The Young Ones is a seminal British sitcom. Written by the late Rik Mayall alongside Ben Elton and Lisa Mayer, it starred Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan and Alexei Sayle and was broadcast on BBC Two for two series between 1982 and 1984. Modern British comedy owes a lot to The Young Ones, and without it, we wouldn’t have had shows such as Friday Night Dinner, How Not To Live Your Life, and of course, The Inbetweeners. The way it represented the typical British misanthrope was nothing sort of genius.
Famously, the show focused on the lives of four different students and their landlord’s family as they embarked on various madcap plots, all mixed in with anarchic, surreal and offbeat humour. The show was known for its use of slapstick and visual gags, alongside the use of puppets.
The Young Ones was what kicked off the alternative comedy boom in Britain, making the writers and stars household names. Rik Mayall and Edmondson became legends of the game, with Mayall going on to become the definitive figure in British alternative comedy; his loss in 2014 was met with sadness across British entertainment. Without what Mayall and Co. achieved on The Young Ones, there would have been no Reeves and Mortimer, no Dennis Pennis, and no Adam and Joe. It’s a testament to the quality of The Young Ones, that it paved the way for all of our subsequent favourite comedians.
Even just recounting the show’s premise brings on a chuckle. The four students all attend the fictional Scumbag College, London. There’s the aggressive metalhead Vyvyan Basterd, the vain would-be anarchist Rick, the oppressed hippie Neil Wheedon Watkins Pye, and then the yuppie Mike. Other notable characters include the Balowski family and their head, Jerzei, the students’ landlord. There’s also the Mussolini-lookalike Police Chief and Vyvyan’s talking Glaswegian hamster, ‘Special Patrol Group’.
To help make the comedy stand out, the group specifically emphasized surrealism and non-sequitur plot twists. Although these are older styles, it was what the group did with them that revolutionised British comedy. They mixed the thought of the working and lower-middle-class into their narratives, providing both a surrealist take on modern living and, at points, a damning political critique.
A key element of the show was that in every episode, except one, the show featured a live performance by some of the era’s hottest bands, which really got audiences on their side. Brilliantly, this facet was also used to secure the series a larger budget, as variety shows were given larger budgets than comedy at the time.
So today, we’re listing the five best performances by bands on The Young Ones. Expect to see some iconic faces.
The five best musical performances on ‘The Young Ones’:
Madness – ‘Our House’
It was only right that one of the biggest British bands of the ’80s, Madness, appeared on The Young Ones. In fact, the band appeared twice on the show, but we’ve opted to go for the second performance during the episode ‘Sick’.
Released in 1983, ‘Our House’ is one of the definitive ‘songs of both Madness’ career and the decade at large. To have it paired with one of the most seminal comedies of the era is perfect. Watching is a nostalgic journey into the past.
Motörhead – ‘Ace of Spades’
Given that Vyvyan was such a metalhead, I’m sure many people expected a metal band to pop up on the show at some point, but I don’t think anybody would have predicted that heavy metal legends, Motörhead would perform on the show. Performing from the house’s kitchen, seeing Lemmy and Co. perform amongst the squalor is brilliant.
It’s one of the most bizarre things you’ll ever see, but this was The Young Ones, after all, and bizarre became a by-word for their incandescent devotion to madness.
The Damned – ‘Nasty’
To be honest, The Damned were the perfect band for The Young Ones. Seeing Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, and the gang perform their 1984 B-side ‘Nasty’ was just perfect viewing. The band had been seminal in the explosion of punk, something the TV show could trace within its own lineage, so the two entities fit perfectly.
The performance is ominous, surreal and we watch the band storm through their new song as the housemates get up to some strange hijinks, which include chasing a fake South African Dracula around the house. It’s one of the most bizarre scenes in the series, and we love it.
Amazulu – ‘Moonlight Romance’
Amazulu are a band that many original viewers of the show have probably forgotten about. An incredibly dated act, who fused reggae with ska and pop, their performance of the hit ‘Moonlight Romance’ is another of the show’s best and most surreal moments.
Watching the housemates get up to their usual weirdness, to the backing of some chilled out reggae-pop, really is a strange experience. Rick loves the band, and the joke involving ‘Special Patrol Group’ is excellent. He says to the talking hamster, “Amazulu”, to which the Glaswegian fur ball responds, “Oh is that right? I’m a Glaswegian”.
Ken Bishop’s Nice Twelve – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
This performance really is something. Ken Bishop’s Nice Twelve were a one-off group of high profile musicians that included Jools Holland, Stewart Copeland, Christ Difford and Simon Brint. Performing a wild, uptempo version of Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, this was exactly the kind of surprise why people loved The Young Ones so much.
Akin to something of a British Blues Brothers, it’s a shame the group were just a one-off. They could have gone on to have done great things.