Reissue CDs Weekly: The Damned | reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs Weekly: The Damned
Reissue CDs Weekly: The Damned
Admirably succinct entry point into first five years of Brit-punk pioneers
The Damned: Go! 45
At the end of 1979, Britain’s first three 1976-born punk bands were in very different situations. The Sex Pistols had imploded in early 1978 and John Lydon, their front man, was back with Public Image Ltd’s challenging dub- and Krautrock-influenced multi-disc collection Metal Box. The Clash had released the epic, cross-genre double album London Calling. The Damned’s crisp Machine Gun Etiquette was in the shops on the back of that year’s hit singles “Love Song” and “Smash it up”, both of which featured on the album. No one, not even the band itself, could have predicted such commercial fortune. Critical favour, though, was always lacking. Go! 45 confronts such a view of The Damned.
Punk had been touted as a short, sharp shock and about the seven-inch. In the same spirit, Go! 45 collects the A-sides and lead EP tracks of all those issued by The Damned from their debut, October 1976’s “New Rose”, to October 1981’s “Disco Man”, first heard on the Friday 13th EP. This neat 14-track, summary of their initial five years on 45 pithily illustrates there was always more to the band than their surface image of vampire-fronted merchants of chaos putting high spirits ahead of the music
The original quartet of Brian James (guitar), Rat Scabies (drums), Captain Sensible (bass) and Dave Vanian (vocals) had begun falling apart in late 1977 after adding a second guitarist, and would split in early 1978. Later that year, they reformed without James. Sensible swapped from bass to guitar and keyboards. Following a period of flux, they settled on former Saints bassist Algy Ward and, then ex-Eddie and the Hot Rods man Paul Gray. Although their debut album Damned Damned Damned had charted in 1977, it was only in 1979, with “Love Song”, that they hit the single’s countdown. A resurrection and valediction, it proved The Damned were – whatever the japery – both a fan’s favourite and a band with musical flair.
Go! 45, a vinyl-only release, kicks off with “New Rose”, the still-thrilling performance which defined Britain’s musical future for anyone who had not yet seen any of the new crop of bands on stage. It was the first British punk single. Historic significance aside, the Brian James composition had a terrific tune and openly referenced two past eras with its opening-line lift from the Sixties' girl group The Shangri-Las, themselves a prime inspiration for punk stimulus The New York Dolls.
As the red-vinyl Go! 45 continues through the wonderful, direct pop of “Love Song”, the dark, misanthropic “I Just Can't be Happy Today”, the anthemic “The History of the World - Pt. 1” and the satirical closer “Disco Man”, various nails are hammered home. The Damned always developed musically. They never repeated themselves. Their love of the past was never hidden: as well as punk archetypes The Stooges and New York Dolls, there are clear nods to psychedelia, jazz rock and The Kinks. Above all, the band’s knack with a winning melody shines.
There are many compilations of The Damned. Go! 45 stands apart as it’s an admirably succinct entry point into their early years. It also sounds fantastic. The credits note that digital remasters of the analogue tapes were used to produce the album. Playing it side-by-side with the original singles shows that while Go! 45 has a greater clarity than the 45s, their sonic density, punch and warmth have been retained. Great care has been taken with this release. If any introduction to The Damned is needed, this is it.
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