Love Missile F1-11


Love Missile F1-11 (Sigue Sigue Sputnik).
Love Missile F1-11 (Sigue Sigue Sputnik, video).
Love Missile F1-11 (Bowie).

I want to be successful and yet never out of touch with things. I don’t want to be someone who’s made into a pop icon and then doesn’t know how to save himself. I don’t want to become David Bowie or Mick Jagger.

What do you think is wrong with them?

I think they’ve cheated an awful lot of people. They’ve manipulated an awful lot of people and they’ve become cliches of themselves.

Martin Degville (Sigue Sigue Sputnik), “Starry Eyed and Laughing,” Paul Morley, NME, 8 March 1986.

Bowie’s cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik‘s “Love Missile F1-11,” cut during the Reality sessions, was likely never in serious consideration to make the album, but it proved ideal for a B-side (issued on the European/Canadian “New Killer Star” singles). His cover’s cheekiness surpassed that of his take on “Pablo Picasso,” but Bowie wisely didn’t try to match the Sputnik track in excess. Instead his take seemed more an attempt to replicate “the anarchic dub sound of the [track’s] Portastudio demos,” as Sputnik head Tony James described them.

Sputnik began in 1982 when Generation X bassist James, seeing how much fun his old singer was having selling out, put together a band dedicated to scavenging pop junk from the past three decades and stringing bits of it together like Christmas lights. Elvis Costello, with some admiration, summarized the plan in 1986: It’s like Tony James was saying (assumes thick-ear drawl), “we thought we’d get some designer violence, mix it up with some BMX bikes and computer games, models with big tits, fast cars.”.. It’s funny. As long as you don’t have to listen to the record.”

EMI soon signed them, according to legend for £4 million* (Costello: “this daft record company EMI—how can they fall for it twice in ten years?”). For its investment, EMI got a #3 single (“Love Missile”), a Top 10 LP and a brief tour that was sporadically marked by performative violence**. Sputnik took too long to make a follow-up and were over by 1988. Yet the band (or, perhaps more correctly, the project) was well ahead of its time, whether in its use of “found” film dialogue or in its crass commercialism, with Sputnik offering corporations the opportunity to buy ad space between tracks on its LP (L’Oreal and i-D Magazine did). Its sense of pop music as a game that one can win by following a corrupt rulebook, of pop consuming itself and spitting itself back out, was a rough draft of what the KLF would soon pull off.

Sputnik’s epitaph was “Love Missile,” with its Cold War sex and drugs lyric (nuclear missiles as both erect penises and heroin needles), its shameless recycling of Bo Diddley rhythms and Eddie Cochran guitar riffs, its Giorgio Moroder mix littered with chunks of repurposed dialogue from the likes of Scarface and A Clockwork Orange. Bowie recognized the song for what it was—the Ziggy Stardust of 1986, and a sleeker and flashier beast than his old plastic rocker ever had been. He sang it straight, digging into the song (“there goes MY love ROCKET RED!” he boasts in admiration), and you wish he’d sandwiched the track into Reality as a nose-tweak for yet another American war getting underway. One of his fizziest, loopiest, most committed and most enjoyable covers.

Recorded January-February 2003, March-May 2003, Looking Glass Studios, NYC. Released 29 September 2003 on the “New Killer Star” CD single (ISO-Columbia COL 674275 9/ ISO-Columbia 38K 3445).

* The £4 million figure was a complete fabrication, James later said: “Journalist Chris Salewitz had randomly plucked that figure out of the air for a piece he was writing about us in the Sunday Times and four million pounds translated into six million dollars, so we became the “six million dollar band” which appealed to me because I loved the “Six Million Dollar Man.”

** From an NME review of a Sputnik gig in Reading, 1986: “It was a fairly normal pop concert. Apart, that is, from the purple-faced Nazi on my left who screamed obscenities at a girl he barged past on his way to the front, or the rotund drunk who clutched his real ale and hollered “Bastards! Wankers! Violence!” while flailing towards the stage, and the Fleet Street photographers who eagerly raced around the building after a young man with a bloody head.

Costello quotes from an interview in Sounds, 1 March 1986.

Top: “Torbakhopper,” “what’s in your window : ishootwindows, new york city (2003).”

35 Responses to Love Missile F1-11

  1. fluxkit says:

    Hmm. I never heard, nor heard of, this Sputnik band before. Did they never take of in the states? I guess I’m glad I didn’t hear of them. I would not have liked them and I really don’t like this song. I’ve mostly skipped this track on the Reality bonus disc, but at least hearing the original now I can appreciate that Bowie’s version is (unsurprisingly) a vast improvement over the original.
    Given the citation at the top, I guess Bowie has a long memory for people who slighted him, perhaps.

    • American audiences might recognize the tune most from being in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

    • col1234 says:

      I only heard “Love Missile” as part of the Ferris Bueller soundtrack—the single didn’t do much over here (US in ’86 that is). SSS got a bit of press in Rolling Stone at the time, depicted being some ridiculous British thing that was getting people upset for vague reasons

  2. crayontocrayon says:

    I never really got the hype with sputnik. To me they are a collision of Devo and Eno/Byrne’s ‘my life in the bush of ghost’ – but a vastly inferior some to those two parts.

    Bowie has his fun with it but its throw away stuff.

  3. Rufus oculus says:

    They had a couple of connection with Bowie. They shared a producer in Giorgio Moroder and their follow up hit was 21st Century Boy presumably a reference to the T Rex song. I think Tony James admitted the film inserts were a mistake as somehow his film clip compilation was re- recorded onto the demo of the song and he liked the result. Perhaps the mistake was a hidden intention.

  4. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I vaguely remember these guys as looking a bit like Spaz Attack, the unfortunately-named dancer from the Glass Spider tour. 1986 was certainly a bleak old year for rock’n’roll, and yes, the cover is a huge improvement on the original .

  5. Momus says:

    1. Bowie’s patented brand of vampirism — the freshening of an old brand with new blood — has always been made easier for him by the fact that younger acts spared him the need to imagine how his traits would play out in the current market: very obviously influenced by him, his junior imitators could be used like canaries in a coalmine. “This is what Ziggy would sound like in 1986!” they’d tweet, and Bowie could safely descend and start mining, or sucking, depending on which part of the mixed metaphor you prefer.

    2. It’s quite easy to reconstruct the way this would have unfolded in reality. It would be a question of Bowie starting a new recording session by playing his musicians and collaborators things he’d been impressed by, fresh sounds that he’d be aiming to integrate. We can imagine this happening at Mountain Studios in April of 1986, for instance, when Bowie worked on Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah. Listen to the vocal processing on Iggy’s voice: delay fed through radical pitch bending achieved with a harmoniser. It’s exactly the same effect that Sigue Sigue Sputnik use on Love Missile F1-11, released just two months earlier on EMI, Bowie’s label at the time.

    3. It’s also child’s play to spot the Ziggyisms in the Sigue song and video: the Ziggy-doubleplus hairdos, the Everlast boxing gear, the Lindsay Kemp spider’s web body stockings, the Clockwork Orange look which Bowie had “deviolenced” reviolenced, the Man Who Fell To Earth limo, the Suffragette City quote at the end. Whatever posture the band may have struck about Bowie in interviews, they are clearly above all else mega-Bowie-casualties. Degville, who styled SSS as well as singing, lived in the same squat as Boy George; they both regarded Bowie as a sort of god.

    4. All this Bowie-ism was mixed in with references which couldn’t be any more 1986: the “yoof TV” production values (VCR use could now be assumed, so a new school of Youth television, birthed by producers like Charlie Parsons and Janet Street-Porter, threw rapidfire information up onto the screen, challenging the viewer to freeze the frame and read it back later), the shots of Tokyo, then at the peak of its pomo bubble, even the hints that behind the strut and sneer lay a Band Aid-style social conscience: after all, “designer violence” might be more than a rip in a pair of signed Armani jeans, it might be a reference to Marxist revolution, and there’s that line about “multi-millions still unfed”, just to show the band’s hearts were in the right place (where all 1980s hearts were: behind a Katherine Hamnett t-shirt saying SAVE THE FUTURE).

    5. The NME decided to promote Sigue Sigue Sputnik, but with derision. So the headline on their cover feature ran: “Would you pay ‘£4m’ [already in mistrustful scare quotes, note] FOR THIS CRAP?”

    6. One of the most interesting books of fiction inspired by Bowie is Simon Jacobs’ slim volume Saturn. The title comes from Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Offspring, and Bowie is depicted on the cover as Saturn, a scary monster eating human flesh, presumably that of one of his hapless imitators. His F1-11 cover reminds me of the Morrissey cover and its slightly sarcastic lighter-waving video: in both cases it’s as if Bowie is not just reclaiming his crown from a pretender, but devouring the upstart.

    7. And so Bowie’s I Know It’s Gonna Happen Some Day explicitly quotes Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide at the end, just in case we missed the implicit claim: “Morrissey too is one of my children, and now I’m going to eat him.” (Bowie returns to Morrissey with You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, and again quotes a Ziggy-era number, this time to drum Morrissey’s coffin to its resting place.) Of course, by “eat him” I mean “integrate him as a footnote in Bowie’s own career”, which is perfectly reasonable in most cases.

    8. Sometimes it seems that the more threatening an artist is to Bowie (in other words, the more talented), the more taboo he or she becomes. A Degville was never going to replace Bowie, but a Numan, a Madonna, a Morrissey, might. Even a more marginal figure like solo Sylvian — enlisting excellent global collaborators from Holger Czukay to Ryuichi Sakamoto, while Bowie made records on the cheap up in the hills with Erdal Kizilcay — could be too threatening to mention, or to be seen in a video or on a TV show with.

    9. So while a Sigue Sigue Sputnik cover could be assayed jokily in 2003 — the 1950s references, the Moroder link, almost make the band seem like they come from Bowie’s own generation — you’re probably never going to hear a Bowie cover of Numan’s Cars (unless you count the tiny sample — or is it just a synth preset they both use? — at the end of ‘Tis A Pity She Was a Whore). The massive streamlined simplicity of Cars still makes a lot of Bowie sound twiddly and ineffectual. To be overtaken by a copyist is unforgivable, even if — as Bowie correctly said — Numan did finally limit himself to an eternity skulking in the schizoid hinterlands of the Man Who Sold The World album.

    10. My own first exposure to the Sigue Sigue Sputnik video was in a pub in Chelsea, the lair of what we called at the time “Hooray Henrys”. I remember an awed silence falling on the pub when the jets and machine guns appeared on the screen. I’m sure a lot of those red-faced youths are now arms dealers and currency traders now. Perhaps the banker who’s been murdering women in Hong Kong has this record somewhere in his collection. I’m sure Patrick Bateman would give you ten neatly-numbered paragraphs about it, ending in the word “satisfying”.

    • Huh. And here I was, thinking I was the only one who thought You Feel So Lonely You Could Die was about Morrissey.

    • s.t. says:

      9.5. Don’t forget New Angels of Promise!

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      …or alternatively, maybe the reason Bowie doesn’t like Madonna is that he has taste. Sheesh, more conspiracy theories than Stephen King on crack.

      • Momus says:

        With all due respect to a fellow Bowologist, Chemtrail-Denying Spider, the difference between thinking Bowie “feels distaste” for Madonna and “feels threatened” by her isn’t a big one, and isn’t well expressed by saying one is conspiracy theory and the other plain common sense. They’re both speculations, based on hearsay, readings of song lyrics (Lucy Can’t Dance), self-projections. That’s what we Bowologists do to pass the time while the streets block off.

        I suspect that Bowie’s own feelings about his clones follow Freud’s Narcissism of Minor Difference, which says that we feel most murderous towards those who are closest to us (and actually, murder stats back this up: we kill family members, and those like us, and those near us, mostly). I would imagine that what Bowie saw when he first looked at Madonna (and he may have softened since) was sociopathic narcissism, an unattractively grim determination to succeed and to endure at any cost. And what he recognised in that was his worst, most coked-up self, the one which led Russell Crowe to start his Playboy feature on Bowie by saying that our man was widely disliked in LA.

        But this is pure speculation on my part, just as it is to say it’s all a matter of taste. Maybe taste and psychological mechanisms like sibling rivalry are — secretly, deep down — in league with each other. Maybe they’re two sides of the same shiver. Now that IS a conspiracy!

      • Momus says:

        (Cameron Crowe, not Russell. There’s some link there, but the FBI are keeping it under wraps.)

      • Momus says:

        (On the sibling rivalry theme, there’s a very interesting moment in Taylor Parkes’ excellent Bryan Ferry interview in The Quietus. Parkes tells Ferry that he’s pilloried in Bowie’s Blue Jean film, and Ferry reacts as if it’s the first he’s heard of it: “Oh, I’ll have to bring that up with him if I see him…”)

      • spanghew says:

        I was so hoping to follow up Nick’s “we feel most murderous towards those who are closest to us” with some sort of withering quotation from his writings about Justin Currie and Del Amitri…but alas, the longest piece and first thing that came up was this, which is rather sweet, very thorough, and quite fair:

        My career as muckraking celebrity journalist: dead before it began.

      • princeasbo says:

        “News” story about Bowie’s relationship to his direct descendants:

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Thanks for the link RRRM. Actually, I’m familiar with a lot more of these quotes than I realized, through the book “Bowie In His Own Words”.
        Although Bowie may be revealing a lot of truths about himself, I feel the overall tone of the piece is one of Bowie trying to shock or goad the interviewer, as though he’s play-acting this exaggerated, contrary version of himself for dramatic effect.

      • Thanks, S-PS. Bowie does come across as wanting to mix truth with gasoline in that interview. Although as I remember it, celebrities in general were more willing to shock back then. I remember an interview with Jagger where he said he liked Tom Petty’s music so much he’d be willing to suck Petty’s cock.

    • Sky-possessing Spider says:

      Fair enough Momus, no disrespect intended. Hey, that Playboy interview with Cameron Crowe is legendary,( as I’m sure is the one with Russell Crowe), sample:
      Crowe: Hey Dave, is there any chance of 30 Odd Feet Of Grunt going out on the road with you on your next tour?
      Bowie: Sure Russell, when Hell freezes over.
      at which point the NZ actor lunges at Bowie with fists flying.

      But seriously, even though I only look at Playboy for the articles, I only know of this one by reputation, and have never actually read it. Incidentally, wasn’t Cameron Crowe the young wet behind the ears journo who followed Stillwater around, as depicted in the movie “Almost Famous”?

      • Momus says:

        The Playboy interview is by far Bowie’s most interesting and most revealing: “If you’re asking whether or not I take vacations, the answer is no. I find all my relaxation within the context of work; I’m very serious about that. I’ve always thought the only thing to do was to try to go through life as Superman, right from the word go. I felt far too insignificant as just another person. I couldn’t exist thinking all that was important was to be a good person. I thought, Fuck that; I don’t want to be just another honest Joe. I want to be a supersuperbeing and improve all the equipment that I’ve been given to where it works 300 percent better. I find that it’s possible to do it.”

  6. Patrick says:

    I remember when this originally came out. It was a tiresome cultural throwaway folly then as if after all the “hype”, the record was actually an aside to sell the clothes, “product” and get on the cover of Smash Hits, It was music deliberately not built to last and the cover by DB doesn’t make it any more tolerable or interesting.
    I recall Yoof TV producer Janet Street Porter, as mentioned by Momus was Degville’s (or another member’s) girlfriend at the time.

  7. Brandon says:

    Even Bowie can’t save this dud.

  8. dm says:

    Does anyone else here the mid section from “Mr Churchill Says” by the kinks in that opening line? “The US bombs cruising overhead” sounds very similar, melodically and lyrically, to “Well do you hear that plane flying overhead”- there’s even an air raid siren imitating ?synth? part leading up to it

  9. Maj says:

    Ah, Ferris Bueller. Hardly the best thing on that soundtrack…
    Bowie’s version is fun, much less annoying than the original…one imagines this one was a jam favourite with the band. Good for them.

  10. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Off topic here, I was wondering if anyone has heard how the biopic of Bowie and Iggy’s days in Berlin, “Lust For Life” is progressing?
    I haven’t heard anything after the initial announcement some time back that it was underway.
    I didn’t even hear who was cast to play the pair, although I was watching the film “Night Crawler” recently, and thought that Jake Gylenhaal would be perfect to play the young Iggy Pop. Similarly, Dane De Haan bears a striking resemblance to the Berlin-era Bowie.

    • StevenE says:

      have definitely read somewhere that Daniel Radcliffe wanted to play Iggy. I could sort of see it. Similar builds perhaps and I could imagine Dan getting some mad pecks on.

      I think even Potter aside any film would be total shit though.

  11. StevenE says:

    So now there’s a Zer0 civil war, will the book be out on Repeater?

  12. Sigue Sigue Sputnik covered Rebel Rebel at live performances, which has been released on various compilations since. Their version was notable for using sound-bites that reference the sexual assault case against Bowie during the Glass Spider tour.

    • Roman says:

      That’s right Matt. It’s on The Bowie Songbook. That version is really good IMO. Makes it a very dark version – with the lyrics about “Your face is a mess, you’ve torn your dress . . .” while an American news reporter prattles on about, “Rock Star David Bowie was arrested for the rape of a woman in his hotel room today , , , “

  13. Vinnie says:

    Oh my god, this song? If anyone ever wants a “stereotypical 80s song,” play this. Way better – and probably cheaper – than most other choices.

  14. Jasmine says:

    Wow! So I went to a Sigue Sigue Sputnik gig in Birmingham (England) with my friend Vicky. We had our home made fishnet masks in our pockets and with our backcombed hair and ridiculous outfits in we went. We were absolutely terrified!!! People were throwing their mates around, others were being sick, all sorts of dubious behaviour going on – ultra violence!!! We were 16, it was our first gig and we loved it.

    So when Bowie covered this I thought it was hilarious. I think it would’ve been even funnier if he’d started his cover like the album ‘I wanna be a star, I wanna be a star’

    [I still have the album Flaunt It – been unplayed for years – but I remember the product placements – ‘studioline from l’oreal, fixing gel strong hold, be bold’].

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