Lonesome British cowboys: The Damned’s spaghetti western video for “Alone Again Or”

By on February 26, 2019

“Sharpen your spurs and saddle up as Night Flight shows you how many of today’s rockers take their musical and visual style from the Wild Wild West,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott at the beginning of our “Take Off to Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys,” which originally aired in 1988 and you can now see streaming on Night Flight Plus.

The first half of this nearly hour-long vintage episode featured an eclectic mix of musical styles via videos by Martini Ranch (“Reach” stars the late great Bill Paxton), Robbie Robertson, La Juan Love, Kool Moe Dee and Boys Don’t Cry, but we thought we’d push a few words together to tell you about the Damned‘s cover of Love‘s “Alone Again Or,” written by guitarist Bryan MacLean.

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“Lonesome British cowboys the Damned create a spaghetti western with a Cinemascope feel, ‘Alone Again Or,'” says Ms. Prescott at the start of the video.

At the time, the Damned — Dave Vanian (vocals), Rat Scabies (drums), Roman Jugg (guitar, keyboards) and Bryn Merrick (bass) — were signed to MCA Records in America, who had snatched up the band for what would be their biggest commercial success, issuing their Phantasmagoria album in 1985.

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The following year, the Damned’s single “Eloise” gave them their biggest success on the UK Singles charts, topping out at #2.

The label were also able to place some of their music on popular primetime shows like “Miami Vice” and “Moonlighting.”

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As you might expect, MCA were so pleased by the sales and chart success that they were hoping to achieve similar results with the Damned’s second album for the label, Anything.

They were particularly hoping to recoup or at least off-set the cost of their expensive studio recording sessions, which were done with British audio engineer and producer Jon Kelly in Denmark.

MCA would release a total of four singles from the album, “Alone Again Or” being the third of those, issued on April 6, 1987.

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The video was lensed by director Gerard de Thame in the desert near the remote mining town of Broken Hill, New South Wales — the middle of nowhere, really, 1159km west of Sydney, 422km northeast of Adelaide — where George Miller‘s Mad Max films were shot (the TV commercials for Castlemain XXXX beer were also shot there).

De Thame — who would end up directing the Damned’s videos for “Gigolo” and “Anything” (as well videos for Erasure, Sting and others) — was flown especially to the location.

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The shoot got off to quite a strange start after the pilot they’d hired to take them to the remote location actually fell asleep at the controls and he had to be awakened by guitarist Roman (who is seen in the video perched on a ladder with his guitar).

Vanian appears in a Zorro mask for some reason, while the others wear spaghetti western-style costumes, and during the video we also see a twirling flamenco dancer, a Mobil gas tanker truck, and a small airplane swooping over the desert (hopefully the pilot had taken some No-Doz by then).

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The wide-angle Cinemascope feel of the video makes the band members look like Alberto Giacometti’s elongated human figures in a surreal and forlorn Salvador Dalí landscape.

The single (which was also their first CD single) peaked at #27 on the UK’s Single charts (their last Top Forty single to date), but by the beginning of 1988, MCA Records had lost interest in the Damned, dropping them in June of that year.

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Read more about the original Love version of “Alone Again Or” below.

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Love’s original full-length version of Bryan MacLean’s “Alone Again Or” wasn’t released as a single by Elektra Records until August 1970, although the track had first appeared on Love’s celebrated Forever Changes album in 1967 and been released in an edited form in ’68, as seen above (charting nationally at just #123).

MacLean had originally written the bones of the song (at first titled “Alone Again”) for Love’s self-titled debut album, which Elektra had released in 1965, although it wasn’t finished until sometime in mid-September 1967.

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It was originally meant to have a bridge which was replaced by the instrumental Spanish horn interlude, which came about through co-producer Bruce Botnick and arranger David Angel’s suggestion that the band add strings and mariachi-style horns (Botnick had recently worked on a Tijuana Brass album).

According to what MacLean has said about the song, the melody was influenced by a piece of classical music — Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije Suite” — and the lyrics were inspired by his memory of waiting for a girlfriend.

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Love’s Arthur Lee later remixed the track he’d co-produced so that his own vocals drowned out MacLean’s lead vocals, which he thought were too weak. Lee also changed its title to “Alone Again Or,” adding to its mystique. It has been named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs a few times.

More recently, Love’s “Alone Again Or” was featured as the closing song on the first season of the great new Netflix series, “Russian Doll.”

The show’s co-creator and lead actress Natasha Lyonne has said that one line in the song — “I heard somebody say that I could be in love with almost everyone” — was, as a concept, “sort of very on-point for ‘Russian Doll.’ “

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Watch this fun little “Take Off to Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys,” — which also features a clip from Three Amigos (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short singing “Happy Trails”) and interstitials with the Three Stooges and more — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.