Forty years after the fact, punk is a major part of twentieth century culture, a youth cult template to be sourced and sampled at will. You can see the traces everywhere, yet its impact has been diluted so much as to seem almost meaningless, particularly the records that stoked the whole shebang in the first place.
Nasty punk has been reconfigured numerous times over the years by corporate Mr Suit’s on shite compilations selected from a finite number of toe tapping, new wave ditties and American latecomers. The past has been rewritten and the legions of angry, rabble rousing groups with limited or no musical ability who formed in the wake of The Pistols and The Clash have been exorcised from history.
In 1977 there were hundreds of them, spewing forth from every corner of a decaying Blighty and as far afield as Paris, LA, Sydney and Brisbane, many scraping together enough cash to put out at least one single or EP without any thought of building a career or making a million. I bought as many as I could afford, yet while they remain important documents, removed from the cultural context of the times they cannot hope to convey punks true intensity and chaos.
Consequently, finding 10 punk obscurities hasn’t proved quite as simple as I thought. Only the more proficient or daring are listenable today, which is kind of ironic given how punk was all about having a go and doing it yourself. Then again, I keep forgetting how these records were never built to last, being purely of and for their one glorious moment.
01. RADIO BIRDMAN ‘Burn My Eye’ (Burn My Eye EP January 1977)
Facing the same kind of obstacles as fellow Australian’s The Saints, Radio Birdman were denied entry to the Brit-centric punk party because of their long hair, the cut of their trousers and their nationality. No surprise then that ‘Burn My Eye’ slipped through the cracks, despite it’s full on Stooges blast being equally as good if not better than most early UK punk singles.
02. THE SAINTS ‘One Way Street’ (Single B Side April 1977)
Whereas Radio Birdman chose to remain in Australia, The Saints relocated to London where they gatecrashed the party and were immediately derided for refusing to conform to the spiky haired, swastika and safety pin stereotype. The feeling was mutual, ironically their refusal to play by the rules far closer to punk’s spirit of individualism than the Kings Road cognoscenti. Instead The Saints poured their disgust and fury into a catalogue of long forgotten gems like the ferocious ‘One Way Street’.
03. THE ADVERTS ‘Quickstep’ (Single B Side April 1977)
The Adverts were loved more for female punk pin up Gaye Advert than TV Smith’s wry, semi-autobiographical lyrics. Hugely underrated, their thundering, ramshackle, glam was wholly unique and stylistically different to punk’s standard Ramones copyists. B Side to the wondrous ‘One Chord Wonders’, ‘Quickstep’ remained impossibly rare until it was reissued in the late nineties on a couple of shoddy compilation CD’s.
04. THE USERS ‘I’m In Love With Today’ (Single B Side May 1977)
The sulphate singed howl of provincial, punk youth, encapsulated brilliantly in one minute 38 seconds of raw, Detroit style energy by a bunch of unknown kids from Cambridge who played a grand total of 11 shows in their short lifetime before disappearing back from whence they came. Perfect.
05. 999 ‘I’m Alive’ (Single A Side July 1977)
Written off as charlatans, chancers and an old pub rocker, 999 were one of the better second division outfits doing the rounds. Never less than entertaining, they took punk to the out of the way towns and cities across the land and were much loved for it. The manically mental ‘I’m Alive’ soon became an anthem for all those bored kids in the provinces, distilling the feeling of the times far more succinctly than ‘Emergency’, 999’s only acknowledged masterpiece.
06. SNIVELLING SHITS ‘Terminal Stupid’ (Single A Side August 1977)
Punks were deeply suspicious of any kind of demeaning, jokey, novelties from within their own ranks so The Snivelling Shits reputation as the plaything of a couple of Sounds journalists meant that few bothered to seek out ‘Terminal Stupid’. Those that did were surprised to find that within its intense, garage racket and vitriolic vocals was an underground punk classic trying to get out.
07. THE WEIRDOS ‘Destroy All Music’ (Destroy All Music EP September 1977)
Maybe, because it’s not quite as rare as their more celebrated second single ‘We Got The Neutron Bomb’, The Weirdos debut ‘Destroy All Music’ is far less talked about. Recorded on the day that Elvis died, it is a wild, nihilistic anthem that in hindsight signified a sonic sea change from LA’s early, arty, proto punk to a new generation of faster, louder groups and the coming of hardcore.
08. METAL URBAIN ‘Panik’ (Single A Side October 1977)
With their love of all things rock’n’roll, France might have been expected to produce a handful of seminal punk groups of its own. Yet ultimately, Metal Urbain were the sole contenders, and in hindsight, with their drum machine and synth, it could even be argued they weren’t really punk at all. Thankfully, in 1977, ‘Panik’s monstrous wall of fuzz, feedback and subversive French lyrics could be nothing but punk, albeit in a seriously, reconstructed form pointing to the post punk future.
09. ‘O’ LEVEL ‘Pseudo Punk’ (East Sheen EP November 1977)
By the tail end of 1977, having descended into a squalid, caricature of its once glorious self, punk was already splintering into its myriad parts, ‘O’ Level’s East Sheen EP heralding the arrival of an endearingly, amateurish, DIY, indie ethos that would stretch well into the eighties and beyond. Of course, ‘Pseudo Punk’ was still punk at heart, identifying one of the movement’s pet hates; the part time proles for whom it was nothing more than a weekend fashion craze of old school blazers, badges and safety pins.
10. THE ART ATTACKS ‘Neutron Bomb’ (Single B Side March 1978)
The Art Attacks were led by another Sounds journalist, writer and cartoonist Savage Pencil, otherwise known as Edwin Pouncey. Sounding at least six months out of date, ‘Neutron Bomb’ had the misfortune to appear just as they fell apart. Nonetheless, in its snotty way it is great stuff, the witty lyrics pulling off a neat twist on the familair punk theme of nuclear apocalypse when an increasingly sneery Pencil threatens to annihilate his girl with a weapon of mass destruction.