The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) was first published in 1988 following the success of Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords. In their book, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty lay out a detailed plan on how to have a novelty pop number one starting from a position of no money and no talent.
As The Timelords, Jimmy Cauty and I set out to make a post-modern novelty hit. We wanted to make a record that came from nowhere and annoyed the hell out of people. Afterwards, I wrote this book. Basically, it said you had to be on the dole, watch Top of the Pops every week and if you had any instruments you had to get rid of them. (Bill Drummond – 1996 The Independent)
* “Every Number One song ever written is only made up from bits from other songs. There is no lost chord. No changes untried. No extra notes to the scale or hidden beats to the bar. There is no point in searching for originality. “
I’d happened across ‘the Manual’ at the local library (pre-Google!) and was fascinated by the easy-to-understand instructions on how to have a hit record. I quit my old rock band after one more gig (in front of one man and his dog as usual!) and fled to London from South Yorkshire and decided to pursue a ‘career’ in dance music.
* “All bands end in tantrums, tears and bitter acrimony. So if in a band, quit. Get out. Now. That said, it can be very helpful to have a partner, someone who you can bounce ideas off and vice versa. Any more than two of you and actions develop and you may as well be in politics.”
The appeal of getting involved with dance music was mainly due to the fact that you didn’t have to learn to play an instrument first, and you could steal all the best ideas using samples from other records. Brilliant.
* “If you are already a musician stop playing your instrument. Even better, sell the junk. It will become clearer later on but just take our word for it for the time being. Sitting around tinkering with the Portastudio or musical gear (either ancient or modern) just complicates and distracts you from the main objective.”
It took me about two years (compared to the books suggested three months!) but by 1995 I’d had that elusive hit record in the UK top 40 pop charts with a record that had the vocals stolen from an acapella from the b-side of an Italian 12-inch single and the disco hook from an old disco record (naturally). This blatant disregard for sample clearance protocol cost me 40% of the publishing but looking at it philosophically, 60% of something was always better than 100% of nothing.
Better still, the hit record and a follow-up had both been released by 80s pop factory PWL, the hit machine given the thumbs up by the authors’ Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty in the book.
This book is a day-by-day, step-by-step manual as to how anybody on the dole with no previous musical experience, can within these three months of purchasing this book have a number one single in the official U.K. charts (see inside for guarantee) The Manual back cover blurb.
Surprisingly the book hasn’t lost much of its appeal since it first appeared over thirty years ago, though some of its contents and references are slightly outdated now. With the advent of social media and downloads and streams counting towards chart sales it’s (theoretically) probably even easier to have a hit these days.
Other successful acts have since used the long since out of print book as a ‘blueprint’. Edelweiss, the Pipettes and most recently successful UK ‘nu-rave’ act the Klaxons have confessed to having also used the book as an ‘influence’.
* “It’s obvious that in a very short space of time, the Japanese will have delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off all that crap about going into studios.” (Bill Drummond/Jimmy Cauty-1988)
* Quoted from ‘the Manual’. Hat-tip to German fan site KLF Online.
Seeing as the book is out of print (and listed at over £100 second-hand on Amazon) there’s a text version of the whole book here.
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