20 October 2021

Screen Idols - Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart/ Runaway

Ex-Spiders From Mars and Rats From Hull types get a hold of Pitney

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1980

After David Bowie "broke up the band" in 1973, The Spiders From Mars didn't all just drift away to new projects. It's often forgotten that a Mick Ronson-less version of the outfit emerged on Pye Records in 1975, with Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey recruiting Mike Garson, Dave Black and Pete McDonald to their ranks. It's tempting to regard this version of the group as a cash-in on the famous name rather than a bona-fide continuation, and it has to be said that the debut 45 "White Man Black Man" bears about as much relation to the Ziggy Stardust sound as Gilbert O'Sullivan does to Roxy Music. It's seventies pop, not glam rock, and not even a very credible brand name could push it over the commercial line. 

One flop LP later and the group drifted off in their different directions. Drummer Woodmansey got together with his his ex-Rats bandmates Ched Cheeseman and Geoff Appleby and ex-Lone Star member Tony Smith to form this outfit with singer Michelle Nieddu. Screen Idols were occasionally badged as New Wave, but this was probably wishful thinking on the part of their PR officer whether he meant punk-tinged pop or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - the reality is that they played powerful pop rock tracks with a slightly modern edge, Nieddu's vocals rasping forcefully over the top of the group's hard, confident sound. 

For whatever reason, they couldn't seem to settle with one label. Their debut single "Blind Man" came out on Cobra in 1979 (along with their LP "Premiere"), followed by "Routine" on Superstition in 1980 and then finally this effort on Parlophone, which had a cover of the Cook and Greenaway classic "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" as its A-side. Much has been written about the track in the past, acknowledging the fact that while the dependable and family-friendly performer Gene Pitney popularised it, the lyrics appeared to be acknowledging psychedelia. Could "Something has invaded my life/ painting my sleep with a colour so bright" have been a nod to the folks who had turned on and tuned in from one of the songwriters who would eventually write the British Gas jingle? It's unlikely, but the fact that it could be just as easily interpreted as a ballad to mind expansion is an interesting coincidence.

The Screen Idols, of course, resist the temptation to convince 1980 audiences that this was far out and leave the mellotron and the theremin well and truly locked in the recording studio cupboard. Their take on the track is instead a thumping anthem which takes it in a new and unexpected direction. It's doubtful you'll prefer it to Pitney's take or indeed the version Pitney and Marc Almond would end up taking to number one (also on Parlophone, interestingly) in 1989, but it points towards fresh possibilities for the track.

The B-side "Runaway" isn't also a cover of the old Del Shannon classic, but a new song which showcases the group's brittle rock approach a bit more effectively. 

After this, there would be no further releases and all concerned would head off to do other things, with Nieddu joining The Faraway Stars and most of the others returning to the live circuit and session work. 

If the previews below aren't working properly, please go right to the source. 


Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

I got to 20 seconds. That was enough for me.

john111257 said...

Absolutely awful cover