It was, pardon the pun, a rather alarming publicity stunt. But it worked.
Mike Peters, founder of Welsh heart-on-sleeve rockers the Alarm, thought it’d be a hoot to release a new Alarm single under a different band name. Peters shipped “45
RPM,” a classic rocker in that band’s patented style, all chiming guitars and populist sing-along choruses, to British radio stations in a plain white wrapper, with the moniker of a fictitious band of youngsters, “the Poppyfields,” scrawled on it. A few British DJs bit; they started spinning the “hot new group,” and soon, listener demand urged “45 RPM” into regular rotation. Peters then gathered a group of barely post-teens to lip-synch to the song for a video; it too became a hit.
By the time the tune hit No. 28 on the British charts, Peters had revealed the ruse, much to the embarrassment of British rock radio.
The success of Peters’ stunt is telling, for it’s no secret that “modern rock” radio – in this country, and most others – will not play a new track from an old band. In fact, “classic rock” radio won’t play new songs from old bands either; they simply spin said
band’s hits ad infinitum, whether that band has new material or not. In effect, groups that stick around for a long time, weather trends, and produce new material, have little chance of getting it played on the radio at all.
Peters knew this all too well.
“We knew if we’d taken (“45 RPM’) to rock radio as an Alarm record, they wouldn’t have played it,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “But what mattered the
most to us was that, before people figured it out, before the story became how we’d duped the British record industry, people got behind the song on its merits.”
Though it’s certainly nice to see the industry get duped once in a while – and even nicer to see its prejudices so clearly pointed out – Peters makes the proper point;
what has always sold the Alarm is the rabble-rousing strength of its anthemic songs. From 1983’s “The Stand,” through later hits like “Strength,” “Rain in the Summertime,” “A New South Wales” and “Sold Me Down the River,” and over the course of world tours with the likes of U2 and Bob Dylan, Peters and the Alarm brought an idealist’s worldview and a romantic’s unfettered optimism to an audience stuck in the
wastelands of the “me decade.” The band’s name has become synonymous
with fire, passion and intensity in performance.
When the band plays the Continental on Saturday at 8 p.m., expect to hear punk-informed classics like “68 Guns” and “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?,” butted up against material from the forthcoming “In the Poppyfields” collection – including, of course, the now-infamous “45 RPM.”
Don’t expect a staid and steady oldies act, though; according to a review of a March 1 gig in London, this version of the band – which features, in addition to Peters, former members of the Cult, Sisters of Mercy and Stiff Little Fingers – gave older material
“a new lease on life, as theguitars came out in full force and Peters bounded around the stage like a man half his age.”
Author:: JEFF MIERS