Ed Ball and Daniel Treacy started playing music together in the late '70s, under a handful of names; by 1980, when this album was recorded, they'd moved from their early tongue-in-cheek obsession with punk rock to an even more intense fascination with the U.K. mod sound of 15 years earlier. Treacy's songs appeared as Television Personalities records; Ball's songs were 'O 'Level or Teenage Filmstars records, and Go! With the Times was apparently originally intended to be the first Teenage Filmstars LP. The group had changed their name to the Times by May 1981, when the album's first single was released ("Red with Purple Flashes," named after the way Eddie Phillips, guitarist with forgotten mod heroes the Creation, described his band's music); Go! itself didn't appear until 1985. (This reissue appends later mixes and alternate recordings, of which the best is an earlier Teenage Filmstars take on "My Andy Warhol Poster.")
Ball's songs here present his taut, zippy take on the phenomenon of discovering and trying to burrow deep into the artifacts that make up a cool lifestyle — sort of like Dick Hebdige's seminal book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, but with better riffs and a guitar sound lifted from a mod-era pub jukebox with a busted speaker. (Treacy was still in the band at this point, and fans of early Television Personalities will recognize the album's urgent, wobbly rhythms and trebly blurts of guitar.) Ball addresses the image of Warhol on a poster (which hangs in his room "in between my Dali painting and 'The Jam at the Albert Hall'"): "Your movies were great! They made me cringe!" Even the album's covers — Martha and the Vandellas '"Nowhere to Run" and Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want," as well as a lengthy instrumental jam on the theme from the '60s spy series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." — are just the sort of thing that the kind of band they were trying to be would have played in little Soho clubs to girls with go-go boots. The Times knew they'd been born too late to be real contemporaries of the Who and the Creation and the Action, but they weren't going to let that stop them.