The undisputed leaders of Britain's short-lived, fantasy-oriented New Romantic movement of the early 1980s, Adam and the Ants were less well appreciated stateside. Using their music as only one facet of an imaginary world, complete with self-promoting mottos like "Antmusic for Sexpeople" and their own vocabulary (fans were Antpeople), these cheeky swashbucklers took England by storm. Late in 1980, foppish postpunkers began to imitate Adam's fashion sense, which combined cartoonish hero images of pirates, Western men, and Native Americans. His unusual music, which featured double-drum rhythms from Burundi and yodeling vocals, produced several British pop singles, including "Ant Music" (#2) and "Dog Eat Dog," (#4) and a #1 LP, Kings of the Wild Frontier.
Ant, who had played in various bands since 1976, first came to national attention under the auspices of ex–Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who worked on the Ants' debut LP, Dirk Wears White Sox (unreleased in the U.S. until 1983). McLaren left in 1980, taking with him Gorman and Barbe, and adding Ashman to form Bow Wow Wow [see entry]. Ant teamed up with ex–Rema Rema guitarist Marco Pirroni, who had played one gig with Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1976. The pair developed the Antpeople image that imbued the songs on Kings of the Wild Frontier, the group's U.S. debut. Despite extensive media coverage and a well-publicized American tour, the album sold a disappointing 300,000 copies. In November 1981 Prince Charming, which was recorded with ex–Roxy Music bassist Gary Tibbs, spent over six months on the British charts, but failed to become a U.S. hit.
The Ants disbanded in 1982. Adam's debut solo effort, a single entitled "Goody Two Shoes," peaked at #l in England and reached #12 in the U.S., making Friend or Foe a Top 20 album. None of his succeeding LPs fared as well, although Manners & Physique (produced by former Prince cohort André Cymone) boasted "Room at the Top" (#17, 1990). Adam has also pursued acting; his credits include the films World Gone Wild and Slam Dance, along with television's The Equalizer and Northern Exposure. Following a 1993 comeback tour, Ant made several guest live appearances with Nine Inch Nails. This activity predated the modest success of 1995's Wonderful, the adult-alternative title track of which peaked at #39 on the U.S. singles chart.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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