Adam and the Ants started as part of the burgeoning punk rock movement. Ant later acted in Derek Jarman’s seminal “punk” film Jubilee in 1977, as Adam and the Ants were beginning to gig around London with manager Jordan from the SEX Boutique on Kings Road. His debut as a recording artist was the song “Deutscher Girls”, which featured on the film’s soundtrack, along with “Plastic Surgery” which was performed in the film itself. “Deutscher Girls”/”Plastic Surgery” was re-released as a single in 1982.
The band toured extensively around the UK, but proved to be unpopular with much of the British music press who disliked their fetishistic lyrics and imagery. Late 1979 saw the release of their début album Dirk Wears White Sox (1979, Do It Records), with Matthew Ashman on guitar, Leigh Gorman on bass and Dave Barbarossa on drums.
Adam Ant approached Malcolm McLaren (the manager of The Sex Pistols) and asked him to manage the band. McLaren subsequently took the rest of the Ants from the original group when he introduced the singer Annabella Lwin and began the process of honing Bow Wow Wow for chart success.
Later Adam seemed to have reconciled with the fact. “I like to use the word ‘mutiny’. My band was happy to go. Malcolm tried to see if I could fit into Bow Wow Wow, but I never could’ve or would’ve. I might have had a broken heart at the time, but Malcolm didn’t leave me with nothing. He mentored me. He said: ‘Look, what do you want?’ I said: ‘I wanna sell millions of records’, and he said, ‘Well, you’re going the wrong way about it. This [debut album Dirk Wears White Sox] is the kind of esoteric stuff you do when you’ve done eight albums, you’re living on a yacht, and you can do what you want’,” he remembered later.
A new version of Adam and the Ants was formed with Marco Pirroni (guitar), Kevin Mooney (bass guitar), and two drummers, Terry Lee Miall and Chris Hughes (ex-Dalek I Love You), who used the name “Merrick.” The band signed a major label deal with CBS Records and recorded Kings of the Wild Frontier during the summer of 1980. That album was an enormous hit in the United Kingdom and the “Antmania” that ensued put the band at the forefront of the New Romantic movement.
The single ‘Antmusic’ went to No. 2 on the UK singles chart by December 1980, but made it to No. 1 in the charts in Australia. Following the abrupt departure of Mooney in February 1981, the well known bassist Gary Tibbs, formerly of Roxy Music, joined the band.
In November 1981, Adam & the Ants released another highly successful album, Prince Charming. The album featured two United Kingdom No. 1 singles – “Stand and Deliver” and the title track “Prince Charming” – as well as the No. 3 UK hit “Ant Rap”. This trio of singles were promoted by some of the most lavish music videos of the period, and paved the way for Adam Ant’s later acting career.
The work schedule Adam Ant imposed upon himself was punishing. “I took no holidays – and I mean no holidays. When Kings of the Wild Frontier took off, I was halfway through making Prince Charming, and so on, because we had to bring out an album and four singles a year. But the price you pay… I split my cartilage in Cleveland doing “Goody Two Shoes”, it was my body saying, ‘Look, no!’ Then I was back onstage doing the Motown 25 [in 1983] show 10 days later, having had the operation. Nobody could have stopped me, or make me do it. I did it. I was very, very bad at pacing,” he later remembered.
In March 1982, feeling certain band members “lacked enthusiasm” Ant disbanded the group. A few months after the split Ant launched a solo career (though he retained Marco Pirroni as guitarist and co-songwriter). Merrick returned to the band Dalek I Love You and subsequently produced many hits for Tears for Fears.