Scritti Politti And The Punk/Pop Inflection Point

Feb 13, 2020
Originally published on February 14, 2020 2:35 pm

Morning Edition's series One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers in the United States are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.

In this installment, veteran music writer Maura Johnston stands up for Scritti Politti, a group that scored a pop hit with "Perfect Way" in 1985, but started off in the '70s as a punk band with lyrics inspired by Marxism. Read Johnston in her own words below, and hear the radio version at the audio link.


Scritti Politti is the catchall name for projects involving a singer and songwriter named Green Gartside. He was starting to chafe at the limitations that punk was somewhat paradoxically placing on itself, and he wanted to explore pop. Green was trying to bring this idea that you don't have to be lobotomized in order to make pop music.

"Perfect Way" is the perfect representation of the sound that they had in their second epoch. Their mid-period material was sort of blue-eyed soul, using really wonderful, expansive electronics. But [Gartside] also loved hip-hop; he also loved pop music. It was this stew of radical politics, but also part of that radicalism was breaking off the shackles of what punk meant and embracing pop music as a way to connect with people on a more metaphysical scale and bring any potential political messages they wanted to include in their music that way — candy-coating it.

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"Perfect Way" is a fantastic slice of mid-80s synth-pop, but "The Sweetest Girl," I feel, is the song that lays out the idea of the Scritti Politti project best, just because it does actually represent that inflection point between their early spiky, post-punk releases and the more pop-leaning, R&B-influenced sounds that they would embrace on later records.

It's this love song that's sort of at a perpendicular angle. It's saying things in an oblique way, but the feeling is there. The lushness of the song is something you luxuriate in. It's not the compact pop bliss that "Perfect Way" is, but it exposes its beauties in a more understated way — and a way that I think will stick with listeners for a really long time.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So the group Scritti Politti started off in the 1970s as a punk band with lyrics inspired by Marxism. But by the '80s, they had a very different sound, and they scored a hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERFECT WAY")

SCRITTI POLITTI: (Singing) I got a perfect way to make a new proposition. I got a perfect way to make a justification...

GREENE: "Perfect Way" was their only pop hit in the U.S., but there was more to love. For our series One-Hit Wonders/Second-Best Songs, here is veteran music writer Maura Johnston with more on Scritti Politti.

MAURA JOHNSTON, BYLINE: Pretty much at this point, it's the catch-all name for projects involving a singer and songwriter named Green Gartside. He was starting to sort of chafe at the limitations that punk was somewhat paradoxically placing on itself, and he wanted to explore pop. So it was this stew of radical politics. But also, part of that radicalism was, like, breaking off the shackles of what the idea of punk meant and embracing pop music as a way to kind of connect with people on a more metaphysical scale. Green was trying to bring this idea that, like, you don't have to be lobotomized in order to make pop music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERFECT WAY")

SCRITTI POLITTI: (Singing) I made an offer, an exception. I made a sense out of you. You took a good look at your book, but I knew...

JOHNSTON: "Perfect Way" is a fantastic slice of mid-80's synth pop. But "The Sweetest Girl," I feel like, is the song that kind of lays out the idea of the Scritti Politti project best, just because it does actually represent that inflection point between their early, spiky post-punk releases and the more pop-leaning, R&B-influenced sound that they would embrace on later records.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SWEETEST GIRL")

SCRITTI POLITTI: (Singing) Sweetest girl in all the world, his eyes are for you only. Sweetest girl in all the world, his eyes are for you only...

JOHNSTON: And it's this love song that's sort of a love song at a perpendicular angle. It's saying things in an oblique way, but the feeling is there. And the lushness of the song, it's definitely something you luxuriate in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SWEETEST GIRL")

SCRITTI POLITTI: (Singing) When they walk into the park, I never can tell...

JOHNSTON: It's definitely not as concentrated, high octane as "Perfect Way." But it exposes its beauties in a more understated way and a way that I think will stick with listeners for a really long time and make them interested in, like, what other aspects of the project they'd like to get into.

GREENE: That was music writer Maura Johnston. Scritti Politti song "The Sweetest Girl" is her pick for our series One-Hit Wonders/Second-Best Songs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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