A couple of years ago we asked Hassan Mahamdallie to delve into his collection of punk singles and use them to tell the story of musical rebellion and what it was like to grow up as a bored south London teenager of mixed race heritage during the turbulent period of Enoch Powell and the nazi National Front. Along the way he looked at the Damned, Sham 69, women in punk, Stiff Records, the Manchester scene, the Clash and the pub rockers.
The series ends with ten of his favourite punk debut singles, released on independent labels between 1977 and 1979, which have stood the test of time. In no particular order:
THE LURKERS Free Admission Single:Shadow/Love Story (1977, Beggars Banquet BEG1)
Loved this West London thrash band from the off. This was the first ever single released on the small Beggars Banquet label, from a band who were right in at the beginning of the 1976 London punk scene developing in Soho dives such as the Roxy, the Marquee and the 100 Club.
The Lurkers may be compared to the Ramones, perfecting the art of producing very fast, high energy tunes, with simple lyrics and memorable hook-lines. Shadow remains an all-time jump-up-and-down favourite of mine. Great live band – I remember seeing them at the Nashville Pub, Kensington, West London, back in 1977.
THE KILLJOYS Johnny Won’t Get to Heaven/Naïve (1977, RAW Records RAW 1)
The hardcore 1977 debut 7” from short-lived Birmingham outfit The Killjoys. The band was formed by Kevin Roland, who went on to find fame with the incredibly successful Gaelic soulboy band Dexys Midnight Runners.
The Killjoys’ title song is just under three minutes of menacing guitar overlaid by bellowing vocals from Rowland. It was an underground hit on release, selling a respectable 18,000 copies, thereafter becoming a source of eternal embarrassment for the serious-minded perfectionist Rowland, who later freely admitted he had been a reluctant punk rocker. Not a bad start, nonetheless, in my opinion.
THE RINGS I Wanna Be Free/Automobile (1977, Chiswick Records, NS-14)
One of the many punk bands that proliferated throughout 1976 and 77, most burning brightly before fading away, the best leaving one or two memorable tracks to mark their brief existence.
The Rings was fronted by Twink (real name John Alder) – the veteran drummer of many 70s psychedelic bands including the legendary Pink Fairies. I Wanna Be Free is a genuine punk classic, it really is. Released by local west London indy label Chiswick Records, which also platformed early recordings from future stars including Billy Bragg, Kirsty MacColl, Shane MacGowan, the band that became Simple Minds, and Joe Strummer (in his pre-Clash band the 101ers).
THE FALL Bingo-Master’s Break-Out! EP: Psycho Mafia/Bingo Master/Repetition (1978, Step-Forward Records, SF 7).
Where does one start with the great Mancunian eccentric Mark E Smith – memorably described by one journalist as “a strange, antimatter national treasure”?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I first played this debut EP – didn’t sound remotely like anything else around. Yet strangely compelling, in a psychotic kind of way. It is the only studio recording by the original Fall line-up (which has undergone countless permutations in intervening decades). The record, including the title track about a suicidal bingo-caller who mentally implodes, sunk virtually without a trace on its 1978 release on London punk label Step-Forward.
ALTERNATIVE TV Love Lies Limp (SG Records/Step-Forward, 1977)
Love Lies Limp was a free flexi disc given away in 1977 with the final issue of Sniffin’ Glue – the original do-it-yourself punk fanzine.
It was the fanzine editor Mark Perry’s first venture into making music instead of writing about it. South-east Londoner Perry had decided by the summer of 1977 that punk was dead, so folded his fanzine at the height of its popularity and influence and formed Alternative TV. In keeping with Perry’s main character trait Love Lies Limp is a miserable ditty, about losing interest in sex. But the reggae backing track and genuinely fed-up sounding delivery by Perry make it a unique diamond-in-the-rough.
GANG OF FOUR EP Damaged Goods, Love Like Anthrax, Armalite Rifle (1978, Fast Product FAST 5)
This is probably the most influential of my ten choices. Founded in 1977 by Leeds University fine art students, the Gang of Four arrived on the scene perfectly formed. The leftist band with the carefully (de)constructed situationist aesthetic seemed to have reverse engineered themselves into existence like a Marxist version of the Monkees.
Damaged Goods came out on Fast Product, the remarkable indy label founded by Edinburgh duo Bob Last and Hilary Morrison. Fast’s other totemic signings include the Mekons, the Human League, the Scars and the Flowers. The Gang of Four gained immediate critical and commercial success. They then signed to EMI and in 1979 had a big hit with At Home He’s a Tourist. The songs on this debut are all equally impressive. The band’s music was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “dissonant, dub-reggae-influenced, atonal funk with political lyrics”. Sounds about right.
THE MONOCHROME SET Alphaville/He’s Frank (1978, Rough Trade RT005)
Formed by a group of London art school students around singer-songwriter-guitarist Bid (real name Ganesh Seshadri), The Monochrome Set were pigeon-holed on the avant-garde wing of the second wave of punk. Their music has proved to be influential, cited by bands such as The Smiths and Franz Ferdinand. This first single was released on the dynamic indy label Rough Trade Records, founded by Ladbroke Grove record shop owner Geoff Travis.
The evocative Alphaville takes its title from the 1965 French film noir directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The companion song He’s Frank is just as good: He’s a peculiar boy/Who’ll save him from being a man/Not me. A sophisticated, inventive debut that stands the test of time.
SPIZZOIL 6,000 Crazy/1989/Fibre EP (1978, Rough Trade, RTS01)
Another left-field, distinctive debut single from the early Rough Trade catalogue. Spizzoil (the band subsequently changed its name every year) was formed by Solihul teenager Kenneth Spiers (AKA Spizz) after being inspired by a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig in Birmingham. Spizz teamed up with co-composer and guitarist Pete O’Dowd (who adopted the moniker Pete Petrol) and together they put together the rest of the band.
In keeping with the band’s origins, Spizzoil adopted a quirky metallic industrial sci-fi sound not unlike the Banshees. In 1980 the band, by then renamed Spizzenergi, scored a big hit single with Where’s Captain Kirk? which went on to become a post-punk classic.
PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY Puppet Life/The Demon (1978, Small Wonder Records, Small Eight)
Punk opened up a new audience for left-wing artists who had been part of alternative arts movement of the late 60s and early 70s to communicate with. Punishment of Luxury (Punilux for short) are a good example of this trend. Formed by a group of Newcastle-based socialist performers, the four-man band took the cabaret agit-prop theatre style common at the time and adapted it for the punk scene.
The band’s influences stretched from Prokofiev to Frank Zappa and David Bowie via George Formby. The songs were political, including anti-Nazi number All White Jack that provoked the NF to picket their shows. They wore costumes and masks, had a laser light show and gave themselves cartoon names including Jimmy Giro and Neville Luxury. This all came together in their fine debut Puppet Life, which is full of exaggerated theatricality and totalitarian menace.
Wires stick through my soul/my actions are controlled/Turning me from free man to puppet life suspended/Suspended, in puppet life, puppet life.
SCARS Horrorshow/Adult/ery (1979 Fast Product, FAST 8)
Saving the very best till last. Most histories have it that after the first wave of punk burnt out, the scene mellowed out into a less depoliticised era of new wave as Thatcherism tightened its grip. In fact there was a second wave of punk (sometimes termed ‘post-punk’) that was as gripping, radical and original as the ’76 pioneers.
Scars were the band that lit the blue touch-paper on the Scottish punk scene. Formed by Edinburgh schoolboys who came together in classic DIY punk fashion: “I want to make a band… I’m in.” Inspired by Roxy Music and The Sex Pistols, the young band set about inventing themselves. Although they started out in late 1977, it was not until January 1979 that Bob Last of Fast Products finally booked them into Cargo Studios in rainy Rochdale for three days recording.
What emerged was something more akin to a revolutionary act than a debut musical outing. Both songs, Horrorshow and Adult/ery have such power and inventiveness about them, for me they represent the apex of the punk single genre. Horrowshow is a violent and edgy take on Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange using “Nadsat”, the invented language the novel is written in: “Tolchocked a baboochka just a mite too horrorshow/malenky in the rot – ‘Waah!’ her litso yelled.”
Adult/ery is the band’s acerbic view of middle-class sexual hypocrisy: “Could you imagine a romantic liason somewhere in the south of France”. I won’t even attempt to describe the music.
You can watch it here, and the Fast Product slogan orders: play loud!