Punk music is often associated with expressing agony and angst as well as with some of the sharpest political songs ever written. But not for the Toy Dolls! Formed in 1979 in Sunderland in North East England, the band has since gone through a wild rollercoaster of rising from local fame to national and international recognition. Having seen far too many drummers and bassists come and go over the years, original guitarist and subsequent vocalist Michael Algar (affectionately nicknamed “Olga”) remains the heart and soul of this legendary band. Initially associated with the Oi! crowd, they deliver an iconic blend of punk aesthetics and heavy guitar riffs with playful and highly original lyrics. Here are some of their most iconic songs that stand among their greatest hits.
- Nellie the Elephant
Nellie the Elephant is undeniably the Toy Dolls’ biggest hit to date, having sold roughly 535,000 copies in Britain and their only song to reach no. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. Though it is not an original song, but a cover of a 1956 nursery rhyme, it holds a special place in the band’s legacy. Released in 1983 it featured on their first LP, Dig that Groove Baby, which is considered by many their best work to this day. The album was recorded in just three days in a local studio, which meant that their then drummer, Happy Bob, had to sacrifice his lunch break while he was working at a nearby hospital to come in and record the drums. The Toy Dolls are not the only ones who understood the importance of the song: first aid bodies like Manchester First Aid Training suggest singing the tune while administering CPR, as it can help time compressions correctly – as long as you don’t get too carried away with the singing!
- James Bond Lives Down Our Street
“My name is Bond! James Bond” is the first line of the Toy Dolls’ 1985 single James Bond Lives Down Our Street – the iconic catchphrase of Britain’s favorite spy, which he utters 25 times throughout the 24 movies of the 007 film franchise, compared to just 12 for “shaken, not stirred”, according to Betway’s Bond in Numbers. In their last line though, they take all respect back as Olga sings that his “hair is blonde! Dyed blonde!”. The lyrics also reveal that 007 allegedly went to school with Russel Harty – a famous highbrow TV chat show presenter from the 1970s and 1980s who made a career on the BBC. His most iconic catchphrase was the incredibly British “you are, are you not?” and his moment of pride was when singer Grace Jones slapped him in the face for turning his back on her during an interview to talk to another guest – James Bond was in good company at school!
- Peter Practice’s Practice Place
There is no point in singing punk if you cannot sing about those matters closer to your heart. That is what the Toy Dolls thought and wrote a whole song to complain about how expensive it was to have their rehearsals at the local studio ran by Peter Practice (his real name was Peter Dodds) – also offering a study on alliteration, which would become a trademark on many of their song titles. Original title: If You’re In A Pop Group You’ll End Up Paying A Fortune Practicing At Peter Practice’s Practice Place. Enough said!
- My Girlfriend’s Dad’s A Vicar
Occasionally the band would depart from their severely light-hearted themes to include a twist of social commentary – at least on issues that touched every modern working-class lad in the 1980s, like dating a vicar’s daughter! Released on their 1985 album A Far Out Disc that also included instant classics like You & A Box of Handerchiefs and Do You Want to Finish… Or What?!, the song is a true lament about the hopeless love of a young man who cannot be alone with his girlfriend since her father is a man of God.
- She Goes to Finos
The same album also included the legendary track She Goes to Finos, complaining about the girl he likes going to a club in Park Lane, Sunderland, with another man. Finos was the place to be in and around Sunderland’s vibrant nightlife during the 1980s and 1990s. It was also where the city’s footballers celebrated their 1990 win over the Magpies, before it closed down, much to the clubbers’ dismay. Finos was so popular, it even saw a revival last year, with plans to make it a monthly reunion.
- Glenda and the Test Tube Baby
Don’t let appearances fool you: this epic power punk gem is not about social themes and the advent of in vitro fertilization. It is about a storyline in Crossroads, the incredibly popular UK TV soap opera that was loved by millions and ended in 1988, after running for 24 years and airing a total of no less than 4,510 episodes.
Renowned not only for their music but also for their uncanny ability to draw punk into a more fun territory – including always performing with ridiculous rectangular sunglasses and insisting that every member should take on a Toy Dolls nickname to join the band, ranging from Pete Zulu to Trevor the Frog – the Toy Dolls remain an essential part of the 1980s and 1990s British punk scene. We salute them!