If any LP on earth can take you back to that first flush of ’76-77 London punk it has to be The Damned Damned Damned Damned, you know the one with all the goo on the cover*. I know I’m the enthusiastic sort but this really is 31 minutes of genius beyond measure. Honest.
Trust me after about 18 minutes in I’m there in The Roxy in September 1976 , glass crunching under my boots on the sticky floor, a persistent nose bleed from too much whizz, mind accelerating through nauseous cider rapids, knuckles all skinned from a minor bit of aggro and having difficulty concentrating on the next bunch of clowns lumbering up on stage, one of whom looks like a skinny Arthur Brown in an undertaker’s suit, the drummer calls himself Rat Scabies, the guitarist plays a Gibson SG (always a good sign) the bass player has glasses and for reasons best known to himself is wearing a nurses uniform. It’s the Damned and they’ve got a message for us all,
I can’t stop to mess around
It’s all about the speed, dummy! The Damned weren’t about smashing the system, redefining music or anything much other than making some great, great, great music really fast and (you listening Pistols and Clash?) having a lot of fun. If I had been living in London at the time, they would have been my band, my brand, my obsession. Okay, if I had been living in London at the time and been older than 4 years old**. Okay so like all the first wave of punk Damned Damned Damned, ably produced by Nick Lowe, bears the imprint of its spiritual father Ramones – as well it should, most things that are any good at all in life do; but there are interesting traces and tracks from all those interesting proto-punk forebears packed in there too in the boot of a car accelerating madly towards Dead Man’s Curve^.
You can get all your speedy punk kicks here in excelsis, ‘Neat Neat Neat’, ‘Born to Kill’, ‘So Messed Up’ and, the brilliantly off-colour ‘Fish’. If you don’t find your pulse accelerating to match the beat in ‘Neat …’ then you’ve clearly got no adrenalin in your veins, no need for speed at all in your miserable life. Much as I love all this it’s the left turns the band throw in that I really love.
The first of these is ‘Fan Club’, which slows matters down a touch and introduces Dave Vanian’s Dracula-Cooper-Lord Sutch schtick perfectly, you gotta love a band being sarcastic about the whole business of being in a band on their first album,
Waitin’ for my autograph
Well you must be mad
Standing in the pissing rain
Must be a drag
You send me pretty flowers
While I’m slashin’ my wrists
I’d read those little letters
Through my smashed out mists
A couple of blasts later and you hit ‘Feel The Pain’s full-on Alice Cooper, by way of the Marquis de Sade. It’s just drips perfect malice in every syllable, the band straining to keep to the melody, it would have made a perfect addition to Alice’s own Killers, right down to the occasional (steady, 1537, steady!) spoken bits, ‘Back to front the blade tastes blunt’. It really would have been a perfect tune for Alice to have covered. You also have to love the MC5-esque ‘1 of the 2’ as it barrels along.
It’s also compulsory to love ‘I Feel Alright’ which closes the LP, a churning-thrashing nocturnal joyride, which is actually a cover of The Stooges ‘1970’ and all the better for it. There is a great squalling guitar throughout and the way it all piles up and crashes towards the end is wonderful and shows just the kind of chops the band would perfect later on. The track actually sounds like a manic night out on the town in 4 minutes 27 – almost a full minute longer than anything else here.
And all that without mentioning a track that I rate as my fave British punk track, the first ever UK punk single and quite probably one of the best singles ever released by anyone ever in the entire history of everness, ‘New Rose’. From the opening Shangri-La’s ‘Is she really going out with him’ right up to the parting shot of, ‘I’d better go or it’ll be too late’, this is a great song. This is so much more than just a punk thrashing of that Phil Spector sound, although it is that too, it has great melody and, hell, it’s even a bit romantic too. It’s got the lot for me.
Damned Damned Damned is such a great album, I’d place it above any of the Clash’s punk LPs and almost above Never Mind The Bollocks on my UK-punk-o-meter-chart-of-relative-greatness scale. Sometimes you don’t necessarily want politics in your protest music, you just want to get hyped up and jig up and down enough to give yourself double-vision, when you’re confronted by enough shite to bury your entire generation in, behaving like lunatics and having a laugh is the best act of rebellion there could be. Lemmy, who could always spot a good band of fellow minded enthusiasts when he saw some speeding past, played on their cover of Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’.
P.S – I’d heartily recommend the book Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail, by Christopher Dawes.
*way before Fugazi Margarine Walker, or whatever.
**the closest I ever got to see the band was seeing drummer Rat Scabies play with Thee Hypnotics when their drummer got crocked one time.
^one of my absolute favourite songs ever, not that it’s remotely relevant to anything else here!