of the week

It was redsnapper who asked for this week’s story saying, “What’s the story behind Love Missile F1-11 as I have no idea how they arrived at F1-11? Well, best we try and find out then Mr Snapper.

In the early days of sampling, so many acts went to the wall because they never got the clearance to use bits of other people’s music and it cost them so much that they just couldn’t sustain a career and that was exactly what happened to Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Formed in London in 1985 by former Generation X bass player Tony James who, in 2015, explained to Pat Gilbert, “I came out of Generation X in 1981 like a dazed child. EMI told me, ‘Billy Idol’s moved to America, it’s all over’ and I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve got to start again’ so I decided to take everything that Malcolm McLaren and Bernie Rhodes (producer, manager and studio owner) taught me and put it into something new.” He then explained how he put the band together, “I had a Mad Max vision of electro-punk and decided to combine the music of The Cramps and the Rolling Stones’ Satantic Majesties and a look based on Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner and The Terminator and created a monster.

After Gen X he was briefly back on the dole and living in Sid Vicious’ old flat with future TV presenter Magenta Devine and we met guitarist Neal X (real name Neal Whitmore) who was a real rock and roller and loved Johnny Thunders. Soon after I saw singer Martin Degville singing an Eddie Cochran song on Kensington Market  and I thought he looked amazing. I thought, if I can get people who look like stars we could really grow into something. We then saw Ray Mayhew (the drummer) in Kensington Market too and recruited him.” Mayhew resembled Billy Idol, so that probably helped.

Next came the band name Sigue Sigue Sputnik and James explained how it came about, “We’re named after a Russian street gang run by a modern day Fagin. They ran street rackets, petty crime and shoe shine stalls in Moscow and I really liked the idea of a capitalist gang in the heart of communism.” It transpires that it’s not quite the truth. It was actually Boomtown Rats manager, Fachna O’Kelly, who apparently came up with the name and it’s linked to a Filipino street gang. Filipino and English are the Philippines’ two official languages. Filipino is a native language based on Tagalog – a Filipino dialect and the real meaning of the name Sigue Sigue Sputnik would be, going from Spanish to Tagalog and translating as ‘go, go Sputnik!’. Sputnik is a reference to the first man-made satellite launched by the Russians in 1957.

Their look was extravagant with bright coloured outfits, masses of makeup and wild multicoloured hairstyles fitting nicely into the new romantic scene which was just beginning to fade. They signed a deal with EMI records for reported varying amounts ranging from £350,000 to four million, believe what you will, but then it came to recording some songs.

They originally approached Prince to oversee production duties, but he turned them down allegedly saying their music was, “too violent”, so they then approached, probably more appropriately, German electronic genius Giorgio Moroder who was famed for his work with Donna Summer, Three Degrees and Sparks as well as his film scores. It was his work with Donna Summer that inspired the band’s repetitive synth bass lines. “We were delighted with Giorgio,” James confirmed. “We loved the fact he’d worked on so many great soundtracks: Scarface and Midnight Express were two of the other films we were obsessed with, and he’d produced Donna Summer’s I Feel Love of course. Giorgio had programmers beyond our wildest dreams and he knew how to get the best out of us.”

In an interview with Electronic Sound, Tony James explained, “We had a lot of help from The Clash in the early days, they very much mentored us, and it was while I was in America to see The Clash that Martin and Neal started putting together what would become Love Missile F1-11. We had a (Sequential Circuits) Pro One synthesiser, which Mick Jones had given me, and Martin and Neal discovered that if you plugged it into an 808 drum machine, it would make this ‘do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do’ sound that formed the basis of the track. I always said that Sputnik’s lyrics were like an action painting of film and TV images. The title Love Missile F1-11 was something I’d had for a while and we used it because it sounded good, even though it wasn’t mentioned in the lyrics.”

The opening line, ‘The U.S. bombs cruisin’ overhead, there goes my love rocket red’ describes the US bombs flying overhead and the ‘love rocket red’ are the red rockets that is sent to shoot them up. The guitar riffs are akin to Bo Diddley but it’s the film samples that cost them money because they use dialogue from Clockwork Orange (1971), Scarface (1983), The Terminator (1984) and Rocky IV (1985). Its lyrics tell the story of war and destruction and, sadly, highlighting the lack of care given to those involved. As the song began to climb the chart in early March 1986, Tony recalled what happened, “I got a call from EMI and they asked me if we have clearance for dialogue samples? I asked ‘What clearance?’. It turned out that Stanley Kubrick had been walking down his local high street when he heard the Clockwork Orange snatch on our song which was blaring out from a record shop. EMI had to pay a huge settlement for that. The remarkable thing is that the Scarface was all over the track and they never came for us. The same with Rocky IV.

The song peaked at number three in the UK and they followed it up with the number 20 hit 21st Century Boy and their final top 40 hit called Success which really wasn’t despite being produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. It was, however, covered by Pop Will Eat Itself the following year on their album Box Frenzy and again in 2003 by David Bowie who included it on his Reality album,

The band split in 1990 but have reunited for the occasional tour. Neal X became more of a session musician working with Marc Almond among others. Lead singer Martin Degville pursued a solo career, but is still awaiting a solo chart appearance. Tony has been an occasional member of Sisters of Mercy and Carbon/Silicon and, in 2023, appeared at Glastonbury as one quarter of Generation Sex with the other three being Billy Idol and Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols.

Looking back, James pondered, “We exploded out of nowhere and then imploded just as quickly. Love Missile F1-11 was such a great record, how could we top it? We couldn’t. We’d shot our load and that was that. I don’t think we should have tried, actually. We shouldn’t have made an album, we should have stopped there and then. What we achieved was amazing, though. I don’t think there’s ever been another band like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Everything about us and the whole crazy story was so out there. If we came along today, we’d still be way ahead of our time.”