10 Best Buzzcocks Songs
Unlike many of the punk bands that sprung up in the U.K. in the mid- and late '70s, the Buzzcocks didn't totally hate pop music. They often embraced its hooky dynamics, infusing their songs with tight, traditional songcraft and catchy melodies -- whether they were singing about love gone bad, nostalgia or jacking off. All of the cuts on our list of the 10 Best Buzzcocks Songs can be found on the band's essential 1979 compilation album 'Singles Going Steady.' Further proof that they were a pop band at heart.
The B-side to 'Harmony in My Head' (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Buzzcocks Songs) was the second half of the last traditional single the band released before it started focusing on albums. The Buzzcocks put out a string of six classic non-album singles between 1977 and 1979. Even their B-sides are killer, like this one, which is one of the longest songs in the band's catalog, clocking in at a decidedly un-punk four and a half minutes.
Most Buzzcocks songs split their punk roots with a side of pop. Not 'Harmony in My Head.' The 1979 single (and the most recent cut to make it onto the excellent 'Singles Going Steady' compilation) is all slashing guitars, pounding drums and Steve Diggle's ravaged voice, which he's said was the result of inhaling 20 cigarettes prior to recording.
The flip side to the Buzzcocks' second single ('What Do I Get?') is pretty representative of the band's output during its first couple of years, with its piercing guitar riff, a hyperactive vocal by Pete Shelley and a running time of a mere minute and a half. And then there's that title, which is repeated more than two dozen times. Plus, it's kinda catchy.
The Buzzcocks were cranking out songs so flawless during their first two years or so that even their B-sides are classics. Half of our list of the 10 Best Buzzcocks Songs were originally the flip sides to singles (they also can be found on the 'Singles Going Steady' album). 'Noise Annoys' (found on the other side of 'Love You More'), with its stop-start rhythm and rolling bass, is one of the greatest.
Just to remind you that the Buzzcocks were a punk band before a pop group (though it's admittedly hard to tell at times, especially since their best songs come with some mighty massive hooks), 'Everybody's Happy Nowadays' is fast and biting, and it takes a cynical-sarcastic tone toward contentment. Because that's what punk rock is all about.
How's this for an intro? The Buzzcocks' debut single is two minutes about wanking it. Obsessively and constantly. That's it. Stained jeans, shocked moms and some superhero-strength stamina all factor into the lyrics. Pete Shelley even lets loose an orgasm of his own midway through the song. A "habit that sticks," indeed.
The flip side to the band's debut single (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Buzzcocks Songs) is even better. It starts with rumbling bass and jabbing guitar before it explodes into one of the group's catchiest songs. In a way, 'Whatever Happened To ... ?' is a punk manifesto, running down a list of past luxuries until Pete Shelley brings the bummer patrol: "Your love is a cashed-in check," he sings. "That's the way of all flesh."
Clocking in at more than six and a half minutes (by far the longest of the Buzzcocks' classic songs), 'Why Can't I Touch It?' comes close to prog at times, with its lurching bass line, hazy chorus and extended finale. The song was originally released as the B-side to 'Everybody's Happy Nowadays,' a more traditional punk number, and removed the Buzzcocks even from their designated genre.
The Buzzcocks' second single is one of the group's most definitive songs, a power-pop rocker with a snappy guitar riff, one of punk's most melodic (and most restrained) solos and a snarling lead vocal by main singer and songwriter Pete Shelley. It's the closest the Buzzcocks came to making a perfect three-minute radio song.
'Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)' is the only track on our list of the 10 Best Buzzcocks Songs that wasn't a non-LP single. Even though it's on 'Singles Going Steady,' the cut originally appeared on the band's second album, 'Love Bites.' And like many songs on that 1978 LP, 'Ever Fallen in Love' is all about how hard relationships hit. Pete Shelley was approaching his mid-20s when he wrote the song, but his steamrolling approach makes him sound more like a teen feeling heartbreak for the first time.