Like all obsessive males I get excited by the idea of proper music scenes and movements, as does the music press (mostly run by and for such obsessive creatures) there is something seductive about the theory of their being ‘something in the water’ at certain times and places. This is despite the fact that all bands ever are despite to decry their involvement in any scene whatsoever, mainly in order to preserve their longevity when it all inevitably turns to do-do. As a hair metal/grunge/Brit pop/whatever-else-was-around survivor and avid reader of my music history I know that all the music press’ fervour over new scenes stems from the ultimate modern scene, punk. Ironic, because if you actually go back and look at music press from the time all you tend to see is overwhelming negativity towards it, even from the likes of the NME who like to think they championed it unreservedly.
Okay if you really know your onions you can split punk into US/UK, first/second/Oi ! / post-punk / hardcore to the point where you need to have the acuity of a Korean chicken-sexer to discern the difference. The word punk will do me fine to cover all the 77-79 stuff, including the poppy end of proceedings that became New Wave. Now, confusingly, the Vertigo records compilation New Wave, isn’t really New Wave at all; in fact to cloud the issues even further you could have a good quibble about a number of the contributors who shouldn’t really be on any sort of punk compilation anyway. But hey, this was released in 1977 when the record labels were reeling and didn’t have a proper handle on what was going on in any case.
I ruthlessly hunted New Wave down in October 1992, in those pre-internet days that actually involved, like, leaving your house and stuff, despite the fact that I already owned 9 of the 16 tracks. Why? purely to get my hands on Patti Smith ‘Piss Factory’ and Richard Hell & The Void-oids ‘Love Comes in Spurts’. If you could find a copy of their LP the latter track was available* but there weren’t many around and at that point there was no other way of getting hold of the Patti Smith track at all.
Listening to it now all the way through, which I’m not sure I ever did before I just used to jump to the good bits, it isn’t a well put together compilation at all – these guys in 1977 could have really learned a thing or two about flow and momentum from the punk mix tape I made for my brother – The Spit & The Pendulum. Not that you can find any fault at all with the first four tracks: Ramones ‘Judy Is A Punk’, Dead Boys ‘Sonic Reducer’, ‘Piss factory’ and New York Dolls ‘Personality Crisis’. Personally I would have opened with the raucous ‘Personality…’ and closed off side 2 with the unmatchable ‘Sonic Reducer’ – how amazing does that track sound still?
We first hit definition problems with The Runaways ‘Hollywood’, a band I always liked the idea of more than the music (although ‘Cherry Bomb’ rocks – its here on side 2). The Sky Hooks ‘Horror Movie’ just errs on the side of lameness and Little Bob Story, despite covering ‘All or Nothing’ and, almost, sharing my surname really belongs elsewhere – preferably on a LP I haven’t bought; without the magic of the internet, I have a vague idea he was big in France?
The Boomtown Rats ‘Lookin’ After No.1′ is a great choice for second side opener, I always had a soft spot for this track’s arrogance and spite and taking the words of The Beatles (and John Donne) in vain; although Geldof never really convinced as a punker, they were a very good pop band waiting to happen. Talking Heads ‘Love Goes To Building On Fire’ still sounds to me like a visitor from another planet, I know they’re good, I read it all the time and I can see why but I never really dug TH**, not sure why – I might be missing a receptor gene somewhere.
The Damned ‘New Rose’ just doesn’t really belong here, it’s possibly my favourite punk single ever and it really shouldn’t be padding out side 2 of an iffy compilation LP. As ever it just sounds as boxfresh to me today as it must have to our distant ancestors who first bought it, anyway you know I can’t resist a song with a talkie bit. Ditto ‘Suzy is a Headbanger’ which follows, it just isn’t in the right place – experience these beauties in the wild on their own turf, rather than here in captivity on this compilation. The only other track of real note is Flamin’ Groovies ‘Shake Some Action’, which I like but still fail to see the greatness some endow it with.
But back to why I bought it, ‘Love Comes in Spurts’ is a jerky little delight which isn’t quite as good as its’ title, but ‘Piss Factory’ was worth the price of New Wave alone. A piece of Goddess-like genius, telling the tale of refusing to be ground down by the norm and having your dreams stepped on, by the grinding monotony of a factory job, or your fellow workers threatening you because you’re working too hard and messing up the quota. As with all the best Patti Smith tracks, this would work equally well just as poetry^ but backed by Richard Sohl’s driving, rhythmic piano and hints of guitar (not sure if it was Tom Verlaine, or Lenny Kaye, or both on this one) ‘Piss Factory’ really hits hard and plays to the cocky, arrogant, angry dreamer in all of us.
Sixteen and time to pay off
I get this job in a piss factory inspecting pipe
Forty hours thirty-six dollars a week
But its a paycheck, Jack.
It’s so hot in here, hot like Sahara
You could faint from the heat
But these bitches are just too lame to understand
Too goddamned grateful to get this job
To know they’re getting screwed up the ass
I hadn’t listened to this for a few months or so and it really strike me again forcibly just how brilliant it was. If you’ve not got, then get; if you do got, then listen again. It is a lot easier to get hold of today than it was back then, so you don’t need this compilation for it. What you do need New Wave for is the great cover picture of a punk spitting beer at the camera, but not for the 11 self-consciously, yet unconvincing ‘punk’ dressed folk on the back cover. I’ll leave the last word to The Dead Boys and their surprisingly poetic (when you see the lyrics written down) ‘Sonic Reducer’,
I’ll be a pharaoh soon
Rule from some golden tomb
Things will be different then
The sun will rise from here
Then I’ll be ten feet tall
And you’ll be nothing at all
Told you it should have been the last track on the LP.
*it was on the Pump Up The Volume film, but not the soundtrack LP. Grrr.
**apart from ‘Once in a Lifetime’, ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘Psycho Killer’, oh and the big suits in Stop Making Sense.
^she has performed it as a spoken word piece.