Harmony In My Head

I’ve been involved in a few conversations about greatest hits LPs recently, most notably at Mike’s (wonderful) place and whilst my snooty automatic answer is that ‘you’re always better off with a classic album than a greatest hits’*, some bands are better sampled that way (The Jam), some greatest hits are classic LPs (Queen) and some just serve to remind you what a brilliant band they are; Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady.

Buzzcocks singles 01

Being a bit young for punk at the time, I didn’t have particularly strong views on the monarchy aged 5 in 1977, I got into it for my usual noble and intellectual reasons, I loved the swearing on Sex Pistols ‘Frigging In The Rigging’ when I was 12.  After dabbling around in the punk pond** at university, I fell for it hard and whilst I love the sheer rock and roll heft of the Sex Pistols, the band that chimed the most with me were the Buzzcocks.  I loved their decidedly anti-macho air, their pop sensibilities to die for and the fact that they clearly worshipped at the church of Can, Beefheart and Television as well as the more usual 1976 influences^.  All that and a sense of humour to boot.  I was charmed.

Singles Going Steady collects 6 non-album singles (remember when bands did them? or am I just ancient?), and two album singles with their B-sides, when you think it was released in 1979 the same year as their third LP in three years, that gives you some idea of exactly how hard the Buzzcocks were working.  Factor in the consistency and quality of this body of work, all three studio LPs are things of beauty and wonderment as far as I am concerned and they have a body of work that stands comparison to anyone operating at the time.

Buzzcocks singles 03

When I think of the Buzzcocks I think of wry, romantic tales of angst and longing, so of course they kick all that into touch with the opener ‘Orgasm Addict’ (which I’m not allowed to play when the kids are up) which is another track I want played at my funeral, seriously.  It’s suitably frenetic,messy and driven and just like the real thing, over in 2 minutes flat.  Surely there isn’t a person alive out there who can keep a straight face during it?

Well you tried it just for once found it all right for kicks.
but now you found out that it’s a habit that sticks.
and you’re an orgasm addict.
you’re an orgasm addict.
sneaking in the back door with dirty magazines.
now your mother wants to know what all those stains on your jeans.
and you’re an orgasm addict.
you’re an orgasm addict.

Pete shelley is a man who can do no wrong in my eyes anyway, however his performance on this track (never mind all the others) is brilliant, his ‘Uh huhh’s are worth the price of the LP alone.  Trust me.

All the A-sides are just flawless, obviously everyone in the whole wide world, including several tribes of indigenous peoples on obscure Pacific islands with no contact with the outside world, know ‘Ever fallen In Love’ which is a great song, but in the context of Singles Going Steady it’s just one of a number of great tunes.  Je t’adore ‘What Do I get?’ (I’m in distress, I need a caress / But what do I get?) and it’s tale of unfulfillment and disappointment, the thrashy harmonics of ‘I Don’t Mind’, the fried Beach Boys-isms of ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and every last nano-second of ‘Harmony In My Head’.  ‘Harmony…’ sounds like nothing else I can think of it just has the best vocals (courtesy of guitarist Steve Diggle) and guitar sound of anything else on the LP – Henry Rollins worships this song, you should too^^.

The second side of Singles Going Steady is all the B-sides and remarkably there really isn’t any dip in quality here at all.  The hyper ‘What Ever happened To?’ and ‘Oh Shit!’ sound like refugees from the band’s Spiral Scratch single, before things slow down and get interesting rhythmically with ‘Autonomy’ and the poised, rather pert ‘Noise Annoys’.  The two real gems here are the slower television-influenced (or to my jaded old ears anyway) ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ and the storming ‘Something’s Gone Wrong Again’.  The latter is a particularly great track and when you consider it was the B-side of ‘Harmony In My Head’, wow – that’s some serious value for money in a 7″ single.  I love the way it has a slight touch of ‘I wanna Be Your Dog’ about it and a wildly discordant guitar solo.

Buzzcocks singles 02

Okay so I’m hardly Mr Objective (the world’s most boring superhero?) here, but by any standard you want to measure it by this is a brilliant LP.  It’s just a damn fine listen, the louder the better.  You can here all manner of strands of future music being born in the grooves of Singles Going Steady, especially a lot of US alternative bands.  Buzzcocks deserve huge kudos for not adopting all the usual punk poses and sounds, they just did their own thing which by my calculation makes them 86.57% cooler and far more punk than a lot of the posers and followers, who adopted the uniform and imposed a very narrow definition of punk on themselves.  So as they sang on ‘Love You More’:

I’m in love again
Been like this before
I’m in love again
This time’s true I’m sure

Damn sure!

Buzzcocks singles 04

288 Down.

*I heard a cool looking student say this to his friend in HMV Swansea when I was 15 and so I’ve borrowed it and passed it off as my own opinion ever since, abject nonsense though it is.

**full of bright green slime and an abandoned shopping trolley, along with Bill Grundy’s empties.

^check it:

^^1537 bonus points for the line ‘When I’m out in the open clattering shoppers around’.

15 thoughts on “Harmony In My Head

  1. On the subject of comps vs. studio albums, I almost always just try to figure out a good album to start with and go from there. There have been very few instances where I’ve got into a band via a “best-of”. In some cases, I even found them to be off-putting. I’ve do occasionally buy them for bonus tracks or whatever but I rarely start off with them if I’m investigating an artist. Notable exceptions might be The Police and Toto!

    1. I haven’t thought about The Police for years! I love their Greatest Hits – King of Pain, Invisible Sun – don’t rate the LPs though.

      You win the point. All hail.

      1. I’m already trying to pick up a cheap vinyl copy of Police Greatest Hits now – I’m putty in your hands.

        I’m not a boxed set kinda guy, apart from a Clash singles one and a Mogwai one, that’s about it. At one point I was just buying more music than I could listen to properly and so I’m trying to make sure I revisit it all, the idea of a box set just coming along and dumping 8 hours in my lap, no matter how brilliant, scares me. I should chill about the whole thing.

      2. Yes, you should definitely chill. I just see it as an investment for the future! I usually just focus on a disc or two when I first buy a box set and over time I explore the rest. I don’t pressure myself to work through the whole thing straightaway.

  2. Thanks for the shoutout!

    I liked when bands did non-album singles. It seems to be different today. Bands still do them (The Cult did 2 recently). But the motives and results seem to be different. A lot of bands seem to do non-album singles to test the waters, release something to sell, and see what the reaction is. Then if it’s good then end up making an album and putting the non-album singles on the goddamn album anyway.

  3. I agree across the board on this one. This is simply a flawless collection. I bought it blind at the recommendation of a wise friend and never knew it was a compilation until much later. I just thought they’d thrown on a cool-sounding album name. These tunes are just so damn catchy, which is not always the case with such (as you called it) frenetic music.

    As this is the only Buzzcocks one tends to see in the shops over here, I also never knew to consider picking up their other LPs. Might be time to expand my horizons…

    1. The first two LPs are particularly great, don’t touch anything of theirs post-reformation is my advice.

      Glad you like this, I don’t think they really get the kudos they merit.

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