Bow Wow Wow’s ‘Your Cassette Pet’ was a remarkable release in November 1980. Since then it’s become an icon of punk-on-the-change, both visually and in its sound.
Malcolm McLaren’s influence and impact on punk is widely known and this release is just one phase of his creative thinking. Following success with Adam and the Ants (Mk1), McLaren decided to take the Ants musicians and front them with a ‘virginal’ youngster. Like many arrogant men of his era, McLaren uses the art/pornography distinction to justify what he wants to do, and bats off any criticism of using an underage girl for ‘art’.
Annabella Lwin was a 13 year old working part time at a dry cleaners in London when McLaren discovered her. Our blog about Annabella tells her story: https://punkgirldiaries.com/2018/07/31/annabella-lwin-malcolm-strikes-again/
Today’s blog focuses on the cassette product. In November 1980, I was living in a shared house with four lads who were also students. We all went out and bought Bow Wow Wow’s ‘My Cassette Pet’ – all five of us on the same day. The reasons were:
- John Peel was pushing it and marvelling over it. Hmmmmm?
- The NME was pushing it and marvelling over it;
- In interviews, McLaren sounded so intelligent and sure of his artistic ideas;
- The Burundi-style drumming and yelping made the music exciting and new;
- The whole concept seemed bloody fantastic; a cassette-only release!
- It looked like a super-cool packet of fags;
- It was part of a new way of listening to music on the move – The Walkman
The compact, colourful packaging appealed at the time and still does. In 39 years, the cardboard case has stayed together and it’s one of a very few cassettes that I have actually hung onto across house moves and ‘spark joy’ clearouts.
Today’s the first time in years that I’ve actually listened to the thing though. The speedy staccato bass and thumping drums drive it well, and the vocal tunes and breathy shouts are engaging. But whereas the first Bow Wow Wow cassette single C30 C60 C90 Go! was a youthful song about home taping, ‘Your Cassette Pet’ is awful lyrically.
This interview/article by Paul Du Noyer recounts how McLaren was detained at US customs for importing pornography, and includes McLaren’s reasons for seeking out Annabella: https://www.pauldunoyer.com/malcolm-mclaren-interview/
So, having read this interview and now, with the hindsight of 2020 attitudes to child exploitation, the ‘Pet’ takes on a different hue. It’s obvious that McLaren wrote the back-of-the-envelope sexualised lyrics for the Your Cassette Pet songs for frivolous reasons and because he thought it would be really successful. At the time, I thought it was bold and I admired Annabella Lwin. But they weren’t her words – they were the words of a narcissistic old perv.