The extraordinary, outrageous and quickly withdrawn LP by the legendary louche Seventies superstar.
There’s nothing new about the idea of the TV celebrity getting to make a record – labels have always sought to cash in on the fleeting fame of an actor, a TV show or a celebrity, getting them to produce a novelty record to sell to their fans. So getting Peter Wyngarde – the hunky, macho and deliciously louche star of hit series Department S and its follow up Jason King, and leader of The Hellfire Club in that Avengers episode, to make an album must’ve seemed like money in the bank for RCA in 1970 – so much so that he was given complete artistic freedom. After all, who cared what was on the record? It was the personality that would sell it. Of course, the eventual album was quickly yanked from the shelves, deleted and buried once someone at the record label actually sat down to listen to it, making it somewhat of a holy grail for fans of the weird and the way out. The CD release first appeared in 2009. Now it’s back, as When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head. You can’t keep a bad man down, it seems.
Even if you came to this unwittingly (and while the current album title might hint at transgressions to come, we should remember that this was initially released simply as Peter Wyngarde, offering no clue as the the treats in store), you’ll start to realise you’ve stumbled onto something odd with the opening track, Come In, which moves from frantic psychedelic loungecore to Wyngarde schmoozingly welcoming a lady (I assume) to his home for what I’m guessing will be a night of passion. Taking full advantage of the modern wonders of stereo, Wyngarde says “here’s to a pleasant evening and a few surprises”. The jury is still out of the pleasantness, but there are certainly plenty of surprises to come. Not least of these is the fact that most of the tracks run into each other seamlessly, making this a whole piece – a concept album, possibly. The concept seems to be a trip into the Wyngarde mind, which is an interesting place to visit, to say the least.
You Wonder How These Things Begin is a brief interlude of romantic wistfulness, but don’t be fooled. This night of romance turns bad very quickly, as the next track is Rape. Possibly the most notoriously offensive recording ever made, Rape is probably the reason this album was rapidly yanked from sale. It opens with frantic 1970s action movie music (think a poor man’s Lalo Schifrin) and Wyngarde growling “rape… rape… rape rape RAPE” while a woman screams. Then it gets offensive, as he discusses the various sorts of international rape – adding a spot of racism into the unsavoury mix with assorted stereotyped accents at work. This really has to be heard to be disbelieved. I doubt we’ll be seeing any modern TV star singing a comedy song about the joys of rape anytime soon.
This gob smacker is followed by French chanson song La Ronde de L’Amour, showing Wyngarde to be nothing if not versatile. Next up is Jenny Kissed Me, a curious and innocent spoken piece that is reprised later on the album in somewhat more salacious and hallucinogenic manner. The Way I Cry Over You is another spoken track, a romantic, rather haunting piece with a spaghetti western backing. It’s so far removed from Rape that you’ll struggle to reconcile the two. It’s here when you realise that you are listening to something utterly unique – an album that is a bizarre treatise on love, sex and masculinity as performed by someone with, it seems, no sense of restraint or human decency.
Unknown Citizen is a satirical dig at conformity, while It’s When I Touch You is a seedily seduction number that presumably got the ladies all hot and bothered (but then, so did Wyngarde, and look at him. It was a very different – some might say much better – world back then). Things get very weird again in The Hippie and the Skinhead, which opens with Wyngarde reading a Sunday Times letter from two skinhead girls describing their ‘style’ and then collapses into lunacy as, backed by a jaunty country tune, Wyngarde sings “Billy was a queer, billy sexy hippy, frilly hairy zippy” as he ‘sings’ a tale of gay bashing, hippy bashing and gender bending that defies all conventional ideas of decency and coherence.
This leads to another French flavoured romantic ballad, Try to Remember to Forget (Riviera Cowboy), while Widdecombe Fair is like a snippet from an easy listening version of a folk rock song that leads directly to Neville Thumbcatch, possibly be the most accessible track on the album. Wyngarde sounds like Viv Stanshall fronting a Fifth Dimension swinging number here. It’s rather amazing and perhaps worth the price of the album alone, even if you haven’t already been convinced that this is a record you have to own.
Once Again (Flight Number 10) is another overly dramatic, overwrought piece of melodrama that sounds like an outtake from a William Shatner album, while almost closer Pay No Attention is a brief farewell that deposits the listener back into the real world. But not quite. There’s still April, an oddly Shakespearean finale that points out the tongue in cheek nature of the album. I doubt it’s enough for the people who were outraged by all that came before, somehow.
It’s said that this album was one of the reasons for Wyngarde’s fall from grace – a couple of cottaging arrests in the mid-1970s certainly didn’t help, but I would imagine that any potential employers who were aware of this LP’s existence would have been very wary of hiring him. But it all feels oddly appropriate for a life that is best described as ‘colourful’ – alcoholism, bankrupcy and a curious affair involving his “male secretary and personal assistant”, one Jeremy Dallas-Cope forging cheques and convincing his flatmate to take the blame by attempting suicide. His 2018 death was a loss to lovers of British eccentrics – we’ll not see his like again, more’s the pity.
His sole LP is one of the rare legendary recordings that turns out not only to be as crazed as its reputation suggests, but possibly surpasses expectations. It’s outrageous, tasteless, crass, charming, gentle, and both awful and amazing at the same time. It’s unlike anything else ever recorded, pure eccentricity and lunacy distilled into 36 minutes. A must-own record for the person who has everything.