Sunday, 18 September 2016

40 Years Of Punk - 1977

"In 1977 I hope I go to heaven ...
... No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones"

So sang an ex-Pub Rocker who'd had an epiphany whilst watching the Sex Pistols, an ex-member of London SS, and a bass player with a love of reggae how exuded cool and attitude".
This was The Clash and, after the birthing of Punk, there were high hopes for the new year.

If 1976 was it's birth, and 1978 considered to be Punk death throes, then 1977 can be defined as it's lifetime, or can it?
1977 is often hailed as the year of Punk, but I contend that by the Summer Punk as a "concept" (at least in it's original form) was all but over.  It had started to splinter into various sub-forms, it became a catch all term for anything with a guitar and the slightest bit of attitude or difference from the norm, and as a result of media mis-reporting and major record label involvement, became a parody/cartoon of itself.

Following the Sex Pistols Bill Grundy Interview, Punk, or at least "the concept" of Punk became part of common vocabulary.
The mass media focussed clearly on the scandal angle, often enhancing stories to include fighting on stage, vomiting at airports and generally behaving obnoxiously.
The major record labels, always looking for a quick buck, started signing anything and anything in sight that appeared to be vaguely "Punk".

In January 1977, Buzzcocks released their debut EP Spiral Scratch - it was entirely self financed and self distributed.  This record embraced the DIY ethic to the full by being the first truly independent record released with no backing from record companies.  This release signalled a change to the Business Model and showed other smaller bands that if they could raise £500, they too could have their own record.
Record Companies started firstly sh*tting themselves when it became clear that they weren't actually needed, and it was possible for small bands to release their own records, retaining full control of their material and their destiny.  And then they started wetting themselves and signing up everything vaguely "Punk", in the hope of finding the next "big thing" and turning a quick buck.
The major labels were now getting in on the act (despite EMIs bad experience with the Sex Pistols).
The Clash signed to CBS, Buzzcocks and The Stranglers with United Artists, and (not really punk, but caught up in it) The Jam got a deal with Polydor (they missed out signing the Pistols so moved the world to sign The Jam (albeit on the cheap)).  The Pistols themselves found a deal at A&M, briefly.  Their contract was cancelled (sacked?) less than a fortnight later, and ended up on Virgin.

The Damned completed another "first" when in February they released the first UK Punk album ('Damned Damned Damned'), and by the end of March they were the first Punk Band to tour America.

By middle of year,  Punk as a musical genre is re-invented under the catch-all term New Wave, encompassing all those artists that were on the periphery and then caught up in it all as Record labels and the media indulged in "blanket" labelling which really didn't fit.
Artists like The Jam, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker whilst buying into, or portraying the attitude and ethos, just weren't in the same league as the original (and emerging Punks) but had received a massive leg-up by the whole movement.  Even old pub rockers like Dr Feelgood (whose lead singer had loaned the money to start Stiff Records) and Nick Lowe (Stiff's "in house" producer) came to the attention of more than 23 people in  the Tally Ho pub.
This revision of genre also meant the US bands, operating a similar attitude and sometimes viewed as progenitors for UK Punk were gaining airplay and media write-ups.  Bands like Blondie, Talking Heads and Television who share little DNA with the UK Punks, but are now happily mentioned in the same paragraph.
Arguably, The Clash, and probably The Stranglers, sat more in this group of artists than they did with the "standard" Punk set as they offered a broader musical view than many of their contemporaries.

Spring of 1977 saw debut albums from The Clash, The Stranglers and The Jam.
Bands were forming all over the country, with The Skids in Scotland and Stiff Little Fingers in Northern Ireland.  A tougher sounding version was being presented by the likes of UK Subs, Sham 69, 999, Angelic Upstarts (this sound and outlook would give rise to the terms "Street Punk" and "Oi" which would form the basis of (what is now referred to as) the Second Wave Of Punk the following year.)
And Punk (or New Wave, or whatever it was now being called) was getting all political with the sloganeering of The Clash. the anrcharcistic beliefs of Crass and the socio-political reportage (against a hybrid Punk, Funk, Dub soundscape) of the Gang Of Four.  And Wire did something else with the Punk template, by expanding it further and creating a sort of Post-Punk sound before Punk was even ended (so how can you be Post-(something) when you're still in phase one?).

June 1977 marked the Silver Jubilee.  Now with a Record Label, the Sex Pistols (without the "sacked" Glen Matlock, and now featuring the "musically limited" Sid Vicious on bass) released "God Save The Queen".  This song dates from late 1976, and was written by John Lydon with no clue that the Silver Jubilee was about to take place (well, I believe him).
The apparent dis-respect shown caused another bout of knicker wetting in the media, and calls for all those involved with the band, the record label, or Punk in general to be shunned and brought to justice as traitors.
The record was banned by the BBC, other radio stations followed suit and refused to play it (at least within "normal programming times") and record shops refused to stock the treasonous article.
What happens when the BBC bans a record?  It starts to sell in huge quantities, which is exactly what happened - although buyers probably had to visit 2 or 3 shops before they found a supply of this illicit item.
There have been many accusations/suggestions that the charts were rigged to prevent "God Save The Queen" being Number 1.
The truth may never be fully uncovered - but in an interview (somewhere?) Richard Branson has said that he was in regular contact with the Chart compilers, and Rod Stewart was indeed outselling the Sex Pistols in that week.  So no rigging involved - but it does make a better story.
This was only their second single in 6 months, and the (possibly) most recognised and acknowledged "leaders" were lagging behind their peers in terms of product.

Punks by association (ie they were there at the start, and played the 100 Club Festival), The Vibrators released their debut album 'Pure Mania' in July.  When it comes to a review of 1977, The Vibrators offering is often forgotten.
And another non-Punk, but caught up in it all Elvis Costello released his debut at around the same time.

By August, the band responsible for (a) bringing the Sex Pistols outside of London, and (b) releasing the first independent single, signed to a major label (United Artists).  In a moment of coincidence and tivia, their signing took place on the day that Elvis Presley finally left the building (or did he?).
August also saw the release of a new album (the second of 1977) from Iggy Pop.  'Lust For Life' cemented his position of a "Godfather of Punk" and is hailed as one of the best of his solo career.

Just to prove how far Punk had burrowed it's way into the mainstream, the BBC had Derek Nimmo visit Seditionaries in late summer, and asked "so what is Punk?".
This clash of cultures, Nationwide-esque Light Entertainment versus the (apparent) underground shows that Punk as a concept was now public property, and destined (in the eyes of mass media) to now be nothing more than a "uniform" and, as mentioned above, a cartoon and a parody of itself.

September saw The Stranglers released their second album ('No More Heroes')', Billy Idol issued his first recorded sneering in the same month with Generation X debut single "Your Generation" (also featuring ex-London SS member Tony James), and The Boomtown Rats unleashed their debut album (which was more Rolling Stones on Speed than Punk, but hey if it's got a loud guitar on it, it's Punk.  Isn't it?)
Also this month, a mysterious bootleg started appearing in record shops around West London - titled 'Spunk' this was a rough and ready recording of Sex Pistols material dating back to late 76/early 77.  There are some suggestions that this was done deliberately by Malcolm McLaren to either fill the gap of demand for Sex Pistols album, scupper the "official" release of the debut by Virgin Records the following month, or just being awkward and obtuse.  McLaren, of course, denied any involvement, but how could anyone but Glitterbest (McLarens company) get there hands on the original tapes, and why would Lyntone (the Pressing Plant who manufactured the record) risk their reputation and UK-wide contracts with Major Labels by pressing a Bootleg?

'Never Mind The Bollocks' was officially released in October and became the Number 1 selling album in the country, despite further bans and stores refusing to handle the record because of the "colourful" phrase used in the title.
But was it a Punk album?
 Call it what you like, the album is one of the greatest Rock albums ever made.

The Damned released their second album of the year in November ("Music For Pleasure" and then achieved another "first" by becoming the first Punk band to split up (another "first" would happen in early 1978 when they became the first Punk band to reform).

Was 1977 the Year Of Punk?
Well, a lot happened, many records were released, and it certainly entered the nationwide conscious.  But consider the content of the charts and output of Radio and TV.  A great many punk records were played, but did they really clear out the old order and place this new form of expression at the forefront of the nations mind?
Not if the Christmas Number One spot and Best Sellers lists were to be believed.
1977 ended with the release of Saturday Night Fever, pre-empting the rise of Disco in 1978, and the strains of Wings "Mull Of Kintyre" at the Christmas Number 1 spot, and the annual totting up of sales figures showed how much Punk had changed the musical landscape in the previous 12 months:

Best Selling Albums:
1. Abba - Arrival
2. Shadows - Golden Greats
3. Diana Ross -20 Golden Greats
4. A Star Is Born -  Soundtrack
5. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Best Selling Singles:
1. David Soul - Don't Give Up On Us
2. Julie Covington - Don't Cry For Me Argentina
3. Leo Sayer - When I Need You
4. David Soul - Silver Lady
5. Abba - Knowing Me Knowing You

OK, sales figures aren't the be-all and end-all of the story, and they are not going to show the seismic effect and attitude shift that came in the following years.
But despite all retrospective beliefs, 1977 was not the Year of Punk, it did not clear away all the old dinosaurs, and the only ones who did go to heaven that year were Elvis Presley, Marc Bolan, Bing Crosby and Charlie Chaplin (and others, obviously, but you get the point (hopefully ...))

Punk (as a music genre) was beloved of the inky music papers, and largely ignored (apart from the shock/horror or the Derek Nimmo type cartoon reporting) by the mainstream media.
An alternative gauge would be the NME Year End lists:

1. Heroes - David Bowie
2. New Boots & Panties - Ian Dury
3. My Aim Is True - Elvis Costello
4. Never Mind the Bollocks - Sex Pistols
5. Marquee Moon - Television
6. Exodus - Bob Marley & the Wailers
7. The Clash - The Clash
8. Lust for Life - Iggy Pop
9. Leave Home - The Ramones
10. Rattus Norvegicus - The Stranglers

1. Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols
2. Watching The Detectives - Elvis Costello
3. Sex & Drugs & Rock 'N' Roll - Ian Dury
4. God Save the Queen - Sex Pistols
5. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker - The Ramones
6. Heroes - David Bowie
7. 2 4 6 8 Motorway - Tom Robinson Band
8. Waiting in Vain - Bob Marley & The Wailers
9. Do Anything You Wanna Do - The Rods
10. Alison - Elvis Costello

Full List:

This maybe a slightly unfair comparison, as the NME was the prime Music paper, and it's readers were going to be "into" Punk.  Deeper investigation of this charts content shows the whilst Punk certainly had an effect on readers listening, it was now co-existing (on equal footing) with established artists such as Bob Marley, Steely Dan and John Martyn.
In short, it was just another genre for peoples record collections to enjoy.

There is no doubt, and all the evidence suggests so, that Punk came of age in 1977, but it's legacy would be further reaching than a group of teenagers hanging around West London in early 1976 could've ever imagined.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - and I loved that Henry Priestman song, good to see he's still kicking around.