Friday, September 7, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 3 - Her Majesty's Impudent Empire (Punk's Greatest Year Pt. 1)

1977 was such an amazing, formative year for punk, there was no way to contain all the highlights in a single 80 minute mix, so this first of our two volume sequence focuses only on those most punk of punk band's to emerge from the old British Empire.  If the bands were North American (Ramones, Television, Suicide, The Dead Boys, Mink DeVille), or continued to exhibit the slightest  bar band/new wave tendancies into 1977 (Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Graham Parker, Devo, The Talking Heads), off they went to our bar band mix or disc two of the punk series.

But what's amazing to me about the band's that are left is how each found a unique niche for themselves and a way to contribute something specifically their own to the exploding genre.

The Sex Pistols were the genre's anarchic soul and take no prisoners insulters in chief, The Damned its first out of the gate pioneers, The Buzzcocks its link to pop silliness, The Clash its unsparing political fervor, the Saints its jet engine roar, The Jam its link to rock and soul tradition, Radio Birdman its link with the cowboy frontier, The Stranglers its lounge lizard underbelly, and The Wire its arty brains. All of them, along with several others who contributed mighty tracks to Punk's first full and still greatest year, are represented here. Enjoy.

On The Songs:

1. Holiday In The Sun - Sex Pistols: Here's the funny thing about the Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.  Widely regarded as one of the most disruptive records/direction shifting moments in rock history, with The Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show appearance and Nirvana's Nevermind rounding out the obvious top three, most of the impact of these songs, including album opener Holiday In The Sun featured here, was actually delivered through the band's live performances and a few single releases in 1976 and 1977 prior to the album every coming out, as its late fall release made it one of the last of classic '77 British punk albums to hit record store shelves.  Only Wire's Pink Flag and The Jam's second 1977 release This is the Modern World came later.

2. Neat Neat Neat - The Damned: Keeping with the theme of release dates, it was actually the Damned who were first out of the gate amongst the British punk acts, both with the first punk single ever, 1976's New Rose, and the first punk full length, the awesome, irreverant Nick Lowe produce Damned Damned Damned.  And though, along with The Stranglers and The Jam's Paul Weller, the Damned would go on to have one of the longest and more consistently sustained careers of any of '77s breakout punk stars, Damned Damned Damned opener Neat Neat Neat, with its unstoppable bass-fueled intro, remains their most popular song.

3. I'm So Bored With The USA - The Clash: One of so many great, pointed songs from the Clash's self-titled UK debut (which was made even better in its 1979 American re-release), this song was actually first written by Mick Jones as a straight break-up/putdown song I'm So Bored With You. But, after touring England with the Pistols, Damned, and Buzzcocks throughout 76 and early 77, the band had become so turned off by the rampant Americanization of England they witnessed that the lyrical emphasis and the title of the song were changed.

4. Orgasm Addict - The Buzzcocks: The Buzzcocks would do most of their chart damage in the two years to follow, but their controversial first single here, even though banned by the BBC and now considered "embarassing" by lead singer Pete Shelley (mostly because it's about his own hyper-promiscous bi-sexual ways at the time of its release), remains one of their most legendary songs.

5. Ex Lion Tamer - Wire: Like the Clash's debut, Pink Flag, though the most challenging listen of all the early punk classics, is so loaded with great, provocative tunes that I just went with my personal favorites. Feel free to challenge my selections, but this song has always been number one on Pink Flag for me.

6. Art School - The Jam: Along with The Stranglers, the Paul Weller-led Jam are one of two bands associated with the early Punk outbreak that actually began their careers pursuing a different niche. The Stranglers started out as potent Graham Parker-styled pub rockers, but for The Jam, passionate fans of all things Who-ish and Kinks-ian, it was pure Mod revivalism, right down to the nifty suits and crisp haircuts they continued to sport on stage while neon mohawks and tatterred T-Shirts were popping up all around them.  This song, the opening track from the first of their two '77 releases, debut album In The City, isn't one of their biggest hits, but it's another personal favorite, and a song that clearly deliniates that love of all things Mod.

7. Love Lies Limp - Alternative TV: Though not quite a one hit wonder (this short-lived band, anchored around the songwriting of punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue fouding editor Mark Perry, would hang on to produce a few more modest British hits in 1978) Alternative TV never had another song that caught on like Love Lies Limp.

8. Your Generation - Generation X: Billy Idol's one great contribution to the fledgling punk movement before he would quickly shift to a more mainstream post-punk/new wave direction and become the MTV superstar we all come to know and... love?

9. Kissin' Cousins - The Saints: Here's the funny thing. (I'm) Stranded, possibly the hardest hitting of all the 1977 punks albums from one of Australia's all-time greatest bands, actually has a lot in common with Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. Both albums were basically just demo tapes that so impressed their label's executives on first listen that the decision was made to, aside from a few touch ups, skip a return to the recording studio and and release the demos as is. A part of me feels bad going with Kissin' Cousins, the album's lone cover, over one of the many excellent originals, but I just enjoy this song too much (and because the single (I'm) Stranded, like Anarchy In The UK, was a huge 1976 hit and thus left off this mix).

10. Peaches - The Stranglers: The Stranglers are basically the opportunists of this batch of punk pioneers.  Already a fairly established bar band in England, with a line-up of musicians who could actually play, the move to punk for them was mostly a  commerially driven decision rather than one of political ideology.  There was just one problem, lead singer Jet Black was a decade older than the rest of the band, already deep into his thirties - not  the frontman you want for an attack anchored around youthful rebellion. So the band sidestepped the issue, taking on punk's sonic pallette (though with a more keyboard-anchored styled than the others), but going light on the politics and social commentary and instead focusing on punk's crassness, casting Black as a creepy, aging, Jim Morrison-esque lothorio, out to denegrate the lives of everyone he encountered, especially the young ladies. Case in point, Peaches, their biggest hit of '77 from their debut album Rattus Norvegicus.

11. What's My Name - The Clash: This might be my favorite song from the original UK release. Just love how in-your-face it is.

12. In The City - The Jam: This title track from The Jam's debut was their first hit single.

13. Gary Gilmore's Eyes - The Adverts: One of the first punk bands to feature a women, bassist Gaye Black, in a prominent role, Gary Gilmore's Eyes, which riffed on the tabloid brouhahah of the moment that convicted murdered Gilmore had requested his eyes be donated to medical science after his execution, was the biggest hit of this husband and wife led act's short-lived career.

14. Strange - Wire: By the end of 1977 when Pink Flag dropped, punk was already on the verge of morphing into several less propulsive and moodier hybrids, and Pink Flag was one of the first punk albums to anticipate that, especially as presented here in the long, slow Strange, a song further popularized by REM a decade later on Document.

15. Descent Into The Maelstrom - Radio Birdman: So bummed I could only squeeze one track from Radio Appears, the debut album from Australia's other great punk band. If you get a chance, be sure to check out the album, especially tracks like Hand Of Law or Murder City Nights. More than any other punk act of the era, Radio Birdman presaged the Bobby Fuller-ish potential of melding Punk with Country and Western and Rockabilly sensibilities that would form the musical foundation for many prominent acts (X, Jon Spencer, Parquet Courts) in the decades to follow.

16. Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols: With Johnny Rotten's bullying snarl, the bands unwavering energy and complete disregard for societal norms, has there ever been a band better assembled to deliver maximum insult and outrage. To that point, check out the way Rotten drags out and splits his pronunciation of "vacant" on the band's third lead single here, so it actually sounds like he's saying "va" followed by arguably the second most despised word in the English language, and was able to say this word repeatedly over British airways and television in 1977, as this song hit number 6 on the British charts and was the first of their songs not immediately banned.

17. Oh Bondage! Up Yours! - X-Ray Spex: Punk's first female-fronted act, the Polly Styrene-led Spex were intentional underachievers, only releasing five singles and one album over their brief careers, but this track remains one of the most celebrated punk songs of the era.

18. Lookin' After No. 1 - The Boomtown Rats: In truth, I almost didn't include this song here. Though the band's eponymous debut is a perfectly solid album well worth hearing, I felt there were better deep cuts to still explore from The Clash, No More Heroes, and Radio Appears. But in the end, a sense of inclusion won out, so the Bob Geldoff-led Rats gets Ireland's one entry in this mix.

19. No More Heroes - The Stranglers: The title track from The Stranglers even better follow-up to their debut Rattus Norvegicus finds the band make a rare slide into more socially oriented commentary.

20. Baby Baby - The Vibrators: A minor but enjoyable hit from one of the first wave's less well remembered bands off of their entertaining if a touch more generic debut Pure Mania.

21. I Fall - The Damned: One more track from Damned Damned Damned. This one is an absolute scorcher.

22. Mannequin - Wire: In addition to steering punk in an artier, more stylized direction, Pink Flag also embraced the idea of brevity to an even greater degree than any other of the notable '77 punk releases. Most of the album's twenty-two songs clock in at under two minutes, five under one, and while this song is actually one its most "bloated" tracks, clocking in at 2:37, it's still a great example of Wire's wonderful musical and lyrical economy.

23. All Around The World - The Jam: Another hit single for the Jam in 1977. And my apologies to fans of the band's second 1977 release This Is The Modern World, a fine album in its own right but it came down to an either/or choice betweenthis single or a track from the album. There wasn't room to squeeze in both.

24. Police And Thieves - The Clash: This excellent cover of the Junior Murvin reggae classic of the same year was never originally intended for the Clash's debut, but after all the other tracks were finished, the album still hadn't hit the minimum length required for an LP to go to print. And since reggae-legend Scatch "Lee" Perry was part of the album's production team, this is the solution they came up with.  Glad they did, cause it's one my favorite songs on the album.

25. Nights In Venice - The Saints: That allusion I made in the intro to The Saints being early punk's jet engine roar... this blazer from (I'm) Stranded is the song that best exemplifies it.

26. God Save The Queen - Sex Pistols: One of the most controversial singles ever, this Monarcy trashing ditty that scooped its title straight from the British National Anthem was banned everywhere and still hit number two on the British charts (with many to this day claiming it was only politically motivated manipulations in sales tracking that kept it from hitting number one). It felt like the obvious song with which to close our look at this brief but fantastic moment in British rock history. 

No comments: