This riveting tune by the New Wave icons remains a potent reminder of the power of a well-written three-minute pop single.
Let me tell you, Adam Ant is awesome. Boasting a natural charisma, cool pirate-themed outfits, and ridiculously-chiseled facial features, at the height of his powers in the early 1980s Ant was a pop star to behold. Certainly his heroic image was striking and well-timed following punk rock’s ascent and sputtering-out, but even Ant’s own force of personality would have been meaningless if he didn’t have songs like the 1981 single “Stand and Deliver” to back up his self-assured posturing.
Adam and the Ants’ string of early ‘80s hits is one of the most unconventional runs of chart busters from any artist. Tunes like “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, “Antmusic”, and especially “Prince Charming” were bizarre tribal calls that mixed world music exotica with messianic self-belief. Of those hits, the group’s first UK chart topper “Stand and Deliver” has one of the more conventional song structures, sticking the tried-and-true verse/chorus/bridge pop outline. The wedding of that structure to the Ants’ trademark sound (defined by clacking Burundi polyrhythms and Marco Pirroni’s twangy guitar lines) is what makes “Stand and Deliver” the group’s most indelible song for me. The Ants always threatened to overtake the pop world, and here they turn out the ultimate pop single of the time.
It’s the little things in the song that make it clear that songwriters Ant and Pirroni knew what they were doing, and could execute their vision with utmost skill. Note the main chord progression: spacious chord slashes topped with a tasty Pirroni guitar lick, giving Ant plenty of room to boast and preen. During the verses, a solitary “oh-ohhh whoa” pops up in the second half, adding an extra hooky layer to Ant’s performance. Not to be outdone, the choruses do the verses one better by adding a momentary quasi-yodel underneath Ant’s vocals, then punctuate the end of the singer’s couplets with a drum roll and a hearty group shout. Later on, the bridge’s ascending chord pattern builds up the listener’s anticipation for Ant’s return in the third verse, while the fade-out outro provides the perfect rousing backdrop for the frontman and his cohorts to ride off in the pop sunset, ready to rock another day.
Given that Adam Ant’s obsession with cultivating his image always smacked at least a little bit of narcissism, it’s not surprising that all of the Ants’ songs are essentially manifestos for the singer. In “Stand and Deliver”, Ant assumes of the role of one of Britain’s most revered archetypes: the dashing rogue. As he states in the lyrics, “I'm the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention / I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention”, casting himself as an upstart threat to the pop charts who nevertheless draws all eyes to him. Furthermore, Ant was one of the first musicians who grasped the image-developing potential of the music video medium, utilizing the form to fashion himself into a larger-than-life pop icon. Suitably, in the filmic “Stand and Deliver” promo Ant spends his time taunting the stodgy aristocracy of his Antworld, crashing dramatically through windows like an old-style adventure film star and even narrowing escaping execution to thumb his nose at them on his way to safety. Throughout the whole episode, what Ant and his crew are up to just looks like so much fun, making the singer's call to “throw your safety overboard and join our insect nation” all the more inviting.
Frankly, it takes a lot of confidence (or arrogance) in your own charisma to put out a single that boasts about how much more fashionable you are than everyone else while courting potential followers. Luckily for the Ants, “Stand and Deliver” is a song so good they could rationalize any self-aggrandizing statements off the back of it, and remains a potent reminder of the power of the three-minute pop single.