4 February 2013

Second Hand Record Dip Part 84 - Baby Amphetamine - Chernobyl Baby

Who: Baby Amphetamine
What: Chernobyl Baby
Label: Creation
When: 1987
Where: Flashback Records, Islington, London
Cost: 99p

When it comes to bizarre pop curios, Creation is the label that just keeps on giving.  At this point in its history Alan McGee decided to generate as much press as possible for a very simple idea, and one which could be deemed to be the ultimate conclusion of pop music's conveyor belt mentality.  He and cult artist Momus headed off to the Virgin Megastore on London's Oxford Street, selected the three prettiest female staff members, and asked them if they wanted to be in a band.  He then rush-wrote this single for them to release, and encouraged the NME to cover the story.

Whilst obviously there is a little bit more to the story than that, there's not really much to add. David Cavanagh's fantastically in-depth biography of Creation Records "My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize" manages to cover the rise and fall of Baby Amphetamine in a mere three pages, pinpointing them as an interesting idea which was retrospectively regarded by all concerned as a wrong-foot. Perhaps the most amusing event of all wasn't the scam itself or the release of the record, but the fact that McGee's newest employees took against him almost immediately.  Seeming to regard him as a sexist idiot who was only interested in using them as puppets, one member (Perule) was quoted as saying: "If we did this interview like we were told to by McGee, we'd be saying things like 'Simon Le Bon should be given an acid bath'. But that's so old, so dated. Alan lives in a time warp".  Another member, Jo, added: "Manipulated? Not at all. All that's happened is that someone's thrown a bit of their money at us...  let's not get too serious about it - I mean, what's actually happened? We've made a record, and somebody... has bought us a leather jacket each and been a complete wanker".

Harsh words, but - whether it was what McGee wanted or not - this outcome was slightly more interesting than the usual "Starmaker picks pretty, talentless girls to front single" angle the NME could otherwise have run with, and the fact the tables were turned on him before the single even dropped is fascinating.  For his own part, McGee has stated that he felt the women behaved exactly like models who have made a bad pop single then suddenly believed themselves to be pop stars, and I suspect the truth lies between two poles, with McGee probably patronising the women involved and treating them as a living joke (one wonders if he would have headed off to a nightclub to pick the best looking men to give the same treatment to) and the women in turn getting a feel for the limelight and attempting to run before they could walk.  Never before in the music industry have a group of artists tried to run away from their manager and label so quickly.

The furore surrounding the release made something of a footnote of the record itself, and that's perhaps not surprising.  This is far from being the worst single Creation ever issued - there are efforts by Les Zarjaz and The Legend! that trump it - but it's rather forgettable.  One critic has observed that Baby Amphetamine sound exactly like the band who sing "Alien Invasion" on an old eighties Kit Kat advert, and that's not far off the mark.  With its hip-hop beats and clumsy sloganeering, it's playing time comes and goes without leaving any real impression, seemingly an afterthought to the whole debacle.  Baby Amphetamine deliver little, McGee isn't as lyrically shocking as he clearly wants to be, and it all slides by gently on mediocrity and cliches, predating the hundreds of crap no-hope shock-value sub-hip hop Hoxton bands who would emerge in the noughties (so in one way at least, it was ahead of its time, though not ahead of anything actually commercially or critically successful).

As for what became of Jackie, Perule and Jo, history does not record this.  They attempted to continue their career after McGee quickly dropped them, but nothing came of it.  In one respect, however, the single may have been important - Bill Drummond was apparently enthused enough by the scam to begin work on the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's debut album, and there are certainly shades of Baby Amphetamine about his side-project Disco 2000. So maybe this did have a much larger, unacknowledged influence after all, despite its very obvious shortcomings.


Billy Smart said...

Not only did Baby Amphetamine get NME coverage, they were also cover stars! The evidence:


It was clearly a quiet week, especially as Baby Amphetamine's rivals - That Petrol Emotion, Zodiac Mindwarp, Cookie Crew - had all been recent cover stars.

23 Daves said...

God almighty! Clearly they just pipped AIDS Week to the post (which might have been a cover the NME would have run with in those days, using a black cover with white text).

Thanks for that link.

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Baby Amphetamine said...

Hello, Parule hear - one of the Amphetamines. I believe Alan is an extremely clever man but all the hype around the press was just rubbish.

So this 'shop assistant' went on to work for the BBC, manage the budgets for Tomorrow's World, launched BBC America, owner of a restaurant in DC, director of an Indepent Television Company - so, despite the fact that the three of us were made out to be naive and stupid, none of us were. We aren't too shabby:)

We might be old but the three of us are still fabulous. I think we should do a come-back?:) px

23 Daves said...

Thanks for dropping by, and that's fascinating to know - were you actually working at Virgin Megastore when you were "recruited" for Baby Amphetamine or was that just a giant McGee myth?