Various Artists – 1977 – The Year Punk Broke
Released 28th June 2019
Boxset documenting the urgent drive of UK’s underground sounds of 1977, with contributions from Motorhead, Buzzcocks and the Jam alongside less known acts like Chartreuse, The Method and Public Zone……LTW’s Ian Canty rewinds the clock and sets the controls for the heart of the pogoing scrum….
1977 – it seems so long ago. No scrub that there’s no argument to be had – it was a long time ago. Step back 42 years from then and we find ourselves well before the Second World War, that as distant as we are from the year now. Time marches on. 1977 – The Year Punk Broke, this set’s title, lends itself to a few interpretations. Not least of which is, in the view of many of Punk’s trendinistas, that Punk it was all done and dusted by the end of 1976, the Grundy programme marking the beginning of the end. Also Punk broke what? Possibly the stranglehold that leftovers from the sixties had on the UK music scene. But even that is disputable, given the fact that the likes of Twink (ex-Pretty Things and the lead singer of the Rings) and Lemmy are present (and yes Motorhead’s eponymous calling card remains as vital and addictive as most) and old-timers still sold a huge amount of records in ’77. Though probably the meaning most relevant here is that Punk broke nationwide in the UK then, setting off a wave of creative activity, some of which is documented on this compilation.
This box seeks to take a broader view than solely focussing on Punk, with Pub Rockers, veterans game to go back to the energy-driven basics and groups that threw the same Stooges/Small Faces building blocks in the air as the Pistols, but did so in almost total obscurity. Plus it has to be admitted that there are a few complete charlatans lurking in this set too. Most wanted to make a row and rally against boredom and grey 70s life…perhaps at this time people just needed something noisier, more concise, less introspective, something where they could truly vent their feelings? The mélange of sound presented on The Year Punk Broke compiles some of the results.
Moving on from such theorizing to the actual contents, I would imagine the vast majority of folk who read this don’t need me to tell you now pioneering and truly excellent Boredom and Neat Neat Neat were/are – suffice to say even after countless airings over the years they still retain their potential to thrill. Likewise the offerings from the Stranglers (the brutal London Lady), the Jam (sounding nifty on the Mod R&B of Away From The Numbers) and the Heartbreakers, who offer their immortal Born To Lose. 1977 The Year Broke mixes these familiar items with songs by bands that would still be fairly well known to anyone who delved past the big New Wave guns and also some genuine obscurities.
Less familiar efforts on disc one included Adrian Borland’s Outsiders (who a couple of years later resurfaced as excellent Post Punk band The Sound), who give us On The Edge, furnished with a definite US/Velvets influence. Young Punk believer Kevin Rowland would soon shun that sound and become a Celtic Soul Rebel, but that doesn’t stop the relentless attack of Naïve being great fun. Eater, much undervalued by many Punk historians I feel, have their great single Thinking Of The USA present and the Users’ Sick Of You is a heavy-duty Punk classic. Cock Sparrer commenced a long career of rabblerousing on Runnin’ Riot and Glasgow ‘tache sporting Punks The Exile’s ramshackle Jubilee ’77 might not rival the Pistols’ similarly themed God Save The Queen, but it is a decent tune and very redolent of the time.
Punk’s Year Zero meant that you should at least ignore the Beatles and their ilk, fortunately no-one told the Rezillos who ably cover I Wanna Be Your Man, the flipside to one of the best singles ever in Can’t Stand My Baby. Andy Ellison had done the 60s with John’s Children and owned the t shirt, but he ripped it and safety pinned it up to good effect on the eminently catchy No Russians In Russia. Remnants of Cockney Rebel put together a cash-in cover of You Really Got Me and Pub band the Count Bishops do a spirited job on another from the Ray Davies songbook, I Need You.
The second disc of 1977 – The Year Punk Broke begins with the Boomtown Rats’ first single Lookin’ After Number One. If Bob Geldof’s Jagger impressions were never really convincing as “Punk”, this song was an ok bit of driving Pop Music and had an influence: LA’s Germs mined their sound a year later on Lexicon Devil. Better is Whole Wide World, a great single and the start of a career-long run of quality for Wreckless Eric. The Snivelling Shits’ Gio Dadomo appeared on Nationwide voicing a slightly dim view of the Pistols’ activities, but he obviously changed his mind circa the basic and hard-hitting confessional of I Can’t Come.
Among the big names on this one are TRB (the singalong smash 2-4-6-8 Motorway, actually not one of their better efforts), Generation X with their best song Day By Day and Oh Bondage Up Yours by X Ray Spex. Poly’s words and vision have only gained gravitas over the years and she is much missed. The fast charge of Ultravox! (kindred spirits with the mighty Doctors Of Madness – their broadside Bulletin is also included on this disc) on Rockwrok will be an eye opener to any only conversant with their Midgey hit years. Talking of whom, his old band Slik throw away their baseball gear and have a Punk makeover on this disc as PVC2, unfortunately going a bit too far over the top on Deranged, Demented And Free. The Depressions from Brighton also veer close to self-parody by sticking the Stranglers, Joe Strummer and Pretty Vacant in a blender to come up with their song Family Planning
On an even more bandwagon-leaping tip come the Vacants’ Television Viewer, this band was assisted by Billy Childish favourites the Downliners Sect and future Pretenders drummer Martin Chambers- their LP Punk Rock was issued around the world in limited quantities, replete with tacky sleeve art. Nick Lowe produced the Damned’s early efforts and also spoofers Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias’ Punk parody par excellence Kill. The jokers aped what were very relevant feelings of the time – for example The Drones’ Just Want To Be Myself sounds much like a send-up itself until you remember that at the time young people were actively encouraged to forget any hints of individuality and conform, to “grow up” and play the game of birth, school, death.
Much more earnest in approach are the Radiators From Space on their teen anthem Enemies and Menace on Insane Society, all hoarse Strummer vocal and paranoid sneering. 999’s headlong rush of Nasty Nasty doesn’t date and the Zeros are represented by the snappy and catchy flip of their great Small Wonder single Hungry, Radio Fun. The Unwanted, the Roxy album’s least likely to, provide the pogo-tastic Bleak Outlook and though you would call the great Sean Tyla a Punk at your peril, he deserves a spot on here. He had been one of the mainstays of back-to-basics Pub Rock as the leader of Ducks Deluxe, his then new outfit Tyla Gang’s Street Level Rock as witnessed on Pool Hall Punk still cut the Street Rock & Roll mustard even as times changed.
The Stukas were another more R&B outfit (and spotted live by yours truly only a month or so back!) and their Chiswick single Klean Living Kids is nicely rough and ready. The Pleasers, Fab obsessives who broke cover towards the end of 77, are more boogie Power Pop than anything else as witnessed on (You Keep Tellin’ Me) Lies, but the New Hearts, soon to re-emerge as the Mod Revival’s great hopes Secret Affair, have a bit of 60s jangle to their otherwise Punk by numbers Just Another Teenage Anthem. Heading in another direction entirely were Spider, heard here in a Punky mode on Back To The Wall a couple of years before their NWOBHM glory days.
The final disc ensues with two bona fide nation treasures, (Dr) John Cooper Clarke’s Rabid debut Innocents and Mark Perry fronting ATV on How Much Longer, succinctly critiquing the Punk scene his Sniffin’ Glue fanzine did so much to ignite. Neon Hearts’ timeless Regulations follows and if Graham Parker was far from a Punk, his combative and edgy stage persona did a huge amount to set the stage for New Wave – 1977 single The New York Shuffle, an uptempo and rockin’ tune from his underrated Stick To Me LP, is his offering here and a neat one too.
The sleeve notes that come in a thick booklet with their boxset are well researched and informative, although at times a little dismissive of the artists in question (some do deserve it). The Doll for instance may have only had one hit in Desire Me, but actually were an excellent Pop group and I would advise anyone interested to pick up the reissue of their sole album Listen To The Silence. Trash, their first waxing which also featured on the Streets compilation album, is their track on here and it’s a real fast paced goodie, full of smart lines and toting an old fashioned killer hook.
Though there are more than a few solid tracks on this disc (The Hot Rods’ palpable youthful vim of Quit This Town, Satan’s Rats’ catchy treat In My Love For You and not forgetting Peterborough’s the Now (pre-Sudden Sway) with the brilliant Development Corporations, all deserving of a mention), it does tail off somewhat towards the very end. Particularly set the closer, the risible I’m A Punk by Norman And The Hooligans, which was issued on the notoriously novelty-hungry President Records label. It’s a hoary Rock comedy number that doesn’t even get the sound right.
However there is a fascinating and very well sequenced middle section, which kicks off with the Art Attacks’ Arabs In ‘Arrods. Trash, a bunch of New York Dolls fans from Weybridge, follow withs the jangly Punk of the sped-up Priorities and The Method, previously of late 60s band the Velvet Frogs (they have a track on here) offer us a fuzzy and addictive killer in Dynamo. Public Zone were actually Metro, a post-Glam outfit that had a New Wave sound some years before the fact. They’re much more aggressive on their song Naïve here, A side of their sole single under this pseudonym.
Good stuff keep coming thick and fast, like Ripped And Torn by the wonderful Swell Maps (come on BBC4, make a documentary on this lot), the Cortinas’ second single Defiant Pose and a trip down to Cornwall in the company of The Rats and Brainiac 5 (still recording and gigging today). Neo come at us live and direct from the Vortex on their Sham 69 mocking Tell Me The Truth. This band contained the former leader of Milk ‘N’ Cookies Ian North and Rob Simon who would go onto join Ultravox!. The Carpettes always provided concise and snappy fun, here they feature with the short and sweet Help I’m Trapped and the Fruit Eating Bears show their 60s roots on Flies. They would later fail to qualify for a meet up with Terry Wogan and Katie Boyle at Eurovision by finishing last in the 1978 Song For Europe heat.
1977 – The Year Punk Broke is good listening almost throughout, a handsome looking, well put together boxset that has a few bands and records I was only vaguely aware of. It also helps that it covers the raucous sounds of UK ’77 across the board, giving it a real sense of context and a nice variety. Where it fits with other compilations of a 70s Punk mode is more of a moot point. Having some very well-known tracks, ones that most rarity fiends like myself will already have in their collection perhaps more than once, seems at first a little strange. Personally I would have been happier with a whole set of weird and interesting stuff I hadn’t previously encountered, but having said that you can’t knock the better known bands featured.
Having the likes of Boredom and Neat Neat Neat present does let you see what the fledgling groups in the provinces were up against. It also helps to root the project solidly and provides and easy way in for the less committed. If anyone wanted to explore deeper than those same old songs that feature the “Punk” collections that are available at your local supermarket, 1977 The Year Punk Broke is as good a place to start as any.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here