Paddy McAloon is Prefab Sprout’s singer/songwriter, and he takes his craft seriously. The Newcastle band have been together for nearly four years with two critically acclaimed albums, ‘Swoon’ and ‘Steve McQueen’, to their credit. ‘When Loves Breaks Down’ is their first major hit, putting the Sprouts’ intricate and melodic songs into the charts alongside the more mainstream pop acts.
We asked Paddy to give us the run down on some of his favourite pop superstars. But he doesn’t want to be up there with them. . .
“Though I want us to become massively successful, I don’t relish the idea of becoming public property. What l like about all the people on this list is that there’s an innocence about them. There’s not too much of that about these days joining a band is almost like a career move, like joining the Civil Service.
Karen Swayne gets a Sprout’s eye view on eight of the biggest stars this century.
“He was definitely a pop star because in 1976/77 when he did the anti-star bit he was front page news. That made him a star whether he liked it or not. I think the most enviable thing about it was that he could be honest about what he liked and didn’t like, he didn’t have to worry about what he said because it was all part oi his appeal. Rotten’s entire stance from day one was that he was going to accommodate nobody.
“I didn’t like the Sex Pistols very much– l knew too much about songs by then – but that was almost beside the point. It was the rediscovery that teenagers could form bands and there was absolutely no reason why people who were in their forties should still be pop stars, and l liked that. It still exists today-the younger you are when you form a band the better – you don’t have to look up to the boring old idols. The sad thing about it was that it became very mannered – in the end every band sounded like Rotten and being obnoxious became a stance.
“Then there was the whole Sid Vicious fiasco which was just pathetic. Punk did make young people conservative though. You look at Teddy Boys and they’re like a period piece, and punks now are the same — like a caricature of the original. But that’s part of being a pop star-you have imitators because people want to feel they belong to a certain gang.”
“He’s a massive pop star isn’t he, and I like what I read about him in interviews. I don’t like all his records, but ‘Last Christmas’ really got me- l really liked that record.
“Another part of being a pop star is that it usually happens quite young – he’s only 22 and he’s done it all already. He doesn’t even need to hold onto his entire audience because even it he only sells a tenth of what he does now he’s set up tor life. He’ll still be interesting in the future because he won’t get caught in the trap of making candy floss records for the rest of his life.
“I’m not putting them down because they’re brilliantly executed and I couldn’t do it but he can do more. Some pop records are easy to despise because you know exactly what they’re meant tor, but George’s teenybopper things still sound good, I’m just interested to see what be does with all his power.”
“This is obviously way before The Beatles – he was a big influence on them. I don’t know a lot about his massive hip records from the early days, but l love the combination of the look, sound and style that he had.
“Elvis was the first guy to go through all the superstardom so I’m interested in him from that point of view. There’s not the same involvement with him as there is with the other people on the list, but he was the first person in the history of the world who had that mass hysteria and I wonder how anybody would react. The only person who comes anywhere near it is Michael Jackson who has retreated from it in a similar fashion.”
“He’s from a time before I started to get fancy about my tastes – I didn’t worry about what you’re supposed to like and what you’re not. I just remember liking him because I was 13 when ‘Ride A White Swan’ came out and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever heard. When l was learning to play the guitar somebody got me the sheet music to ‘Get It On’ before I’d even heard the record- I was that much of a Ian. He was the one person, before Bowie, who was my teenybopper hero – I used to collect magazines with pictures of him in and stick them to my guitar! I thought he looked really cool and I’d try to sing like him.
“It’s only recently that I’ve realised how mannered it was. Obviously what we’re doing now is nothing like that, but I just love the feeling from that time when I didn’t worry about the meaning of a record. Brilliant.”
“He’s unusual in that he was a massive teenybop idol from the same period as Bolan, but there was a lot of substance there. Some people think that some of his records are the most moving things that have ever been done, other people think that he’s just a big faker. I love an awful lot of his records. I saw him in Newcastle in about 1978 when his voice had gone from a very thin tone, to this almost operatic deep stuff. Things off ‘Young Americans’ and ‘Station To Station’ are really gorgeous tunes.
“After I got over wanting to sound like Mark Bolan I wanted to sound like David Bowie – and he looked great too. They both looked the part, they were made tor posters. I didn’t wear the make up -you’ve got to have some nerve to carry that off – I just loved the idea of someone looking so elegant and cool like he did in the ‘Thin White Duke’ period.
“What annoys me about pop music is that it you dress in a rebellious way then automatically every opinion you hold is radical. Bowie dressed pretty conservatively but bypassed that and still stayed hip. Even now I’ll always be curious about what he’s doing.”
“Every story I ever hear about him I find pretty tedious – you know, like he’s got another eight million bodyguards, or won’t go out without the entire US army with him, but one thing that outweighs all that is his records. He can carry it off. At his best he’s phenomenally talented, much more so than almost anybody else I can think of. From ‘Around The World In A Day’ I love ‘Condition Of The Heart’, although I’m not that struck on the singles that’ve been taken from it. ‘International Lover’ from ‘1999’ is just brilliant and ‘I Would Die For You’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ from ‘Purple Rain’. “When I first heard ‘When Doves Cry’ I thought they were mad to release it because it’d never sell –which shows how much I know about hit records! – but from a musician’s point of view it’s so sparse it’s brilliant. What I really like about Prince is that he’s adventurous- he’s got all the showbiz ingredients, but underneath it all he’s likely to still surprise you. There’s not many people who can do that.”
“His dancing’s so graceful. There’s a Motown special where he does ‘Billie Jean’ which is magic. He does all the clichés like the moonwalk in a glitter outfit, hut he’s absolutely stunning. His music doesn’t interest me that much, but it you’re gonna do it, he’s got it. I don’t think Michael Jackson will ever come out with anything as musically adventurous as Prince has because he’s so entrenched as an all-round musical entertainer that l think he’ll have statistics on his mind.
“But what l like about him is that most people in pop music go out of their way to sell sex and Michael Jackson doesn’t. I don’t think you’ll ever know the real him though. I remember reading an interview where his sister was his interpreter- every question went through her! But he still had a simplicity that wasn’t an act and it was refreshing to see somebody who wasn’t using himself in the way that you expected him to do as a pop star. He had a really pure point of view, completely innocent. He seems single-minded about his life and privacy and he’s kept a bit of himself private which must be hard aIter40 million records.”
“I seem to be sticking up for him an awful lot these days – not that he needs it! I think he’s possibly the most massively talented of the whole group on this list. McCartney was the first great poster star with the massive hysteria and he wrote his own songs as well. He had an extra talent. I saw him in 1975 with Wings – it was one of the first gigs I’d been to and he sang for three hours. To see someone who’s a legend doing something like that was brilliant.
“Even now he’s over forty he’s still got a boyish appeal. He’s not hip now, but it he stopped making records the people who knock him will discover that his recent stuff is as good as the early songs. He writes great tunes – the songs are there, they’ve influenced everybody, and I don’t think anyone has done it better. McCartney was the pop star of the Beatles — Lennon was lust as talented but he intellectualised it more. Lots of people liked McCartney ‘cos he was Mr Good Public Relations. I like him purely on a talent level, and he seems to have weathered that kind of mass exposure pretty well considering.”