“A punk album being reviewed on TPA?”, I hear your incredulous question, but read on and all will hopefully become clear…
“By early 1976 as a teenager, although I was a fan of the usual prog giants, … and a lot of prog minnows for that matter, the general feeling amongst my peers and I was that why the hell should anyone need a first class honours degree in musical theory in order to form what essentially was still a rock’n’roll band?”
That is a quote from a four-part article I wrote eight years back for my now largely dormant blog Astounded By Sound, (read the article here), on the rise and inevitable demise of what became known as Prog Rock. Or to shorten it further, and to quote Sir Mick, “I know it’s only rock’n’roll, but I like it”. As TPA’s resident veteran of the Punk Wars, it falls upon yours truly to attempt further explanation, so here goes:
By the middle of 1976, if you were a rock fan, the various forms of the album-based genre had all become bloated and frankly, far less exciting than the last episode of Bionic Woman. As for pop, I don’t know about you, but there came a point in 1976 where if I had heard any of the many endlessly overplayed singles from Rod-bloody-Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing and whatever its housewife’s orgasm-inducing favourite follow-up was called, or yet another hymn to money and divorce from the band that everyone now claims they loved at the time (you didn’t, admit it) on the radio one more effin’ time, the tranny (stop tittering at the back) would be destined for an unscheduled fight, possibly through a window.
You can see from the above that punk wasn’t just a rebellion against the increasingly remote and elitist nature of rock music, and prog rock in particular, and its suppliers – the withering glances you got from nearly always malodorous shop owners in guitar shops if it became quickly apparent you couldn’t play like Steve Howe were legend – no, it was at least as much a revolt against the sterile production line that was the Top 40 of the time. Basically, the whole shebang required and got several good kicks up the jacksie.
Outside in the real world, the U.K. was a grim and grey place in mid-1976, with its seemingly never-ending industrial strife feeding into rampant inflation and a general feeling of helplessness. Punk was weaned on this malaise and became the rebel yell of the ignored and downtrodden young working class who were expected to be robotic factory fodder, just like the generations before them. Thankfully for me and my kind, us lower-middle class oiks, expected to be low-paid office fodder, were also accepted into the fold, and from a revelatory moment on 20th October 1976 when the irreplaceable John Peel played The Damned’s New Rose, if memory serves at least a couple of times on the trot, and thereby blew away the cobwebs of a stagnating music scene and the general air of depression hanging over the yoof of the U.K. at a stroke, and for a subsequent period of roughly six months, The Biz and the Establishment didn’t know what hit it. It is difficult to convey what a shock to the system hearing New Rose for the first time was, and listening to some of dreck on this compilation makes it seem even more unfathomable that a genuine cultural revolution shook Blighty for a while, but I suppose you just had to be there.
If you were the right age at this time, and you didn’t even have to be living anywhere remotely hip, the U.K. was the only place to be. With the weekly inky the NME (or Sounds if you had no style barometer) as your guide to the spotty and snarling sounds emerging, and Peel pointing you in the right direction, a whole new world of hitherto untapped musical energy was unleashed before the willing supplicant. I can never get my head around folk who are exactly my age – even two years either way I can understand, two years is an aeon when you’re 17 – for whom punk passed them by completely, and instead they clung on to dreary old coke-addled FM rock or similarly uninspiring self-satisfied prog rock that was dying on its feet.
For a short while, anything went, and punk was the joyous expression of mostly untutored musicians finding their musical feet, and in the process serving up some cracking tunes in amongst the inevitable tsunami of “one-chew-free-four” punk-by-numbers. Unfortunately, and of course, inevitably, The Biz eventually got control of the movement, and punk began to adhere to a set of rules, becoming something rigid and restrictive, and therefore the exact opposite of its original unstated intent. Out of this came the likes of the awful “Oi” movement, but that was later. Let’s have a look at what’s on offer on this monster nostalgia trip!
As usual, no doubt licensing issues result in the top two of punk being conspicuous by their absence, but why no Magazine, Fall, Penetration, Adverts? It seems priority has been given to the very obscure, who were unknown for a reason, by the sound of some of this. Reviewing this has been hard work. Do I get a medal?
Some of these bands were old hippies and pub-rockers reinvented with spiky hair, leather jackets, and attitude (Peter & The Pets, The Stranglers, Deaf School (whose Capaldi’s Café is too clever by half), Radio Stars, and others), some got lumped in with punk but weren’t really (TRB, The Jam, etc.), and some were exploito-punk (For Adolfs Only and a fair few others, the appalling The Raped being the nadir). We also see the beginnings of the dreadfully monochrome Oi! movement on here (Cock Sparrer, Slaughter & The Dogs, Sham 69, etc.).
1977 – The Year Punk Broke covers everything from the essential to the awful and all points in between, played by bands you remember, and bands so obscure even their mums’ don’t recognise the names – “Some Chicken”? Nope, me neither. The Outsiders’ only claim to fame seems to be that they chose their name before fellow Camus fans The Fall got hold of it. Their track On The Edge is a gloriously scuzzy Stooges impression that sounds like it was recorded in the corridor on a portable cassette recorder. How did The Users not get sued, or at least beaten up, for nicking The New York Dolls’ schtick note for note on their unashamed rip off Sick Of You remains a mystery (girl), but at least singer James Haight admits “We were just middle-class boys who wanted to be Iggy and The Stooges”. Oh, is that who it’s supposed to sound like? That brings me to the massive booklet, a 15,000-word labour of love by compilation compiler David Wells, which includes a decent bio on every band here. This set is worth it for the book alone!
The track-listing is in chronological order of release, and I never realised that the gloriously louche Peter Perrett and his band Peter And The Pets released their first single as early as June 1977. The confusingly titled The Only Ones, replete with psychedelic guitar freakout by the highly experienced John Perry is a blast, and only “punk” by association. As was the next band, Lemmy’s punky metallers Motorhead. Oh, how we loved Motorhead! Excuse me while I revisit the cause of my deafness, and rick my neck in the process!
On to CD 2, which opens with The Boomtown Rats Looking After No.1. Geldof annoyed me from the first time I heard him, and still does. The second song by perma-pissed Wreckless Eric, the wonderfully messy pubrocker Whole Wide World, which I witnessed in gloriously shambolic real time on the first Stiff tour, is far more fun. CD 2 sees the best band name on here, and The Snivelling Shits give us some anarcho-comedy punkorama with their very lo-fi I Can’t Come Home. It’s terrible, but deliberately methinks. “I’ll buy you a banana” indeed.
Proto-punks Doctors of Madness provide an interesting curio with Bulletin, but a violin as lead instrument was never going to quite cut it. Art rock at 100mph. “Comedy” returns with Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias. They weren’t funny, then, or now. Awful.
Sham 69, about as welcome a reminder of 1977 as the National Front, are on here and it gives me the chance to tell my Sham Story (again). At Reading Festival in 1978, the bill was a mix of second and third division punk and the usual hard rock and metal. During Sham’s set, Jimmy Pursey in one of his charmless song intros said something along the lines of “If all you fucking hippies don’t like it, you can fuck off”, which is probably word for word, and when it came to the obligatory two-note guitar break, because their guitarist wasn’t up to it, who should amble on to the stage to play it, but none other than uber-hippy Steve Hillage. O, how we tittered! 🙂
After Sham 69, Poly Styrene’s “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think… O BONDAGE, UP YOURS!” is a blast of fresh air. X-Ray Spex were always great fun. Signs of what was coming with post-punk are signalled by Ultravox! (the ! is a homage to Neu!). Led by John Foxx, their icily European sonic explorations stand the test of time, but are preceded here by a kind of more punk Red Noise clatterama. Sadly, this band only really made it when Midge Ure got hold of them and sanitised any adventurism. After the Ultravox! track, the compilation becomes increasingly hard work, with gems few and far between. This is summed up by the astute Mark Perry, he of Sniffin’ Glue fame, whose band Alternative TV are represented by the highly accurate How Much Longer?, which decries the fast dying scene with pinpoint accuracy.
The best tracks on CD 3 are by bands who weren’t really punk, the always entertaining John Cooper-Clarke excepted. Graham Parker & The Rumour were most of pub rock inventors Brinsley Schwarz plus Parker’s songwriting nous. Larry Wallis, ex-Pink Fairy, ex-Motorhead, now on Stiff Records contributes the strange-but-normal Police Car, Swell Maps were nu-art rock, and so on. Obviously none of those bands would have existed but for punk, and the music scene was now heading for pastures new with a new sense of purpose. Why do you think virtually every big name prog act started recording shorter songs round about the fag end of 1977?
There are some surprises on CD 3. Acme Sewage Co. with their I Can See You should be dreadful but actually has some decent moves going on, and comes over as the kind of thing Magazine would polish to perfection. That Raped track is as hideous as you would expect it to be, by the way.
As I plough through these messages from another time, I have to admit the first half of this compilation puts a grin on my fizzog, and makes me recall those far-off days of nervous youth. The second half was bloody hard work, and serves to remove the rose-tinted spectacles. Yes, there’s some right old tat on here, probably 50% of it, and you’d have to have the constitution of an ox to sit through all three weeks of this end-to-end, but that isn’t really the point I suppose. If you still own a pair of bondage trousers and go to Butlins punk weekenders – that’s precisely no-one reading this, probably! – you’ll love it. Otherwise, approach with caution. On the other hand it’s only £17.99!
01. Buzzcocks – Boredom
02. The Stranglers – London Lady
03. The Gorillas – Gatecrasher
04. The Damned – Neat Neat Neat
05. Deaf School – Capaldi’s Café
06. The Vibrators – Bad Time
07. The Boys – I Don’t Care
08. The Jam – Away From The Numbers
09. The Heartbreakers – Born To Lose
10. Eater – Thinkin’ Of The U.S.A.
11. The Outsiders – On The Edge
12. The Users – Sick Of You
13. Chartreuse – You Really Got Me
14. The Rings – I Wanna Be Free
15. Models – Man Of The Year
16. The Only Ones – Peter And The Pets
17. Motorhead – Motorhead
18. Celia And The Mutations – MonyMony
19. Cock Sparrer – Runnin’ Riot
20. The Count Bishops – I Need You
21. Blitzkrieg Bop – Let’s Go
22. The Killjoys – Naive
23. Johnny Moped – Incendiary Device
24. The Rezillos – I Wanna Be Your Man
25. Radio Stars – No Russians In Russia
26. The Nosebleeds – Fascist Pigs
27. The Exile – Jubilee ’77
Time – 83:10
01. The Boomtown Rats – Lookin’ After No.1
02. Wreckless Eric – Whole Wide World
03. The Snivelling Shits – I Can’t Come
04. Slaughter & The Dogs – Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone
05. The Valves – For Adolfs Only
06. Doctors Of Madness – Bulletin
07. Generation X – Day By Day
08. The Vacants – Television Viewer
09. Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias – Kill
10. Puncture – You Can’t Rock And Roll (In A Council Flat)
11. Radiators From Space – Enemies
12. The Drones – Just Want To Be Myself (7” Version)
13. Sham 69 – Red London
14. P.V.C.2 – Deranged Demented And Free
15. X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage Up Yours!
16. Tom Robinson Band – 2-4-6-8 Motorway
17. 999 – Nasty, Nasty
18. Ultravox! – Rockwrok
19. The Depressions – Family Planning
20. Zeros – Radio Fun
21. Tyla Gang – Pool Hall Punks
22. The Stukas – Klean Living Kids
23. The Lurkers – Freak Show
24. Jerks – Hold My Hand
25. The Unwanted – Bleak Outlook
26. Some Chicken – Blood On The Wall
27. Menace – Insane Society
28. The Features – Drab City
29. Spider – Back To The Wall
30. New Hearts – Just Another Teenage Anthem
31. The Pleasers – (You Keep On Tellin’ Me) Lies
Time – 83:07
01. John Cooper Clarke – Innocents
02. Alternative TV – How Much Longer
03. The Wasps – She Made Magic
04. Neon Hearts – Regulations
05. Graham Parker & The Rumour – New York Shuffle
06. The Doll – Trash
07. Maniacs – Ain’t No Legend
08. Satan’s Rats – In My Love For You
09. Larry Wallis – Police Car
10. Eddie & The Hot Rods – Quit This Town
11. The Now – Development Corporations
12. Chelsea – High Rise Living
13. Art Attacks – Arabs In ‘Arrods
14. Trash – Priorities
15. The Method – Dynamo
16. Public Zone – Naive
17. Left Hand Drive – Jailbait
18. Swell Maps – Ripped And Torn
19. Acme Sewage Co. – I Can See You
20. The Rats – First Mistake
21. Brainiac Five – Natty Punko
22. The Cortinas – Defiant Pose
23. The Carpettes – Help I’m Trapped
24. Neo – Tell Me The Truth (Live At The Vortex)
25. Raped – Raped
26. Fruit Eating Bears – Flies
27. Hobbies Of Today – Ru12
28. Drug Squad – Left Right And Centre
29. Norman And The Hooligans – I’m A Punk
Time – 82:54
Total Time – 249.11
Way too many to mention…
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Date Of Release: 28th June 2019