Rock & Pop are such relatively youthful art-forms that Your Correspondent still finds himself surprised by how swiftly the music of his adolescence (1983-1989) has begun to look a little sepia-toned round the edges. (Presumably one’s parents came to feel the same way about A Hard Day’s Night…) In referring to the ‘look’ over the sound, of course, one admits how important was the image-repertoire of 1980s pop to the appreciation of whatever actual music the bands came up with… Which is not for one minute to propose that the Sounds of the Eighties don’t stand up to airplay today, because a swathe of present-day heroes/heroines from Lady Gaga to Alison Goldfrapp might otherwise be struggling.
The BBC’s Top of the Pops, once an ineluctable presence in TV schedules, now feels like half a world away, but without doubt the musically-inclined youth of my generation were sure to study it on a Thursday evening. Thus in the autumn of 1982 I was only one of millions of kids who watched the debut appearance of Boy George and Culture Club performing ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?’ And, as would soon become clear, my dad was only one of millions of parents also watching to put the baffled question: ‘Is that a boy or a girl…?’
Pop in its profusion gives us a feel for generational shifts and even at the time it was clear that 1980s pop felt coloured by glamour, conspicuous consumption and a liberal dose of gender-bending. The spiked hair, bondage trousers and safety pins of punk (if you like) had been swapped for eyeliner, teased highlights, and parachute-like blouses and suits by Yohji Yamomoto.
The indispensable periodical that charted all of this pop-cultural foment was Smash Hits, which I bought loyally most every fortnight until I was 13 or 14; and its star reporter was Dave Rimmer, whose interviews I found increasingly fascinating – even more so those he contributed to The Face, the rather more grown-up and hollow-cheeked Defining Magazine of the 1980s, to which I duly graduated. Rimmer’s form in this field can be usefully studied here through the listings of the subscription site Rock’s Back Pages. (Many of these articles I remember in vivid detail, above all ‘Duran Duran: The Pop Dream Come True’ from the December 1985 issue of The Face.)
But Rimmer also committed his expert and access-fuelled insight to between-covers, with the book-length study Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop, first published by Faber in 1985 at the instigation of the publisher’s then pop culture editor Pete Townshend. In truth Rimmer’s de facto agent and editor on the book would be his Smash Hits colleague Neil Tennant, who first came up with the ironic expression that gave the book its title (and would in due course come up with a considerable contribution to the pop music that defined the era.)
Finds is thrilled to be returning Like Punk Never Happened to readers this month, including a brand new preface in which Dave Rimmer elaborates on the story adumbrated above of the book’s making. At its page on our ordering site you will see some of the tributes paid it at the time in the rock press. I would also cite this recent eloquent tribute from Rob Sheffield, contributing editor at Rolling Stone (and author of Talking to Girls About Duran Duran):
“The early 1980s were a golden age for British new wave scam artists with fire-hazard hair, as Adam Ant, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, etc. made some of the most brilliant pop records ever devised. Rimmer tells the story, and it’s the funniest, smartest book I know about the connections between pop glitter and real-life human passion, the erotics of fandom, or the dirty details of the Boy George vs. Frankie Goes to Hollywood feud.”
Below you can, like me, beckon in the past by the madeleine of that first Culture Club performance on TOTP. And under that is the great Dave Rimmer himself, in conversation with your correspondent (recorded in the Faber and Faber archive) about the origins of Like Punk, the crises that consumed Boy George’s career in the course of its writing, and the vida loca of covering the pop game in an era when record companies still thought it wise to pay for journalists to accompany their acts on the road and stand at close quarters by them…