40 Years Ago: The Damned Release the First U.K. Punk Album, ‘Damned Damned Damned’
The Sex Pistols got the press and the Clash got the credibility. But the Damned got there first when their debut album, Damned Damned Damned, was released on Feb. 18, 1977.
Yes, the band that began in 1975 as Masters of the Backside – with Chrissie Hynde on lead vocals – turned into the Damned a year later after the addition of guitarist and songwriter Brian James. The members of the band, as well as people from the Pistols and the Clash, had seen the Ramones on their U.K. jaunt. A sort of race began in London’s punk scene to see who could put it together the quickest. Reflecting on that time, Damned bassist Raymond “Captain Sensible” Burns said it wasn’t that nasty of a rivalry between the groups.
The competition was “only between the managers who wanted their boys to be number one,” the Captain told CLRVYNT in 2016. “Bernie Rhodes [manager of the Clash] hated Malcolm McLaren [manager of the Sex Pistols], and they both despised Jake Riviera [manager of the Damned and Stiff Records co-owner]. The bands got on fine, though, and attended each other’s gigs, but the rivalry was pretty intense when it came to the managers; they all wanted their bunch to be top dogs.”
Riviera pushed the Damned – featuring James, Captain, drummer Christopher “Rat Scabies” Millar and singer Dave Vanian – to hit the studio and record the James-penned “New Rose.” The raging, thrusting song would become the first British punk single in October 1976, as well as a moderate commercial success.
Following a tour with the Pistols and the Clash, the Damned were compelled to go back into the studio and finish sessions for a full-length studio album. James had written a wealth of material, including future single “Neat Neat Neat” as well as “I Fall” and “Feel the Pain.” The record also included Scabies’s “Stab Your Back” and closed with a Stooges cover. Stiff Records’ “house producer” and pub rock figure Nick Lowe, who produced “New Rose,” helmed the proceedings for the LP.
“A lot of punk groups, well... it wasn't very nice music,” Lowe recalled to the Dallas Observer. “I never really liked punk music, but I like the mischief that was caused by it. And the sort of mayhem and the upset, that was fabulous. But the Damned I thought were great because they were almost like a garage rock band, and that’s the sort of music I've always loved. It swung, and it was exciting, great music, not that awful thrashing away for the sake of it. They were quite cheeky and a bit of a handful. They called me ‘grandad’ or ‘uncle’ and I was 24 or 25.”
Lowe earned the nickname “Basher” for the speed at which he “bashed out” tracks, keeping the sound clear, straightforward and powerful, as they recorded it in about 10 days. Although the Captain might have given Lowe hell at the time, he now gives him credit for the album’s sound.
“I think Nick’s non-production got it just about right,” he said. “I mean, let’s face it: Damned Damned Damned ain’t posh-sounding like Never Mind the Bollocks, is it? It has a warped beauty to it, and captured the live excitement of our gigs wonderfully. It’s all thanks to Nick being the vibe specialist, to a certain extent. Not a bad job for a country rocker!”
Damned Damned Damned, which featured the recently pie-smacked band on the cover, rose to No. 36 on the British charts. Meanwhile, the band were the first of the English acts to bring their version of punk to the U.S., even playing a gig at the hallowed CBGB. An American release of the record followed in April, although it wasn’t supported by the same sort of media frenzy that punk was experiencing in the Damned’s home country.
The Damned aren’t only notable for being first, but also delivering an adrenaline-packed debut that has only grown in stature over the past four decades. Its whip-cracking attack remains a punk landmark.
No less than the legendary British radio DJ John Peel once wrote: “In a funny way, I thought the Damned caught the true spirit of punk, as understood by punks, better than their rivals. They devoted less time to striking attitudes and never forgot, as many historians have, that punk could be quite funny as well as exciting.”
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