"kissing is a 'personal style' kind of sport"
"the is group's new core competency"
"pink is a cat girl who's the slave of a swordsman named santa"

Between the Blue and the Red: Conflict and Confession in the Line of Duty

Kissing the Pink - (Spider Planet)

Ashley Pomeroy (1.5 min)

I want to ask you a question. Who is your nuclear watchdog?

Book One: Four and Twenty

"We don't have the time for psychological romance"

INTRODUCTION - All Our Moves Were Well-Measured
Today I would like to talk to you about Kissing the Pink, an English pop group from the 1980s. They released three albums - an odd one, a boring one, and a good one. And also a fourth album under a slightly different name. You probably haven't heard any of their music, but that's nothing to be ashamed of. The band's name was taken from a piece of snooker commentary from the telly that sounded naughty. It is very easy to confuse the words innervate and enervate. They have opposite meanings but they sound the same. For this reason surgeons often use the word denervate instead of enervate. I spoke with a surgeon today. Can you say the same?

If you visit second-hand record shops that stock vinyl, you might have seen Kissing the Pink's debut album, perhaps whilst looking for records by KISS. The album has a distinctive cover. It is called Naked. It is the kind of record that ends its life in a second-hand record shop. There are many records like it. They catch the public mood for a short while, and then they are banished to a second-hand record shop. Frampton Comes Alive. The disco version of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fairground Attraction's debut album. The Best of the Bluebells. Lists of this nature are a staple of internet humour sites such as Ruthless Reviews or the Onion's AV Club or Britain's TV Cream and I shall not repeat their work.

Kissing the Pink came into being before compact disc, and their debut album was released on vinyl and cassette only. They post-dated 8-track and in any case they were a British group, and 8-track was never popular in Britain. 8-track is a false memory that has been implanted into the memories of British people by American nostalgia culture. 8-track did not take off in Britain. I have seen many things in my life, but I have never seen an 8-track machine. I have never met a person who owned an 8-track machine. British cars in the late 1970s did not have 8-track machines. 8-track was crushed by Phillips' compact cassette. And yet Britain's children of today are convinced that my father's generation owned 8-track machines, and were great fans of the KISS, although neither of which things are that the case of.

I envisage a day when I will try and fail to explain to a child that I did not purchase Hootie and the Blowfish's popular debut album Cracked Rear View, despite being of record-buying age in 1995, and that grunge passed me by because neither of these things were of relevance in Britain. The child will argue with me when I say that I did not, could not vote for Bill Clinton. He or she - preferably she, I have a thing for young girls - will ask me for my opinion on Pauly Shore and I will not be able to answer, and only then will I experience the generation gap that my own parents experience when I tell them things about the Rolling Stones as if I had been alive in the 1960s which I was not. Except that the generation gap between myself and my parents is one of time, whereas the coming generation gap will be one of time and space. Already I notice young schoolgirls affecting a "cute" American-style squawky accent. It impinges on my lust for them. No, it is not lust. It is curiosity. What would it be like, to hold a life in one's hands, and snuff it out? What changes, at the moment of death? "Squawky" would be a killing word in a game of Scrabble.

Kissing the Pink's debut album has not been officially re-released on compact disc, except as a limited edition import from Japan. The group's second album, What Noise?, has never been released on compact disc at all. Except for appearances on compilation albums, nothing that the group recorded and released is available in the shops. Lauren Hutton has a gap between her upper front teeth, and yet she is a famous international model. People pay money to see her wearing clothes. Your teeth do not have a gap; why are you not a model also? Some albums were released before compact disc. And some albums were released after compact disc. This latter group can be divided into three; firstly, albums that were originally released before compact disc, and then re-released in the new format (such as everything by the Beatles), and secondly albums that established the popularity of compact disc (such as, most famously, Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms), and thirdly those albums that were released during the compact disc era, such as Shania Twain's Come on Over, which is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

A lot of people bought Kissing the Pink's debut album because it had the group's only hit song on it, although it was only a minor hit. However, the rest of the album is nothing like that song - indeed, all the songs are unlike each other - and so most of the people who bought the record found themselves disappointed and angry, and threw the record away or sold it. The hit song was called "The Last Film". It began QUOTE In the last film I ever saw, they wore suits and they wore ties UNQUOTE. It was a strange song, with martial drums and a penny whistle, and it reached the top forty.

I know why people bought it. It is catchy, and it has a cold and detached sound that was popular in 1983. Pop musicians did not smile in 1983. A lot of pop musicians did not want to be pop musicians at all. They wanted to be taken seriously, as Serious Artists with Something to Say about Society. Kissing the Pink wanted to be taken seriously and they were Serious Artists in the sense that most of the band's members had gone to the Royal College of Music. If you are a Serious Artist, the most important thing is credibility. You must be taken seriously by people that matter. Kissing the Pink did not matter to anyone because they were not popular enough.

Kissing the Pink consisted of half a dozen or so people who were mostly young men except for one of them who was a young woman, and there was another woman who was not in the group but she sang with them. I do not know how many of them went to the Royal College of Music - perhaps they all did - and if they graduated or not. The band is a good example of how formal qualifications in music-making and composition are of limited use in the pop music industry; or, at least, they are of limited use if you want to be a popular pop star. I am sure that many producers and programmers and arrangers and backroom boys and record executives and marketing men have qualifications, albeit not necessarily in music-making, and I can imagine session violinists and orchestral performers having earned diplomas and degrees in performance before being allowed to own expensive and dangerous equipment such as violins and tubas.

But pop music is a folk art. I must explain at this point that, when I talk about pop music, I am talking about pop music in the Beatles sense rather than the modern-day sense, i.e. I am talking about music written and performed by the people up there on the screen, rather than Brill Building / Pop Idol-style manufactured pop music. Kissing the Pink no doubt aligned themselves with the former faction, although their music sounds nothing like that of the Beatles and they emerged at a time when the Beatles were not relevant. Pop music is a folk art. It is self-taught and instinctive. It bubbles up from the guts. It spurts from the loins. It beats from the heart. But it does not broadcast electrical waves from the brain. Pop musicians tend to be very specialised, capable of writing and performing a narrow range of music in a certain subgenre. A professional musician might have to play in many different styles from session to session, but U2 can only sound like U2. However, U2 do U2 better than any other group of people, and the general public likes U2 more than it would like four of the most highly-qualified musicians on the planet performing U2 covers or original songs in a U2 style. The general public preferred U2 to Simple Minds, because Simple Minds were not as U2 as U2. The most expensive thing is to come second.

Kissing the Pink's music was all over the place. The band was restless and experimentally-minded. I have always had trouble with collective nouns. They gave the impression that they could do straightforward pop music if they had wanted to, but they chose something else instead. They chose failure. Do you remember Trainspotting? It is probably near the top of the IMDB's top one hundred, falling a few places every year. Eventually it will be gone and forgotten. I'm sure that there are days during which you do not think of Trainspotting, or Pulp Fiction. The 1990s was a culturally-impoverished decade. Kissing the Pink were very clever in a show-offy, student-type way. They were impressed with their own cleverness.

No-one ever accused Billy Idol of being clever. But I will wager that Kissing the Pink sold fewer records in their entire career than Billy Idol sold in the last three months of 1984. Too clever by half.

Le JARDIN SAUVAGE: Politics and the Embroidery of Lucifer
"One of the many reasons I anticipated the invasion of Iraq so restlessly in 2003 was that I knew it would irritate Roger Waters enough to compel him to generate some new songs" - Keith Levenberg, Amazon.com

During the 1980s a small number of pop bands dabbled in political and quasi-political themes. The environment itself is not political, because clouds and trees and endangered frogs do not have political parties. But nonetheless The Environment was almost inevitably a political theme; one that matched the general political outlook of young, naïve and very middle class pop musicians. The same could be said of all political issues in the 1980s, at least the ones that were in the news. Sting was famous for his concern for the environment and for international relations. The Human League lamented the destruction of the Lebanon. Billy Bragg believed that there was power in a union. He was not looking for a new England. He talked with the tax man about poetry. There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis.

It is hard to encapsulate political themes in a three minute pop song that consists of three stanzas and a chorus that have to rhyme and be catchy and fit the music. Sting was frequently mocked for the dour seriousness of his work; The Human League's "The Lebanon" is a catchy song, but it has some of the most infamously awful rhyming lyrics in modern pop history. Kissing the Pink wisely decided to avoid political themes in their music. The lyrics of their debut album were sketchy and impressionistic, whilst the more overt political themes of their second album were expressed in a simplistic way. I believe that this is not because Kissing the Pink understood their limitations, it is simply because they did not have any deep political message. Or rather, they had a vaguely thought-out, liberal (in the American sense) political viewpoint that coloured their songs, but was not an integral part of their message. From listening to the demo versions of their songs I get the impression that they were amateurs who could articulate themselves more effectively with music than with words.

During the 1980s very few pop songs, perhaps no pop songs at all dealt with political themes in specific terms, with the exception of reflexive digs at Margaret Thatcher (and unemployment) and white South African politicians. Some pop songs described or were related to specific but non-political events - Ferry Aid's version of The Beatles' "Let It Be" was an amusing and inadvertent example of the contradictory recontextualisation of an existing pop song - and it is surprising that Live Aid provoked fewer musical tributes than Woodstock a couple of decades earlier. Live Aid itself and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" were the epitome of political discourse in pop music during the 1980s; perhaps heartfelt, although not to any great depth, but shallow, and greatly simplifying and misunderstanding of the reality (both in terms of the causes of Ethiopa's famine, and the assumption that starving children wanted nothing more than a Christmas tree and a Big Trak).

I am not aware of any pop songs that complained about the Soviet Union's destruction of the environment. I am sure that those pop musicians who recorded songs about nuclear disasters were not thinking of the Soviet Union either, just as pop musicians who recorded songs about nuclear war tended to be alarmed by Ronald Reagan alone, as if there was no other side. The Chernobyl disaster was not a Russian nuclear disaster; it was mankind's nuclear disaster. Environmentalists - I find it hard to write that word without instinctively reaching for my air rifle - worked hard to transplant Chernobyl from Chernobyl to the West and America, just as Chernobyl's nuclear cloud wafted away from Russia or the Ukraine or wherever the hell it was. East. It wafted over Sweden, and Scotland.

On their second album, What Noise?, Kissing the Pink recorded a song called Greenham, which was clearly about the Greenham Common Peace Women. It contained an excerpt from a song called "You Can't Kill the Spirit" by a lady called Naomi Littlebear Morena, and in doing so the group clearly aligned themselves wit the women, or womyn as they probably called themselves. I imagine that Kissing the Pink - students, students of the creative arts no less - did not vote for the Conservative Party. No, I picture them voting for the SDP. Labour in the 1980s had a thuggish, violent edge, whereas the SDP was the last refuge of the limp-wristed. Whereas Labour voters were privately thrilled with the Brighton bombing, which almost killed Margaret Thatcher, the SDP kept their violence under restrain. I picture Labour voters during the 1980s as I picture Charles Manson's Family, a group of society outcasts and drop-outs who were seductive in an unconventional way, and who were murderers under the skin. And nowadays they wear suits and are professional people who earn lots of money and are the establishment.


When I think of the SDP I think of My Little Pony. I think of breastfeeding. It is a fact that no SDP voter has ever committed a crime of violence. The same is true of the members of Kissing the Pink. Not a one of them ever lifted a hand in anger, even when the public refused to buy their records. The SDP was a political party that was popular in Britain in the 1980s, although not popular enough to come close to forming a government. Kissing the Pink, on the other hand, was a pop group that was not popular enough to be pop. Britain's political landscape is unlike like that of America in that the left wing can be divided into "liberal" and "Marxist". Labour in the 1980s was the socialist party of five-year-plans and purges and intellectuals and tractors, whereas the SDP was the party of nice people. The SDP was marijuana to the heroin of Labour, and a lot of people dabbled with left wing politics by voting for the SDP. Britain is now in a politically confused state, in that former left wingers are now the establishment, with an confused ideology that tempers their childhood masturbation fantasies of social justice with the reality that they earn £120,000 a year and live in a gated estate and have never had a conversation with an employee of Tesco.

As I have said, Kissing the Pink's first album sold relatively well for an obscure indie-synth-scattershot-pop group who had reached the top ten with a curious semi-novelty song. The album ended up in second-hand shops because very few people actually liked the group. Their second album bombed. The group slimmed down from seven people to fewer people, changed its name to KTP, and had a couple of dance hits in America - "One Step" and "Certain Things are Likely", both of which sounded like the product of a group of white English ex-music students who were under pressure from their label to have a hit. They are neither disco nor acid nor hip-hop and belong to a genre of clean-sounding 1980s dance club music that has yet to become fashionable again.

The group redeemed themselves with 1993's Sugarland, their last album to date. It sold no copies anywhere in the world and is unavailable on any format anywhere. If you find a second-hand copy, keep hold of it. It is a consistent set of the kind of quasi-psychedelic acid-indie-dance pop tunes that The Shamen and Jesus Jones were putting out at the time, before both groups went pop. It is totally unlike Naked and deserved to be a bigger success than it was.

So, the group was left-wing, state intervention, protectionism, nationalisation - but not nationalism, oh no - and all that jazz Bob Fosse. The pop music industry is not particularly left wing. It is generally unregulated and run by gangsters. There is no positive discrimination in favour of the lame and sick and fat and ugly. It is an ultra-commercial industry and eats young, naïve left-wing people for breakfast. It shits them out again.

"George Foreman lives in the ghetto, yeah"

Sex appeal is a vitally important attribute for a pop musician, although it is not a guarantee of success in the pop music industry, at least not in front of the cameras. Indeed, raw sex appeal is no guarantee of success in any field other than pornography; the richest and most successful people on this planet are amongst the least sexually appealing, and no out-and-out porn stars have had successful pop music careers. Sam Fox and Sabrina do not sell very many records nowadays. Although overt sex appeal can work wonders in the social sphere, it tends to undermine a person's credibility at work. I am sure that there are some former pop musicians who have literally slept their way to comfortable retirements, lying on a beach somewhere with record executives twenty years older than them, but I am talking about success as a pop star in the pop music business in front of the cameras rather than social success behind the cameras. I shall now have another drink.

No, it is not enough just to have sex appeal, to have man appeal. You have to have steel as well, and a heart for hard work. Madonna is one of the most successful pop stars of all time, but although she has been a sexual icon this has been down to her ability to challenge the media and gender roles etc rather than because she is very attractive. She has never been very attractive. When she started out she was a tomboy. And during her "Erotica" phase she was naked but her body was unexceptional. She will probably not die poor. Michael Jackson is one of the most successful pop stars of all time, but apart from a brief period at the end of the 1970s he was never a conventionally sexual being.

Ballerinas, sportsmen, film stars, surgeons and so forth often come to regret the sexpot image that brought them fame. Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Johnny Depp have worked very hard to establish themselves as serious actors, whereas no-one doubts the acting chops of wizened old Gene Hackman or small angry Joe Pesci. No-one mocks the wasted, overweight Harvey Keitel or the brutish, overweight Nick Nolte. Some youthfully handsome actors have been fortunate to age ugly, such as Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro, but it is a rare actor who can combine good looks and critical praise. This is why I am so fascinated by Keanu Reeves. He has the ability to confound expectations. He is like the light cycles from Tron; he turns right angles and moves at great speed. His motions and actions are directed from within by another energy.

No matter how bad it is for men, it is worse for women. There is no audience for a film in which Salma Hayek plays a lawyer or a police officer or a teacher. There is however an audience for a film that has Salma Hayek playing a stripper, a model or some other job that involves being naked in such a way that the audience does not feel perverted for lusting after a naked woman whilst sitting in a darkened room surrounded by other people with similar lusts - a bathtub tester, perhaps. Men age into dignity and gravitas, unless they grow fat or feeble, whereas old age is hell for women. Twenty years from now no-one will want to see Salma Hayek, clothed or not. Twenty years from now people my age will try to remember Salma Hayek as she was twenty years before. She will guest star on television programmes.

Pop music is not quite like acting for the silver screen, although there is a long history of failed attempts to bridge the gap. Many pop stars have tried to establish an acting career, but very few have had the kind of success they anticipated. Furthermore, any intelligent, self-aware pop musician is acutely aware of the fact that most other highly-visible creative fields have more cachet. Top cult novelist J.D. Salinger has probably earned less money and slept with fewer women than top cult singer/songwriter Nick Cave, but I will wager that Nick Cave would love to make a deal with God and swap places with J.D. Salinger. Actors and singers are disadvantaged in the sense that their professions do not seem professional. As far as the public is concerned, a novelist is obviously a literate person who can discipline him or herself to sit down for eighteen months and bash out a hundred and fifty thousand clever words. Whereas an actor just turns up to the set and speaks a few lines whilst looking fierce; a pop musician gets out of bed at the crack of noon and is chauffeured to the studio, where he or she sings for three minutes. That is what the public thinks of actors and singers. They are layabouts, and anybody could do their job. It might not be true, but perception is everything.

So, sex appeal will work wonders in most fields, but it is not enough by itself to guarantee success as a pop star. Kissing the Pink had no sex appeal at all. There were six or seven of them, and one of them was a woman, and there was another woman etc. The men were unexceptional, except for one man who was overweight and wore glasses. The woman wore cardigans and had spiky hair and was also overweight. She played the saxophone. She looked like the stereotype of a mid-80s lesbian. Perhaps she went to the Royal College of Music to learn to play the saxophone, but how much is there to know about the saxophone? I have seen the group performing in pop music videos, and they did not make me want to have sex with them or imagine them having sex with me or with each other. I cannot imagine anybody wanting to sleep with Kissing the Pink, individually or as a group.

Kissing the Pink was perhaps aware of this, and as a consequence the band did not generally sing about sex or love. "Maybe this Day" is the most overtly romantic, but it sounds self-mocking and self-loathing rather than sexy. Their other songs are either about nothing, or about concepts. Their dance tunes were asexual. A song called "Certain Things are Likely" (rather than "It's Gonna Happen, Baby", for example) is not a sexual song.

THE MUSIC: And that is that
Now, this is the thing. The group has a tiny cult following today. Not because of the colourful private lives of its members. I know nothing about Nick Whitecross, Jon Hall, Peter Barnett, Simon Aldridge, Stephen Cusack, George Stewart, and Josephine Wells and Sylvia Griffin (the other woman) apart from their names and the instruments they played. In a style typical of the early 1980s the singers were credited on the record label of Naked with "voice" rather than "vocals", presumably because the voice is just another instrument, no more important than the guitar. None of the group's members were particularly good-looking, but I have dealt with this in greater detail earlier. The group was essentially faceless. Kissing the Pink did not impact on Britain's popular consciousness in any way whatsoever. Cartoonists did not mock them, The Sun did not run competitions to win tickets to see them, and they were never featured on the television news.

Kissing the Pink did not use very much guitar at all. They are often described as a synth-pop group, although this is not entirely accurate. The group existed at a time when synthesisers were becoming unexceptional, and their early demo recordings used conventional rock instrumentation, including saxophone. One assumes they used synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines for the novelty and facility rather than for the ideological reasons that drove Gary Numan, John Foxx, Depeche Mode etc.

Besides which, Kissing the Pink's debut album showcases a mixture of styles. None of them really work, but the range is interesting. "Frightened in France" features vocoded vocals and Kraftwerk-style blips; it is infinitely better than the demo versions of the same song, which lacked the robot voices, and it is a good example of the indisputable fact that pop music works best when it has robot voices. "Desert Song" is a conventional-sounding anthemic rock song with an odd instrumental break. It seems to be about the Battle of El Alamein, and has a woman singing on it. There is a different woman singing on some of the group's other songs - the early, pre-album song "Don't Hide in the Shadows", which is available on a compilation of songs produced by Martin Hannett (who produced Joy Division's two proper albums and their singles, and was originally set to produce Kissing the Pink, but things did not work out), and the obscure b-side "Underage", and I believe this is Sylvia Griffin, who is not credited on the cover of Naked but was nonetheless part of the group's early sound.

"Big Man Restless" is the best song on the album, although it was not released as a single and is, like the group's other songs, marred by awful lyrics. A remix of it was a minor club hit in Europe in the early 1990s or late 1980s I don't care. It has massed voices and is a mid-tempo sort-of quasi-rap song. "Watching their Eyes" has the woman singer again, although she is more dissonant this time, and it is angry-sounding. I am surprised that the singer could passionately sing such awful lyrics. Lyrics were not the group's forte. "Broken Body" is awful and must be the Ringo song. "The Last Film" is catchy. There are two versions of it on the album, but they are very similar. There was a decent video for the song. "Maybe This Day" was a minor hit and had a cheap video in which the lead singer looked uncomfortable. It is a clicky-fingers-type jazz pop song. "In Awe of Industry" is a grim-sounding song which is presumably sarcastic. I cannot remember anything about "Mr Blunt", "Love Lasts Forever" or the other one. Both of those songs were released as singles.

In contrast, the group's second album, What Noise?, was more consistent, with tolerable lyrics, but it was relatively bland. "The Rain Never Stops" was similar to the material on the first album and was morose but catchy. "Victory Parade" had a similar theme to "Desert Song". "Greenham" was about Greenham common and was a folk song. "Captain Zero" was very poor and should not have been the second track. I cannot remember the rest of the album. One of the singles - "The Other Side of Heaven" - had a piece of BBC Micro software on the b-side that showed pretty pictures or something. The BBC Micro was Britain's left-wing socialist central state planned government home computer and was very grand and expensive and much less popular than the ZX Spectrum. I imagine that a Labour government would have tried harder to make the BBC Micro the only home computer available to the public in the UK, but thankfully Britain had Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government during the 1980s and the BBC Micro languished in schools. To be fair, it was a very good computer.

The group's third and last album as Kissing the Pink - barring Certain Things are Likely, which was released as KTP, and I have not heard it - was much better. Sugarland is consistently and consistently good, a set of loved-up psychedelic dance tracks that emulate or betray the influence of ecstasy on the group's sound. The title track references Timothy Leary. I have never been a habitual drug user, with the exception of alcohol, but on the evidence of Sugarland ecstasy was a thoroughly positive substance and more people should have taken it. The world would still be in the same state today, but we would not care as much. Perhaps the remaining group members were faking. Whatever the case, it did them no good - as I have said, Sugarland sold no copies anywhere in the world - but it was a valiant effort.

So, please, I beseech you. Take ecstasy. if the lesson of Kissing the Pink is anything to go by, ecstasy is better than being a student. This morning I had a dream in which David Bowie was conducting an English examination, and I had to define the word "eclectic", and I was humming Bowie's pop hit "Fashion", and earlier I had dreamed that my home town was a level of Quake in black and white and there was a white fog, but it was awe-inspiring in its scale and beauty.

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