All the songs of my life

All the songs of my life, #4: “Baby I Don’t Care” by Transvision Vamp

My youthful musical journey got hit by a surge of adrenaline as I discovered this blistering punk-pop classic featuring the mighty Wendy James.

In early 1989 I was a new music obsessive. My roster of faves so far contained just the Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie, but 14 year old me was hungry to discover new artists to adore. For the next few years, I would hop about through genres, from pop to rock to dance to indie and back again, trying to discover which scene I could belong to. (The eventual discovery was, of course, all of them!) Here at the beginning of my journey, I relied on Smash Hits magazine – then in its glory years – and the UK chart rundown that beamed into our Singapore flat via the BBC World Service.

It was through that radio station’s weekly chart rundown Multitrack that I first heard “Baby I Don’t Care” by Transvision Vamp. I remember being intrigued by this song on first hearing it early in 1989. That thundercrash of guitar opening the track followed by the classic rock chord progression and that wild, uninhibited scream made it stand out starkly amidst a single chart brimming with ballads by Simply Red and the Bangles.

But it wasn’t until a few months later when we were back in Australia that I actually got to see the video (I imagine the glimpses of bare female flesh would have made it unplayable on Singaporean TV). Here, the full thrill of the song was unleashed, which can be summed up in two words: Wendy James. Her effortlessly self-assured rock-star presence, storming through this riotously catchy anti-romance anthem, hooked me in completely and I was an instant fan.

Wendy James was about as different from me as it is possible to be: glamourous and unrepressed where I was mousy and inhibited. Her image and attitude were something to aspire to. I loved watching her interviews where she regularly trashed the popstars of the day in favour of rock icons of the past, and as a new Bowie obsessive, starting to learn about rock and roll history, I was intensely drawn by the aura of classic rock magic that Transvision Vamp exuded. I’ll write more about that when I cover their ferocious and sparkling album of this era “Velveteen”.

As far as “Baby I Don’t Care” goes, however, it’s all about Wendy for me. Her uniquely feminine glam presence would adorn my walls over the coming years alongside an increasing array of skinny boys with guitars, and I’m glad to reflect that despite my general predilection for male rock idols, I at least had Wendy to look up to as a role model of my own sex. I may never have quite had enough bravado or confidence to have outwardly emulated Wendy’s sheer rock’n’roll aura, but inwardly, I always carried a bit of Wendy’s spirit in me as I navigated my way through the teenage minefield. And now in 2021, as a fiercely erudite and independent solo artist, she remains an absolute inspiration.

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