Everybody needs to smile. Everybody needs to have fun. Everybody needs to know that one person who can just cheer you up – especially in this day and age when the pressures of life seem to conspire to make everything seem like seven shades of shit.
If you’ve ever watched “Fight Club”, you will know about the importance of going to your happy place during times of stress. Captain Sensible’s cover version of the “South Pacific” musical number, “Happy Talk”, certainly ranks as one of my happy places. It is not a deep political statement of discontent with the world. It is not a piece of deep psychological self-analysis. It does not give any deep and meaningful insight into the spiritual answers to the great question of life, the universe and everything (42?). So what is it? It is perhaps one of the happiest pieces of super light pop bullshit ever to grace the music charts, and I love it.
The story of the Captain’s pop career is an interesting one – if you get a chance to watch the film about The Damned (“Don’t You Wish We Were Dead”, which you can get now from all good retail outlets blah blah blah etc.) you will get to understand how the decisions surrounding dear old Captain becoming a pop juggernaut reached long into the history of his former bandmates.
Captain Sensible had written a few tunes which were rejected by the band, so he decided to take them and record them for himself. Once the album was recorded, the record company requested something that would make an obvious single – for some reason, he decided that a pop version of the old “South Pacific” show-tune would be the perfect solution to his problem.
Happy talkin’, talkin Happy talk
Talk about things you’d like to do
You’ve got to have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true
“Happy Talk” is a show-tune taken from the 1949 musical “South Pacific” (created by Rodgers and Hammerstein) that tells the stories of a group of American naval soldiers who are posted in the South Pacific islands. The song is performed by Bloody Mary, who sings it to the American lieutenant Joe Cable about having a happy life, after the American starts to have a romance with her daughter, Liat.
It is not what you would expect as a debut solo single from the unhinged ex-bassist now lead guitarist with one of the original UK punk bands, The Damned.
So, as a result of his solo success, the good Captain was kicked out of the band (or, according to some, decided to leave as it was felt it was best for the band) that he had loved and dedicated his life to, and embarked upon a short lived career as a mainstream pop-star. It was a glorious sight to see Cap brining his Tiswas brand of anarchy to the masses who genuinely seemed happy to see this affable buffoon enjoy his five minutes of fame.
The Damned, minus the Cap, went onto would be their most successful commercial time following the release of the goth directed album “Phantasmagoria”, featuring the hit singles “Grimly Fiendsih”, “The Shadow of Love” and “Is It A Dream?”. Their commercial high point was “Eloise” which was the first single of the following album, “Anything”, which failed to hit the same level of commercial success as “Phantasmagoria”.
Whilst things seemed to be looking good for The Damned, life was slowly heading the opposite way for Captain Sensible. He managed to maintain his status as a loopy pop star for a short time: behold the loopy joy of his follow-up single that took a friendly swipe at fellow pop-wonder and equal ex-punk rocker Adam Ant.
This is “Wot”:
Hopefully you will have noticed the contribution of another set of unique and interesting female backing vocalists, as previously discussed when I wrote a blog post about Paul Young’s Christmas epic “Love of The Common People”. Paul has his Fabulously Wealthy Tarts. Cap had his Dolly Mixtures.
However, without a shadow of a doubt, whilst “Happy Talk” never fails to put a smile on my face, it is his Falkland War inspired anti-war song that is possibly his best and cleverest moment, and is quite possibly the most catchy anti-war song that I can remember coming out of the 1980s.
This moments of the Sensible madness always brought joy to my life, even when reading the lyrics made it clear that the subject matter of the song was in no way a laughing matter.
Talk about the moon floating in the sky
Looking like a lily on a lake
Talk about the bird learning how to fly
Making all the music he can make
So there is a good ending to this story – after spending many years in the wilderness enjoyed by ex-punk musicians, Captain Sensible eventually re-joined The Damned who had also fallen on tough times following the commercial failure of the “Anything” album. There was a significant falling out with original member Rat Scabies which continues to this very day – apparently, during the premier of the documentary about the band, Captain Sensible disrupted the film screening whenever Rat was putting his side of the story. Rat Scabies now tours with the other original member of The Damned, original guitarist Brian James, in response to the official incarnation of the band playing original punk album “Damned Damned Damned” in full.
The Damned has undertaken a critical and commercial rebirth that has seen them gigs consistently and release new albums ever few years – releasing “Grave Disorder” in 2001, and then “So, Who’s Paranoid” in 2008. The band are currently planning to record a new album, raising funds through PledgeMusic to enable them to record it entirely independently of any record company.
During recent gigs, Captain Sensible would sometimes play “Happy Talk” either to laugh at himself, or ro enable the audience to engage in a spectacular moment of community whilst also taking the piss out of everybody involved.
The version below is taken from a Captain Sensible solo gig:
Sometimes, this type of song is called a “guilty pleasure” – otherwise, the type of song that people generally acknowledge as being crap but is enjoyed despite it. I don’t hold “Happy Talk” in any way as a guilty pleasure because I never feel guilty about listening to it. I love it.
I hope you will find it in your heart to love it too.