22 January 2011
Second Hand Record Dip Part 68 - Joan Collins Fan Club - Leader of the Pack
Who: Joan Collins Fan Club (aka Julian Clary)
What: Leader of the Pack/ Jacques
Label: 10 Records
Where: Haggle Records, Islington, London
Julian Clary's name tended to be bandied around like Billy-O whenever the alternative comedy scene was referenced in the eighties. This is curious, as unlike many of his travelling bedfellows he didn't seem particularly politicised (unless you regard the very act of being a camp homosexual to be a "statement") and dealt mainly in the kind of audience member put-downs and double-entendres which wouldn't have been terribly out of place in the previous decade. His most controversial act - announcing that he'd been "fisting" the cabinet secretary Norman Lamont live at a comedy awards ceremony before the watershed - in fact isn't even really a joke, more of an absurd statement. The image of Clary engaged in rough, hot, sweaty sex with the great man-Badger cross-breed Norman is peculiar enough to be amusing, but if it weren't for the uproar and news headlines which followed the bogus announcement, it's doubtful anybody would remember it. Sometimes the lines which get comedians into the deepest, hottest water tend not to be their finest moments.
And talking of below-par moments... like a great many alternative comedians in the eighties, Clary didn't balk at the idea of being given a record deal, joining the likes of The Young Ones, Harry Enfield and Alexei Sayle into the novelty disc hall of fame. "Leader of the Pack" was a logical choice for the lad, having a camp undercurrent to its melodramatic tale of careless motorcyclists, but comes closer in quality to Jasper Carrott's "Funky Moped" in terms of end product. Plugged to death on television at the time, "Leader of the Pack" was still something of a flop, failing to completely capture the public's imagination. That it sounds exactly as you'd expect it to sound isn't necessarily a good thing. Clary can't really sing (and I'm sure wouldn't make any claims to be able to) the song's arrangement is a tiny bit slapdash, and the jokes ("He came from the wrong side of the town... well, what was the right side?") mostly sound more like sarcastic asides rather than well-considered lines. Clary seemed to bank on the fact that we as listeners hadn't already realised that "Leader of the Pack" was something of a ridiculous disc, and was now signposting its frilly failings for our collective benefits - which is a bit like doing "Seasons in the Sun" at karaoke and making comments such as "pur-lease" and "Oh really!" at the end of each questionable or over-the-top line. Who on earth is genuinely going to have an "Eureka!" moment upon hearing such insights? Is there anyone who genuinely wept upon hearing "Leader of the Pack" first time around? If so, would this single make them think "Oh, I feel rather soppy about the fact I got worked about that now?" It's doubtful. If Clary had wanted to really challenge people's preconceptions about the homo-erotic elements of mainstream music, he could have had much more of a field day with any number of eighties Heavy Metal singles, and I predict the end result would have been considerably more amusing if the disc was chosen carefully. It probably would also have caused as much upset as his Lamont comment.
As is so often the way with these comedy singles, the B-side is stronger. "Jacques" is an amusing tale about a cool, laidback lover of Clary's whose coolness thwarted the entire relationship. It's an endearing and minimal parody of French balladry and pop music which just about pulls it off. And if Julian happened to be reading this, I'm sure he'd have something to say about those last three words.
Sorry about the pops and clicks on these recordings, by the way. Again, there was some sticky substance on this record when I bought it. The last record I purchased to have gluey gum all over it was Rita's "Erotica", so if I were Julian Clary I'd be quite flattered by that "outcome".
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