10 Essential Albums From the U.K. Punk Era
The amount of great punk music that came blasting out from the mid ’70s through the early ’80s is mind-boggling — in a good way of course. From the back-to-basics approach of the initial wave of punk bands through the open-ended experimentation of all that came after, it was one hell of a ride for fans and bands alike.
The quantity — and quality — of records released in that timeframe rivals almost any other era in popular music if for no other reason than its consistency. So, instead of trying to narrow down all those great releases into some sort of ’10 Best’ list, we give you a handful of what must be considered essentials from the era. In doing so, we have concentrated on the U.K. scene to make our job a little easier. Here are just a few of great albums from a great period in rock and roll music. You remember that don’t you? Rock and roll? Yeah … of course you do! These are our 10 Essential Albums from the U.K. Punk Era:
The Sex Pistols
Yeah, yeah, yeah … blatantly obvious right off the bat here, but how could we leave this one off?! The blast that ignited a generation (or two) of English youth to kick out their own jams. The Sex Pistols only made one album, and frankly, that’s all they needed to make. It’s all said and done here in these 12 songs. From the anthemic stomp of ‘Holidays In the Sun’ to the final sneer of ‘E.M.I.,’ this is one of the most fully realized perfect rock and roll albums ever made. Over 35 years later, it has lost none of it’s fire or attitude. You want essential? ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ is definitive.
While their first album is a total classic, their third release, ‘Machine Gun Ettiquite,’ showed that the Damned had many tricks up their sleeves. Though not as expansive as, say, the Clash‘s ‘London Calling,’ ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ is just as deserving of countless accolades. Super charged punk killers, blistering hard rock, gothic-tinged brooders and shining pop sit side by side here to make up an essential album to any collection. ‘Love Song,’ ‘Melody Lee,’ ‘Smash It Up’ and ‘Plan 9, Channel 7′ are all classics. The Damned deserve to be higher on that pedestal than time has allowed them.
It wasn’t all anger, fury and middle fingers flying high during this time; there was much fun to be had as well and no one did that better than the Rezillos. Coming off like a hyper-active child painted in dayglo colors, these guys (and gal) rocked hard, fast and fun. Songs like ‘Flying Saucer Attack,’ ‘My Baby Does Good Sculptures’ and ‘Top Of The Pops’ radiated a genuine pop sensibility that was married to a non-stop amphetamine rush. Kind of like the Honeycombs meet Motorhead, and if you’re not sure what that means … it means great!
X-Ray Spex had their own distinct sound. From the sharp and sassy vocals of Polly Styrene to the buzzaw guitars and smart sax, they certainly carved their own niche. Their debut album, ‘Germ Free Adolescents,’ is a full on classic. Attitude is cranked all the way up as is musicianship (don’t let anyone fool you, most of the punk bands could play, and played very well). ‘The Day the World Turned Day-Glo,’ ‘Art-I-Ficial,’ and ‘I Am a Poseur’ are simply perfect, while the non LP single ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ is as good as anything else from the era. The album has more than withstood the test of time, and surprisingly, they didn’t make another album until 1995.
Taking the energy and aggression of punk and giving it an art school sensibility, Ultravox! put together one of the era’s greatest albums. Their self-titled debut still stands tall as a unique statement amongst the pure adrenaline rush of so many others. Singer John Foxx led the band through three groundbreaking albums that added elements of Roxy Music and David Bowie in with vibrant 1977 energy. Tracks like ‘Sat’day Nite In The City Of The Dead,’ ‘Wide Boys’ and the epic, ‘The Wild, The Beautiful and the Damned,’ sounded like no one else on the scene. Foxx split from the group in 1980 and the band then became more keyboard-centric. Throughout time, though, they always maintained their unique vision, making this ’77 album an essential from the era.
The Adverts’ debut album is pretty much flawless. Band leader TV Smith wrote interesting and catchy songs, and ‘Bored Teenagers’ and ‘One Chord Wonders’ alone would have guaranteed them a legacy; those were only a small part of their story. They had the young, loud and snotty thing down, but with a smarter-than-the-average punk mentality and word play. ‘No Time To Be 21,’ ‘New Church,’ and the non-LP single, ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ are among the finest songs of the era.
Eddi and the Hot Rods
Eddie and the Hot Rods were born out of the pub rock scene as it slowly mutated into the punk era. Raised on classic mid ’60s rock and roll, the Hot Rods took that classic template and updated it for the new era. While their debut, ‘Teenage Depression,’ showed signs of greatness, it was their sophomore effort, ‘Life On The Line,’ that sealed the deal. ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ is one of the most glorious noises ever released. Triumphant, sparkling and melodic, it sets the stage for the album. More akin to power pop than punk, it rings loud and clear in ways that are confusing as to why it wasn’t a massive worldwide hit. ‘Quit This Town,’ ‘Life On the Line,’ ‘Ignore Them ‘… one after another, the songs were (and still are) classic rock and roll. The album closer, ‘Beginning of the End,’ is a monster and, perhaps, the closest the U.K. punks ever got to the spirit of the MC5.
The Buzzcocks were one of the greatest singles bands of all time and this compilation proves why. With machine gun fire, the hits just keep coming. Definitely an example of all killer, no filler, ‘Singles Going Steady’ is not only the perfect introduction to the Buzzcocks, but one of the best introductions to what made the era so special. These guys wrote ultra catchy songs rooted in the spirit of ’60s pop a la the Who and the Kinks, but within that framework, they added other distinct elements, the main one being their own unique personality. Pete Shelly was certainly one of the best tune-smiths around and this LP shows that off in spades. If you’re looking into the U.K. punk era, ‘Singles Going Steady’ is no doubt an essential.
The Tom Robinson Band
‘Power In the Darkness’ is one of the great lost albums of the U.K. punk era. Band leader Tom Robinson made more headlines for his political and social activism than for his music. A rebel through and through, he caused a stir with the release of the defiant anthem, ‘Glad To Be Gay.’ He made no secret of his personal or political life, so that is what most tended to focus on. ‘Power In The Darkness,’ their debut album, is one rock solid album; from start to finish, it’s just great, straight ahead rock and roll. It did not have a lot to do with the punk genre musically, but it was essential to era’s attitude and spirit. ‘Up Against The Wall,’ ‘Ain’t Gonna Take It’ and ‘Long Hot Summer’ are all fueled by punk fire, but sound more like a cross between the Clash and Bruce Springsteen (a combination that surprisingly works). This one needs some hefty re-evaluation for the ages.
The Clash’s debut album ranks right up their with the greatest first steps of any band. Their sound, style and stance were all razor sharp right from the start. Though obviously borrowing inspiration from the Ramones and the Pistols, they took the ingredients and re-fried them in their own way. Joe Strummer’s vocals were not only commanding, but plugged in with sincerity. The youthful idealism held by many was voiced by the Clash, but it was the loud guitars that sealed the deal and guaranteed its place on our list of 10 Essential Albums from the U.K. Punk Era.