Monday, January 24, 2011

Punk Primer #2: The British Second Wave

Text © copyright Robert Barry Francos
Images and recordings from the Internet

Recently, I was asked by some friends (who are about my age) to teach them a little about the history of punk. For the first class, I played them some proto-punk and influences (Shangri-Las, Iggy, Velvets, MC5, Dolls, etc.). For the second, I did the New York first wave (Televisions, Ramones, Hell, Dictators, Blondie, Heartbreakers, etc.).

The following is the list of records (both LPs and 45s) and CDs I played for them for a history of British punk, or the Second Wave, that are part of my collection. There is more I could have played, but I chose from my heart. Certainly, I could spin them all night, but I tried to keep it somewhat realistic. While many stories, both historical and personal, went with the airings, I will kept that to a minimal here. I have supplied videos for you, the reader, as many of the originals as I could find, with some exceptions (which will be noted). Feel free to leave comments at this blog about my choices, or alternatives, or additions.

1. Ian Whitcomb: Where Did Robinson Crusoe Take Friday on Saturday Night?
One aspect of British music that is generally missing from the US side is the dance hall sound that was a more risqué version of Tin Pan Alley. It is irreverent and usually bawdy with a lot of innuendo (much as some early Blues). As with British punk, this music was embraced more by the lower end of British working classes. Whitcomb, a musical historian, has written two books extensively on both this early period of music (After the Ball: Pop Music from Rag to Rock) and about the ‘60s (Rock Odyssey: A Chronicle of the Sixties, and I highly recommend them both.

2. Ramones: Beat on the Brat
The Ramones tour of England was important for spreading the minimalist anyone-can-do-it sound and initiative, but they also brought a level of (imagined) malevolence in the music, that would be interpreted as actual violence in many cases.

3. The Heartbreakers: Born to Lose (aka) Born Too Loose
The Heartbreakers’ tour of England also brought a nihilistic tone to music that was absorbed into the British scene. And, quite infamously, they also introduced heroin as the “cool” drug. Their other indirect import was Nancy Spungen, but that’s another story. The line I pointed out to the class was, “Living in a jungle, it ain’t that hard / Living in the city, it’ll eat / Eat out your heart.”

4. Nick Lowe: So It Goes
Despite being a strong pop tune, that it was the first release on Stiff Records makes it a turning point in the British punk movement, if not merely a touchstone.

5. The Damned: Neat Neat Neat
Getting signed before the Pistols is reason enough to put them here, but the fact their music was so interesting is a plus. I played three of their songs because (a) the length is short, (b) I saw them at CBGB’s a number of times on a double bill with the Dead Boys, and (c) it’s just so much fun.

6. The Damned: Stab Your Back

7. The Damned: Help
The song starts at 45 seconds:

8. The Sex Pistols: Anarchy in the U.K.
Do I really need to explain?

9. The Sex Pistols: God Save the Queen

10. The Clash: White Riot
The story goes that Joe Strummer was in the pub rock band the 101ers, heard the Pistols, and quit that band to form the Clash. Well, I liked the 101ers, but respect the early Clash as well. I played the singles version, as that’s the one I had and like best.

11. The Clash: London Calling
This is where the Clash end for me. Great song, but they went way too commercial and lost all appeal to me. Their releases Sandinista and Rock the Casbah were trifling.

12. The Adverts: One Chord Wonders
One of the bands I regret not seeing live. Always like their first few singles.

13. The Adverts: Gary Gilmore’s Eyes
This is slightly different than the Stiff single I played, and I feel this is a bit inferior.

14. Eater: Thinking of the USA
One of the first anti-USA songs in the punk canon, taking a shot at politics, and also at some of the musicians who brought punk over, including the Heartbreakers’ Walter Lure. This is not the single version I played, but rather a more sedate live version, with less bite.

15. Stiff Little Fingers: Suspect Device
Punk spread far and wide on the Isle, and here is one of Ireland’s great contributions, a band named after a song by the group the Vibrators. I’m proud to say that myself and Alan Abramowitz introduced bassist Ali to sushi after interviewing him at Irving Plaza. The staccato of this song's chorus is just stunning.

16. Stiff Little Fingers: Barbed Wire Love
Could only find the live video, but it’s accurate.

17. The Buzzcocks: Breakdown
I definitely like the Howard DeVoto years better than the Pete Shelley period.

18. Anti-Nowhere League: I Hate… People
As time went on, more thugs found punk as a way to vent their anger, and A-NL are a perfect example. Interesting music, a bit on the heavy side, but I had no desire to see a show. And my class audience were not “So Wot” kinda people.

19. Mo-dettes: White Mice
Much as Blondie co-oped NY punk into New Wave, bands like the Mo-dettes make the sound a bit more palatable. Still, it’s a fun song.

20. Adam and the Ants: AntMusic
And a final nail was the public acceptance of Adam and the Ants. Yeah, the song was a shit-and-giggle, but was it punk?

21. Plastic Bertrand: Ca Plane Pour Moi
Sheer joyous insanity and abandon, and perfect for pogoing. The only decent version was did not permit embedding, so here is the link:

22. The Descendants: I Like Food
As a preview to the next class, the third wave of American hardcore, I played this. But first, I read the lyrics out loud…

Some I brought, but due to time frame, did not play:

A. Eddie and the Hot Rods: Teenage Depression
Saw them at Max’s KC in 1977, and they were boring live, but I enjoy the single.

B. Elvis Costello: Accidents Will Happen
Actually like his current stuff more than his old material.

C. Chelsea: Right to Work

D. Cortinas: Fascist Dictator

Then there are the Strangers, X-Ray Spex, the Crass, the Mekons, the whole Manchester scene, and so on, but we didn’t have all night, y’know! Oi!


  1. Hey Gary, as usual a fun column, this time on the Pistols. I saw Glen Matlock's Rich Kids a couple of times, once at Hurrahs (opening for Sylvain's 14 St Band, if I remember correctly), and I was blown away by how boring they were! I wasn't expecting the outragousness of the Pistols, but they were just dull. Sylvain blew 'em away. They were better on vinyl