Various – 1979: Revolt Into Style
Released 21 January 2022
Subtitled 76 Year Defining Tracks, this boxset looks at the UK’s new wave high water mark of 1979, with contributions from chart acts like Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Clash and XTC shoulder to shoulder with more obscure names including Fingerprintz, The Numbers and The Zipps. Ian Canty casts his mind back to the winter of discontent…
Well you can say what you like about 1979 with regard to music, but there certainly was a lot going on. Punk had been pronounced dead by the music press after The Pistols split in 1978, but fortunately many bands inspired by its first flush ignored the dicktats of the typewriter gods and ploughed on regardless. Others formed on the back of punk had pushed on to experiment in other areas. Bursting out of Coventry came Two Tone’s mix of ska and punk. This sound, plus the cool black and white message and graphics, captured the imagination of the kids throughout the UK that were slightly too young for punk. The mod revival gathered momentum and actually provided far more memorable recordings than it is ever given credit for. Up and down the country the new synthesiser technology was being trialled by a host of pioneers and as pub rock morphed into new wave, the pop charts began to resemble an occupied zone of fresh activity.
Revolt Into Style represents an attempt to corral a good measure of what was going on in the UK during the year in, for want of a better term, new music. The compilers elect to start out with two acts that could have been considered part of the “old guard”. Though Bill Nelson had always sought to focus on progressing and begins proceedings here with the manically fast and brilliant Red Noise single that gives the set its name. For their part The Hot Rods’ sheer force of energy certainly played of part in punk’s initial outburst and the very catchy Media Messiahs comes from their unjustly ignored third LP Thriller. Mike Spenser, from pub rock contemporaries The Count Bishops, was now leading The Cannibals who shows up well no much later on with a revved up r&b punk rattler in You Can’t.
Having a whole year to choose from means you can veer wildly from one musical mode to another at any moment. Magazine’s battering ram of a record Rhythm Of Cruelty may seems to prove the point, but it retains its vitality in admirable fashion. I enjoyed hearing Gimmix! Play Loud, John Cooper Clarke’s hit again and The Glaxo Babies’ edgy post punk Who Killed Bruce Lee is an ace too. It’s easy to forget that Sham 69 were for a spell in the late 1970s a great singles band and Questions And Answers definitely measures up. The lighter style of Highly Inflammable by X Ray Spex could easily make one conjure up a rough idea of how a second album by the band could have sounded in 1979/1980, but it sadly wasn’t to be.
Scotland’s Fingerprintz are a pretty much forgotten outfit these days, but their Night Nurse shines with sheer style and The Fall had to be here. Though personally I would have plumped for the jagged menace of Frightened, surely one of the most staggering opening tracks on any album, though Rebellious Jukebox is perfectly good of course. The Staircase Mystery by Siouxsie And The Banshees is in the running for most unpop hit single ever and though Alternative TV were never chart contenders, their crunching Graves Of Deluxe Green shows them adhering to punk’s original objectives in positively heroic fashion. All Sewn Up by Patrik Fitzgerald is a convincing and grim voyage into doomed youth, while Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army grants us a glimpse of the near future with the robot rhythms of Me I Disconnect From You.
The Outsiders prove they weren’t a mere footnote in The Sound’s family tree with an imaginative and scathing White Debt and Soho-A-Go-Go demonstrates the charm of Nicky Tesco and the original Members. An obscure and basic I Got Rabies by Jonnie & The Lubes is minimalist punk pushed to its very limits and there’s plenty of good stuff on this initial section of Revolt In Style, plus admittedly a couple of absolute clunkers too (names withheld to protect the guilty). On a more positive note, a joyous Sink Your Boats, from Ian Dury And The Blockheads’ underrated Do It Yourself, completes the first disc.
Disc two opens with one of Squeeze’s number two hits of the year, Up The Junction. As fine as it is, it has been compiled many, many times and could I feel have been substituted for the less dog-eared Slap And Tickle single from the same year. Groovy Times was a highlight of The Clash’s Cost Of Living E.P. and presented an early example of a style they would explore further on London Calling later in 1979, though it was actually an outtake from Give Em Enough Rope.
At the time The Records were looked at as bandwagon jumpers, but the passing of the years has shorn the association and their Girls That Don’t Exist emerges as mysterious but perfect new wave pop. The Skids’ Masquerade was for me their best single and that is among some pretty stuff competition and the sound of young Liverpool also sets forth on this disc with Echo And The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes both being caught in their early stages. The former’s Read It In Books, co-written by Julian Cope, pulsates with remarkable poise and confidence and Cope’s own band’s first single Bouncing Babies still feels striking and full of strange wonder.
The jittering At Home He’s A Tourist almost broke Gang Of Four into the national charts, but an unwillingness to change their lyrics for the BBC meant it never happened. However, they kept their integrity, something far more important and the song itself broods with a scathing and electric energy like nothing else since. Joy Division crop up with with the bright drive of Disorder and Bristol’s The Numbers scratchy but addictive song Alternative Suicide shows that outside the “big boys and girls” post punk talent abounded. The Cravats’ unique brilliance is captured on the racing Small Wonder single Burning Bridges and The Cult Figures, who recently gave us the excellent Deritend album (the review can be read here), are shown right back at the start with a previously unissued, longer and wonderfully thrashy mix of Zip Nolan.
The Undertones’ Here Comes The Summer, When You’re Young by The Jam, The Pretenders’ sad and touching song Kid and The Ruts’ third single Something That I Said were all classic 45s of the year. An anthemic There Must be Thousands by Birmingham power pop/mod band The Quads wasn’t as big a hit, but deserved to be. There’s more than a couple of tunes on this disc that have been pretty well heard over the years and a few dodgy ones. I couldn’t see the point having The Teenbeats’ I Can’t Control Myself, as even the band themselves didn’t like it, but overall this is an enjoyable selection. The disc ends with The Stranglers foxing everyone with the elegant, rueful chill of Don’t Bring Harry and The Barracudas’ surf punk initial statement I Want My Woody Back announced them as a band to watch.
As we reach the final section of Revolt Into Style we’re met with XTC’s Making Plans For Nigel, again a pretty well heard item. I really like the song and I suppose you probably have to have a few hits like this to tempt the general public in. The Rezillos quickly regenerated into The Revillos and are represented with the darn catchy 60s beat of their debut single Where’s The Boy For Me and The Monochrome Set bedazzle and beguile with their theme tune.
The spirited Taking My Time by The Passage is a neat encapsulation of the Dick Witts-fronted band’s worth and The Swell Maps issued their excellent Trip To Marineville album in 1979. Their third single Real Shocks is one of Nikki Sudden’s thrash-punk aces and features here as a highlight. The lead singer of The Zipps, from Belfast, sounds really young on Friends and like The Monochromes, Leicester’s Disco Zombies are represented by a self-title ditty that delivers a power-packed punch.
A completely different proposition from their electropop successes in the early 1980s, the original line up of The Human League had their own eerie magic. Empire State Human is the sound of Giorgio Moroder fed through sci fi-obsessed Sheffield steel and as such somehow provides the perfect prequel to the thunderous might of The Wall’s fine Kiss The Mirror. The Mekons never really adjusted to life on on a major label, but the delightful Work All Week really should have been a hit as a single. Memories by PIL comes next and is a good reminder of how vital the Levene/Lydon/Wobble set up was, but it is a shame it is followed here by comedy outfit The Monks and their frankly rubbish flop 45 Johnny B. Rotten.
After that it is a question of getting back on track, with a crunchy Prisoners, The Vapors’ debut 45 and Secret Affair’s anthemic Glory Boys helping regain a little momentum. In between we have Revolt In Style’s only real concession to the updated sound of ska which dominated the last six months of 1979, Madness with Bed And Breakfast Man. The story of Ian Dury confronting Malcolm McLaren at a 1976 gig where The Pistols supported The Kilburns saying “He’s copying me” about Rotten makes me glad he didn’t see Madness early on! McLaren’s oppo Bernie Rhodes busied himself in the career of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, but here his production attempt on their first single Dance Stance is replaced by a demo version with a fuller sound.
7 Teen by The Regents was a hit, but has been almost forgotten these days. The band were another case of 60s veterans hopping on the new wave, but to be fair it was a good try. The Lurkers, The Boys and The Carpettes all post listenable contributions, with the latter’s riffy Easy Way Out having the edge for me. Scritti Politti feel rather “dropped in” at this point after the previous three efforts amounting to a punk pop farrago, but they were an important combo in 1979 and merit inclusion. Messthetics sounds a little like a disjointed version of Marc Bolan’s early work, which puts Green’s comments about his feelings about the innate hippie feeling around the indie scene in some perspective.
Revolt Into Style ends with two independent novelty hits that nearly crossed over to the pop charts. Spizz Energi’s ultra-fast and funny Where’s Captain Kirk has become a classic over the years and The Notsensibles actually got to number 36 in the UK charts in 2013 with I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher, with a satirical and ingenuous campaign after the ex-premier’s death putting the song back in the spotlight after 34 years.
I have to admit I’m not a fan of the “faceless” sleeve art that Revolt In Style comes wrapped in, particularly bearing in mind this is a boxset teeming with the work of some big personalities. It doesn’t look good and I think does the collection itself no favours. Even taking to account the zeroing in on “new wave” during 1979 in Britain, that still leaves a vast array of styles to take into account. One also has to bear in mind that vinyl production in the UK was at its peak around the time too. So there is a lot to cover, even over 76 tracks. As with all these type of sets, people will have their own ideas of who have been missed out.
For my part I will say that a set of UK new music from 1979 without anything on Two Tone and in particular The Specials feels incomplete. They were the big news that year in my view and if the singles were a bit obvious, there is plenty on that first album to pick from. The Chords, Squire and Purple Hearts can consider themselves unlucky that their stellar work is not included under the mod umbrella and The UK Subs, Fad Gadget, ACR, Angelic Upstarts and The Distractions also put out great singles during the year that could have made the cut. As detailed above there are a couple of odds choices which don’t exactly impress that certainly would not be missed.
Taking the above into account, what is included is a solid enough survey on UK 1979, with the often-comped tunes being compensated for by slightly fresher material. This helps to set differentiate it a bit from the kind of new wave hit collections you might find in a supermarket. You also get the usual well-researched booklet with band/artist pen pictures filling in the information gaps and it is all housed in a sturdy box, despite the design not being to my taste. All things considered, Revolt In Style does manage to depict the very lively music year of 1979 reasonably well through a lot of memorable tunes in a variety of styles.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here