Proud + Glorious Past of the Gang of Four

Proud + Glorious Past of the Gang of Four

By Eugene S. Robinson

SourceAdrian Boot/Photoshot


Because they’ve done something not many have done as well: make political music at the very least feel dangerous.

By Eugene S. Robinson

There are very few who’d have done what the Gang of Four did when asked ahead of their 1979 appearance on the BBC’s super-significant music chart show, Top of the Pops, to change the word “rubbers” to “rubbish.”

They walked. Off the show.

Which caused the single “At Home He’s a Tourist” to be banned on BBC TV and radio, caused their label, EMI, to switch its focus to a more pliable band in Duran Duran, and earned them fans all over the world. All because walking it like you talked it was real currency in that moment when punk rock was on the cusp of dying the first of its many so-called deaths. So a mere two years after Jon King, Andy Gill, Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham had formed the Gang of Four, it was everything but business as usual for this band from Leeds. 

After only the briefest of lulls, their 1982 song “I Love a Man in a Uniform” was also banned by the BBC. Why? Because the U.K. was in the midst of the Falklands War but the Gang of Four decidedly and brilliantly was not in the midst of any kind of support for the war.

They played every show like it was their last — which it very well could have been.

Their record Entertainment! is listed as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone, and they’re name-checked by everyone from Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kurt Cobain, who described them as the sound Nirvana had been shooting for. Agit-prop and funky as all get-out, Gang of Four was smart, sexy and principled and played every show like it was their last — which it very well could have been.

Rebirthed in various incarnations over the years, the one closest to our hearts was the comeback seen below in Germany. Political without being preachy, and artistic without being self-consciously arty. So, in a way, absolutely perfect.

The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

The body is good business

Sell out maintain the interest