The seventies are frequent fodder for nostalgia TV, the image of the decade dominated by a selection of its blandest, most obvious symbols; flares, long hair, platform boots, Chopper bikes, space hoppers and cheerfully racist sitcoms. In more recent years the portrayal of the decade as a parade of lunatic flared fashion set in a mindless boogie wonderland of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ has been relentless. Misrepresentation has been allowed to become undeniable fact. But that wasn’t my seventies.
My seventies were all about footie up the park and kiss chase in the woods, bedroom mirror miming and church hall discos, power cuts and blackouts, O Levels and aborted A Levels, pubs with names like The Wheel of Fortune and The Peacock, Colt 45 and Carlsberg Special Brew, Bristol Colston Hall and Wembley Empire Pool, Paddington and Waterloo, The Roxy and The Vortex, Yamaha FS1E’s and Vauxhall Viva’s, signing on and the nine to five, skins and Teds, tribalism and hooliganism, racism and sexism, the threat of violence and actual bodily harm, Bournemouth and Blackpool, Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now, bedsitland and high rise blocks, industrial estates and weed-filled wasteland waiting to be car parks.
Trying to capture the essence of all that in 100 songs is tricky, not least because nostalgia loves to wave its golden wand over the past, which is why I’ve never attempted such a task before. Sure, I’ve compiled plenty of playlists detailing the numerous genres of the decade, but this is the first time I’ve tied them all together to soundtrack the seventies in its entirety. And the only way I could think of to interpret such a massively influential period of my life, a period when I went from being a naïve ten year old to a twenty year old ex-punk, was to go at it song by song and pray that some kind of picture built up. Did it? I have no idea. Only you can be the judge of that!
Whether it did or not, hearing these songs again, some of them for the first time in over forty years has made me realise what an amazing thing it was to go through my adolescence and entire teenage with the songs of T. Rex, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Sly Stone, The O’Jays, The Wailers, Cockney Rebel, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Kraftwerk, Iggy Pop, Wire, Public Image Ltd, The Slits et al as the mixtape playing in my head. Here is that tape, the only music that mattered in my seventies!
(A 100 song playlist compiled for a Reading based arts centres series of Soundtracks for the Decades.)
C.C.S. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (Single A Side September)
In the autumn of 1970, having successfully passed the eleven plus a year underage under my mother’s instruction, at ten years old I began life at a grammar school requiring a forty minute coach ride just to get there. Instantly alienated from the football obsessed friends I grew up with, I fell under the influence of my older classmates and for the first time began to take an interest in pop culture, the most obvious signifier being a sudden fascination with Top of the Pops and C.C.S.’s apocalyptic, big band version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, a single so good it would soon be adopted as the show’s emblematic theme tune.
ASHTON, GARDNER & DYKE ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ (Single A Side January)
A rollicking highlight from one of those cheap, Music For Pleasure label, Hot Hits LP’s of questionable cover versions available from the local newsagent that served as my introduction to buying records.
THE ROLLING STONES ‘Brown Sugar’ (Single A Side April)
The first Stones song I heard before I had any idea who it was must have been this number two chartbuster, one of Keith Richards greatest riffs hitched to Mick Jagger’s nastiest, most controversial lyrics, a copy of which was passed around my class at school whereupon no-one, not even my right on feminist art teacher, raised so much as an eyebrow.
JOHN KONGOS ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (Single A Side May)
John Kongos brief reign over my pop consciousness came courtesy of the thundering ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’, a deliciously dark, number four, chart hit that was absolutely irresistible.
DAVE & ANSEL COLLINS ‘Monkey Spanner’ (Single A Side June)
There’s no question that pop reggae hits like ‘Monkey Spanner’, ‘Double Barrel’ and others by Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Bob & Marcia, The Pioneers and Johnny Nash opened up my ears to the coming of The Wailers and the heavier side of roots.
DELROY WILSON ‘Better Must Come’ (from Tighten Up Vol. 5 LP July)
Including the mega selling smashes of Dave and Ansel Collins, Trojan Records released over thirty singles that managed to make it into the UK charts. Reggae albums however remained another matter until the label came up with the concept of Tighten Up, a budget priced series containing twelve of those self-same hits per album. Luckily for me an older childhood friend who lived just a couple of doors away owned the lot, the records in her collection proving invaluable to a young boy eager to get his head around pop in its many forms.
T. REX ‘Get It On’ (Single A Side July)
Subtle, stylish and the definition of glam, ‘Get It On’ stirred a strange fancy within me that transcended mere pop, something the other hits of the day failed to do.
ROD STEWART ‘Reason To Believe’ (Single AA Side July)
As unlikely as it now seems, Rod Stewart was a regular presence on my record player right up to the Britt and blonde Atlantic Crossing in 1975. His take on ‘Reason To Believe’ still sparkles with everything that was once so great about him.
THE DOORS ‘Riders On The Storm’ (Single A Side August)
By the time I got to hear The Doors Jim Morrison was already dead, his road of excess leading not to the palace of wisdom as he believed but to a heart attack in the bath. Back then I was totally unaware of either him or his fate, but as innocent as I was, when ‘Riders on the Storm’ began to creep up the singles charts, I knew damn well that the undefinable otherness it possessed had nothing to do with novelty pop schlock like ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ or ‘Me and You and a Dog Named Boo’.
T. REX ‘Jeepster’ (Single A Side November)
In 1971 T. Rex could do no wrong. Generating the biggest screamfest since Beatlemania, Marc Bolan’s genius lay in pretending the not so Fab Four had never existed, concentrating instead on a seventies update of early Elvis, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, none more so than on the fabulous ‘Jeepster’.
LAURA NYRO & LABELLE ‘The Bells’ (from Gonna Take A Miracle LP November)
My early seventies wasn’t all about the top twenty and Top of the Pops. My old man’s eclectic record collection provided me with an element of variety and sophistication I’d never have heard otherwise, such as Laura Nyro’s spine tingling versions of her own ‘favourite teenage heartbeat music’.
THE CHI-LITES ‘Have You Seen Her’ (Single A Side December)
The ever-so-slightly creepy sound of early seventies adolescent heartbreak encapsulated in five minutes and eight seconds of schmaltzy gorgeousness and a fuzz guitar.
T. REX ‘Telegram Sam’ (Single A Side January)
Marc Bolan at the height of his powers and the first single I ever bought.
GARY GLITTER ‘Rock And Roll Part 2’ (Single B Side March)
Gary Glitter has been expunged from music history, rightly reviled as a serial paedophile, although as one of the finest glam anthems ever recorded, ‘Rock And Roll Part 2’ refuses to go away.
ELTON JOHN ‘Rocket Man’ (Single A Side April)
Another unlikely figure from my early seventies was Elton John. In the 21st century most of his records have lost the sparkle they once had, but somehow ‘Rocket Man’ has stayed with me, Bernie Taupin’s lyrics a handy analogy for its maker’s mercurial trajectory from awkward, bespectacled, music obsessed schoolboy to intergalactic pop diva.
THE ROLLING STONES ‘Tumbling Dice’ (Single A Side April)
It sounds ridiculous in hindsight but before 1975’s must have Christmas present Rolled Gold (a best of compilation covering their 1963 debut ‘Come On’ through to 1969’s ‘Gimme Shelter’) I had still to hear any of The Stones sixties past or the Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street albums. In the early seventies my love for The Stones was built solely on the lusty grandeur of their singles, ‘Tumbling Dice’ being arguably the best of the bunch.
HAWKWIND ‘Silver Machine’ (Single A Side June)
The first thing I noticed about ‘Silver Machine’ was that it didn’t sound like anything else. In my early learning years that happened a lot. Nonetheless, as a callow twelve year old I can clearly remember being both shocked and amazed at the rumbling, discordant racket trying to blow the speakers of my tatty, hand-me-down hi-fi to smithereens.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Starman’ (Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars LP June)
A lot has been written about Ziggy Stardust, ‘Starman’ and Bowies Top of the Pops appearance on 6th July 1972, but there’s no denying it was a seminal moment of revelation for the movers and shakers of my generation.
THE SLICKERS ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (The Harder They Come Soundtrack LP July)
Taking the various artists album format from cheap and generic to valued and vital, The Harder They Come soundtrack included classics old and new by Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals, Desmond Dekker, The Melodians and The Slickers. Within a year the rise of roots and dub would make these songs sound like ancient history, but in the summer of 1972 they were crucial.
THE O’JAYS ‘Backstabbers’ (Single A Side July)
The first years of the seventies bore a rich vein of black music creativity as funk and disco began to take shape, not only through the adventurous albumss of Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder, Sly Stone, James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, but also on hit singles like The O’Jays ‘Backstabbers’, wherein an exploration of man’s inherent hypocrisy lurked beneath one of the most memorable choruses in soul music history.
MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘All The Young Dudes’ (Single A Side July)
Handclaps, hipster jive, hope and disillusion, ‘All The Young Dudes’ was glams very own national anthem for a generation who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the lies of the sixties or the sanctity of the fucking Beatles.
THIN LIZZY ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ (Single A Side November)
Before Thin Lizzy’s version, the best known recording of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ was that of the Dubliners on their 1967 album More Of The Hard Stuff, a record my old man had in his collection and a tune he liked to bash out on the piano on high days and holidays in honour of his mother and my families own Irish bloodline.
LOU REED ‘Satellite Of Love’ (Transformer LP November)
What’s so funny about discovering a record like Transformer before you’re old enough to understand what you’re listening to is that it becomes all the more powerful as fantasy. Like a lot of other things, in November 1972 I didn’t have a clue about junkies, drag queens, hustlers and queers. But once I’d heard a song like the heavenly ‘Satellite Of Love’ or ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, for a long time after I dreamt of sitting in a Lower East Side apartment and engaging in a ‘New York Telephone Conversation’ with Holly, Candy, Little Joe, the Sugar Plum Fairy or even Uncle Lou himself!
ROXY MUSIC ‘Beauty Queen’ (For Your Pleasure LP March)
It’s impossible now to understand how fantastical Roxy Music looked and sounded in 1973. The music of the day was greasy rock, a drab, denim clad business. And yet, even when compared to Marc Bolan’s teen anthems, Roxy were noticeably different. The first ‘proper’ album I bought, I knew that For Your Pleasure was telling me something vital and forbidden about the adult world. Not knowing what it was merely increased the mystery so I continued to play it again and again, year after year, safe in the knowledge that I had found another lifelong musical love.
IGGY & THE STOOGES ‘Raw Power’ (Raw Power LP March)
The Stooges desperate last stand, written and recorded in London under a sickly black cloud of betrayal, drugs and doom, Raw Power remains the most deranged and outrageous, balls-to-the-wall, tour de force there’s ever been.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Drive In Saturday’ (Aladdin Sane LP April)
If Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars was pivotal, as the ultimate glam album Aladdin Sane was even more so. A record fuelled with an energy and anxiety that was pure seventies, while the dreamlike, often overlooked beauty of ‘Drive In Saturday’ may not be the best song on it, it does possess a certain timeless quality that can summon up memories of my early teenage like no other.
MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ (Single A Side May)
Mott The Hoople were flawed in so many ways yet Ian Hunter’s songs possessed a rare indefinable otherness that can still be heard in the confident ramalama of ‘Honaloochie Boogie’.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘In Time’ (Fresh LP June)
My inauguration into soul and funk albums that went deeper than the more obvious chart hits of Motown or The Chi-Lites arrived courtesy of a friend who unwittingly opened up a brand new musical universe for me to explore. The supremely funky, stripped down grooves of Fresh were my incredibly exciting introduction to that world, ironically Sly Stone’s last great album before drugs and ego turned him into just another fucked up freak.
THE TEMPTATIONS ‘Law Of The Land’ (Single A Side August)
The song that gave birth to disco has been debated long and hard. Some claim Harold Melvin’s ‘The Love I Lost’ was the catalyst, others The Hues Corporations ‘Rock The Boat’ or George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’, but my money’s on Norman Whitfield’s ‘Law Of The Land’ which contained the necessary four-on-the-floor beat, a syncopated bassline, orchestral flourishes, handclaps and all the other essential elements.
NEW YORK DOLLS ‘Personality Crisis’ (New York Dolls LP August)
Another in the long list of albums purchased off the back of an Old Grey Whistle Test appearance, the New York Dolls outrageous, drag queen aesthetic and approaching train wreck, rock’n’roll retreads sounded wonderfully familiar to a 13 year old Stones fan, therefore hugely appealing.
GENESIS ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ (Selling England By The Pound LP October)
I’d had a brief flirtation with Yes and Close To The Edge via Roger Dean’s incredible sleeve art, and had also suffered the indignity of buying Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann’s Earthband albums before finally coming to the conclusion that prog rock wasn’t for me. Or at least it wasn’t until I heard Genesis’s magnificently catchy ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ and Selling England By The Pound’s scathing commentary on the state of the nation.
ROXY MUSIC ‘Mother Of Pearl’ (Stranded LP November)
A highlight of Stranded, a record that marked the end of the Eno years and the start of the white, tuxedo wearing, castanet clicking era of Roxy theatrics, ‘Mother of Pearl’ was Bryan Ferry’s epic monologue on the soul deadening effect of living in the ‘looking glass world’ of celebrity narcissism. He refers to it as the best song he ever wrote. Who am I to disagree?
THE O’JAYS ‘Ship Ahoy’ (Ship Ahoy LP November)
When you think of protest soul, you tend to think of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield or Sly Stone with no thought of The O’Jays. Odd then that despite being wrapped in a honeyed veneer, Ship Ahoy is just as questioning and confrontational as What’s Going On, There’s No Place Like America Today or There’s a Riot Goin’ On, the title track alone a chilling nine minute plus exploration of the slave trade. In the wrong hands it might have sounded like a grim sermon. In the hands of The O’Jays and Philadelphia International’s Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, never had a song so angry sounded so sweet.
THE WAILERS ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ (Burnin’ LP October)
Released seven months after Catch A Fire, a record deliberately sweetened with instrumentation more appealing to white rock fans, Burnin’ was tougher, militant and the authentic roots article. Featuring the definitive recordings of such Bob Marley staples as ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, ‘Small Axe’ and ‘Duppy Conqueror’, the album helped cement his reputation as a shamanic artist who could take Jamaica’s messed up history and a jumble of such disparate concepts as Rastafari, herb and Trenchtown and rebuild them into an intricate focused music blessed with magic.
ENO ‘Needle In The Camels Eye’ (Here Come The Warm Jets LP January)
Prior to boring us half to death with his cleverness and the listening-to-paint-dry snooze of ambient music, Brian Eno flitted about in sequins and feathers doing his squiggly synth noise thing with Roxy Music before going on to create the idiosyncratic Here Come the Warm Jets, a record that somehow managed to steer from the outlandish squall of ‘Needle In The Camels Eye’ to the dreamy ‘On Some Faraway Beach’ with remarkable ease.
MICK RONSON ‘Growing Up And I’m Fine’ (Slaughter On 10th Avenue LP April)
Mick Ronson was a behind the scenes kind of bloke, great at arranging songs and a natural second fiddle on stage but singularly uninterested in being in the limelight. Throw in the fact that he didn’t have the most distinctive voice and wasn’t a prolific songwriter and you have several good reasons why Slaughter On 10th Avenue was so underwhelming. And yet, even though I’ve barely listened to it since, I’m still rather fond of it, especially Bowie’s ‘Growing Up And I’m Fine’ which sounds remarkably like a Hunky Dory outtake that never was.
SPARKS ‘Talent Is An Asset’ (Kimono My House LP May)
Being a Bowie and Roxy Music devotee made Sparks impossible to resist. Crash landing on our shores as the purported bastard offspring of Doris Day, the curly haired, cherubic Russel and his sinister, Hitler look-a-like older brother Ron combined the baroque grandeur of Gilbert and Sullivan with the queasiness of Cabaret, a propulsive glam swagger and their own comedic wit and virtuoso derring do to produce an album packed full of forgotten, intricate pop songs that deserve to be heard alongside the more acknowledged greats of the age.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)’ (Diamond Dogs LP May)
Considering the experimental nature of subsequent Bowie albums, it’s ironic that Diamond Dogs was considered such a radical departure from the definitive glam of Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust when all he really did was take the theatrical approach of a song like ‘Rock n' Roll Suicide’ or ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ and run with it, none more so than on the eight minutes 47 seconds of ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)’. A haunting song cycle of Broadway-esque passages, dreamy piano, mourning saxophone and at the close a dramatic minute or so of harsh, industrial noise, it still sounds astonishing.
ROBERT CALVERT ‘The Aerospaceage Inferno’ (Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters LP May)
Despite his irregular presence as lead singer and songsmith of Hawkwind, Robert Calvert was a bona fide nut job who had flashes of brilliance but was often compelled to seek solace in various mental institutions. As a cult artist he was near on perfect, and as such became the first in a succession of similarly afflicted souls I began to explore as my taste became ever more adventurous.
COCKNEY REBEL ‘Ritz’ (The Psychomodo LP June)
Dismissing guitar heroics as a hippy anachronism, Steve Harley let a caustic violin and classical keyboards battle for glory while his embrace of literate composition, lush orchestration and the avant-garde ensured that Cockney Rebel could never be pigeonholed as mere glam posers. His arrogance and nascent narcissism may have pissed off the rock kids but I loved him regardless. Desperate seeking anything I could call my own, ‘Ritz’ and The Psychomodo’s other grandiose, often over reaching songs became instantaneous, surprisingly long lasting favourites.
BRYAN FERRY ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ (Another Time, Another Place July)
In the summer of 1974, Bryan Ferry’s languid, world weary engagement with Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s 1933 show tune served as a soundtrack for the imaginary film playing in my head of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, a book I’d spent countless hours dissecting for an English exam and a literary love that shows no sign of abating.
STEVIE WONDER ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (Fulfillingness’ First Finale LP July)
Sandwiched between Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life, Fulfillingness’ First Finale is generally considered very much the poor relation, even though ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’ is anything but. A politically charged attack on slimy U.S. President Richard Nixon, with its use of an early drum machine, prehistoric synthesisers and the Jackson 5, it’s as fine and experimental a song as Stevie Wonder released in his prime.
SHUGGIE OTIS ‘Aht Uh Mi Hed’ (Inspiration Information LP September)
Not quite so unavailable in 1974 as those who missed out would have us believe, Shuggie Otis’s masterpiece was one of those records the coolest kid at school walked around with under his arm to show how cool he really was. Thankfully, I knew the coolest kid at my school pretty well. Consequently, he had no problem running me off a cassette copy (with Marvin Gaye Live! on the B side if I remember rightly) so that I could marvel at Inspiration Information’s wonderfully drowsy, machine driven soul at my own leisure.
THE ROLLING STONES ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’ (It’s Only Rock’n’Roll LP October)
When I think of ‘It’s Only Rock’n’Roll’ I think of a bunch of bored out of their brains, fourteen year old lads who in a vain attempt to emulate their heroes dressed up in their mother’s fur coats, cut random chunks out of their hair, shared ten number six from the machine outside the newsagent, got pissed on two litre bottles of Woodpecker and learnt to run from the Neanderthals inhabiting their small provincial town who wished to do them grievous bodily harm for no other reason than they dared to dream.
NICO ‘You Forgot To Answer’ (The End LP October)
My discovery of the Velvet Underground and Doors back catalogues inevitably led to Nico’s The End, an album that would have been a difficult listen for anyone, let alone a teenager still trying to work out exactly what kind of music he liked. Not surprisingly, I found the album disappointingly monotonous and impenetrable with the exception of the rather fabulous ‘You Forgot To Answer’, Nico’s touching hymn to her former lover Jim Morrison.
BETTY WRIGHT ‘Shoorah Shoorah’ (Single A Side January)
AL GREEN ‘L-O-V-E (Love)’ (Single A Side February)
It’s never mentioned but 1975 was one of the worst years to be a teenager. For starters it was the first time I became fully aware of how grey and glum spirited the times really were. Ok, so my friends and I may have been flouncing around as ridiculous, smalltown, rock’n’roll gypsies in a look that was more David Essex than Keith Richards, but most lads our age were dressed in denim, double denim and even more denim. And the girls didn’t look much better. As if that wasn’t bad enough, most of the new music I was hearing sounded stale and far too besotted with its own perceived past. The only thing I could find to get the slightest bit excited about was the Saturday night, church hall disco where singles like Betty Wright’s fabulously funky ‘Shoorah Shoorah’ got all the girls dancing and Al Green’s ‘L-O-V-E (Love)’ had all the boys wishing they could.
PETER HAMMILL ‘Nadir’s Big Chance’ (Nadir’s Big Chance LP February)
NEU! ‘Hero’ (Neu! 75 LP April)
The weekly New Musical Express was my bible throughout the seventies and beyond, the reviews section letting me know which albums I should be spending my pennies on. While British rock culture seemed to have been hijacked by a bunch of lusty voiced, blues-cliché-spewing vocalists in bollock bulging loon pants braying about their hard lovin’ ways in bogus American accents, in addition to these numbskulls the NME also liked to feature some of the more challenging music that was a little harder to find. Uncompromising, surprisingly oppositional and bristling with an air of chaos I’d not heard before, Nadir’s Big Chance and Neu! 75 certainly fitted into that category.
THE TUBES ‘White Punks On Dope’ (The Tubes LP June)
What was really depressing about 1975 was the sorry state of a mainstream music culture dominated by clapped out sixties icons like Dylan, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Lennon and McCartney, even Led Zeppelin, who had nothing of value left to say, certainly not to a fifteen year for whom music had become the single most important thing in his life. Without any kind of coherent underground to speak of, I kept hanging on in there, clinging onto the bitty, scattered output as best I could; a good album review here, an OK group on The Old Grey Whistle Test there. The Tubes were a case in point. Arriving as if from nowhere with a name for sex, satire, biting social commentary, virtuoso art rock, roadies dressed as giant cigarettes and prosthetic penis’s, their debut couldn’t hope to match their reputation and it didn’t, ‘White Punks On Dope’ their one claim to fame.
ROXY MUSIC ‘Love Is The Drug’ (Single A Side October)
As bad as things were, despite Bryan Ferry’s age, sophistication, money and the fabulous life he satirised being as far away from that of an awkward and angry fifteen year old as it was possible to be, I knew I could rely on Roxy Music and so it proved, the sound of footsteps, a car door opening and an engine starting up providing an irresistible entree to one of their most agreeable songs.
THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND ‘Gamblin’ Bar Room Blues’ (Single A Side November)
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were a brilliantly esoteric bunch of misfits in the grand tradition of unapologetic British eccentrics. And yet, despite their boozy, sing-a-long take on ‘Gamblin’ Bar Room Blues’ sounding remarkably like a mid-nineties Nick Cave song, they remain buried in the flotsam and jetsam of seventies rock beneath others far less deserving.
THE MIGHTY DIAMONDS ‘Right Time’ (Single A Side November)
When I started listening to roots reggae it felt like I’d received an invite to the greatest party in town, the feeling of exclusivity undeniable! My knowledge of Jah, Rastafari, Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Kingston and Babylon was non-existent but that didn’t seem to matter. Through hanging around Quicksilver Records in Reading’s Butts Centre every Saturday afternoon and hearing the records over the shops deafeningly loud sound system, I found out for myself how above all else roots was a music created for the physical experience, and that the power and directness of records like The Mighty Diamonds ‘Right Time’ was all-pervading.
HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES ‘Wake Up Everybody’ (Wake Up Everybody LP November)
In the seventies girls didn’t like rock and my first serious girlfriend was no different, something she let me know when she pointed out how it was all macho bullshit and completely irrelevant to the likes of us. From that moment I rid myself of any vague notion I may have had of following Bad Company, Nazareth, Bachman, Turner Overdrive or Thin Lizzy down the treacherous dead end to hard rock ruin and instead followed her on the path of righteousness to Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and the quite wondrous ‘Wake Up Everybody’.
THE FATBACK BAND ‘(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop’ (Single A Side November)
BANBARRA ‘Shack Up’ (Single A Side December)
In the bleak, bitingly cold midwinter of 1975/76, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ ruled the airwaves. Walk down any street and you could hear it following you around like a bad smell. Pretentious and insulting, even at fifteen I knew it was faux classical high-brow nonsense for the low brow plebeian masses. Number one for nine weeks from the end of November until the end of January, one of the few places to escape it was within the dark fug of The Night Owl in The Top Rank Suite on a Saturday night or the seedy disco clubs, hotels and underground bars I’d started to frequent where mind blowing funk like The Fatback Band and Banbarra’s ‘Shack Up’ competed for your body and soul.
WAR ‘Low Rider’ (Single A Side January)
Another record that was the antithesis of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Low Rider’ was three minutes of propulsive cowbell and nagging, slightly skew whiff, car horn aping funk throbbing to a very different pulse.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Golden Years’ (Station To Station LP January)
In many ways ‘Golden Years’ was a metaphor for my first serious relationship. On first listen a euphoric, triumphant pop song boasting ‘nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years’, from another angle darkly impenetrable and in the end anything but a good time.
THE ROLLING STONES ‘Hot Stuff’ (Black And Blue LP April)
What would turn out to be not only the party album of 1976 with a handful of great songs but also the last time I would listen to The Rolling Stones until the nostalgia of my middle age.
IAN HUNTER ‘Irene Wilde’ (All American Alien Boy LP May)
1976 was an extraordinary year split asunder by the Sex Pistols. Jesus Johnny Rotten changed everything in my life and not a moment too soon either given how the first six months of 1976 wasn’t such a great time to be sixteen, my world as lethargic and humdrum as ever. When the energy sapping boredom became too much I would retreat into the sanctity of my bedroom to play Ian Hunter’s new record and vow ‘to be somebody someday’ like the scorned teenager in ‘Irene Wilde’, while not truly believing I had it in me to be anything more than ordinary.
THE RAMONES ‘Judy Is A Punk’ (The Ramones LP June)
By the time I got hold of this I’d already witnessed the life changing maelstrom of the Sex Pistols at The 100 Club. The Ramones sounded fairly tame in comparison. Nonetheless, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy’s ultra-fast, three chord bubblegum still proved essential as a high octane blueprint for young punks like me who had no discernible musical ability but were determined to form a group and make their mark any way they could.
JUNIOR MURVIN ‘Police And Thieves’ (Single A Side July)
During the long hot summer of 1976, ‘Police And Thieves’ could be heard blasting out of every open doorway and window. But more than anything it reminds me of strolling up a leafy Sulham Hill at 6am on a blindingly sunny Sunday morning to catch the Number 17 bus home after some rich kid’s party in a big house near Pangbourne, and being unable to get the damn tune out of my head having listened to it virtually on repeat for the previous eight hours.
THE UPSETTERS ‘Black Vest’ (Super Ape LP August)
If you want to know more about Jamaican dub then Super Ape is as good a place to start as any. Formalising much of the genres sonic vocabulary from skittering rim-shots to collapsing horns and scratched up guitars, it also contained master craftsman Lee Perry’s own bag of tricks; muffled gurgles, creaking doors, guppy noises and his random incantations from the other side, all of which tended to blur the individual tracks into one long, forty minute skank.
THE MODERN LOVERS ‘Roadrunner’ (The Modern Lovers LP October)
‘One, two, three, four, five, six’. Originally recorded in 1972, Jonathan Richman’s energetic condensing of the Velvet Undergrounds ‘White Light/White Heat’ was everything anyone needed to know about the musical revolution to come.
EDDIE & THE HOT RODS ‘Teenage Depression’ (Single A Side October)
Shaggy haired, flare wearing, pub rock chumps who, more through luck than judgement, released the best song to capture what it felt like to be sixteen years old in the autumn of 1976 until a week or so later when I heard….
RICHARD HELL ‘(I Belong To The) Blank Generation’ (Another World EP November)
He’s gone down in history as the bloke whose safety pinned shirts and shock of spiky hair invented the early punk look but Richard Hell is still only remembered for one song, albeit this brilliant, epochal song that helped define a generation.
SEX PISTOLS ‘Anarchy In The UK’ (Single A Side November)
Johnny Rotten and the Pistols expanded my limited smalltown horizons exponentially both physically and mentally. And yet, contrary to popular belief, even with the ensuing furore of Bill Grundy and the Today Show, their remarkable debut sank almost without trace, my own copy picked out of the Boots bargain bin for 30p two days after release.
THE BUZZCOCKS ‘Boredom’ (Spiral Scratch EP January)
Howard Devoto’s sardonic encapsulation of his personal circumstances and the cartoon like direction he felt punk was heading in were captured on this now iconic four track EP that cost just £500 to make. Proving that anyone could release a record without the financial assistance of an established label, it also served as the UK’s first independent single.
THE DAMNED ‘Neat Neat Neat’ (Damned Damned Damned LP February)
The Damned preferred dressing up in fancy dress costumes to the anarchic shock of the Pistols or the righteous anger of The Clash and suffered badly for it. Having said that, there’s no denying ‘Neat Neat Neat’s status as one of punks early masterpieces. A pure, unadulterated blast of malevolent, primal mania, listening to it now it’s still possible to feel the excitement of the moment.
TELEVISION ‘Marquee Moon’ (Marquee Moon LP February)
An astonishingly beautiful record justifiably regarded as one of the greatest and most influential of the punk era despite being the polar opposite of everything the word ‘punk’ would end up meaning.
CULTURE ‘Two Sevens Clash’ (Two Sevens Clash LP March)
During the summer of 1977 this was the reggae album on every punk’s turntable, not necessarily the greatest roots record of all time but one that was remarkably tuneful and so full of propaganda it made The Clash’s debut seem a bit wishy washy in comparison.
IGGY POP ‘Nightclubbing’ (The Idiot LP March)
The eighteen months Iggy Pop and David Bowie spent together at Hauptstrasse 155 getting over their various addictions and differing states of paranoia would turn out to be the most productive period of their lives. Bowie set to work on his infamous Berlin trilogy, while the notoriously unproductive Iggy released two albums in 1977 alone, the first of which proved a far cry from the brutal assault of The Stooges. Deliberately stark, electronic and experimental, ‘Nightclubbing’ was the best example of his new direction. Throbbing with the sleazy ambience of an underground club, the persistent disco thud was slowed down just enough to create a fucked up dance hybrid for the hordes of drugged up zombies the recuperating couple would bump into when they ventured out after dark.
KRAFTWERK ‘Trans Europe Express’ (Trans Europe Express LP April)
A huge influence on Bowie and Iggy, the outwardly icy and aloof Kraftwerk couldn’t resist name dropping the celebrity duo’s names into the title track of Trans Europe Express, a record that that not only invented electro funk via black Bronx kid Afrika Bambaataa and white hippy producer Arthur Baker, but also laid the foundations for synth pop, the new romantics and if that wasn’t enough, the recordings of an Italian pop genius called Giorgio Moroder!
SEX PISTOLS ‘God Save The Queen’ (Single A Side May)
Essential punk record number one.
THE CLASH ‘Complete Control’ (Single A Side May)
‘Complete Control’ almost matched ‘God Save The Queen’ as the supreme expression of what punk was all about. A self-mythologising tale about The Clash’s record label which somehow turned into Joe Strummer’s startling manifesto about integrity, defiance and the shifting scales of expectation, whereas the Pistols offered ‘No Future’, with their natural honesty and desire for the truth, The Clash felt like the only group that mattered. They really were that important!
DAVID BOWIE ‘Heroes’ (Single A Side October)
In January 1977 I was so deeply immersed in punk that after one, duty bound run through, I put Low to one side and forgot all about it. Ten months later I was in a different head space that left me more open to Bowie reentering my life and powerless to resist the wonderment of ‘Heroes’ even if I’d wanted to.
ULTRAVOX! ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (Ha! Ha! Ha! LP October)
Pre punk before punk, post punk before punk had finished, the original, John Foxx version of Ultravox! were headed on a similar trajectory to 1977 vintage Bowie, even going so far as to employ the services of Low collaborator Brian Eno for their eponymous debut. Eight months later, while everyone else was concentrating on writing frantic, two minute punk classics, Ha! Ha! Ha! gave us the dark, European electronica of ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’. In 1977 it sounded impossibly romantic and futuristic. In 2020 it still sounds impossibly romantic and futuristic!
WIRE ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ (Pink Flag LP November)
Older and more ambitious than the gobbing safety pinned hordes, Wire compensated for their own lack of musical know-how with an academic, art enriched approach to music making. Pink Flag contained 21 great ideas spread over 21 succinct songs, each one stretched until it could yield no more, a process that rarely took more than two minutes and often took considerably less, the influential ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ a mere one minute 23 seconds. What’s even more amazing is that Wire never let their methodology stand in the way of a fabulous tune, the records marriage of beret wearing intellectualism and sinewy pop simplicity marking it out as unique amongst its more intellectually challenged peers.
MAGAZINE ‘Shot By Both Sides’ (Single A Side January)
In 1978 Howard Devoto had it all, an arty, high-brow bunch of skilled musicians and a thundering debut of a single heralding the dawn of the new, post punk era.
BUZZCOCKS ‘What Do I Get?’ (Single A Side January)
….Meanwhile, under the guidance of former co-conspirator Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto’s old outfit were busy perfecting their role as undisputed masters of inventive, heart-on-sleeve, so-simple-it-hurts, melodious punk on their greatest single.
XTC ‘Statue Of Liberty’ (Single A Side January)
While punk was quintessentially metropolitan, XTC were knocking around in the wilds of Wiltshire and playing dives like The Target pub in Reading every couple of weeks. The closest thing my tight knit bunch of misfits had to a group we could call our own, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding were terminally unhip, middle class lads like us who wrote scratchy, angular tunes like ‘Statue Of Liberty’ and were the first to acknowledge that bored provincial kids were the ones who really needed the new punk thrill and a reason to believe as opposed to the older Kings Road and Notting Hill hipsters already living bohemian lives.
THE ONLY ONES ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ (Single A Side April)
Led by the mercurial, hopelessly addicted Peter Perrett, The Only Ones were never even close to punk, not in any way, shape or form. Even so, they certainly had the movement to thank for smashing down the door that allowed them to get a record deal and release this timeless classic.
THROBBING GRISTLE ‘United’ (Single A Side May)
Throbbing Gristle were my introduction to the crepuscular world of lo-fi, post punk esoterica and in their own way just as important as the Sex Pistols. ‘United’ was their electro pop paean to obsession that made me realise why their form of sonic terrorism might just be the logical next step for punk’s DIY ideal. After all, why bother with three chords when none would do?
THE CLASH ‘White Man In The Hammersmith Palais’ (Single A Side June)
The finest Clash tune of them all and by some distance the most important legacy of Joe Strummer’s brilliantly searching mind.
WIRE ‘Dot Dash’ (Single A Side June)
Having set out their stall on the deliberately minimalist Pink Flag, Wire blurred the line between art, punk and pop still further with a series of unashamedly experimental yet startlingly original singles like the much neglected ‘Dot Dash’.
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Hong Kong Garden’ (Single A Side August)
Mapping out a place for new music to travel to didn’t stop Siouxsie & The Banshees taking their long awaited debut single into the top ten. With an irresistible xylophone intro, some strange oriental guitar and Siouxsie’s ice queen cries, ‘Hong Kong Garden’ sounds just as radical and exhilarating today as it did then although it’s probably best to ignore the iffy lyrics which apparently were inspired by an incident involving some racist skinheads at Siouxsie’s local Chinese takeaway.
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD ‘Public Image’ (Single A Side October)
For all of John Lydon’s post Pistols rejection of rock ‘Public Image’ was a staggeringly brutal statement of intent, the glorious minimalism of Jah Wobble’s booming two note bassline and Keith Levene’s ringing guitar shadowing Lydon’s exorcism of Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols descent into hell, Malcolm McLaren, sad Sid Vicious and his audience. He wanted nothing more to do with the whole sorry mess and really who could blame him?
SUBWAY SECT ‘Ambition’ (Single A Side October)
It’s a shame that nothing remains of the 1977/78 mark one line up of Subway Sect, the four teenage schoolmates from south west London who couldn’t afford instruments when they got together so made do by recording themselves on cassette performing the works of 17th century French playwright Molière. Instead we have Subway Sect mark two and sole original member Vic Godard’s swirling, curiously poppy ‘Ambition’ and its extraordinary opening line ‘You can take it or leave it as far as we’re concerned because we’re not concerned with you’.
THE FALL ‘Various Times’ (Single B Side November)
The last of his kind from a time before music culture became gentrified like everything else, Mark E. Smith was never afraid to ridicule and expose the bullshit we insist on surrounding ourselves with, focusing not on the big topics or the grand conspiracies but on the day to day irritations. 'Various Times' was the B side of The Fall’s second single ‘It’s The New Thing’ and the place where my love for them really began. Encapsulating most of what would make Mark E. Smith great, it will always remind me of his genius.
THE CURE ’10.15 Saturday Night’ (Three Imaginary Boys LP May)
1979 was a vintage year for alienation. Stuck in my damp, dark Christchurch Road basement bedsit with my own paranoia for company, I found some comfort in Robert Smith’s tales of woe, the minimal, icy veneer of ’10.15 Saturday Night’ feeling starkly reflective of the times. Never has a song written about a dripping tap sounded so welcome.
TUBEWAY ARMY ‘Down In The Park’ (Replicas LP June)
So what if Gary Numan was Bowie for thickos and his suburban sci-fi pose a load of nonsense. If someone as unattractive as him, with a voice as daft as his and a one fingered, play-by-numbers approach to songwriting could make such a brilliant noise and reinvent himself as the nation’s favourite pop cyber god, then anyone could.
CABARET VOLTAIRE ‘Nag Nag Nag’ (Single A Side June)
Unlike the boy Numan, for all their grim, thought provoking manifestos and visuals, early Throbbing Gristle albums were wholly unlistenable. On the other hand, their equally influential northern counterpart Cabaret Voltaire were infinitely more appealing. ‘Nag Nag Nag’, with its homebuilt Practical Electronics drum machine, fizzing white noise, radio messages and reproachful vocals, still sounded as bleak as bleak could be, but at least you could sing along if you so wished!
JOY DIVISION ‘Shadowplay’ (Unknown Pleasures LP June)
Unknowable and profoundly mysterious, Unknown Pleasures was an album I struggled to understand. Considering how it sounded like it had arrived through a portal from another time and place that was understandable and remains fundamentally inscrutable even now. As my old mate John Robb wrote: ‘Unknown Pleasures once sounded like the future, its genius is that four decades later it still sounds like the future.’
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD ‘Death Disco’ (Single A Side June)
Less a song, more an exorcism, John Lydon’s disturbingly profound, darkly comic lament about his dying mother was so far removed from punk, pop, rock or anything else that in one fell swoop it rid him of the demands of the new punk tribe for whom Sham 69 and the UK Subs were apparently enough.
BAUHAUS ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ (Single A Side August)
Totally unlike anything else Bauhaus would record during their five year existence, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’s skittering, dub inflected, nine minute plus treatise on virginal brides, black capes, tombs, bats, bell towers and a B movie Count Dracula who died in 1956 proved to be goth ground zero, not that anyone, least of all Bauhaus, knew it at the time.
THE SLITS ‘Ping Pong Affair’ (Cut LP September)
Playful and savage, confrontational and contradictory, Cut still sounds as wild and untamed as the mud splattered superwomen staring out from the sleeve, its febrile energy and slippery grooves creating a space large enough for seventeen year old Ari Up’s bewildering array of enunciations on marriage, sexism, love, heroin, consumerism, TV, radio and The Slits refusal to believe in such a world. If that makes Cut sound in anyway earnest or po-faced I don’t mean it too. How could I when it’s the most wonderful denial of an oppressive and repressive world I’m ever likely to hear?
GANG OF FOUR ‘Natural’s Not In It’ (Entertainment LP September)
If punk was nihilistic and destructive, post punk was the polar opposite, positive and constructive, a reason to get excited again with a mesh of activity and discussion that made my world more interesting and my life more meaningful. Punk may have been the shared point of origin but what followed was a space of possibility where anything could happen and usually did. And no album exemplified that possibility more than the Gang of Four’s Entertainment and jittery, fury driven songs like ‘Natural’s Not In It’.
SUICIDE ‘Dream Baby Dream’ (Single A Side November)
When they started out Alan Vega and Martin Rev used to like nothing more than picking over the burnt out corpse of rock’n’roll and stripping everything back to a pulsating electronic backdrop and murmured vocals. ‘Dream Baby Dream’ was a variation on that concept only in so much as it was a three minute pop song of the utmost perfection, a fact recognised by none other than Bruce Springsteen when he did his own rather more conventional cover version.
THE POP GROUP ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ (Single A Side November)
Despite their ironic name, The Pop Group were deadly serious about cooking up unhinged sonic missives informed by Afro beats, free jazz, funk, dub, Marxist politics, extreme Dadaist poetry and rampant self-expression. ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ was self-explanatory, a barrage of right angles, jagged shards of melody and a coiled rage that would fuel the eighties post punk underground. It seems extraordinary now that music like this even existed, never mind that it became so influential and critically acclaimed.
THE CLASH ‘Armagideon Time’ (Single B Side December)
Is there any finer way to end such a tumultuous decade than with The Clash’s version of Willie William’s underground roots reggae tale of Judgement Day, when only the righteous would be spared? Released a couple weeks before I turned twenty, with its religious undertow and jingling sleigh bells, I remember it feeling like a Christmas record from some kind of alternative universe, a weeping, terrifying glimpse into a new decade of Thatcherism and a long, long way from the naïve innocence of the Top of the Pops theme, 1970 and my ten year old self!