Television Personalities, They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles, 1982, Whaam! Records
David Hockney's Diary
In a Perfumed Garden
Flowers For Abigail
King and Country
The Boy in the Paisley Shirt
Games for Boys
Sooty’s Disco Party
When Emily Cries
The Glittering Prizes
They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles was Television Personalities’ third album following their formation in 1977. It’s a mixture of re-recorded (A good PR would call them “Re-imagined” now) old tracks, covers and outtakes from previous recording sessions. They are considered part of the post punk scene and were originally inspired to start a band by the Sex Pistols. The lengths of most of their songs reflect this but They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles definitely shows them transitioning towards a more recognisably indie style. Although Television Personalities were never commercially successful, they were respected in the industry and had a big influence on a number of the indie artists that signed to Creation Records in the ‘90s, as well as on the early indie scene in the mid ‘80s (known as the C86 generation of bands).
The band’s lyrics tend to be funny and culturally relevant with 1960s youth culture being a recurring theme, Interestingly, they didn't rehearse very much or prepare setlists for live shows, preferring spontaneity.
Three Wishes has a definite Clash-like beat, guitar part and anti-war sentiment, but the vocal is pure 90s indie precursor. David Hockney's Diary is a fun traditional rock and roll song about wanting to be rich and famous. They are definitely channelling The Kinks here. The gentle In a Perfumed Garden doesn’t really work, the vocal and the guitars jar rather than melding together. Following instrumental Flowers For Abigail is the bleak, punky King and Country which has some nice guitar work. Then there’s The Boy in the Paisley Shirt which is a high point. It’s a 1960’s based love song with a Jam flavour and a bit of synth. Games for Boys is a chance to enjoy singer Dan Treacy’s best attempt at a cockney accent. The lyrical delivery on their cover of Painter Man is almost Dylan-esque. It’s nicely done with good guitars. We always love a drug song and Psychedelic Holiday is a pretty standard homage to LSD with just a hint of menace about it. 14th Floor is the most reminiscent of their punk origins, discussing how depressing it is to live in council housing. After another instrumental, Sooty’s Disco Party we get another nod to the 1960s with a well executed cover of Makin’ Time. When Emily Cries, a song about a lost love is another high point and another definite precursor to ‘90s indie with great guitar and a psychedelic vocal. The Glittering Prizes, a slightly depressing tale about someone trying to climb the corporate ladder is where the drums get to shine, again it’s an homage to the bands of the 1960s. Anxiety Block is a toe-tapper despite the depressing lyrical content. Mysterious Ways ends the album on a dark note, it’s a bit dirge-y and about two minutes too long. They could have easily left this one out.
Considering that this is an album made up of bits and bobs, it stands up pretty well. I am at a loss as to why they only ever achieved cult success. The constantly changing lyrical style definitely stops the album feeling completely coherent but there is still plenty to enjoy here. Perhaps they were a bit ahead of their time and it sounds better to the retrospective ears of a ‘90s kid, but I liked it and will definitely try to get through more of their catalog.