On its fifteenth birthday, a nostalgic glance back at Arctic Monkey's groundbreaking debut number 1 single. The rapid rise of the Indie band, the success of the song and why the tales of youthful shenanigans connected with so many people like myself.
When the sun goes down in Glasgow
Everyone remembers their first proper night and I'm no different (well, the first few hours of it anyway...). As a fresh-faced 18-year-old student, I faced this very experience one Saturday evening on Glasgow's infamous Sauchiehall Street in October 2005. Pints of Tennants Lager in 'Spoons before getting my dancing shoes on in the notorious Garage nightclub. With I.D. accepted by the bouncers ("one of 'ems alright, the other ones the scary one" - 'From the Ritz to the Rubble') I leapt up the stares of the club absolutely buzzing for the night ahead!
The overcrowded, smoky club was filled with Topshop princess' and (wannabe) rockstars too, dressed in baggy jeans and polo shirts. The floor steadily swayed as the chart hits of 50 Cent, Usher and Black Eyed Peas echoed through the room (and "All the weekend rockstars were in the toilets practising their lines" - 'Fake Tales of San Francisco', probably...).
Out of nowhere, as the evening reached its peak, the sounds of a rusty guitar and explosive drums suddenly filled the air; 'I Bet You Look Good On Dancefloor' had entered the room. All of a sudden, the club joined together as one, jumping about like maniacs and singing word for word Alex Turner's desired tale of night out romanticism. To paraphrase Morrissey, there was music, there were people and they were young and alive.
The reaction to the song spoke volumes. Arctic Monkeys had just gone in at number 1 in the UK charts and the hype for the song was like nothing seen in years!
From the rubble to the Ritz, the rapid rise of Arctic Monkeys
Quite why I remember that particular midnight moment I'm not so sure, but my first year away from home and living in a vibrant new city was quickly soundtracked by Arctic Monkeys and the Indie rock scene of the 2000s. House parties were filled with Indie bangers by Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and We Are Scientists, though there was one band soon to trump them all.
Arctic Monkeys were hyped up long before their debut single was released, their 2004 18 track 2004 demo Beneath The Boardwalk starting a movement that couldn't be contained. The Sheffield band burned their songs onto CDs, giving them away from free at gigs. It was something very few bands were doing and, before long, the files were shared online. The early live performances proved this wasn't just any ordinary band and gig-goers were able to quickly spread that message to their pals.
It was a word of mouth campaign spread by music fans, not big record companies, the consumers becoming the setters. That in itself felt fresh, a homegrown movement and if you liked your Indie rock over that summer, you most likely had a few of the tracks on your iPod or MP3 player. By October, heavily championed by NME and selling out venues across the UK, they were the hottest name on everyone's lips.
The band members, Alex Turner (vocals and guitar), Jamie Cook (guitar), Andy Nicholson (bass) and Matt Helders (drums), now felt confident to release their first official single...
Straight in at number 1 (a certain romance)
On its first day of release, 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor' sold 120,000 copies, going onto sell ten times that. Imagine that today, that wouldn't happen for a London-based Pop artist never mind a northern English Garage rock band. The Indie scene had new heroes, a band loved by the masses in a way not seen since Oasis and Blur battled it out for number 1 back in August 1995.
Simply put, the success of '...Dancefloor' was built on explosive Garage Rock immediacy and sharp lyricism from Alex Turner, able to articulate the manic weekend experiences of British teens and 20-somethings out on the town. In this song, a lustful Turner used pop culture references to describe his intentions, from the 80s band Duran Duran ("your name isn't Rio, but I don't care for sand") to Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet ("And no, there in't no love/ no Montagues or Capulets / Just banging tunes and DJ sets and / Dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness").
Just three months later (on 23rd January 2006), the band released their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not on the independent record label Domino. The record cemented their status as Britain's hottest new band by selling 360,000 copies in its first week and becoming the fastest-selling debut album in British music history. Not bad for four Sheffield lads barely out their teens!
Arctic Monkeys went on to have further worldwide success, latterly releasing a divisive Art-Rock album set on a hotel on the moon, but it was with that first release back in October 2005 that got the ball rolling, exploding the Arctic Monkey circus into town.
As for the song itself, it won Best Track at the 2006 NME Awards, later ranking number 7 on the magazine's top 500 songs of all time. NME commented that it was "the perfect encapsulation of what it is to be young, pissed, lusty, angry and skint in modern day Britain." As an 18-year-old, the song represented a new life and a buzz for the weekend I'd never experienced before!
The 80s style music video for the single, which was inspired by The Strokes' 'Last Nite', (we'd later learn from 2018's 'Star Treatment' that Alex Turner "just wanted to be one of The Strokes"...) featured an unpolished, live version of the song, the four lads a far cry from the stylish global rockstars they'd later become.
Four humble working-class lads compromising themselves for no one, playing fast-paced, feel-good Indie rock, and singing about the relatable youthful subjects of cheap booze, house parties and dancefloor rejection. In the mid-noughties, that music spoke to me in a way that no other could. They just got it.
Introducing the song in the music video, Alex Turner, in his thick Yorkshire accent, declared "We're Arctic Monkeys, this is 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor', don't believe the hype...". Such modesty was admirable but also very much wasted.
Their attempts to downplay the hype clearly hadn't worked that one October Saturday evening in Glasgow, Arctic Monkeys had stormed into Indie Rock folklore.