Breathy Coo

Transvision Vamp Velveteen 03

Sometimes here at 1537 Towers I know that I’m going with the flow, singing the praises of a great record that everyone likes – that’s easy; other times, being the wild-bottomed iconoclast I am, I might dare voice a contrary opinion – also easy; other other times* I might be banging on about something that I know is pretty obscure and not enough people have heard to have much of an opinion – again, easy.  This time I stand here before you naked and proud, loudly praising an LP that no-one really seemed to like much at the time and, in a totally unscientific survey of one of my mates last Wednesday, no-one seems to remember very well, or kindly.  Transvision Vamp Velveteen.

Transvision Vamp Velveteen 05

I rushed out and bought the 7″ of Baby I Don’t Care after hearing it on the radio.  I loved it and it ticked a lot of boxes for me it was loud, brash, had a good tune, packed a bit of wallop for a pop song and they had a hot blonde singer singing about not giving two shits about romance; as someone who desperately did, for all the good it was doing me back in early 1989, I decided to adopt this ‘tude as my own**.  Blondie didn’t mean much to me then and I’d never heard ‘Louie, Louie’, so if anyone had confronted me with Transvision Vamp’s blatant misappropriation from/of them, they’d have just got ‘Baby, I don’t care’ from me.

I actually forgot to put any Lego on this. Moron.
I actually forgot to put any Lego on this. Moron.

In something of a romantic turnaround later that year, it was a girlfriend who bought Velveteen and we listened to it loads in her car, at night.  It wasn’t metal but we, graciously, tolerated it.  I remember it all being really good but that was probably Hormone Related Musical Upshift (HRMU)*^ and so in a spirit of adventure/nostalgia I bought it five years ago for the princely sum of £3.  you know what? despite what Mrs 1537 says^ I still really like this LP.

Mmm, velveteen
Mmm, velveteen

A big chunk of the attraction of Transvision Vamp was their pint-sized sex pot singer Wendy James, or at least that’s how I thought at the time.  Actually, let’s stop pretending I’m not an emotionally arrested 17 year-old in a 43 year-old’s body and ditch the past tense, it still is.  She’s not the most gifted of singers but Wendy James was certainly able to belt, howl and brattle^^ her way through a track but Velveteen shows that she’d also added a rather devastating breathy coo to her armoury too.  I used to own a copy of the solo LP she made with Elvis Costello after the band split, I was that much of a fan, it was okay.  But anyway, forget that, the Wendy we wanted was a stroppy little belter, a supermarket own-brand Debbie Harry and none the worse for it at all.  I remember her being very sussed and funny in interviews and as the album (and single) art shows she knew her antecedents and was happy to play them all it was worth, tapping second-hand into the doomed glam of Marilyn, Elvis and whoever else was handy, all very live-fast-die-young.  Check out the dressing table on the cover of Velveteen, carefully strewn copies of the Velvet Underground book Up-Tight, Superfuzz Bigmuff and Highway ’61 Revisited, this may have been a pretty throwaway pop record but they, or their stylist, was making a point here – this may have been plastic music, but it was knowing plastic music.

If only there's been a Poison Idea LP on there too.
If only there’s been a Poison Idea LP on there too.

Anyway here’s Velveteen in a nutshell: First side, almost entirely shit, Second side great.  Seriously, apart from ‘Baby, I Don’t Care’ and the chirpy ‘The Only One’ the first side is a tuneless mush, nothing memorable on it at all.  The second side starts with the vengeful, churning ‘Kiss Their Sons’ and I’ve always loved my songs served up with a large side order of spite and this one delivers in spades.  Aimed at a journalist, I’m guessing, Transvision Vamp get double 1537 bonus points for the sweary, yet syntactically incorrect lines ‘So butt-f***ed inside your head / Don’t even know it’s gonna get any better’.  I like the sound on this one too all angry swishing pop.  Next up we get ‘Born To Be Sold’ name-checking all manner of idols and figures, I’m a real sucker for list songs too and James delivering this in a deliberate, breathy manner, over a lazy twangy rockabilly manner, gets me all in a lather.  Rather amusingly this track’s dialogue in terms of idols/concepts of selling-out and glamour is almost exactly the same territory, 1537 idols and compatriots, the Manic Street Preachers ploughed to great effect two years later.

Transvision Vamp Velveteen 04

‘Pay The Ghosts’ swings by on an Eliminator-lite groove, some great guitar flourishes and whooshing noises, with some cynical vocals over the top; again, I really like this one, shallow and contrived as it all is.  I know there’s no rock roughage here, but I’m happy to gorge on junk food sometimes for a change.  Next up is ‘Bad valentine’ and hell, I know I’m being exploited here with Wendy James cooing and sounding all sexy and bored, just to sell it to sad males like me, but (Baby) I don’t care.  This is probably my fave track on the album, daft though it is and it sounds very much like a throwaway VU and Nico tune forcibly relocated from the streets of NYC to a tacky 1980’s suburban night club.

Transvision Vamp Velveteen 08

Now the last tune and title track of Velveteen is quite a thing.  It’s a not-quite 10-minute wistful, orchestral, punky-pop thingy.  Using guitarist Nick Christian Sayer’s voice as a counterpoint to James’ it goes all operatic, in scope at least, to describe a broken-down relationship.  To adult me it recalls a plastic version of ‘Some Velvet Morning’ but with bollocks preferred to class and less reference to Greek myths.   Depending on your sympathies it’s either a big, daft mess, or a passionate, ambitious mini-epic of psycho-sexual obsession.  I lurch towards the latter viewpoint and you really get to hear Wendy sing with a bit of emotion and the band rock out on this one.  It’s a great way to end an LP too.

Like any band trading on a sexy singer, the boys in the band tend to get pushed into the background.  Shame in this case because they were good, from drummer Tex Axile who had links to X-Ray Spex, guitarist Sayer who was Wendy’s boyfriend back then to bassist Dave Parsons who went on to sell over 10 million records with Bush^*.

Transvision Vamp Velveteen 07

This was as good as it got, music and sales-wise for Transvision Vamp.  Okay so it is mostly throwaway, adolescent and calculated, who knew pop bands and record companies were trying to shift as many units as they could? I really like it still, well half of it anyway, it’s fun and that’s good enough in its own right, sometimes.  Reckon I’d need a shot of HRMU to endure the first side again and no-one wants to see that!

Oh I’m a bad valentine, a bad valentine
I’m a bad valentine
Oh I’m so bad, bad, bad, all the time
Oh I’m a bad valentine
Oh I’m so bad, bad, bad, all the time
Oh I’m a bad valentine
Oh I’m a bad valentine
Oh I’m a bad valentine

See that copy of Highway ’61 Revisited wasn’t just a prop.

565 Down.


*note to self – there’s got to be a better way to put that, you illiterate imbecile.

**I remember playing it at home and my mum coming in and saying to me ‘that (sentiment) really doesn’t sound like you’.  Pah! Mums!

*^a totes real scientific theory thought up in my huge brain and everything.  Basically HRMU explains the phenomenon of, for example, music sounding way better whilst you’re making out / hanging with someone you really fancy.  Basically the body releases the sex chemicals that are normally stored behind your knees into your bloodstream, which is then pumped straight to your ears and pancreas, intensifying the listening pleasure, making you act giddy and making it possible to listen to really mediocre rock ballads without barfing.  HRMU also explains why you don’t want to listen to Bon Jovi’s ‘Never Say Goodbye’ immediately after striking your knee really, really hard.  True story.

^and I quote, ‘Stop listening to that shit!’

^^copyright 1537; for ever.

^*although only 17 of those were in their native UK.

23 thoughts on “Breathy Coo

  1. I know why you forgot to put Lego on that photo. You were under the spell of her gaze, and the indispensible little black dress has been the undoing of lesser men than us…

    As for this band, I know nothing. And yet again you send me to find out more. This is revenge for the Tom Cochrane thing, isn’t it!

  2. I’m with you…I’m sold on Wendy James alone.

    When I first looked at the album cover I thought it was Dweezil Zappa holding that guitar. I’m guessing it probably isn’t. Yet another my dumb ears haven’t heard before.

  3. Summer 1992 – did we ever play the crap out of this! They were really catchy. It was probably Baby I Don’t Care that got us.

    If you like this, check out National Velvet from Canada.

  4. Hey, I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked this record by Transvision Vamp back in the day. However, my favourite song is “Tell that Girl” from their 1988 album. I thought lyrics that went “Tell that girl to shut up, tell that girl I’m gonna beat her up” were damn cool! Though back in that time I was 28, married and a brand new father, I thought Wendy James was dead hot.

    1. You weren’t wrong either!

      I loved ‘I don’t want your money’ off that LP too – I might have to invest I that one if I see it.

  5. Interesting. I actually spotted this a few days weeks ago and had a look at it. Tempted and such, but ultimately I don’t remember much about this lot. Not even the single. I very much like the cover and it doesn’t sound so bad. I may actually pick this up if I see it cheap (again).

    1. Worth a flutter for some good summer pop, definitely. People just don’t seem to remember them at all, but they were pretty big at the time.

  6. Nice one. I liked bits of Transvision Vamp too. Mostly the Wendy James bits. No, but really, ‘Baby I don’t care’ was a terrific single. I think I culled the album due to patchiness. Mistake? Line ball.

    PS. I think you should instantly apply for a grant to develop HRMU theory further.

    1. Cheers Bruce! Definitely worth a reunion if you can catch it for £2/3 (or your funny foreign money equivalent) for some summer pop.

      And thanks again, I think there is something in HRMU. I’ve listened to some atrocious shite and loved it ‘in the moment’ – how about you, any stand out?

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