Music History

Damned Damned Damned turns 35

It's unfortunate that so many people assume that U.K. punk was all about politics. When Bill Maher interviewed Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong on his show Real Time with Bill Maher last year, he questioned the singer's punk credibility for working to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, referring to The Sex Pistols when commenting "that wasn't very punk rock; what about anarchy in the U.K?"

Bill Maher certainly wasn't the first to question Green Day as a legitimate punk band. This primarily was the charge that Johnny Rotten -- Mr. Anarchist/Anti-Christ -- would've pissed all over a Green Day record. Supposedly in order to be punk your songs had to be about affecting social change. You couldn't just write music for music's sake.

But the truth is that U.K. punk was littered with bands that didn't give a fuck about the economy, The Queen or changing the world for better or worse. The Buzzcocks, with their humbly self-deprecating songs about lost love, such as "What Do I Get," or "Ever Fallen in Love With Someone," were just as punk as anything written by Joe Strummer. The Jam was too focused on mod fashion and paying justice to the Motown sound to care what Parliament was up to. And The Damned's debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, has all the grit and energy of Never Mind The Bullocks without all the self-aware political posturing.

"In a funny way, I thought The Damned caught the true spirit of punk, as understood by Punks, better than their rivals," wrote British radio legend, DJ John Peel. "They devoted less time to striking attitudes and never forgot, as many historians have, that punk could be quite funny as well as exciting."

Originally calling themselves Masters of the Backside in 1975, the band eventually dropped their female lead singer (a young Chrissie Hynde, who eventually landed on her feet with The Pretenders) and nicked guitarist/songwriter Brian James -- who had been playing with future Clash guitarist Mick Jones in the short lived London SS. Dubbing themselves The Damned, the act released its first single (and the first single of any UK punk band) "New Rose" in the fall of 1976.

"The energy level is dynamite," said glam rock wizard Marc Bolan of the single. "The attitude is positive rather than moody-positive. The sound of the band comes over 100%. You have to sit up and take notice of it--and that's what rock 'n' roll's all about."

Bolan was an early champion of the Damned, inviting the group to open for T-Rex on its final tour. The theatricality of glam rock wasn't lost on The Damned, particularly lead singer David Vanian. A former gravedigger and eventual fashion icon for what would become the Goth movement, a rock critic from NME Magazine once quipped that Vanian "resembles a runaway from The Addams Family."

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse

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