Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Bow Wow Wow—
Put It Down, Mickey/ Orang-Outang


Released 1981 on RCA
The Seth Man, November 2007ce
Bow Wow Wow were a remarkable novelty comprised of the backing band snatched out from under Adam Ant during his untimely run as a leather boy and re-positioned behind the untrained and girlishly-shouted vocals of Annabella Lwin into an urban, neo-primitivism mix that subversively championed home taping on cassettes, hinted causally at underage sex and was stitched together in degrees of jolly-rogering piracy projected by their manager, Malcolm McLaren. By the following year, the group’s previous brittleness was knocked into its already discarded two-cornered, Napoleonic-blitz kid hat as the lyrics improved over their former cheerleader qualities and the music coalesced beyond the parameters of puppet pop group with rolling African drums, Latin timbales, constant lines of slap bass a-poppin’ melodically throughout and remodelled Duane-Eddy-styled hollow-bodied Gretsch guitar whammy-barred at the end of every other riff -- as if in commemoration of the obscure session guitarist on Morricone’s soundtracks for Leone’s ‘The Man With No Name’ trilogy of films.

This last-named element was pushed to fierce centre stage on the penultimate track off their memorably-named second album, “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Own Gang Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy!” Ostensibly to fit in with their then-current Mohican/savage-in-the-great-outdoors phase, it was called “Orang-Outang” and would be unlike any other song in Bow Wow Wow’s small canon. A rare group composition for the band at this time, without McLaren’s hand there was no prompting of underage-girly squeals punctuating recontextualised African high life rhythms or other multi-cultural collisions. Nope: only pulsating drumming cascading around a cross-weave of acoustic guitar, a blur of bass flurries and über-reverbed guitar playing for “Orang-Outang” is a fantastic guitar instrumental -- especially for 1981, a year not known for that sort of thing. Ashman had previously been afforded sporadic glints of western guitar accenting on their first album (most notably on “Gold He Said.”) But here, Ashman’s fistful of notes were played slowly as if to let each note’s twang and reverb spill out at epic proportions like the moment of truth during a Mexican standoff where long shadows rake across the dusty Italo-Tex-Mex-Spanish desert plains while one final Panavistic sweep reveals several figures in silhouette, high atop a ridge against the burning sky...Not moving but watching.

The video for “Chihuahua,” another greatly atmospheric track off the “See Jungle! See Jungle!” LP, embodied all the elements of the above, as well as Bow Wow Wow’s early Mohican phase: freedom in the great outdoors approximating that of (at least on the surface) a savage state with Annabella Lwin as revered jungle queen, tramping through an improbable English junglescape while dragging Matthew Ashman by his mohawk. For here, Annabella was not a fifteen-year old Anglo-Burmese daughter from London but a tiny goddess and a defiant teenage priestess aware of her own latent powers presiding over a small and errant tribe of band mates living off the fat of the post-punk land situated somewhere in a shaded forest by the water’s edge. This mise en scène carried over for the projected cover for “See Jungle!” in a photographic recreation of Manet’s painting, “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (‘The Luncheon on the Grass’) with Annabella as posed directly as the painting’s nude subject. The uproar that followed nearly spilt the band and the sleeve was accordingly substituted with a different image of Annabella fully-clothed in a white dress reclining on her side while a leering Ashman loomed over her (The original photograph did see use in the following year as the front sleeve for their “Last Of The Mohicans” EP.)

Bow Wow Wow coulda/shoulda/didn’t follow up “See Jungle!” with an entirely instrumental EP. Instead, they wound up switching horses midstream into the mainstream and followed by a career slipstream of highly-produced pop songs that gained them their biggest hit with a cover of The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” one year prior to subsequently disbanding.