Happy Talk is a weird song for a start off. It’s clear the matchmaking lady by the rock pool isn’t doing this purely for unselfish reasons, but the musical as a whole is underpinned by colonialism and as usual makes Asian characters speak and act like retarded five year-olds. I’ve never liked it, despite my penchant for the genre, and this song is to me a low point of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s writing prowess.
Now fast forward to 1982:
Captain Sensible (aka Ray Burns) was at one time the leading light of the Damned, as I’m sure you all know. Among a group of larger than life punks, he stood out as the most flamboyant. He loved to taunt and insult his audience just to get a reaction, viz. the celebrated line, “I love you people, you’re the nicest bunch of people in the whole wide world. Except that man there, you are the ugliest cunt I have ever laid eyes upon.” Small wonder that the front four rows at a Damned gig would be composed entirely of slapheads screaming, “Sensible is a wanker!”
Then it all changed. In the early 80s, after visiting Crass (those post-hippy anarchists with a taste for really rubbishy songs, it has to be said), he was suddenly pacifist, vegetarian (which makes the sight of him singing around a dead seagull on a pole in the above clip rather odd) and releasing This Is Your Captain Speaking on Crass’ own label.
Bad enough, you might think. Yet worse, much worse, was to come. He signed a deal with A&M, recorded Happy Talk, backed by those Peel faves the Dolly Mixtures, and suddenly he was top of the UK charts for two weeks, a housewives’ favourite, and his original band kicked his arse out the door (only for him to rejoin 11 years later).
What were his motives, you might ask? It would be charitable to see it as a kind of post-modern irony, juxtaposing
the Elysian make-believe of the musical with the harsh reality of the Cold War and the Falklands. But no: he claims he found it in his parents’ record collection and it was done “for a laugh” (or to fill up available space on his LP, depending on which site you read), and averred that it kept him from being a toilet cleaner. Certainly, someone who has had the experience of the police banging on his door wishing to repossess his house might just want a little something to pay the bills.
Notwithstanding, the biggest surprise of the lot was that this cringe-making exercise was considered good enough even to have a shot at the Festive Fifty (obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it in the first place). It made #59 in the 1982 yearly chart, thus meaning that John didn’t have to play it, But who were the misguided souls that even dreamed for a second that it was worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as the Clash, the Cure and the Cocteau Twins, who were the real stars of the year? I think we should be told.
Captain Sensible, Happy Talk
In case all the above has irretrievably depressed you, allow me to furnish you with a gentle reminder of exactly what the Captain really was capable of: four slices of heavenly power pop with a side project that presumably the Damned did approve of, King, and their only Peel session, recorded on my 15th birthday. In case the organ line in Baby Sign Here With Me is naggingly familiar, it became the classic I Just Can’t Be Happy Today.
King, Peel Session (1978-07-11)
Anti Pope/Baby Sign Here With Me/My Baby Don’t Care/Jet Boy Jet Girl