No.12 Stu's New Wave Classics
no record label
To round off this trawl through the punk rock archives, I've decided to present an imaginary album, my own arbitrarily selected compilation, some tracks famous, some fairly obscure. I hope it will serve as a teaser, perhaps convincing some of you out there to attempt to track down a few of these great titles. It also serves another purpose: to show that above all, the New Wave was about singles. A thrilling rush of two, perhaps three minutes of excitement or atmospherics. They are not in any particular order of preference or chronology. There are album tracks in there as well, but it will always be those red-hot 45's that marked out the years 1976 to 1980 as the equal to that other great singles period, 1964 to 1968. What a fabulous time to be nineteen!
Track 1 Give Me Everything • Magazine (Virgin, 1978)
Howard Devoto's third single with his gifted group, Give Me Everything was sandwiched between the Real Life album and its mindblowing follow-up, Second Hand Daylight (1979). A rotating guitar riff and funky bass open the song, followed by stabs of organ and paralysing power chords on guitar. 'There will be rooms where we shouldn't meet, times I wanna screw you up and leave you in the street, you know everybody, you dont know a thing! You watch me in you, but I know what youre really seeing.' The instrumental middle section is enthralling, sci-fi synth and roaring guitars hammering out a John Barry-like melody. The bass plays a hiccuppy stutter, and Devoto treats us to more of his articulate hatred: 'Now you give me everything! Now you give me everything!' he booms, his voice made massive with reverb. 'Now give me everything' he then mumbles, as a weary aside.
Track 2 Complete Control • The Clash (CBS, 1977)
A jaw-dropping, powerful rant at their record company, for issuing a song of theirs without their permission (in this lyric's case, Remote Control). This exhilarating epic is acknowledged as a true classic by critics and fans alike. I wont quote many of the words, they're so famous it would be pointless, but I must try and convey the sheer excitement generated here. Complete Control starts with a stomping beat that reminds us of old Slade songs. Guitars ring out deafeningly and Joe Strummer and Mick Jones yell the lyrics with reckless abandon, not giving a fuck if some are garbled in the process. "I dont trust you, why do you trust me?' is one of the key lines. The pace is frantic, a pulverising attack on the senses, with Mick Jones screaming the backing vocal like the wail of a demented siren. 'That means you!' bellows Joe, after a particularly acidic snipe. 'None of us escape.' They took no prisoners, this band.
Track 3 Outside View • Eater (The Label, 1977)
Four snotty kids (literally, the eldest was something like 17), Eaters debut single is fairly simple and crude, but terrific fun. A bass-guitar noodles an intro, followed by machine-gun drumming, and the lead-singer's voice (cant remember his name sorry) snarls out an angry tirade against a backdrop of rudimentary punk guitars and clod-hopping rhythm. The main attraction is a recurring hook played by the bass and the way the song finishes with a ridiculous, elongated vampiric scream, drenched in reverb and echo.
Track 4 16 Down • The Flys (EMI, 1980)
The Flys were a fine power-pop foursome from Coventry, who released some singles and two albums, then disintegrated the year after this groovy tune was immortalised. 16 Down comes from their second and best long-player, Flys Own, and was also part of a four-track EP at the time. A lonely, damped electric guitar plays a moody riff, before some heavily-compressed drums, funereal feedback and sizzling rhythm-guitars enter, and singer and writer Neil (brother of Hazel) OConnor's cool voice starts to sing his melancholy narrative: 'Days were made to see, and nights were made to flee and all the in-between times can leave us be.' This insular manifesto ultimately culminates in the classic teen-angst payoff: real life just kills. 16 Down has poise, emotion, excitement and a killer melody!
Track 5 Judy Says • The Vibrators (Epic, 1978)
The Vibrators were a grizzled bunch of R & B-ers who upped the tempo of their songs when punk became the latest thing. But that's not to say they were crap! They were, in fact, the first punk band I ever saw. Aside from recording two other fantastic singles, Whips And Furs and the awesome Baby Baby, they also had a hit with a song called Automatic Lover. But it's Judy Says that we're concerning ourselves with here, and a breathless, nuclear classic it is too. Structurally, it is little more than a fast update of the old 12-bar blues, given a fucking hard kick up the arse. Entering like a whirlwind after three titanic, noisy guitar stabs, the rhythm section takes off at a ridiculous pace: 'Judy says shes gonna knock you in the head tonight!' Unfashionable saxophone briefly takes over, prior to one of the most mental moments in the history of recorded sound, let alone the bloody New Wave! Lead guitar played so fast that it threatens to burst into flames at any moment, lends this roller-coaster ride an exhilaration rarely matched anywhere else...it sounds like a buzzsaw mixed with a road-drill! Breathless, astounding stuff. What a girl this Judy must be! She sounds dead sexymind you: 'You better watch out or you'll wind up dead!" Christ! No thanks!
Track 6 He's Frank • The Monochrome Set (Rough Trade, 1978)
Bid, Lester Square (dig that crazy punk name) and the rest made their very first appearance with this drowsy-voiced, weird song. Uncertainly pitched drums and scratchy guitar are the first things we hear, then they stop and Bid croons his elegant way into our lives with bizarre, brilliant lines: 'He's got secular joy, he's a peculiar boy, but now the lustre has gone, peculiar boy is no more.
He's got precious youth forsaken, forsooth, and now the shine grows dim, change tradition for whim." The guitars endlessly dance delicately around his voice and the drums try for something too ambitious. J.D.Haney dropping beats here and there, uncharacteristically. But it doesnt matter, it adds to the charm. 'Who'll save him from being a man? Not me", decides our Bid, in his aloof, maddening way. Interesting, tuneful and intriguing.
Track 7 What Do I Get? • The Buzzcocks (U.A, 1978)
This was one of those revelatory John Peel moments- and there have been a few of those down the years: Suspect Device, Teenage Kicks, Shot By Both Sides, First Time etc. Peel raved about this, the third Buzzcocks single and their second on a major label. As a result of some astute editing, What Do I Get? starts with a backwards guitar chord coming in from the distance, like a train out of control. This alienating device works brilliantly, also serving to bring in the main noise of this punk classic in an attention-grabbing way. 'I just wanna lover like any other, what do I get? I only wanna friend who'll stay till the end, what do I get?' The way Pete Shelley says 'aaah!' to usher in the twangy, one-note solo is marvellous, liberating, even. And the answer to Petes adolescent questions? 'Sleepless nights, no love, nothing that's nice, nothing at all' the poor sod.
Track 8 Rockaway Beach • The Ramones (Sire, 1977)
'Chewing out a rhythm on my bubblegum' sings Joey. What a fantastic opening line!'It's not hard, not hard to reach, you can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach'. Rockaway Beach is a real place you know, not just somewhere dreamt up by da brudders. Presumably, a lot of fun was had there if this classic, powerful punky pop song is anything to go by, those trademark guitars growl effectively as they blast out the disco on the radio. A hit!
Track 9 Going Underground • The Jam (Polydor, 1980)
Straight in at number one! Hows that for a result? This explosive mixture of political bile and powerhouse performance was a massive success back at the very start of the vile 1980s. Paul Weller's classic comment on the obscene waste of cash spent on the national defence budget by successive governments is pretty well known. Again, it is pointless quoting the lyrics at any length. You should know them by now. But alongside the huge guitars, rattling tom-toms, magnificent lead-guitar solo and reverse-delay effects, are those pithy lines: 'The kidney machines will pay for rockets and guns, the public gets what the public wants.' Amazing music, can you imagine any of the bland manufactured boy-bands with dance routines and toothy grins writing anything like this? I doubt if they could write their own names.
Track 10 Smokescreen • The Desperate Bicycles (Refill, 1977)
This enigmatic bunch were one of the first bands in the country to release their very own little single, just 500 copies. It was crude. The b-side was exactly the same two songs as the a-side and shabbily recorded. But the enthusiasm, charm and energy outweighed those negatives. A ramshackle, amateurish chug, Smokescreen (much loved by the great god Peel) rarely wanders from its main section, with lyrics snapped out joyously in a litany of observation. Fantastic, thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. At the end of the other, shorter track, the singer blurts 'It was easy it was cheap, go and do it!' thus inspiring countless youngsters to form bands and release their own stuff.
Track 11 Sweden • The Stranglers (U.A, 1978)
Featured on the third Stranglers' album, Black And White, this odd but compelling little number starts like any other new wave track, J.J. Burnel's grumbling bass lolloping along with the rapacious beat. Hyperactive keyboard flourishes supplement this. 'Let me tell me you about Sweden, only country where the clouds are interesting. Too much time to think too little to do.'
Then everything stops abruptly and Dave Greenfield's organ meanders, alongside crackling guitars. Strange words are sung in isolation, heavily reverbed. 'Is it Latin? Or something scientific? Fluctuations at a minimum, hypochondriac tombstone.' What the hell were they going on about? Great fun though.
And that's about it. There were of course tons and tons of others I could have selected, but it gets boring after a while, for you the reader, I mean. If this has been nostalgic for those of you of a certain age, then I hope the rosy glow was worth it. If any of my re-evaluations of these old, outrageous records prompts anybody younger and curious to go and hunt them down well then it will all have been worth it.
Goodnight and thank you.
This concludes Stuart Jones's Reviews
More reading - Stuart's post-punk Reviews 2007