May 1982. Two top ten hits done and dusted. With Bananarama moving on, it was back to the day job for The Fun Boy Three. And rather oddly, back to ska. Even in its brassless album version, “The Telephone Always Rings” could easily be mistaken for The Specials.
The album, The Fun Boy Three, had emerged back in March while “It Aint What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It” had been riding high in the charts. It arrived to mixed reviews; those who thought “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)” was a one-off experiment and were expecting a poppier album would be disappointed; the LP as a whole skewed toward the darkness and the drum-heavy style of the debut single and then took it even further. It was a bold statement and a distinctively different album but you wouldn’t say it was packed with potential singles. Maybe the extreme minimalism of “Life In General (Lewe In Algemeen)” (drums, vocals and nothing else) could have been a hit – it would certainly have caught radio listeners’ attention, assuming it got played in the first place – but really there was only one choice.
If “The Lunatics” had been a bit of a scream against the world in general, “The Telephone Always Rings” was a rather more mundane moan about how the life of a popstar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Musically, “The Telephone Always Rings” was a bit of a throwback to The Specials – which may well have been deliberate, considering that lyrically it saw the Fun Boys’ dissatisfaction with life in their old group bubble to the surface. Perhaps it was a bit of a send-up, as well as a signal that they could still do the ska thing as well as their old group – when they chose to.
Anyhow, Leicester group The Swinging Laurels (not to be confused with Coventry band The Swinging Cats, two of whose number would later join Terry Hall in The Colourfield) added brass, and appeared with The Fun Boy Three to promote the record on Top Of The Pops and other shows.
Also on the single was a rather fun non-album B-side, “The Alibi”, with a railway rhythm, an intriguing if minimal lyric, and some scatting that may have been intended for Bananarama to sing.
Both songs drifted into extended dub sections on their respective 12″ mixes.
For completeness and comparison, here’s the original brass-less version of TTAR from the Fun Boy Three album:
And an alternative version of “The Alibi”. I can’t remember where I got this from, but it matches a track labelled “The Alibi (rare version)” on YouTube, where one of the commenters says it’s from the NME freebie tape “Mighty Reel”. Seems plausible, as it appears to be the only alternative version listed on Discogs:
Next time: Smiles all round! No, really.