Today’s blog is based on an updated version of an article that I originally published in a 1999 issue of Headpress (The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion).
I have been a fan of Adam Ant and his music for over thirty years. Furthermore, as someone who takes more than a passing interest in human sexual paraphilic behaviour (as evidenced by many of the blogs I write), I would argue that Adam’s music has covered more atypical sexual behaviours than any other recording artist that I can think of (e.g. sadomasochism, bondage, transvestism, voyeurism, fetishism, etc). Anyone who has followed Adam’s career will recall that his music was billed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as “Antmusic for Sexpeople”. Adam’s followers (according to the free booklet given away with early copies of the 1980 LP ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier‘) were the “sexpeople” who “get off on sexual phenomena; people who like sexual imagery and enjoy being sexual”. For me, Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close (no pun intended) to talking about the seedier side of sex.
There are very few songs in the Ant repertoire that are about what I would call straight sex (i.e., ‘vanilla sex’). Adam’s most obvious songs here are ‘S.E.X.’ (1981; from ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) where he proclaims in the chorus that “Sex is sex, forget the rest/The only one that’s free/The only great adventure left/To humankind, that’s you and me”, ‘Beautiful Dream’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP) where “Sex is emotion in motion”, ‘Good Sex Rumples The Clothing’ and ‘Doggy Style’ (both from the 2005 Deluxe Edition of the ‘Vive Le Rock’ LP), and ‘Sexatise You’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). For me this is very bland stuff that is also echoed in many songs from the 1983 ‘Strip‘ album including the title track, ‘Baby Let Me Scream At You’, ‘Libertine’ and ‘Navel To Neck’. ‘Straight sex’ in the form of sexual promiscuity rears it’s head in both a third person male account in one of Adam’s own favourite songs, ‘Juanito the Bandito’ (1982; B-Side of ‘Friend or Foe’), in which Adam (singing in a Latino-type accent) says “Young ladies he likes to ravish/He knows how to make them wet/And if he can’t, he’ll dig himself a hole/Or go looking for your favourite pet”. I’m not quite sure whether that’s some reference to a potential bestial act or just a bad rhyming couplet but still pretty tame as far as I’m concerned. The more humorous side of promiscuity is also outlined in 1983’s ‘Playboy’ from the album ‘Strip‘ when Adam asks “What do you wear in bed?/Some headphones on my head/What do you like to hold?/’My breath’ she said”. Adam also makes indirect scientific reference to human orgasm (“Resolution – the fourth and final part”) on ‘Can’t Set The Rules About Love’ (1990; from the ‘Manners and Physique’ LP.
Other types of ‘vanilla sex’ include dressing up in sexy clothes (‘Spanish Games’; from the ‘Strip‘ LP, 1983), high-class prostitution (‘High Heels in High Places’ from the 2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set), and sex in aeroplanes (from the 1981 ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) in the shape of the non-subtle ‘Mile High Club’ (“747 or a VC 10/Winter, summer, who knows when?/Take off passion, fly away love/Mile High Club”). There is also a whole song about sex in the bathroom (‘Bathroom Function’; 1978 from ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP) which makes lots of references to lathering and rubbing unhygienic places and soap-on-rope. However, the lyrics make it hard to decide whether the sex in question is masturbatory or copulation-based.
Very few of Adam’s songs refer to homosexuality and lesbianism except when he is singing in the third person. The most striking examples of this appear on his 1989 ‘Manners and Physique’ album. One song ‘Bright Lights, Black Leather’ is an observation of the gay scene in West Berlin (There they go, the buccaneers/Hand in hand in leather glove/So fast, so crazy/With a creepy kind of love). The other song is about the rent-boy scene in Piccadilly (appropriately entitled ‘Piccadilly’). There’s also the more obvious ‘All Girl Action’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). Another song where Ant takes a third person view of a sexual behaviour is in ‘Cleopatra’ (1979; from the ‘Dirk Wears White Sox‘ LP) where he makes reference to the Egyptian queen’s alleged penchant for fellatio. As Adam observes “Cleopatra did 10,000 in her lifetime/Now that’s a wide mouth/Cleo gave service with a smile/She was a wide-mouthed girl/She did a hundred Roman Centurians/For after-dinner mints”.
Many of Adam’s songs make passing references to activities associated with the more extreme fringes of sex such as sexual body piercing (“She’s got a little chain through her tit/And she doesn’t seem to mind it”, from ‘Punk in the Supermarket’, 1978; ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP), tattoos (“I’ve got a hear on my arm/It says ‘PURE SEX’/It hurt/I mean it/I got it till I die/Or until I reach orgasmo (sic)”, from ‘Red Scab’, 1982; B-side of ‘Goody Two Shoes‘), and fat fetishes (‘Fat Fun’ from the 2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set). He also hints at bestial pleasures and clitoral stimulation in the 1982 song ‘Why Do Girls Love Horses?’ (“Is it ‘cos they’re round?/Or ‘cos they’re six feet off the ground?/Is because they’re on top?/Or the clippety-clop?”) (B-side of ‘Desperate But Not Serious’).
It is when we start to examine Adam’s earlier output that things get far more interesting. Transvestism may have been covered implicitly in The Kinks‘ ‘Lola‘ or Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘ but I don’t know another song like “Greta-X” (1985; B-side of ‘Vive Le Rock’) which includes the chorus “I’m a joyous glad TV/Why don’t you come TV with me/I know a girl who likes to dress me/Up like this and then caress me”. Some may claim that the “TV” here may not necessarily be about transvestites but the last verse clears up any ambiguity! (Underwear all tidied away/Thirty eight bust just for a day/Heels so high, my furs so fine/All a woman’s things, they are mine”).
One of the most salient themes through much of Adam’s early work is sadomasochism and bondage. Live favourites such as ‘Physical (You’re So)’, ‘Ligotage’ and ‘B-Side Baby’, being typical of the genre. An early stage favourite was ‘Beat My Guest’ (1981; B-side of ‘Stand and Deliver‘) which would often disturb club owners:
“Well tie me up and hit me with a stick/Yeah, use a truncheon or a household brick/There’s so much happiness behind these tears/I’ll pray you’ll beat me for a thousand years/Well use a truncheon or a cricket bat/A good beating’s where it’s really at”
Their other early SM classic ‘Whip In My Valise’ with the immortal chorus line “Who taught you to torture? Who taught ya?” was the first song that my Dad questioned my musical taste. When you look at some of the lyrics, you can perhaps appreciate why my father was concerned about what his thirteen-year old son was listening to.
“When I met you, you were just sixteen/Pulling the wings off flies/When the old lady got hit by the truck/I saw the wicked in your eyes/You put my head into the stocks/And then went to choose a cane/But hey, your cat has got nine tails/You like to leave me lame”
Very few of Adam’s later songs return to these themes although there are a few exceptions including the self-explanatory ‘Human Bondage Den’ (1985; from the ‘Vive Le Rock‘ LP) and ‘Rough Stuff’ (1989; from the ‘Manners and Physique‘ LP), the latter of which was a big hit in the US. The world of rubberites is explored in another self-explanatory song ‘Rubber People’. Adam proclaims that: “Rubber people are lovely people/They long for latex on their skin/A hole in the ceiling/A nice strong gag/Nicely wrapped and strapped”. This again has strong sadomasochistic overtones especially when references are made to being “bound to discipline” and spanking. Spanking only appears in one other Ant song – the aforementioned ‘Whip in My Valise’ (1979; B-side of ‘Zerox‘). Voyeurism with naïve sadomasochistic overtones also appear in the early live favourite “Lady” (1979; B-side of ‘Young Parisians’) when Adam sings “I saw a lady and she was naked/I saw a lady she had no clothes on/I had a good look through the crack/She had footmarks up her back/How did they get there?”
Although Adam sings about many sexual fetishes, the only direct references to fetishism appear in the classic ‘Christian D’Or’ (1981; B-side of ‘Prince Charming‘) and ‘Survival of the Fetish’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). In ‘Christian D’Or’, Adam reels off a whole list of fetishes and concludes there is something wrong with him (“I’ve got a fetish for black/A fetish for green/A fetish for those arty magazines/I’ve got a fetish for Brando/A fetish for cats/A fetish for ladies in Christian Dior hats/I’ve got a fetish and that means I’m sick/So very sick”).
I have also come across some early (1977) songs that feature other types of sexual behaviour (including cunnilingus, swinging, rape, necrophilia, knicker fetishes, and – possibly – amputee fixations). These tapes feature sex-based songs, many of which have never found their way onto record. Song titles include ‘Weekend Swinger’, ‘Underwear’, ‘Hooray, I’m a Hetero’, ‘Punishment Park’, ‘The Throb (True Love)’, ‘Swedish Husbands’, ‘Sit On My Face’, ‘Get On Your Knees’, ‘Female Rape’, ‘Deanecrophilia’ and ‘Saturday A.M. Pix’ (AMPIX was a company that specialised in products for those with a sexual amputee fixation but this may not be about amputee fetishes at all as I have never heard the song).
The one song I have not been able to decide whether it is about a sexual paraphilia is ‘1969 Again’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP). In this song Adam sings that “Oh how you make me wish I was a baby/Yeah, when you’re playing Miss Swish/Knickers on – you’re my big agony nanny/With your big towel protection”. To me, this looks like a song about paraphilic infantilism (i.e., people who get sexual kicks from being adult babies) but I could be wrong. There is also the reference to Miss Swish that suggests some spanking reference (Swish is a spanking magazine) but maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.
Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.
Wikipedia (2013). Adam and the Ants. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_and_the_Ants
Wikipedia (2013). Adam Ant. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Ant