2012: Never mind the bollocks…

… here’s my top five tracks from the UK punk rock era. I think it is appropriate to get 2012 off to an energetic start, since it looks like it’ll be another memorable year. What’s that old Chinese curse..? May you live in interesting times. Whatever your views on punk rock, the five songs I’m featuring here have the collective energy to power a city, or a revolution, and as such are worth a listen. The tracks are in no particular order, although the first up would probably be my number 1 or number 2. The Buzzcocks were formed early in 1976, after Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley went to a Sex Pistols gig (the old cliche is that not many people went to see the Sex Pistols, but those that did immediately formed their own punk bands). Orgasm Addict is exactly two minutes long and was the first single from the Buzzcocks. Released in October 1977, one can only presume that it was banned by the BBC…

(relaxing with a cigarette) Next up, X-Ray Spex, who of course were formed in 1976 by Poly Styrene after she saw a Sex Pistols gig in Hastings. Poly Styrene (real name Marianne Elliott-Said – ha!) was an unlikely lead singer who had huge braces on her teeth. The X-Ray Spex debut single is called Oh Bondage Up Yours, released in September 1977 (one month before the Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict was released). Poly Styrene described Oh Bondage Up Yours thus: … a call for liberation. It was saying: ‘Bondage—forget it! I’m not going to be bound by the laws of consumerism or bound by my own senses. Poly Styrene was opera-trained and her voice has been described as “powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal”. Another unusual thing about X-Ray Spex is that they used a lot of saxophone in their songs. The original sax player was a 16-year-old girl called Susan Whitby (I’ve written a post about Susan Whitby, aka Lora Logic here). The combination of Susan Whitby and Poly Styrene made X-Ray Spex a kind of rock version of St Trinian’s. Just listen to this…

As with Orgasm Addict and Oh Bondage Up Yours, this next track is a debut single from a band that were inspired by the Sex Pistols. The track is called One Chord Wonders, released in 1977, and the band are The Adverts. Despite the fact that The Adverts can barely play their instruments, One Chord Wonders perfectly captures the essence of UK punk rock during its early years. The band’s rather attractive bass player, Gaye Black, was often called the first female punk star. Didn’t anyone notice Poly Styrene..?

The five tracks I’m featuring here were all released in 1977. I was 13-years-old at the time and living in London. 1977 was also the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee. Us subjects held street parties in celebration. That summer a geezer called Malcolm Mclaren hired a boat and the band he managed, the Sex Pistols, performed a floating gig on the River Thames, taking the piss out of Queenypoo’s jubilee. The floating gig didn’t last long. Police launches forced them to dock at Westminster Pier, by the Houses of Parliament, and Mclaren and the Sex Pistols were arrested.

The songs that the Pistols played on that boat were from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which was the only studio album that they ever made. The title of the album landed the Pistols in court again, where defending Queen’s Counsel John Mortimer produced expert witnesses who were able to successfully demonstrate that the word ‘bollocks’ was not obscene, and was actually a legitimate use of Old English. Of course, it wasn’t just the album’s title that stirred controversy. The songs God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK caused an outrage, don’t you know. This next track is from Never Mind the Bollocks and is called Pretty Vacant. Rumour has it that the Pistols recorded Pretty Vacant in one take…

So, the Sex Pistols only ever made one album. The Stranglers, in contrast, released their first two albums in 1977 and went on to release a string of others. The Stranglers had been around since 1974 and were a punk rock band who were not really punk rockers. Those first two albums were called Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes. In my opinion, Rattus Norvegicus is one of the best debut albums ever made (see my post about it here) yet No More Heroes is generally perceived to be more of a punk rock album. This final track is called Bitching and is from No More Heroes…

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