income where those gardening albums hopelessly failed, and these days it's odd to conceive of an audio spin-off of a comedy show achieving a similar feat. Even Flight of the Conchords can't pester the top ten. Back in the days when video recorders were luxury items, such seemingly bizarre shopping habits are entirely explicable. Monty Python even charted a few records of their own prior to the eighties, although the success of the NTNOCN product actually out-stripped even their sales performances.
The Beeb's decision to issue some of their musical sketches as singles perhaps shouldn't be seen as such a random act of folly, then. And even if it were, the mere outside chance of Mel Smith and Rowan Atkinson miming on Top of the Pops may well have tempted executives to take a chance on the whole idea by itself. Sadly, it didn't pay off, and the crew failed to find singles success where the albums had mopped up. In my statement for the prosecution, I may as well add that whatever the worth of the material here, the single is ruined by a cheap, idle mixdown which leaves the studio audience's laughter and applause intact. This is so distracting and unnecessary that you have to wonder how seriously anybody was taking this as a release.
Snipes aside, whilst "The Ayatollah Song" has never been one of my favourite sketches, the B-side "Gob On You" is one of the very few pieces of punk satire which nails some of the worst, cusp-of-the-eighties aspects of that genre, although because all we've got is the audio, we unfortunately have to do without the terrifying sight of Mel Smith plastered in make-up. But lyrically, "Gob on you/ in your Oxbridge punt/ Gob on you/ You're the NATIONAL FRONT!" is something Jimmy Pursey would probably have sacrificed his annual season ticket to Hersham for at one point in his career. Note also how the crew lead you to believe that they're going to use an unbroadcastable cuss word, eventually leading you up a more subtle but equally relevant alley instead. Now go away and compare that to another punk parody on the BBC label, "We Wanna Be Famous", to hear how such work really shouldn't be done.