Thursday, 22 July 2021

Don't dictate - assorted punk groups 1976-1981




Assembled here are several "second division" punk groups i.e. not The Clash, The Jam or The Ramones etc. They are, in order - Penetration; The Ruts; Sham 69; The Rezillos; The Slits; Eddie & The Hot Rods; The Vibrators; The Undertones; X-Ray Spex; The Adverts; Generation X; 999: Wire; Altered Images and The Skids. At the end I cover some "also ran" singles from groups whose albums I have not reviewed....

Penetration - Moving Targets (1978)

This is one of the last pure, first wave, punk albums, to be honest, released just as as many of the original punk bands were turning towards new wave and/or reggae crossover material. This debut album is frenetic, harsh, tinny, riffy punk led by Pauline Murray's soaring, typically punk, rabble-rousing, wailing voice. It was also probably the last female-led punk album too. Siouxsie Sioux had already started to diversify into more sombre "post punk" by now. October 1978 was the month of The Jam's All Mod Cons and The Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope, so, this album was, amazingly, already somewhat old hat. True punk really was short-lived. Listening to it now you can sort of understand why. Its short, sharp, buzzy and angry anthems were fine for one album, but not for much more, however edgy and wonderfully appealing they were in isolation. 


The problem was for bands like this, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers was that it took them such a long time to finally get a record contract and get their debut album released. By the time they did, the luckier punks were already moving on, away from the typical punk sound. To be fair to Penetration, though, there are moments on the album when they attempt to experiment themselves and the album still sounds quite fresh and vibrant. It is, despite those moments, very much a punk album, it has to be said, and a very good one at that, much underrated. 

Future Daze is a rousing opener with raucous Siouxsie Sioux meets Patti Smith vocals from Pauline Murray. Life's A Gamble is a frantic, guitar-driven number but also relatively melodic with the vocals slightly less abrasive than on the previous track. It definitely grows on you. Lover Of Outrage has more hints of Patti Smith about it, and more Siouxsie in the "set them free" refrain. It, like many of the tracks, also featured some excellent guitar soloing. Lead guitarist Fred Purser could play, that was for sure. It also has some catchy, quirky parts to it. It is certainly more than just your average punker. Vision actually slows down the pace and finds the band going all mournful and post punk, for a while at least. Between the verses, some punkier guitar and drum parts come in, though. Murray's vocals are beguiling and the lyrics quasi-religious, again very much Siouxsie & The Banshees in mood.

Silent Community is an excellent, brooding, industrial-sounding number. Stone Heroes is an exhilarating Siouxsie-ish punky romp, with solid riffs and rolling drums. It is solid punk from beginning to end. 
Movement has an infectious opening riff to it and a strangely seductive vocal from Murray, with definite echoes of early Blondie in there. Too Many Friends has tinges of the white reggae that was de rigeur at the time, and some mysterious instrumental breaks. It is quite an inventive number, with some captivating guitar and bass breaks that are almost psychedelic or, dare I say it, proggy, at times.

Reunion is another track that breaks the mould a little. It is a slow-paced, ghostly number that, while it does break into some chunky guitar parts, is basically quite an entrancing song that even sounds a bit like mid-seventies group Fox on its verses. Nostalgia was a Buzzcocks song that was released on their Love Bites album only a month before. It sounds great in Pauline Murray's hands, her voice suiting it better than Pete Shelley's, in my opinion. They cover it really well, the guitar is excellent too. The final track on the original album was also a cover - Patti Smith's Free Money from her iconic 1975 album, Horses. Murray and her band do it superbly. It could have been written for them. Superb. It also shows just what a punk trailblazer Patti Smith was. This is an excellent album of its genre. There are not too many albums around that really exemplify the spirit and sound of punk. This is certainly one of them. 

** The album, by the way, did not include the barnstorming, pure punk single, Don't Dictate, which is included here as a bonus track. It is a song that should be included in all "classic punk playlists". Its 'b' side, Money Talks is a great breakneck punker too. V.I.P. is a corker too. The final two bonus tracks, Firing Squad and Never are both exuberantly energetic. Put this album on for a nostalgic return to the heady days of 1978.

  

Penetration played my local music club, FriarsAylesbury many times. For more info on their gigs there, check out https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk.

The Ruts - The Crack (1979)  
                           
The Ruts were one of many punk bands to form in the wake of The Clash’s first album and they ploughed that punk merged with white reggae furrow that Stiff Little Fingers also worked so well. On to their debut album....the singer Malcolm Owen, who tragically took his own life had a gruff, throaty Joe Strummer-type voice which perfectly suited the band’s tough tales of London inner city life.

The lead off track, Babylon's Burning, was a big hit, deservedly so. It suited the times and had an exciting, hooky feel to it, complete with alarm bells ringing. Dope For Guns is a Clash-ish chugger with pots of atmosphere. S.U.S. is one of the band’s finest track, an excellent slice of 1979 reggae-influenced slowed-down punky social comment. The pace quickens for the “punk by numbers” of Something That I Said that is bit like some of the fast numbers from The Jam’s first album. The same riffs and drum rolls. Tracks like this are nothing remarkable, yet they sum of those days so well. You're Just A ... is like Deny from the first Clash album meets something from The Ramones’ first album. Lots of accusatory lyrics and also those characteristic punk bits where the beat slows down to just drum and guitar before it all kicks back in again.

It Was Cold
 has a rumbling bass line behind some crunching guitars and a vaguely Rolling Stones feel. It chugs on for quite a while, probably a minute or two too long, to be honest. The staccato Savage Circle sounds like something Green Day may have done some twenty years later. Like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, half way through the second side of their debut album, The Ruts included an extended reggae cut. unlike the other two, though, this was not a cover. 

Jah War was an excellent piece of reggae, with some convincing Uptown Top Ranking-style horn backing and some good dubby passages. It is so evocative, and takes me right back to 1979. Superb bass on this track too. It suddenly ends after nearly seven minutes and the breakneck Criminal Mind gets back to punk essentials to get everyone pogoing. A sub two minute track after a long one, again, just like The Clash and SLF.

Backbiter
 
has some good riffs and a rousing chorus. As I said, material like this is nothing special, but The Ruts have something that put them firmly at the top of the “best of the rest” pile. Out Of Order is an average punk rant as is the raucous, live recording, Human Punk, recorded live at London’s Marquee in July 1979. To be honest, though, punk like this was past its sell by date by now. The Jam had released All Mod Cons the year before, The Clash were in the process of recording London Calling and bands like Magazine were already “post punk” before punk had totally blown itself out.

Sham 69 - That's Life (1978)

Beloved of skins and oiks, Sham 69 just tried to "do it for the kids". This was something unique - perhaps the only punk "concept album". It is a series of connected songs  based around the humdrum, working-class London life of an often disillusioned young man similar to the character of "Jimmy" in Quadrophenia. He is also called Jimmy on here, I believe (or maybe it's Joe). Lead singer Jimmy Pursey was not so subtly portraying himself. The songs are interjected with short vignettes of dialogue from the main character's domestic life. His mother was played by future East Enders actress Wendy Richard, known at the time for playing Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served? - "you bloody get upstairs and have a wash...". It has an excellent cover made up of contemporary newspaper headlines in collage.

On to the band. Sham 69 were an often shambolic, to coin a phrase, punk act. Their debut album, earlier in 1978, Tell Us The Truth contained some excellent, rabble-rousing anthems, especially the storming single Borstal Breakout, which is an essential inclusion in any "classic punk" playlist, for me. The Kids Are United was another wonderful tub-thumper of a single. I saw them live in 1979 and they were great. One of the most viscerally exciting punk gigs I ever saw. Unfortunately, they started to attract a neo-Nazi skinhead audience which eventually did for them. Bookings dropped and the always emotional Jimmy Pursey became frustrated by it all, claiming he "just wanted to do it for you kids out there...I'm just doing it for you...". Packing it in a few years later, he seemed a bit of a broken man. This, though, was his finest moment.


On to the tracks now. A bit of kitchen sink dialogue starts things off before Leave Me Alone, with a moaning bickering family going at it over breakfast before the abrasive punk guitars, drums and Pursey's gruff voice arrive. The message is clear to the lad's parents - just leave 'im alone. Who Gives A Damn sees him off to work on the bus, miserable as ever, griping about the day to come over a slowed-down, more traditionally rock beat, as opposed to punk. Everybody's Right, Everybody's Wrong sees him late for work and sacked, and in Quadrophenia style telling them to stick it. The song has real echoes of The Who's 1973 concept album as well, it is very like The Dirty Jobs.

That's Life is a solid, riffy punk stomper. It has the main character bemoaning his lot, playing the victim. It is never his fault, of course. He then blows his last wage packet on a winning horse. This is related to us in the upbeat, oikish Win Or Lose
What next? Off to celebrate in the pub, of course. Up comes the hit single and laddish singalong of Hurry Up Harry. Some may find this a laughable, idiotic song. Personally I love it. As Pursey memorably sings, "How I wish you'd listen to me - no, I don't want a cup of tea....". Then it's time for our anti-hero to try his luck with the "birds" on Evil Way. It's Friday night and the lads want to "get their end away". The song is genuinely amusing. Well, it is for me anyway. 

Sunday Morning Nightmare is another thumping punky number as indeed is the album's other hit single, Angels With Dirty FacesReggae Pick Up, Pt. 2 is a fetching little slice of boy/girl pub chat that always brings a smile to my face. The album ends with the anthemic, pounding Is This Me Or Is This YouLook, this is not an album I listen to very often, probably every five years or so. It is very much of its time, but it is always an enjoyable half hour that blows the cobwebs away and is quite endearing in its way.

The Rezillos - Can't Stand The Rezillos (1978)        

I remember seeing 
The Rezillos supporting The Ramones in late 1977, which was quite apt as The Rezillos were a bit of a Ramones imitation band. Instead of Joey Ramone, they were fronted by feisty Glasgow girl Fay Fife (although Eugene Reynolds took vocals too, and sounded like Stiff Little Fingers' Jake Burns). 
Their music was in your face, breakneck paced, guitar and drums-driven goofy pop. Full of great hooks and silly lyrics, this, the only album they produced was a barrel-full of punk joie de vivre. The first two tracks, the ridiculous Flying Saucer Attack and all-out punk attack of No (with Reynolds on vocals) are just so energetic and delivered with an enthusiasm that is infectious.

Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight is a delightfully bonkers piece of punk fun, with Reynolds wrapping his raspy tonsils around the song again. Fay Fife is back, however, for her finest moment - the utterly intoxicating, hundred miles an hour sheer pleasure of Top Of The Pops. Even all these years later I still love it. "Do I look up to date.."asks Fay in her broad Glasgow brogue. Another thing to mention is that The Rezillos looked bizarre in their outfits, like a bunch of extras from Star Trek getting together with some Teddy boys. Fay wore all sorts of different strange get-ups. 2000 ADIt Gets Me and the bassy, mega-punky I Can't Stand My Baby are all "1-2-3-4"style frenetic punkers. Like Dr. Feelgood on speed. Their cover of The Dave Clark Five's Glad All Over is superb. Just play it, you can't sit still and stop yourself from banging on the nearest table. (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures is another exhilarating romp - "she shapes my body like a lump of mud...". What a line. Their cover of Gerry & The PacemakersI Like It is deliciously nutty too. The Feelgood-esque Getting Me DownCold Wars and Bad Guy Reaction don't move from the formula much. Neither do the bonus tracks. The live material from the deluxe edition is good to have too.


The Slits - Cut (1979)

Ah, The Slits. I saw them supporting The Clash in 1978, but actually can't remember much about it (The Slits, not The Clash, whose show was one of the best gigs of my life). This is their debut album, one more followed and then that was it, as was the case for many punk bands. This is a quite perplexing album. Drenched in dubby rhythms, addictive, intoxicating bass lines, scratchy amateur-sounding guitars courtesy of Viv Albertine, discordant piano and pretty appalling hammy vocals from German-born Ari Up. This group of UK girl punks was the true face of female punk subversion. Even Siouxsie Sioux sounded mainstream compared to this lot. It has a really odd appeal to it, and always enjoy listening to it every now and again. It is a fun, catchy, and at times irresistible album. 


The album begins with the bizarre sounds of Instant Hit with some quirky vocals and an addictive, half dub reggae, half slowed-down punky guitar sound to it. So Tough is similar, with some stereo vocals, different voices coming out of each speaker, with the girls ranting on about something or other. Again, it is strangely captivating. Spend, Spend, Spend has a killer bass line, some infectious percussion and dubby drums.

Shoplifting
 has another throbbing bass and the girls telling us how they are going to "do a runner" from a shop. Their cod-Jamaican accent as they go on about "Babylon" at one point is a bit embarrassing, however. Fm apparently stands for "frequent mutilation". Ok, girls, if you say so. It is another is the same vein - beguiling rhythms, odd lyrics and weird vocals. That wonderful bass is there again on the haunting Newtown which also has some weird noises behind a dubby rhythm. Ping Pong Affair is an amusing tale of a couple splitting up and Love Und Romance is another unique Slits love song. 
Typical Girls is the most well-known and the best track on the album, with a thumping rhythm and some fetching vocals, despite their discordancy. 

Adventures Close To Home is somewhat disconnected at times but with some excellent percussion and dubby drums. The girls' cover of Heard It Through The Grapevine has to be heard, really. It is the very antitheses of the original. I love it for its sheer strangeness. This album is half an hour of disposable fun.

Eddie & The Hot Rods - Teenage Depression (1976)

A brief dip into pubby r'n'b-ers who turned into punks, somewhat by default. Dating from 1976, in many ways this was the bridge between Dr. Feelgood’s Stupidity and The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks. For many people, like myself, whose teenage years were in the mid 70s, their first experience of punk was bands like Eddie & The Hot Rods and The Vibrators. 
                                
Certainly, for me, having heard all the hype about “punk rock”, the first single that I heard that I thought sounded like “punk” was supposed to sound was Eddie & The Hot Rods’ breakneck two minutes and so of Teenage Depression. If this was punk, I thought, I would have some of that. 

Nobody remembers either the band or the album as being a forerunner of punk, but they were. Their gigs were a sweaty mass of pogoing punks and the often bare-chested singer Barrie Masters fitted the bill, despite not having the spiky hair-do. The album was half an hour of fast paced punky rhythm and blues. Dr Feelgood had begun the punk ethos in many ways. Just as Graham Parker started the new wave as much as Elvis Costello did, then Eddie & The Hot Rods were as responsible for the early punk atmosphere, certainly at gigs, as The Sex Pistols were. This is a enjoyable piece of heady nostalgia. A bit “of its time” but none the worse for it.

The Vibrators - Pure Mania (1977)
                  
The Vibrators often faced accusations of not being "real punks". They were deemed as gnarled old long-haired pub rockers who jumped on the bandwagon. They were actually the first punk band I saw live in early 1977, (I'll never forget the sheer, visceral excitement of it) and although this album didn't get released until mid-1977 they had been gigging as punks for nearly a year, so I guess they were punks. They had the punk attitude, the look and the short sharp guitar attack songs. Yes they were in their late twenties (that was old), but so were The Stranglers, and I was never convinced as to the true punk credentials of The Damned, Eddie & The Hot Rods or Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, either, come to mention it. Also, Stiff Little Fingers, regarded by all as punks, took their name from a song on this album.

All the songs on here are loud, guitar thrash mini-anthems - Into The Future and the frenetic Yeah, Yeah, Yeah lead the way and Keep It Clean has definite hints of post-punk in its Magazine-style guitar parts and industrial riffs. The Vibrators could play, that's for sure, too. Baby Baby was a perfect punk meets power pop anthem.

No Heart also reminds me of the first Magazine album and also Gang Of Four's material from a few years later. If She's Bringing You Down isn't punk, then I don't know what it is. This has hot, sweaty gigs in 1977 all over it. The same applies to the frantic, raucous Petrol. London Girls has some great punk riffs and a great, decadent atmosphere throughout. Even more so is the superb, slightly Velvet Underground-esque (not sure why, though) Whips And Furs, always one of my favourites from those heady days. 

You Broke My Heart is packed full of gutsy, metallic, clunky guitars breaks. The track Stiff Little Fingers is actually a bit of a chugger, so I am not quite sure what inspired Belfast's finest to name themselves after it. The rest of the album pogoes its way gloriously and sneeringly to a careering close. The fact that The Vibrators had been around for a while in other incarnations didn't really matter, they sounded punk (despite some of the band's long hair) and they launched themselves into it and they weren't actually that old.

The Vibrators - V2 (1978)

Only ten months after their breakneck debut album, 
Pure ManiaThe Vibrators returned with another frenetic album of short, sharp, incisive punk anthems. The first album had been very much a "1-2-3-4" up and at 'em punk attack, straight from the sweaty little venues they played in the early days, this one had slightly more polish about it, if that were not a contradiction in terms for a no-nonsense punk band. The songs are slightly longer and a bit more intricate but still loud and rousing. The vocals are more high-pitched and sneering and if anything this album is more commercially "punk", whereas the first one was almost "post punk" in places. This one actually has some guitar solos.

Pure Mania, strangely the title of their first album eventually kicks into a furious ranting number and Flying Duck Theory ploughs the same furrow, delivering a bit of Members-style social comment with a mannered Small Faces-style vocal - "ray-deee-ohhh". The single, Automatic Lover, is three minutes of punk-power pop beauty, an exhilarating slice of pure joy.


Public Enemy has a bluesy riff and a grinding feel to it. The Vibrators were starting to sound a bit like Dr. Feelgood here, although the whining punk voice kept them punk. Destroy is a great punk anthem, full of rolling drum fills and choppy guitar. Nazi Baby is a grinding intense punk rocker with, incredibly, some string orchestration appearing at the end.

Wake Up is another classic, driving punker. The problem with this stuff is that, even by mid 1978, these frantic punk thrashes were starting to be a bit of old hat. Punk in its essential form was burning itself out, in a matter of less than two years. Sulphate is another in the same vein, while 24 Hour People sounds very much like Stiff Little Fingers on their first album and also has some Chuck Berry-influenced rock 'n' roll guitar riffs. Fall In Love has a new wave/power pop feel to it, with some Joe Strummer-style slurred vocals in places. Feel Alright sounds like something from the first Clash album. War Zone is very Eddie & The Hot Rods-esque. The first signs of post punk were found in the sprawling, dense Troops Of Tomorrow with its drawn-out, atmospheric introduction. By now, most punk groups had to put a long, intense song on their albums it seemed. I think I prefer the slightly fresher, more open sound of this album to the first although I recognise that, after these two albums there wasn't much else they could do unless they diversified. They didn't, and that was the end of them as a relevant group. They were two great albums though. Great times.

The Undertones - The Undertones (1979)
                                
I was slightly harsh on The Undertones when reviewing True Confessions (Singles A's & B's), dismissing them as naive youths playing in the big boys' world of punk and being totally unconvincing. Some of that still stands. They were certainly not credible in the punk rock authenticity stakes, however, listening their debut album again, I have to admit to enjoying it quite a lot.

At the time I had no time for The Undertones, despite liking Teenage Kicks as everyone did. I felt they were drippy, pallid youths who had no place in the aggressive, snarling punk scene. This album, although somewhat late in the chronology of punk was a good one. It drips with youthful vitality, and this 2016 remaster has a crystal clear guitar sound, pounding drums and a lovely, deep rumbling bass sound. There is one great track after the other at the start - the cynical, wryly witty romp of Family Entertainment, the wonderful thump of Girls Don't Like It, the witty Male Model, the Ramones-like I Gotta Getta and, of course the glory of Teenage Kicks. (Actually, if you want the original track listing, go for the 30th Anniversary Edition, which doesn't have Teenage Kicks included in the album, as it wasn't. It is included at the end. The sound seems to be not any different to the 2016 remaster anyway, just as good). The two other singles, the catchy Here Comes The Summer and the riffy Jimmy Jimmy are great too and Jump Boys even has a convincing bass solo. True Confessions is almost Magazine-like in its post-punkery. 

Get Over You is a glorious slice of rousing fun, possibly my favourite on the album. (She's A) Runaround is another piece of breakneck pleasure too. All very enjoyable. Much, much better than the singles compilation, probably due to the lack of the irritatingly short tracks they used to issue as "b" sides (47 seconds was one of the worst offenders). An impressive debut album, but, by May 1979, a bit out of time.

X-Ray Spex - Germ-free Adolescents (1978)

As with many punk bands, it took a long time for their debut album to get released, a record company finally having caught on and signed them up. By the time this was released in 1978, bands like The Jam were on their third album and The Clash on their second, and musical diversification was already well under way. Punk was already morphing into post-punk or new wave and here were X-Ray Spex releasing their debut - a manic, frantic, wailing punk album. To many, punk was already yesterday's thing, would you believe. Anyway, on to the band. Led by the squealing, high-pitched vocal of 
Poly Styrene and characterised, unusually, by the presence of a madcap, howling saxophone (played by Rudi Thompson) that gave them, at times, a feel of early Roxy Music meeting fiery punk energy. For me, though, Siousxie & The Banshees and the underrated Penetration were the superior of the female-led punk groups. I always found X-Ray Spex a bit screechy, but it has to be said that they completely personified the punk ethic that said that anybody could do it. They kicked up an energetic, exuberantly noisy racket and managed to get over a bit of pertinent social comment at the same time. Fair play to them. Punk was great in that it allowed young people with a bit of creativity and chutzpah to express themselves via music. Poly Styrene's particular bugbear was rampant commercialism and the ills of a consumer-based, synthetic society that valued looks and superficial image over the expression of one's real identity, however imperfect it may be. Many of the songs concerned this issue. 

Art-I-Ficial is an excellent, full-on punky opener, with shrieking, indignant vocals from Poly. This is one of the best best offerings. The saxophone comes blaring in adding something different to the trademark punk riffage. Obsessed With You continues the breakneck pace with another fantastic, energetic punker. There is a punk purity in this that is quite irresistible. Warrior In Woolworth's is a deceptively melodic, fetching song, with a catchy rhythm, more great saxophone and a funky bass line. By the way, the sound quality on the remastered "deluxe version" is superb, the best I have ever heard the band's music - full and bassy. It actually makes the album sound much better than I remember it.

Let's Submerge is a rollicking, rousing romp. You cannot call into question the effervescent, pure energy on this album. It is infectious. 
I Can't Do Anything also has a catchy, handclappy beat to it. Identity has Poly bellowing the title of the song as the opening before we are launched into a copper-bottomed punk classic. The saxophone blares, the sumptuous bass rumbles, Poly squawks and the angry intensity never ends. Genetic Engineering continues in the same vein, as indeed does the beautifully sax-drenched I Live Off You. The sax on this almost sounds like The Beat in places.

I Am A Poseur is another hundred miles an hour but then we get the complete change of pace in the hit single, the evocative Germ-Free Adolescents
Plastic Bag has poly telling us, cynically, that her "mind is like a plastic bag". The pace on this one is even faster at times, in between some slower, early Roxy Music-influenced passages. The Day The World Turned Day-Glo was also a single and is a madcap, bonkers slice of riffy livewire fun. Full of parping saxophone and hollering vocals. Punk perfection. Also fitting the latter description is the non-album single Oh Bondage, Up Yours!Listening to this again has been a real pleasure. A breath of punky fresh air.

The Adverts - Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts (1978)


The Adverts were best known for the great single, Gary Gilmore's Eyes - they only did two albums, this was the first of them. Released ever so slightly late, in February 1978, this, from Devonian punk group The Adverts, has to go down as one of the most underrated punk debut albums. It lies forever in the shadows of The Clash and Never Mind The Bollocks, yet it crackles with the same aggression and verve. It reminds me a bit of Wire's Pink Flag, from the previous year, in its pure, visceral punk energy. 


Its original release did not contain the now-famous single Gary Gilmore's Eyes, which I have covered elsewhere (click the link). 


One Chord Wonders is an  excellent, bristling, riffy opener telling of the group's supposed musical uselessness. "We don't give a damn" they sing, in a way that screams out that they need do give a damn. The punk energy continues on the equally punchy Bored TeenagersNew Church is more of the same, but sightly more melodic, albeit in a grinding punk way. The tempo slows down in parts of On The Roof which combines frenetic punk with an almost post punk sombre feeling in between its manic choruses. Newboys has a staccato but pounding beat and Bombsite Boy has a big punky chorus as they tell us that "the bombsite boys are going to mesmerise"


No Time To Be 21 has a Status Quo style riff underpinning T.V. Smith's typically thing, sneering punk vocals. Safety In Numbers is a great, little-known punk gem of a song as too is Drowning Men. Both are worth putting on a punk playlist to give a bit of variety from the usual suspects. On Wheels has an atmospheric, deep bass line and an infectious grinding beat. Great British Mistake ends this short but hard-hitting album in rousing, fist-pumping style. 

The Adverts never made it, probably because unlike, say The Clash, The Jam or The Stranglers, they did not diversify as punk's furious fires soon blew out. Look, I don't spend much time listening to this sort of thing now, to be honest, it hasn't travelled that well (unbelievably, I would choose prog rock over it now) but when you're eighteen to twenty, it was ideal. Oh, and we all fancied bassist Gaye Advert.

Generation X - Generation X (1978)
              
There were punks from the top drawer (we know who those were), there were those slightly from the next drawer down like Stiff Little Fingers then there were those from the third drawer like Generation XI was never into them at the time and I still keep that stance, to an extent, although as you will see I am warming to this album. I viewed them as uninspiring “plastic” punks whose Buzzcocks riffs, standard punk drumming and contrived sneering vocals from bleached blond Billy Idol were nothing more than ordinary. Guitarist Bob Andrews could play though and his soloing gives the album something extra, I have to say. This album, their first, from March 1978, certainly makes no “punk best of” lists, for me, but revisiting it has been surprisingly enjoyable. It is loud, riffy, tinny and exciting. It is no The ClashThe RamonesIn The City or even Inflammable Material, but it is ok. Of its time, of course.

From The Heart is a rousing, punk-by-numbers opener with a couple of good guitar bits and One Hundred Punks has an in-your-face anthemic, fist-pumping vibe to it. Bob Andrews contributes another searing guitar solo. Musically, it is pretty straightforward, however, although there is a lively inventiveness to Listen on occasions. It is quite Buzzcocks influenced.

Ready Steady Go was a minor hit single and it brings back memories for me of 1978. It is a catchy tribute to the iconic sixties music show but it always irritated me a bit - where Billy Idol sings “Cathy McGow-ow-ow-ow-an...”. 
Kleenex is a bit of a silly typical punker. Promises Promises is not the Buzzcocks song, it is an extended attempt at a punk anthem, sort of Still Little Fingers and The Ruts meeting The Boomtown Rats. Actually, it’s quite good. Probably the best track on the album. Day By Day is a frantic thrash that tells of going round and round on the Circle Line. The Invisible Man, all stabbing riffs and rolling punk drums is a bit like those songs Bruce Foxton wrote for The Jam, lyrically. 

Kiss Me Deadly tries to be a punk ballad with its pre-Billy Bragg guitar and Who-esque dramatic drum breaks. It features possibly Idol’s best vocal. Too Personal is a solid slice of punk while the final number, Youth Youth Youth, is another attempt at a lengthy classic. It lumbers on a bit too long but it certainly has enough attack in it too retain one’s interest and the guitar solo is positively incendiary. Nice feedback drenched ending too. I may have been a bit unfair on this one. I didn’t go for it in 1978 but feel more positively about it now. It is a surprisingly good album and a worthy debut.

** The bonus track single Your Generation is a pounding, thumping killer of a track with a coal mine deep bass line throbbing along throughout. 
Its 'b' side was the equally bumptious, stomping, glammy Wild Youth. Both are good ones. Wild Dub is great too, with some excellent bass and drums. A bit Clash-like in places. No No No is a frenetic Ramones meets early Stiff Little Fingers thrash. Trying For Kicks is a Buzzcocks-fashion grinder. This Heat is very early Boomtown Rats in its feel. All these tracks would have been fine on the album.

Generation X - Valley Of The Dolls (1979)
                                                    
In January 1979, Generation X tried to shake off their punk beginnings and show that they were proper, credible rockers. They employed ex-Mott the Hoople legend Ian Hunter to produce this, their second. While punks like them were using an old rocker like Hunter to produce their album, Hunter used Mick Jones of The Clash to help produce his latest album a few years later. Punks wanted to be rockers, rockers wanted to be punks. A strange time was 1979-80. The album didn't really work or attract sales and Generation X split in November 1979. To be honest it is a very strange creation, not fitting in with any genre, difficult to categorise.

Running With The Boss Sound starts with a Mott The Hoople-sounding glammy anthemic guitar blast before it settles into a mid-pace new wave rock grind, similar to The Boomtown Rats or some of Ian Hunter's solo material. Billy Idol sounds quite Geldof-like on this. There are vague influences of Bruce Springsteen's 1977-78 output too. Funnily enough it would have fitted quite well on The River or the Tracks box set. Maybe "the boss sound" was not a coincidence.

Night Of The Cadillacs was like a typical Mott The Hoople mish-mash, like Violence or Crash Street Kids, just not as good. It was a bit like the stuff ex-Mott The Hoople bassist Overend Watts wrote when Hunter left and the band became Mott
Paradise West is an attempt to be a Springsteen meets The Boomtown Rats street anthem but it never really gets there, despite some grandiose guitar parts. Its five minutes plus don't realise any potential it may have had. Yes, it has a few good points (a great guitar solo, for one) but probably more unconvincing ones. A few listens, though, and it does sound better, so there you go. Friday's Angels sounds like an Ian Hunter bonus unreleased track that didn't make it on to an album.

Next up were two singles, the moderately successful but annoying (to me, anyway) rock 'n' roll pastiche of King Rocker and the chugging sub-Clash meets Rebel Rebel rock of Valley Of The Dolls. I didn't really go for either of these at the time and they still sound decidedly ordinary. 
English Dream is ok, but once again in a very Ian Hunter/Boomtown Rats sort of way. It is probably one of the album's better cuts, however.Love Like Fire is clunky, uninspiring sub-heavy rock. While one-time punk bands like The Clash and The Jam moved on successfully with albums like Give 'Em Enough RopeLondon CallingAll Mod Cons and Setting Sons and even lesser punks like Stiff Little Fingers released Nobody's Heroes and Go For It! material like this ensured that Generation X would not do the same thing. The Prime Of Kenny Silvers, Pt. 1 finds the band trying to be The Who or The Jam in a character-driven song mixed with the street-drama of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Geldof. Pt. 1 merges seamlessly into Pt. 2 and the tempo drops a little. Look, it is ok, but as with most of the album it just sound right, whereas Rat Trap did. This was no Jungleland or anything off Quadrophenia or Down In The Tube Station At Midnight. It was a bit of a shame, because its intentions are fine,  but some songs make it and some don't.

John Lennon's Gimme Some Truth is given a speeded-up punk makeover in which, ironically, Idol condemns punk rockers. Again, you could see what was trying to be achieved here and once more, it didn't quite work. It ends up like Sham 69 with chanted "truth" shouts. 
Another cover ends the album - Johnny Kidd & The PiratesShakin' All Over, something Ian Hunter regularly covered live, much more convincingly. So it was farewell, then to Generation X, probably rightly. Billy Idol went on to have a few solo hits, notably White Wedding and Rebel Yell in the mid-eighties.

999 - 999 (1978)

999 were another in the long line of "second division punks" - known for a couple of killer singles but not much more. I have reviewed their debut album only here. Admittedly, those two singles were great, though. There is not a huge amount that can be said about 999's March 1978 debut. It is classic punk meets new wave fare - fastly strummed guitar, rumbling bass, thumping, metronomic drums and a bleating , whining vocal, supplied here by Nick Cash. It is pretty much 1978-79 second division punk-by-numbers and sounds somewhat dated these days. It is not without its appeal, though, and it gets me somewhat nostalgic. I remember seeing the band live along with many other gigs by many others like them - consequently I can't recall too much about it, other than I went to see them play their single, Emergency. They ranked alongside The Ruts, The Rezillos, Penetration and Generation X for me, at the time, and still do. They were perfectly ok, but had nothing that made them extra-special. I have still enjoyed revisiting the album, though. It's 1978 again. 

Me And My Desire is a mid-paced piece of guitar punk while Chicane Destination is faster and more obviously punk in style. Crazy is slightly rock 'n' roll-ish in that punk-new wave style that was quite common in the late 70s. It is almost glammy in places. 


Your Number Is My Number is more new wave than punk while Hit Me is back to breakneck, riffy punk (it sounds like those punky songs Bruce Foxton wrote for the Jam in places) as indeed is the frantic I'm Alive. A change of sound and pace can be found (to an extent) on the infectious, bassy groove of Titanic (My Over) Reaction, a track that unusually featured its parentheses in the middle of the title. It features a nice guitar solo and a melodic bass line. A good track all over.


Pick It Up doesn't break the mould much and then we get the afore-mentioned Emergency, which was one of the great underrated punk singles. Sure, it was second division, but it still had something that makes it worthy of putting into any punk playlist. Its riff was brooding and post punk and it chugs along most satisfactorily. The last three - No PityDirect Action and Nobody Knows are all fast punkers in no real need of analysis. I am sorry that I can't find too much more to say about this, particularly on a track-by-track basis, other than it it is entirely representative of much punk music from 1978-79 and it's a lot of fun. I have to say, though, that albums like this, while ok for half an hour, have not travelled as well as those from other genres - quite a lot of soul, reggae, heavy rock, blues rock, psychedelia and even prog still sound credible today, whereas this, for all its gritty raw appeal, sounds very much stuck back in 1978.


** Another great single they did was Homicide, which is well worth checking out. It shares that gritty punk-new wave atmosphere that made Emergency such a great track.


Wire - Pink Flag (1977)

Wire were an unusual band - as aggressive and raucous as any punk group but also considerably post punk in their bleak nihilism. Let's take a look at their blistering, critically-adored debut album. I have to say that this, Wire's debut album, from December 1977, completely passed me by despite the fact that I think I saw them live double-heading with The Cure, but I can't remember for sure. The album didn't do particularly well at the time and there was so much other new stuff to get excited about - The Clash, The Jam, The Ramones, The Stranglers, Elvis Costello, Blondie etc etc. It is also an extremely oddly-conceived album - its 35 minutes contain 21 tracks, many of them under one minute in length. Were they taking the Ramones' get in there and thrash out as many songs as possible to the nth degree or were they subtly introducing a grinding, industrial post-punk ideology before punk itself had even started? Whatever, it is a most unusual album and there is no doubt that some of it is ahead of its time and was hugely influential on much of the post-punk material that emerged over the following couple of years. It is now, retrospectively, considered to be one of the great punk albums and is often found coveted by people you wouldn't expect to have liked punk albums, bizarrely. Although very much of its time, it still sounds incredibly energetic and invigorating today, although there is a far darker side to this than much of The Ramones' goofier material. The album is musically minimalist - choppy guitar, punky rolling bass lines, pounding drums and oikish punk vocals.  The best tracks are the longer ones - the post punk before its time grind of Reuters, the punk thump of Ex-Lion Tamer, the equally powerful and sombre Lowdown, the chaotic Pink Flag and the gloriously menacing slow grunge of Strange. The sound on this launched many a moody post punk band. The catchy Mannequin is a good one too. 

The shorter tracks, on the whole, are punky riffy thrashes that invariably end too soon. They sound great, though. Fine examples of this are the excellent Fragile and the almost poppy Champs. It does give the album a lack of cohesion, though, and many of the tracks have the feel of studio demo experiments. You just have to learn to live with them. Whereas the prog rock bands of the early seventies released "suites" of music that lasted a whole side of a vinyl LP, here the opposite occurs, the suite being made up of as many short snippets as possible. 


That is about as much as I can say, it defies deeper analysis other than to say that if you want to blow the cobwebs away with a maelstrom of manic punchy punk energy, stick this on. In many ways it as pure a punk album as you could wish for. It's a bit of a shame it has taken me twenty-four years to get round to properly listening to it. On the other hand, it now sounds very much a period piece and I can see why I preferred the sixties-influenced Jam, the ear for an anthem Clash or the goofy bubblegum-pop punk of The Ramones. Those artists' work still stands up today whereas more visceral punk has not really stood the test of time. I find myself listening to The Grateful Dead these days. How things change...


Altered Images - Happy Birthday (1981)


This pop-influenced group, fronted by sometime actress Clare Grogan, were a short-lived post punk-new wave band who only released three albums and had three top ten hits - the great singalong fun of Happy Birthday, the slightly dubby new wave pop of I Could Be Happy (best listened to in its 12" format) and the girl group-influenced but surprisingly muscular and very catchy Don't Talk To Me About Love. This latter one is very much part of the sound of 1983. Their debut album, from 1981, with the exception of Happy Birthday, is a surprisingly sombre post punk offering, or maybe not so as it was produced by The Banshees' Steve Severin. The sounds on songs like Love & KissesIdols, the instrumental Legionnaire and Real Toys is relatively dour, metronomic drums, throbbing bass and post punk jangly guitars, raised only by Grogan's light, breezy voice. Were these tracks sung by a gloomy sounding male voice, they would be classic post punkers. As it is, Grogan's vocal delivery gives the album a bit of a lighter feel. So you get post punk moody minimalism topped off by a cutesy little girl voice. Faithless and the musically chunky Beckoning Strings are both tracks that sum up this sound perfectly. Clare sounds like a fourteen year-old trying to sound like Siouxsie Sioux in her bedroom. Furthermore, I always thought the band sounded really amateur on Happy Birthday, like a student group rehearsing, and they are like that throughout the album. All very incongruous but strangely intriguing, making it ok for the occasional listen, but no more than that, really. 


The Skids - Scared To Dance (1979)


Scottish band The Skids were second division punks, coming to the scene a bit late in 1979,  by which time the whole thing was ebbing away into post punk. They were led by charismatic singer and songwriter Richard Jobson and future big country guitarist Stuart Adamson. I have covered their first two albums here. This was their debut. Jobson was the lyricist, while Adamson wrote the music. Listening to it, though, I feel that it sounds a lot like the sort of material that Adamson wrote for Big Country, lyrically. Maybe he was heavily influenced by Jobson. Certainly the music sounds very much like prototype Big Country. It was all a bit in need of fine tuning, however, something Big Country managed by the time of their debut album, The Crossing, in 1983. 


What a storming opener Into The Valley was, though, with its killer, additive riffs and anthemic, rabble-rousing chorus. It has Big Country written all over it. The same can be said of the chugging but incisive Scared To Dance, a sort of post punk slow punk song if you get my drift. It is a fine, brooding, Caledonian-sounding track. The frantic, punky and energetic Of One Skin begins with a very Big Country-esque riff that continues throughout the song. The staccato Dossier (Of Fallibility), although muscular, doesn’t quite get there for me, being a bit too “chunky slow punk by numbers” for my liking. Melancholy Soldiers is a fine, rousing Into The Valley soundalike with more great riffing and  “woah-ho” chorus. Hope And Glory is in the same vein of most of the album, but it sounds a bit clumsy, particularly on its chorus. The Saints Are Coming is very Joe Strummer-esque in its introductory vocal and is powerful enough, but once again it has a definite poor man’s punk feel about it. By the time this was released, on 1979, many of those original punks had moved on. 


Six Times has some great riffs and is a bit Sex Pistols-ish in places but it ends up as a bit of a racket. Calling The Tune slightly appropriates the riff from The Sweet’s Wig Wam Bam, while also sounding like one of The Sex Pistols’ lesser-known chunkier songs from Never Mind The Bollocks. Integral Plot is a Clash-like rocker with a real Big Country guitar sound, while Charles seems a little Jam-esque to me. I quite like it, though, despite its derivative sound. This enjoyable but not particularly remarkable album ends with more of the same riffing on Scale. All ok enough, but I wanted more by 1979, I think. It was a bit punk and a bit post punk and probably not enough of either to really convince, but what a fine hit single it produced in Into The Valley.


The Skids - Days In Europa (1979)

Hot on the heels of their debut album came more Caledonian riffing from The Skids. Personally, I prefer it to the debut - the compositions are fuller and beefier. It kicks off with a real Big Country-sounding rocker in the excellent Animation. It was the album’s third single. The big, rolling, military-style drums are here as is the bagpipe guitar sound. Next up was the minor hit single, Charade, which is beautifully chunky in its riffage and has a rousing chorus refrain (the song’s title, basically). Although not quite up to Into The Valley’s standards, it was still a good one. 


A fine riff also introduces the catchy, singalong Dulce Et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori), which also features those bagpipe guitars. Big Country were well on the way, weren’t they? Pros And Cons is deliciously riffy too (what a surprise) and the album’s other single, Working For The Yankee Dollar, was an upbeat once more tub-thumping song that made a great choice for a single. Home Of The Saved was brooding and sombre, however. At the risk of repeating myself, the riff is just so....Big Country. The Olympian features some rolling drums and another fist-pumping chorus and yes, more searing riffs as does ThanatosA Day In Europa is tuneful, but it doesn’t pull up many trees, while Peaceful Times finds the group dabbling in echoey electronic sounds, surprisingly. Its reverse-played vocals are a big mistake, though. 


** The non-album single from the period was the unsurprisingly up and at ‘em strains of Masquerade.


Punk & New wave "also-ran" singles

In many ways, the true essence of punk lay in its many great singles. So, featured here are a selection of fine singles from punk-new wave artists that I really like, but the artists do not justify full album reviews in the way that others have, so I have lumped them all together:-

The Radio Stars - No Russians In Russia (1977). A band made up of ex-members of sixties psychedelics John's Children and seventies oddball glammers Sparks always seemed to me like gnarled, leery old rockers messing around with punk. That's exactly what they were. The song is hard-hitting, raw-sounding rock with a punk edge to it and an instantly appealing chorus.

The Runaways - Cherry Bomb (1976). From way back in the almost pre-punk days of 1976 came this anthem of female teenage rebellion by all-girl group The Runaways. Was it punk? Yes course it was. "Hello daddy, hello mom...I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!!!". Mindlessly magnificent.

Bow Wow Wow - C30 C60 C90 Go! (1982). At the other end of the timeline is Malcolm McLaren-produced punk-infuenced but not punk strange band Bow Wow Wow, featuring a teenage Burmese lead singer in Annabella Lwin. It has all of punk's frantic, breakneck energy and is irresistibly enjoyable, as well as being completely idiotic.

The Knack - My Sharona (1979). A drum-powered and horribly snappy new wave number that many people loved but I always found just a bit irritating. It still makes me nostalgic, however, so it makes the list.

The Motors - Dancing The Night AWay (1978). This rousing, crashing number was the only half-decent track from plastic punk coat-tail mainstreamers The Motors. They had a guitarist who called himself Bram Tchaikovsky, I recall. Their follow-up hit, Airport, was bloody awful. 

The Vapors - Turning Japanese (1980). A new wave classic about masturbation that amazingly got away with it in those censor-happy days. It was one of those utterly singable numbers that remains popular on new wave-inspired radio shows to this day.

The Jags - I Got Your Number (1980). Another from the Nick Lowe-inspired new wave school, delivered by band members dressed in retro rock 'n' roll-style outfits that thankfully didn't detract from what was a really catchy pop song.

Martha & The Muffins - Echo Beach (1980). Full on post punk-ish catchy new wave but without the misery from Canadian group Martha & The Muffins. Again, it is impossibly catchy as so many of the new wave hits were.

Department S - Is Vic There? (1980). Marvellously minimalist, sparse and extremely atmospheric piece of strangely commercial post punk. The keyboard ruled on this one. Welcome to the eighties.

Rock Lobster - The B52's (1978). Frantically madcap, completely insane high-pitched organ and silly vocals-dominated song from a weird group that I find impossible to define. So I won't. 

Lene Lovich - Lucky Number (1979). Talking of bonkers - this was a bizarre but utterly memorable, word-definingly quirky one-off hit, complete with singalong "ah-oh, ah-oh" refrain that everyone went around singing at the time, together with silly Lovich moves. Did I fancy Lene? No, she'd have been too much trouble - messing around in the bath like she is below.

The Members - The Sound Of The Suburbs (1979). A number 12 hit for these punk 'c'-listers. It was a tub-thumping, fist-pumping rabble rouser, sung by Nicky Tesco (who named himself after a supermarket).

The Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet (1978). A surprisingly early poppy post punker that always shows up in people's new wave playlists, including mine. That's all I know abut it, or the group, however. Sorry to all the Only Ones fans, of which there are quite a few still around. They seemed to have a cultish reputation amongst post punk snobs.

The Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer (1977). Proper US CBGB's punk from these decidedly unsavoury, druggy oiks, led by nihilistic nutter Stiv Bators. Full of verve and punk power. The band were portrayed in the movie CBGB's, with Rupert (Harry Potter) Grint playing one of the band members, surprisingly well.

Holly & The Italians - Tell That Girl To Shut Up (1979). Excellent piece of girl group-inspired but hard-as-nails new wave housing project poppy punk from a US group that I never heard anything else from.

The Teardrop Explodes - Reward (1980). No punk here. New romanticism rears its preening head early on in the shape of pretentious singer Julian Cope. It was a great, hooky, brassy song, though.

Celia & The Mutations - Mony Mony (1977). The Stranglers backed hitherto and subsequently unknown French (or maybe German) singer Celia on this punky, gritty, organ-powered Tommy James & The Shondells cover.

Plastic Bertrand - ├ža Plane Pour Moi (1977). Belgium's only punk chart hit, and what a truly great one it was too. It still sounds great today, full of blaring saxophones, killer riffs, frantic vocals and Gallic joie de vivre (or whatever that is in Flemish). 

Rich Kids - Rich Kids (1978). Ex Sex Pistol Glen Matlock delivers a guitar-driven 'b' list punker.

Richard Hell & The Voidoids - Blank Generation (1977). One of the great, ground-breaking US punk songs. For the title alone it should be there in any list of influential punk compositions. Although its iconic title amounted to a lot more than the sum of its parts, it somehow exemplified the seediness of US punk and is surprisingly sloganeering for a song from that sub-genre.

Wreckless Eric - Whole Wide World (1978). A poor man's Elvis Costello-Nick Lowe-Ian Dury (take your pick) who accompanied them on the legendary Stiffs tour. The song is a fine offering of melodic new wave pop, though.

The Saints - I'm Stranded (1977). An early 1977 surprising offering from Australian punks The Saints. Riffy and hooky, it should have been more of a success.

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