So, in one of the Pitchfork 500’s regular swings of tone, we go from the heady joys of disco, to the first, unhappy* flowerings of post-punk. These bands took the template of punk and expanded it, exponentially, rather like the Inflationary period of the Big Bang. And to stretch the analogy to breaking point, like Inflation it took an exciting, yet ultimately hugely limited universe and altered it beyond recognition, making the universe what it is today. Because, frankly, most punk music was not really very good. Charming in a bratty way, yes, but not very good. Post-punk changed that.
And it’s no surprise that of the tracks here, most were made by ex-punks. From PiL to Joy Division, with Magazine and Wire in the middle, these bands were either punk bands that had developed beyond the two or three chord thrash; or, as with PiL and Magazine, the main men (Johnny Rotten/John Lydon from Sex Pistols and Howard Devoto from The Buzzcocks) surrounded by a new, rather more talented bunch of musicians (in the case of PiL, very talented when you’re talking about Jah Wobble).
So, with John Lydon free of Sex Pistols, he set about creating a new sound, one which took the raw anger of punk and honed it to a stiletto. “Public Image” was the first single released, almost immediately after the Sex Pistols, and it shows exactly what punk was turning into. The dubby bass, the guitar heavy on the chorus and delay pedals, the tuneless caterwauling on top, it’s all there in 1978. Never been a fan of PiL, personally, though “Rise” was good.
Gang of Four, a bunch of radical neo-Marxists from Leeds, took their name from the four Chinese Communists put on trial in the late 70’s. Taking their cue from punk and bands such as Television and The Ramones, they took punk and radicalised it, turning it into a vehicle for outrage beyond the usual blind anger. In Gang of Four’s hands, punk became a political weapon, and “Damaged Goods” likens capitalism to a love affair gone wrong. Right on, comrades.
Howard Devoto left The Buzzcocks just as things were getting interesting (rather like Richard Hell leaving Television), and formed Magazine, nicking one of Pete Shelley’s guitar lines as he left, to use in “Shot By Both Sides”, in which he rails against punk’s unexpected conservatism: “I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd\I was shocked to find what was allowed\I didn’t lose myself in the crowd”. A quick aside here – I’m not sure that a bad Top Of The Pops appearance would really have damaged their chances that much, as the Pitchfork 500 books states; after all, New Order had some remarkably shambolic attempts at playing live (pretty much the only band who did so) and it never did them any harm.
Now, I must admit to never being a huge fan of either Gang of Four or Magazine’s music. Listening to John Peel in the early to mid 80’s, you’d hear their music from time to time, and it never really go through to the adolescent me. Which is odd, considering it’s angry and passionate (which is what adolescence is all about, the horror, the horror!). And I was into all sorts of stuff at the time, from The Fall to, er, The Cramps. But listening to them again, now, many years later, I’ve grown quite fond of them. And I’m certainly more fond of them than I am the chancers doing the rounds copying their every move. You know who you are.
Anyway, next up are The Cramps. Who were, of course, fucking great. Sadly we lost the great Lux Interior just a few weeks ago, and the world has lost a fine showman, and certainly the most effective humper of stages whilst wearing ludicrously tight leather trousers I’ve ever seen. I loved The Cramps when I was a teen, and whilst I can’t admit to having listened to them much in the past decade or so, just hearing “Human Fly” again makes me glad. For all I’ve written in this blog so far about how bands developed what came before, and how they in turn influenced those who came after, sometimes I can just sit back and marvel at a bit of sheer lunacy. I’m not even going to talk about how they took the surf music of the 60’s and turned it nasty; just listen to that great reverb’d guitar and the joyful malevolence in Lux’s voice. Just fantastic. And even a fat-fingered 13-year old can play it on guitar and for just a couple of minutes, be in one of the finest rock’n’roll bands ever.**
As for The Misfits, “Night Of The Living Dead” sounds like what the bad kids in 60’s movies listen to whilst driving across some mid-western town to do some dreadful mischief, like pushing a cow over. And it’s pretty good for it, too.
Now Wire we’ve already seen, in the second part of this saga. Back in 1977, they sounded like a punk band with some rather odd lyrics. After all of a year, they sounded like no-one else, with some rather odd lyrics. So here’s another part of a recurring series, What The Fucking Hell Are Wire On About?
“No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes\Can only help to jeopardize\The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries”.
No, me neither. (Although I can actually start to slowly work it out. This is totally barmy, from “Follow The Locust”: “My pockets are drunk\The Illinois tool works”. You what now?)
Anyway, “Outdoor Miner”, from which this lyric stems, is a rather gorgeous two minute pop song, with a curious one-note chorus (the style of which they will reprise years later in “Kidney Bingos”). It’s a little bit of lovliness in amongst all this post-punk angst and, er, zombies.
Ah, angst. Joy Division never were the most jolly of folks on record (though off-record were apparently a rather jovial bunch). The beauty of listening to Joy Division is that, not only do they express the sheer futility of human existence; how everyone is alone in an uncaring universe; how life is filled with pain and anguish; but how they do it so very, very well. And in doing so, they make you feel better about yourself. After all, if this lot are so miserable they went to such huge lengths to express it, well, you can’t really be that pissed off, can you, because, if you were, you’d sound like this? So, perversely, they cheer you up.
Now this isn’t the only Joy Division song in the list, but I’m a little surprised that they didn’t pick “She’s Lost Control”, being the most accessible song on the album, and along with “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere”, their best known song. Personally I’d have gone for “Dead Souls”, as that’s a right cracker, and just slightly more obscure for the blogistas out there. Anyway, “Disorder” it is, and it’s certainly one of the jollier songs on the album Unknown Pleasures. In that it’s only about the stultifying dreariness of human existance and the loss of any meaningful connections or relationships. Jolly fella, that Mr Curtis. Wonder whatever happened to him?***
It’s been funny listening to these songs. They are mostly hugely influential; they took punk, added a bit of Television and some effects pedals, and invented something new. Aside from The Cramps though, it’s all a bit po-faced. I think I need some reggae to lighten the mood…
*I don’t mean that in a bad way
**Not that I’d ever have dreamt of being Poison Ivy. That would just be odd.
***I do know, I’m just making light of a bad situation. Please don’t write in.
The whole list is available