Sunday, 12 July 2009

Scratchy old Punk 45s

First of all I have to admit that this is an idea I ripped-off from someone else's blog/website. Can't remember whose, so apologies etc. It's an attempt to whittle my dozens of old punk singles down to a definitive Top Ten: not an easy task. There are loads more I'd like to include, especially from later, less well-known bands. ( So there may be a Part 2, you have been warned.)

In this Nick Hornby-esque frenzy of list-making I decided there should be some rules, so I've limited this to one single from each band ( mostly to prevent the 10 singles being solely by the Pistols and The Clash ), and to give precedence for singles with b-sides that stand comparison with the a-sides ( sorry, Homicide by 999, you don't make the grade ), and for singles that have iconic Punk graphics on the sleeve or label. So, here's my Top Ten and, in the true spirit of Punk, if you don't agree, tough s**t :)

1. Holidays In The Sun / Satellite by The Sex Pistols
My fave Pistols song is Anarchy but as I don't own / can't afford that single, I'll go with Johnny sneering about the Berlin Wall ( Google it young 'uns! ) on one side and moaning about groupies on t'other. As well as Satellite pushing the Pistols' sound as far as they could go towards heavy metal, the single boasts quintessentially Punk, Jamie Reid-designed sleeve artwork.

2. (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais / The Prisoner by The Clash.
White Man is probably the best Clash song ever, although Straight To Hell comes close. It starts off with Strummer singing about being intimidated at a reggae gig he went to with Don Letts, goes on to imagine Adolf Hitler being welcomed to a frighteningly racist 1970's England, and ends with some of Joe's most poetic lyrics about being a "drug-prowling wolf" who "looks so sick in the sun." All to the patented, Clash Punk-reggae beat. B-side The Prisoner is a great showcase for Mick Jones' vocals, and the record's label features a smoking gun on one side and a human target in the cross-hairs on the other side. "Ha! You think it's funny, turning rebellion into money..."

3. Television's Over / Back From The Dead by The Adverts.
The Adverts were a criminally underrated band with one of the most intelligent songwriters to come out of Punk in Tim "TV" Smith. Mostly known for their hit Gary Gilmore's Eyes and for Punk pin-up bassist Gaye Advert, they produced a flurry of exciting, energising singles and one great album, Crossing The Red Sea. They split after too many lineup changes and a badly-produced second album, but left behind some great songs like this single's Back From The Dead, co-written by Smith and Steve Strange, later of Visage.

4. Into The Valley / TV Stars by The Skids.
What a fantastic band! Again underrated, but they did have a few Top 20 hits to their name. With Richard Jobson's melodramatic vocals and pretentious lyrics and the late Stuart Adamson's unique guitar sound, The Skids were far removed from many of their 3-chord contemporaries. Into The Valley is their most well-known song with its often mis-heard lyrics ( who remembers that old Maxell tape advert? ) and shouty chorus. B-side TV Stars is a fun, drunken singalong recorded live at The Marquee Club. "Albert Tatlock!!!"

5. Staring At The Rudeboys / Love In Vain by The Ruts.
Rudeboys is one of Punk's greatest songs about one of the movement's biggest problems, violence at gigs. The Ruts' singer, the late Malcolm Owen, captures the feeling of being stuck in "a very small world in the middle of a crowd" where "there's no room to move 'cos the floor's packed tight." Claustrophobic and intense, the song builds to a crescendo of screams and broken glass: "someone hits the floor, someone takes a dive." It's almost a relief to flip the single for Love In Vain, a dub-reggae tale of broken hearts.

6. California Uber Alles / Man With The Dogs by The Dead Kennedys.
America's greatest ever Punk band, the mischief-making, piss-taking Kennedys with their caustic, sarcastic frontman Jello Biafra. If you only ever listen to two DK songs, make sure they're California Uber Alles and Holidays In Cambodia. Two savage attacks on the American middle-classes with biting lyrics and surging tunes. The band charged off down a Hardcore blind alley in later years, playing faster but less tuneful songs, but this was the good stuff: "Zen fascists will control you, 100% natural, you will jog for the master race and always wear the happy face." Scary!

7. Oh Bondage Up Yours! / I Am A Cliche by X-Ray Spex.
One thing Punk started which previous rock movements ignored was to break down gender roles. From Patti Smith and Debbie Harry to The Slits and the Poison Girls, women began to take their place as equals in the scene, but it was a long struggle. Frontrunners in this were X-Ray Spex, fronted by the irrepressible Poly Styrene. This single was their manifesto with Poly chuckling and shrieking: "Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think... Oh Bondage Up Yours!!!"

8. Suspect Device / Wasted Life by Stiff Little Fingers.
While English Punk bands were fantasising about police oppression and sten-guns in Knightsbridge, kids in Northern Ireland were experiencing it for real. SLF chronicled these hard times in 3-minute howls of anger torn from the rasping throat of Jake Burns. Suspect Device is the clarion call for people stuck between ideologies, politics and violence: "They take away our freedom in the name of liberty. Why can't they all just clear off, why can't they let us be?"

9. The Friday 13th e.p. by The Damned.
Cartoon Goth-Punk at its finest. Probably the best of The Damned's many lineups, with some of their finest songs, and a Rolling Stones cover thrown in too. Disco Man is always an excuse for mad moshing and pogo-ing when played live. See you down the front!

10. Public Image / The Cowboy Song by Public Image Ltd.
The Sex Pistols' madman/frontman splits the band that could never have contained him, reclaims his real name and forms an arty, experimental group to wind up his old fans. John Lydon in the days before reality shows and butter adverts, what a star! From its booming bass-line, courtesy of Jah Wobble ( one of the best noms de rock ), through Lydon's "allo, allo, allo" intro and into the propulsive lead guitar, this song grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go, a serious statement of intent. Goodbye Punk, hello Post-Punk...

That'll do for now...
Soundtrack: All of the above.


Saranga said...

Good choices. How you manage to choose one clash single is beyond me though. Every time I put on one of their records I'm blown away by it all.

cerebus660 said...

It wasn't easy, I can tell you! Close runners-up were Straight To Hell / Should I Stay Or Should I Go ( picture disc! ) and the Cost Of Living e.p. But there can be Only One...


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