A look at the re-issue of PETER’s (in)famous self-titled album on CD
For four years fans waited with baited breath whilst one record company after another did battle over the reissue of PETER’s album on CD. Then, in 1998, Sheffield based R.P.M. finally came up with the goods under the title, ‘When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head’, which came complete with a re-designed sleeve and re-mastered sound.
R.P.M. were renowned as a company who liked to pitch a curved ball. Sometimes it was the restoration of a long lost classic, such as ‘The Teenage Opera’; occasionally it was a barely musical but kitsch experience along the lines of the 1970 ‘England World Cup Album’; or it could be a real slice of classic pop culture like the fabulous ‘Jamie Jones Singles Collection’. So it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise the R.P.M. has again took one of pop’s more bizarre offerings – PETER’s one and only recording venture, and album steeped in myth and controversy.
RCA, who issued the original album, gave total artistic control to PETER, the Valverde Brothers and producer, Vic Smith. The result ended up being an album that was banned by the BBC due in large part to the “Rape” cut that seems to make light of the act.
“Well, I did promise at the beginning of the album a pleasant evening… with a few surprises!” PETER says with a grin. “The song was never meant to be about physical rape. People take things so literally these days and ignore the humour in it. I’m not saying that rape is meant to be taken light-heartedly. My album was meant to be a bit of fun, that’s all!”
It’s been suggested by some misinformed journalists that the album was withdrawn within a week of its release. THIS IS NOT TRUE. In fact, it completely sold out in just 3 days, resulting in PETER becoming one of RCA’s most successful acts ever (second only the Elvis Presley) based on initial album sales.
“It sold out in next to no time,” PETER explains, with a sardonic smile. “But RCA point-blankly refused to press any more. I was fuming, as I’d been given a three-album contract with the company, who promised to release one LP every 12 months. The excuse was that production was being moved from Middlesex, I think, to Hollywood in Gloucestershire. They told me that everything would have to go on the backburner, but I just believe that they got cold feet”.
In spite of this, and due to the divisive nature of the album, the decision was made to make no further pressings. Since its original release, the album has achieved a legendary status over the years, with some copies of the album fetching as much as £400+ on the collector’s market.
When, in the 1990’s, it was decided that the time was ripe to re-issue the record, the various labels found to their dismay that it’d become mired in contractual complications, so R.P.M. alone certainly couldn’t have found the resources to free it up. Indeed, the title was scheduled to appear on Creation’s re-issue label, Rev-Ola in 1997, until the powers that be at the label (in the form of CEO, Alan McGhee) said “No way!”, and R.P.M. were able to offer it a more suitable home.
PETER’s masterful portrayal as Jason King, the TV sleuth masquerading as a crime-fighting shag-monster, was so rooted in its rakish era that a revival seemed as likely as the return of the classic Bentley Continental he drove.
The character of Jason King, who was first created for ITC’s ‘Department S’ series back in 1969, epitomised “easy” culture; a decorative hirsute look comprising of sideburns, moustache, and a matching collar-and-tie of raw silk, and suits that made heads turn right around.
For women, most of whom were still chained to the kitchen sink, Jason King was the Romeo who’d come to liberate them from suburban domesticity. All of which makes PETER’s vinyl love-letter, even more bizarre.
A collection of contemporary standards it is not. The album includes songs which explode into rages of male sexuality, crouching in an aesthetic abandon that set off the alarm bells even in those permissive climes. Labels had long been sniffing around, hoping to get PETER into the studio.
“I’d known the Valverde Brothers for a while, and had written some lyrics for them which they used on tour. They’d been on at me for years to collaborate with them, but I hadn’t really taken it seriously. When RCA came up with an offer, they told me I could do whatever I liked – that’s what really appealed to me. I saw the record as an entertainment in its own right; to be enjoyed tongue-in-cheek.
“I think they (RCA) expected eight or nine Sinatra cover-versions, but we wanted to do something new. The album’s success really took them by surprise. They were mired in a scenario similar to ‘The Producers’, were the only really successful act they had on their books at the time was Elvis Presley, and the plan was that my record would go down as a tax loss. It rocked them on their heels when the opposite happened and it became a tax gain!
The central idea was to string the songs together into one long suite and none were more interesting than the opening trio of ‘Come In’, ‘You Wonder How These Things Begin’ and ‘Rape’. Truly the album’s centre-piece, it’s this suit which has given the album such cult notoriety that collectors will happily shell out £400+ for an original copy. PETER defends the piece on which his musical infamy is based:
“Is it politically incorrect? I’ve really no idea. It’s about all kinds of rape. There’s so much rape going on; rape within bureaucracy, rape at so many government levels, rape of countries. You know, even attempting to explain it totally defeats its purpose.”
The records’ outrageousness often overwhelms what would still be one of the most curious episodes in popular music. The listener is unlikely to forget ‘The Hippy and the Skinhead’, in which PETER reads out a letter written to The Times by two Home Counties Skinhead girls, or the tale of ‘Billy the Queer, Pilly Sexy Hippy’, sung over an incongruous Nashville backing. And there’s even something for discerning lovers of the late Sixties British rock as he takes on The Attack’s ‘Neville Thumbcatch’, which was written by Vic Smith.
Until the release of ‘When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head’ the ‘PETER WYNGARDE’ album had largely been circulated on enthusiastically-copied cassettes. That was because of how quickly RCA snuffed it out. Over 45 years later, perhaps the rest of the world has finally caught up with PETER’s postmodernist bent. And as with all R.P.M.’s releases, this reissue had been specially crafted. Careful sound restoration has been couple with another of their large fold-out inlays, covered in pictures and notes, which PETER penned as if written by Jason King for the original sleeve, are all included in full.
Catalogue No.: RPM 187
HOW IT NEARLY DIDN’T HAPPEN (As reported in the Hellfire Club quarterly magazine):
Winter 1994: Rumour has it that Creation Records are planning to re-release PETER’s wonderful self-titled album on compact disc in the near future, via their Rev-Ola label.
Summer 1995: Creation Records tell us that the reason for the delay in releasing PETER’s self-titled album on CD as hoped, is down to their inability to track down his original contract with EMI.
Winter 1996: Following Creation’s failed attempt to re-issue PETER’s self-titled album on CD back in 1994, Island Records are now showing a keen interest in putting the recording back on the market.
At the time of writing, Island’s Bernard McMahon is having discussions with PETER regarding the missing part of his original contract with RCA which, as many of you may remember reading in earlier issues of this magazine, was one of the reasons behind Creation’s failure to re-issue the album originally
Spring 1997: After what has seemed like an eternity in the making, Creation Records have finally named the day for the release of PETER’s album on CD as Monday, 12th May, 1997.
At the time of going to print, Creation were negotiating with PETER in regard to his taking part in a signing session at one of London’s leading record stores, but as yet, nothing has been confirmed.
Summer 1997. After almost five years of battling it out with EMI for the right to re-issue PETER’s album on CD, London-based Creation Records have decided NOT to release the LP after all!
Although Creation have not as yet bothered to let us in on the ‘official’ reason behind their suddenly getting cold feet, their reasoning appears to be based on a press leak which suggested that many newspapers and magazines might slate the album because they felt that the track, ‘Rape’, might now be considered “politically incorrect’.
As a result of Creation’s decision, a number of interviews between PETER and various music-related publications – including Melody Maker, had to be cancelled during the latter part of April.
Winter 1997: According to a letter that I received on Friday, October 25th, (1997) Creation Records appear to have had a change of heart concerning the re-issue of PETER’s LP on CD. This appears to have a lot to do with the fact that they’ve finally secured the licence to “immediately” release the recording – pipping RCA themselves to the post.
However, in spite of an initial invitation to all members of the Hellfire Club to attend the launch party in London prior to release, I am yet to receive confirmation of a date, time or venue.
Spring 1998: Having recently released the highly successful collection of recordings from the BBC archives, which included Sandie Shaw’s ‘Live in the 80’s’, and Ian Gillan’s ‘The BBC Sessions’, R.P.M Records have indicated that they may now be interested in taking over where Creation/Rev-Ola left off last year, and re-issue PETER’s album on CD.
Although nothing has as yet been confirmed, rumours are circulating that there could be a “late Spring” release.
Autumn 1998: Early indications are that PETER’s new CD is selling extremely well. The Virgin Megastore in London’s Oxford Street announced sales upwards of 25 units during its first week of release, and the HMV shop – also in Oxford Street, displayed posters and a standee to promote it.
For more information on the original album, click here
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/