I’m hearing today that The Sun has quietly dropped the idea of decorating page 3 of their “newspaper” with a photo of a lady in the nip. Thus ends a bizarrely British custom dating back to the early 1970s, when standards were different, tabloid papers were strictly monochrome and the printing process distinctly low definition. Even so, the practice of having a topless woman in the paper for absolutely no reason at all was always baffling, and by 1980 there were murmurs of discontent coming from an unexpected source…
“Shapely Susan, 17, tells us she loves riding horses in the altogether, but it makes her boyfriend jealous.”
By the end of the 1970s punk had imploded and new bands were looking to the past for inspiration – back beyond the early ’70s mire of glam and prog which had provoked punk in the first place, to more direct and honest forms of music from the ’60s. The Specials had launched their 2 Tone label and, along with Madness, were at the forefront of the ska revival; meanwhile in the wake of The Jam’s success a mod revival was also taking place, with bands such as Secret Affair and the Merton Parkas seeing chart success in the second half of 1979. Hot on their heels came another mod band, The Lambrettas, who had been snapped up by Elton John’s record label Rocket and had their first single Go Steady produced by Pete Waterman. The single flopped, but its follow up, a cover of Leiber & Stoller’s Poison Ivy, gave the band a top ten hit in the spring of 1980. Next single Da-a-a-ance also made the top twenty and with début album Beat Boys In The Jet Age reaching the top thirty in July, The Lambrettas were on a roll.
With the album still in the chart, another single was readied for release. The opening track on side two of the LP, Page 3 was a knowing homage to the nudie ladies to be found just inside the cover of the tabloids. If the lascivious chorus “Page 3, page 3, get a load o’that!” appealed to the same unrefined milk-and-four-sugars target audience as the mildly titillating photos themselves, closer listening reveals that the song was far from a celebration of the genre.
“Today what every man desires/
Tomorrow you’ll be lighting fires/
Or masking off as someone sprays their car/
It’s a very, very fickle world/
Another day, another girl/
And each one must be better than the last.”
With the success of the previous two singles and the album, Page 3 started picking up radio play and was expected to be another hit for the band, when everything suddenly fell apart. The Sun had got wind of the single’s release and they weren’t happy. The phrase “Page Three”, they asserted, was their copyright and the Lambrettas couldn’t use it as the title of a single, especially one that painted the feature in a bad light. Despite the obvious absurdity of this claim – aside from all the other tabloids running exactly the same feature, doesn’t every publication of more than two pages have a page three? – the record label capitulated and the single’s release was postponed while they set about destroying all traces of the offending title. It’s not thought that any UK copies of the Page Three single had been pressed but certainly sleeves had been printed (see above) and copies were released in Eire before anyone told the Irish branch of Phonogram not to. In desperation the phrase “another day, another girl” was lifted from the lyrics and elevated to title status, while a new sleeve was hastily prepared.
The single’s crude replacement sleeve is a thing of beauty, wonderfully evocative of its time – it even has the phrase “EMERGENCY BAG” printed on it as if to apologise for its slapdash nature, bringing to mind the hardship of an often strike-bound era when magazines such as the TV Times would sometimes appear as abridged, monochrome “emergency editions” due to some industrial dispute or other.
Having appeased the vengeful beast, Another Day (Another Girl) was eventually released in August, by which time the band’s momentum had been lost; despite the publicity surrounding the single, it only reached number 49 and the Lambrettas’ chart career was over. As the mod revival fizzled out the band moved towards mainstream pop with a second album Ambience and even an unexpected cover of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love to little acclaim. Yet things never really change – just as The Sun’s page 3 now features women in skimpy underwear or bikinis rather than topless, a version of The Lambrettas still exists. Sadly singer Jez Bird passed away in 2008 but the band is still gigging with original guitarist Doug Sanders now on vocals and Paul Wincer still behind the drum kit. Have a listen to their ode to barenaked ladies and ponder on the fact that without Page 3, Samantha Fox wouldn’t have had a singing career.