Adam Ant in 1978 [photo: Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic
On Nov. 3, the artist born Stuart Goddard turns 59. You might know him better as Adam Ant, the dandy highwayman who made a major mark on the music scene in the '80s fronting the Ants, and then went on to solo success, before disappearing from the music scene for years.
He returned early this year with the ambitious Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, which referenced elements of his former glory while staking claims toward the future.
To celebrate Adam's birthday, we rang him up at his London office and asked him about some of his best known video clips. For those unfamiliar with Adam's story, he emerged from the British punk scene with tracks like "Car Trouble" and"Plastic Surgery," before eventually mixing Indian and pirate imagery, Burundi-style drum beats, and surf guitars with dramatic effect to bridge the gap between punk, glam, and the then-burgeoning New Romantic scene. Here's a look back and some of Adam's most memorable videos.
"That's the one that really broke Adam & the Ants," Adam says. Shot in a London nightclub with an illuminating disco floor, Adam famously encouraged his followers to "unplug the jukebox and do us all a favor." It was illustrated with a giant electrical plug. As always, Adam was over-the-top, perhaps a bit ridiculous, but undeniably entertaining and fun.
"Prince Charming," 1981
"That was the one after 'Stand and Deliver' for the second major album, so it was very important to make an impact. We had a lot riding on the Prince Charming project," Adam says. It also featured a famous leading lady, this time blonde bombshell Diana Dors in one of her final onscreen appearances as the Fairy Godmother in this Cinderella-spoof clip. "She was Britain's Marilyn Monroe," Adam says. "In one scene she was asked to walk up to this black panther and did it with no fear at all." Adam recalls the clip being quite a big production, with a lot of choreography. "It was trying to make it like an Errol Flynn film and all the images I grew up with."
"Stand and Deliver," 1981
This is perhaps the ultimate Adam Ant clip, with the singer in the role of the "dandy highwayman" swashbuckler. Adam, who went to art school and film school, was trained to do storyboards and did them for this clip. Props from Hammer horror studios were used for the mini-movie, including the stagecoach. Adam performed his own stunts in the clip, even jumping through a window with breakaway glass. "They kept telling me that it's not going to hurt, and I split my head open. It was a quite painful." Adam adds that several of his friends were featured in clip, including his girlfriend, then-18-year-old Amanda Donohoe, who went on to a career as a successful actress in roles on "L.A. Law" and other TV shows and films. In the U.K., the clip was banned due to the hanging sequence. "It was quite a controversial number when it came out," Adam says.
"Ant Rap," 1981
In the clip for this 1981 single from the Prince Charming album, Adam didn't do all of his own stunts. He recalls dancing around in a suit of armor in the "freezing cold," but when it came time for him to jump off the castle into a moat, Adam called on a stuntman. "I think even he injured himself," Adam recalls. "It was a dangerous stunt." The clip was shot at Hever Castle, once home to Henry the VIII.
The track brings back bittersweet memories for him, since it was the last single released by Adam & the Ants. "It was primarily due to fatigue, because we hadn't had a break," he says. "We were good mates."
"Desperate But Not Serious," 1982
Adam directed this clip, shot in an old Victorian theater. "It was quite a lot of responsibility to direct it, but I quite enjoyed it," he says. It includes the famous voodoo-gingerbread cookie scene in which a woman breaks off a chunk of a cookie and it affects poor Adam. It also served as an introduction to Adam's post-Ants band, including a brass section.
"Goody Two Shoes," 1982
The playful clip for Adam's post-Ants hit features Hammer horror film actress and Bond girl Caroline Munro as the journalist that becomes Adam's love interest. "She certainly fit the bill of the sort of naughty, sexy secretary," Adam says. "She looked amazing." As for the song's lyrics and message, Adam says his clean-living lifestyle was inspired by boxer Muhammad Ali and was sometimes mocked by members of the press. "Goody Two Shoes" is "a bit of a manifesto and a statement of how I wanted to run my career. It wasn't very rock 'n' roll, but I thought it was a good idea for a lyric and it worked."
When Adam performed "Strip" on his tour to support the album of the same name, he used a Houdini-like immersion tank, which he'd jump into after stripping off all his clothes onstage.
The video featured Adam on horseback, which he says was a bit out of his comfort zone. "I'm not a horse rider, so it was a bit dangerous," he says. Swedish actress Mary Stevens, a onetime Miss World and Bond girl who appeared in Octopusy and A View to a Kill, was Adam's co-star and appeared in the shower scene. It was all a bit much for the BBC, which banned the clip, but it did receive some play on MTV in the U.S. "Americans are a bit more open-minded," Adam says.
A side note -- the album was co-produced by Phil Collins and recorded at his studio in Stockholm, Sweden, where ABBA's Anni-Frid Lyngstad also happened to be working. As a favor to Collins, Lyngstad performed the spoken-word part on this song. "It's nice to have a member of ABBA in your catalog," Adam says. "She was very cool as well. When we were recording, she wore the headphones upside down so she didn't spoil her haircut."
Adam's 1995 solo hit featured the singer going in a different direction, dropping the costumes for a more straightforward mostly black-and-white clip for the acoustic-based song. "That was pretty much of a different record for me," Adam says. "The video has me coming into a little village in Wales and it's shot in sepia. It's tearful about splitting up with a girl, so it's a little more serious." He adds that he wasn't as involved in that clip's direction as his previous efforts. "I kind of handed that one over, but it's an interesting piece to watch and a nice diversion."
"Cool Zombie," 2013
Adam's comeback clip for the track off his latest album opens in black-and-white with Adam in a rowboat traveling down the river, before moving into a full-color performance of Adam performing with his new band. "I'm returning for exile in the boat, having been away," Adam says, "coming back to do what I like doing, which is playing rock 'n' roll." In his return, Adam wears garb familiar to those who followed him in his heyday, notably the 19th century Hussar waistcoat, designed by Adam himself, along with a hat designed by a friend.
"The basic concept is the guy who did 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' coming back 30 years later." Adam also notes that the clip served as an introduction to the members of his new band before they hit the road on tour. To keep the look of the clip authentic, even the security guards on the set were dressed as Victorian garb.