VARIOUS ARTISTS – 1977: The Year Punk Broke

The evening of December 1st 1976 began much like any other, but by the time the evening rolled into night time, television history had been made. With Queen unable to make their interview slot on the Today magazine programme, punk band Sex Pistols were drafted in as a last minute filler. It was an event that started with a wobble and ended with guitarist Steve Jones calling the ill at ease presenter Bill Grundy a “fucking rotter”. Up until this point, punk had been a truly underground phenomenon, only really of concern to a few bands, their friends and young people who’d decided they now wanted to be in bands. It hadn’t really spread beyond parts of Manchester, London and the boring suburbia of Bromley, yet here it was beaming itself into the living rooms of unsuspecting viewers.

Within hours, the press claimed outrage at the “filth and fury” of it all which only meant that punk was now in the consciousness of an entire nation, fueling the fires of excitement within teenagers up and down the UK, making it all the more appealing. In 1977, punk made its way into the mainstream with the Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and The Stranglers all releasing classic debut albums and scoring a few hit singles in the process.

1977 wasn’t just about the punk bands we now consider legendary, of course. For every band that “made it”, dozens of others released a couple of DIY singles and fizzled out; others seemed big at the time but now feel more like a footnote in the history books. Much in the same way that 2018’s excellent 3CD set ‘Harmony In My Head’ celebrated the power pop and new wave on the fringes of the purer punk of the times, Cherry Red’s 2019 anthology ‘1977 – The Year Punk Broke’ offers a broad and often interesting insight into lots of great 7” sides and album tracks to hit the shelves that year.

Sharing a label with The Damned – whose ‘New Rose’ kicked started punk on 7” single in November ’76 – Chiswick signings The Gorillas also claim to “have started it, really”, despite the history books giving them far fewer column inches…if any. Included here, their ‘Gatecrasher’ isn’t anywhere near as raw as The Damned or early records The Clash. It carries a certain rawness compared to so much music that’d been released throughout the decade leading up to its release, but owes far more to a hybrid of pub and garage rock. However, with a lot of spirit, a great bassline and reasonable chorus, it passes a cool three minutes that’s very much geared towards anyone looking for something a bit rougher than Eddie & The Hot Rods or Dr. Feelgood. With a yelped into and a much sharper set of chords, Johnny Moped (another Chiswick signing) really hits the mark on ‘Incendiary Device’, a fantastic banger of a tune that delights in serving a lot of barbed chords against a slightly unhinged and very uneven vocal. It’s chaotic approach is counterbalanced by a pristine guitar riff that pulls a lot of influence from more melodic 70s hard rock and in doing so creates a marriage of styles that already looks forward to so much power pop from 1978 and beyond.

A tune familiar to almost all, ‘Mony Mony’ is covered by the short-lived Celia & The Mutations. Their version is spirited, though never necessarily overtly punky; of the four recordings made by Celia and associated musicians, this – and its superior b-side ‘Mean To Me’ (unfortunately absent from this set) – is now of historical importance due to The Mutations being The Stranglers on a moonlighting job. Of course, this leads to the cover turning out much like you’d hope, with Dave Greenfield bashing away on the organ throughout. A fantastic slab of more melodic punk, Jerks’ ‘Hold My Hand’ does a fab job of showcasing a fuzzy guitar line that’s got a huge sound, even if a brattish vocal occasionally feels a little lost in the final mix. A crossover point between 1977’s punk origins and the skinny tie brigade that followed in the first wave of punk’s wake, this track will always fall on the punkier side of the fence due to a sneering chorus that values childish noises over more trad melodies, resulting in an interesting listen for first time listeners.

In lots of ways – the brilliant ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ aside – The Only Ones’ self-titled LP from ’78 could be one of the era’s most over-rated discs. Their earlier independently released 7” ‘Peter & The Pets’ – although, again, not really punk – manages to capture the band’s more interesting quirks within a three minute tune that sort of carries the epic quality of an extended John Cale piece. Beginning with a very natural vocal and a set of muted chords, it’s easy to see how they were lumped in with the new punk sounds of the year, although in retrospect the sounds that play out can be seen as far more in keeping with a lot of pre-Britpop indie fare of 1989. It’s as the track progresses, though, that its true intent becomes obvious: there’s a melodic chorus that borrows from The Modern Lovers and then polishes that up and a ripper of a lead guitar that, at the time, possibly would have only been matched by Television’s Tom Verlaine. Whether this song deserves a true place in a 1977 punk box is very much up for debate, but as a stand-alone listen, it’s really enjoyable.

“Really enjoyable” aren’t words that best describe Norman & The Hooligans’ ‘I’m a Punk’. The A-side from the band’s sole 7”, sounds like something created merely to rip the piss out of the burgeoning new sounds rather than being a celebration of the new, alternative youth culture. The vocals waver between a shout and a weird croon, as if the frontman doesn’t care, and while the music has some merit with various garage rock influences in place, it doesn’t have the energy of the best punk or the conviction of a band who just aren’t just cashing in for a cheap laugh. Its inclusion here can still be seen as worthy in a way since it’s not your usual comp filler and (as terrible as the track might be) an original 7” could set you back more than this entire box costs. Regardless of any rarity factor, you probably won’t want to listen to Norman more than twice. A semi-obscurity from The Wasps, ‘She Made Magic’ does a far better job of applying a punk influenced spikiness to a hard and fast garage rocker. It showcases a tight band against a slightly yelpy vocalist and captures a mood somewhere between a lot of the second division punks and top tier power poppers of ’78. Between a reasonable chorus, a few buzzsaw guitars and a bass that’s high in the mix, this presents a lot to like. Originally issued as a b-side, it’s almost as if the band didn’t realise their own potential!

Taking more of a Buzzcocks influence for their vocals and then marrying those to a tune that sounds like a souped-up Nine Below Zero, The Stukas bring a genuine highlight with ‘Klean Living Kids’, a short and sharp 7” that offers the very best in punky mod sounds, while The Lurkers’ ‘Freak Show’ shows how the Uxbridge based punkers were particularly sharp when it came to pure adrenaline. This early single issued on Beggars Banquet is one of ’77’s real jewels and shows how the band were not just able to beef up a typical Damned style blueprint but also pre-figure the “terrace style” shout along choruses as beloved by Sham ’69 and (later) theAngelic Upstarts. Taking a similar stance but applying it to a non-existent budget, ‘Arabs In ‘Arrads’ by The Art Attacks sounds like the kind of thing that those who hate punk music think all punk sounds like, but despite its predictable and overtly primitive stance it still manages to be fun, while Chartreuse’s ugly and mechanical, almost semi-industrial butchering of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ almost seems like the poster child for punk’s desire to strip away the perfection and bloat of so much mid-70s rock. Ironically this is something that, by this time had even affected The Kinks, who’d fallen into a quagmire of self-important (and quite boring) concept albums. In terms of making the Kinks track their own, though, Chartreuse come out winning…even if in terms of genuine enjoyment, it’s probably not much more than a curiosity. Aiming squarely for controversy and shock value, ‘Raped’ by Raped has a great tune that’s cut from the purest punk fury of the era, but applies a musical gift to some particularly base lyrics concerning sexual violence. Thankfully, these lyrics remove themselves from the decade’s blatant misogyny and instead invite the unforgivable sexual acts to be inflicted upon the band’s male shouter. With this track heading up a wholly objectionable EP that actually attracted the attentions of a paedophile network (yes, really), this London based band seemingly caused controversy wherever they went. Suddenly, somehow, Steve Jones uttering the f-word on TV seemed rather trivial… After just two 7” releases, they morphed into The Cuddly Toys, but for those interested in cult DIY punk, there was little more of interest from there on.

With overdriven guitars a-plenty, ‘Let’s Go’ by Blitzkrieg Bop isn’t anything like the Ramones, sadly, and while the buzzsaw guitar sounds still pack a hefty punch decades on, there’s not much backing those up…and the fact that the band decides to drag this out for almost four minutes lessens the impact further. It’s one to be filed under “historical importance”, though, as much like the pretty ropey Norman & The Hooligans track, an original 7” of this single could set you back the better part of £20. In a fraction of the time The Nosebleeds (fronted by one Ed Banger) show far more of an affinity with the essence of punk, with ‘Fascist Pig’. A Damned-meets-Verukas thrasher that sounds like it had been recorded in a dustbin, it’s the epitome of ’77’s DIY approach. Also interesting, publixPublic Zone add some future-looking power pop on their ‘Naive’, a number lavish in grumbling bass and vocal harmonies. While there’s nothing about this track that’ll please the punk purist, the band’s abilities to spot a musical niche that’d become a more dominant force within the next year should be commended. This is the kind of track that continues to reward with each play; it is deserving of inclusion on an alternative playlist…and it’s also a reminder that Peter Perrett didn’t have the monopoly on this kind of thing in ’77. A genuine gem.

In addition to all of this often great and less familiar stuff, ‘1977…’ has more than its share of populist material, presumably included so the box appeals to a broader range of consumers. You’ll find Buzzcocks’ ‘Boredom’ (pretty much year zero for punk) and other cast iron classics like X Ray Spex’s ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ by The Damned and The Boomtown Rats’ ‘Looking After No. 1′ rubbing shoulders with deeper album cuts by The Jam, The Stranglers, John Cooper Clarke and The Rezillos. In particular, this is a great reminder of how great The Stranglers’ ‘London Lady’ still sounds, and how indebted to punk’s zero year JJ Burnel’s fuzzy bass sound and shouty vocal actually are, despite the band so often being hoary old pub rock misogynists. Rather bewilderingly, this set also includes Tom Robinson Band’s evergreen ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ and ‘Motorhead’ by Motorhead. As truly fantastic they are, it could easily be argued that they’re not really punk, even if the latter was issued on a punk-centric label that first time around. Each of these more famous tracks make for great listening (as always), but in a few cases, have certainly been done to death.

Coupled with some great sleevenotes, ‘1977 – The Year Punk Broke’ is a solid compilation delivered in typical Cherry Red style. You really do get a lot for not a lot of money here, but it would have been improved if a couple of the more obvious or less punk-oriented picks could have been sidelined for a few more culty bits. You’ll find nothing by Penetration and the should be legendary ‘Saints & Sinners’ by Johnny & The Self Abusers is tragically AWOL, but as it stands, it’s still an enjoyable listen from start to finish, even with a few omissions and questionable tracks. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a great artefact for anyone whom is keen on punk without being obsessed. For those listeners, ‘1977…’ provides a more than handy guide to the movements formative years.

Further reading:  Harmony In My Head – UK New Wave & Power Pop 1978-81

May 2019