It's unfortunate that so many people assume that U.K. punk was all about politics. When Bill Maher interviewedGreen Day's
Billy Joe Armstrong on his showReal 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."
After touring with the Clash and the Sex Pistols on the infamous Anarchy in the UK tour, the Damned set to work with producer Nick Lowe on its debut album. Lowe -- who would go on to achieve fame producing Elvis Costello and The Pretenders, along with his own hit, "Cruel to be Kind" -- was also a poptastic punk who cared more for sonic aesthetic than political idealism.
Having beat the Pistols to the punch releasing the "New Rose" single before "Anarchy in the U.K." had a chance to land on the charts, the Damned released Damned, Damned, Damned before the first absent-minded Sid Vicious bass line was even record for Bullocks. The album -- recorded in only ten days -- became an instant classic for the explosive UK punk scene, inspiring many fringe bands to un-learn to play their instruments along to.
The psychotic energy of "Neat Neat Neat," the heartbreakingly manic qualities of "New Rose" and the homage-paying devotion of the Stooges cover "I Feel Alright," cemented the band's image as a key player in what was soon becoming a game-changing scene of 20th Century music. In April of 1977, the band once again one-upped its British contemporaries, becoming the first English punk band to cross the Atlantic to play the legendary American venue, CBGB.
NME photographer Ian Dickson was on hand to document the explosive London punk scene, documenting everyone from the Clash to the Adverts. A long-time fan of The Damned, when interviewed by Q Magazine in 2003, he longed to give his two cents about the way history has treated his favorite punk band: "Everybody says the Pistols were the original punk band, but I tend to disagree," he noted. "The Pistols were a damned good rock 'n' roll band singing with a punk attitude. The Damned were a punk band in terms of musical style, delivery, everything."
The cover for Damned Damned Damned has since become an oft repeated pop-culture image, becoming almost more recognizable than the music itself. The picture of the four band members post-pie-in-the-face was adopted by Green Day and Blink 182 for an Alternative Press cover shoot, promoting their 2002 Pop Disaster tour.
Many cried foul when the pop-punk groups -- perhaps the two most famously despised bands by punk purists -- adopted the classic image as a promotional tool for their own stadium tour. Unfortunately, no one was on hand to point out that long before the roots of punk rock had been cemented in the religious dogma of politics, there were bands like The Damned who had the humble ambition of simply writing a few damn good songs for the sake of writing a few damn good songs.
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