Number Ones: #130


  • PREFAB SPROUT The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (CBS/Kitchenware)
  • Week Ending 23rd April 1988
  • 2 Weeks At #1

From Bros to Prefab Sprout. From teen pop that was quirky to Albuquerque. From hot bods to hot dogs (not forgetting the jumping frogs). From Langley Park To Memphis!

Yes, the obvious and irresistible genius that is The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll was picked as the 2nd single from Prefab’s third album, and did what no Prefab Sprout single had ever done before. It went Top 10 in the UK (previous best, #25 for When Loves Breaks Down), and all the way to the top on my personal chart (previous best, #4 for Johnny Johnny). There followed a brief but satisfying moment on the UK Top 40 when Aztec Camera, Scritti Politti, Danny Wilson and Prefab Sprout were all charting together in the upper reaches.

The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll is 4 minutes of studio wizardry, anchored by a parping synth line and a bouncy, fat rhythm. Thomas Dolby, having “interior decorated” the 1985 Joni Mitchell album Dog Eat Dog with its array of flashy cut-ups, sound collages and glossy keyboards, was let loose on Paddy MacAloon’s ode to a fading icon (“all my lazy teenage boasts are now high precision ghosts, and they’re coming round the track to haunt me!”). Lyrically, as you can see, it’s peerless in its clever wordplay.

Prefab Sprout songs usually were rewarding in that regard, but this was on another level. It had a melody and an arrangement that could appeal beyond their loyal fanbase, a fanbase which sent From Langley Park To Memphis straight in at #5 despite the lead single peaking outside the Top 40. A fanbase created over the previous two albums Swoon and especially Steve McQueen. Yet their normal position of intelligent outsiders was blown away by this single, which could feature on Top Of The Pops and The Hits Album 8 and not be out of place next to Climie Fisher, Rick Astley and Eighth Wonder.

It was a little silly, if you focus on the chorus refrain, and almost in novelty territory. Which is probably a big reason it caught on with the public in ways no other Prefab record before or since ever came close to doing. But come on, what other pop song has ever used Albuquerque as a hookline? In a cartoon-ish deep voice? Treasure these little moments of magic.


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