On February 18th 1977 the first, and only, UK punk record ever recorded was released.
In the forty years since, not one single album has matched Damned Damned Damned for true shock value and ideological purity. Two months later The Clash released an album of angry protest songs and in the autumn of the same year, having spent time hiring, firing, touring, not touring, signing, resigning and being shocking on request, The Sex Pistols released their first album, full of studiously offensive garage rock songs.
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That’s not to say that these other albums are not considered punk or indeed iconic and brilliant, but merely that punk was ‘Do It Yourself’, no need to feel like you must save the world, no need to shock people into noticing you. The Damned were a band who released an album like no other: it was short – it came in at around 30 minutes; sharp – Brian James’ guitar work was unique and ground-breaking; and shocking – they only swore once, sang songs about anything at all (sometimes nothing at all) and didn’t seem very angry. Furthermore, they didn’t conform to what punks should look like, they had a rocker, an untidy hooligan, a vampire and a nurse and worse still they seemed to enjoy what they were doing.
The album itself is woefully overlooked, for sheer impact and shock it still holds its own nowadays but imagine Britain in 1977. Just ten years prior it was illegal to be a practising homosexual, you weren’t allowed to swear on TV and in both 1976 and ’77 the highest selling songs of those years were by Eurovision song contest winners; these were dark (and very boring) days. People feared the new ideas and attitudes coming out of youth culture and responded aggressively. It was not uncommon that by being identified as a ‘punk’ you were misunderstood, vilified and even attacked for being part of an alternative culture. Into this environment was born the product of four misfits who didn’t even fit in with the other misfits (they were kicked off the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy tour), made no apologies, had no agenda and very few champions.
There is a searing sharpness to the guitar sound and a ubiquitous clash of cymbals which puts you slightly on edge, the two instruments playing off each other while the bass adds balls into the mix; it’s not an album to relax with your feet up to. Captain Sensible plays bass like he would rather be playing guitar and Dave Vanian’s vocal style is not the croon it became, while still not the nasal whine or screech of a lot of the anti-vocalists of the time; it carried a snarling menace and delivered the lyrics with the wit and mischief required.
Three songs on the album come in under 2 minutes. In fact, the track ‘Fish’ manages to squeeze 3 verses, 3 choruses and a guitar solo into 1:38, an impressive feat. The inclusion of guitar solos was another two fingers up to the punk establishment that said you should hate hippies, shun guitar solos and demean The Beatles (sadly the band’s homage to The Beatles, their cover of ‘Help’ only made it onto the first single, not the album). There are a couple of slower tracks too, ‘Feel The Pain’ being a tortured electric guitar ballad about addiction and ‘Fan Club’ bemoaning the fan/artist relationship, with the fans “waiting for an autograph, well you must be mad” while the artist suffers not much better – “you send me pretty flowers while I’m slashing my wrists”. Add in the bombastic splendour of ‘New Rose’, a track covered by Guns and Roses, and the explosive bass of ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ (which Lemmy liked so much Motorhead often covered it live) and you have a classic album.
There is an intelligence in the words, aggression in the melodies and a weird mix of joy, mischief and unrest in the delivery. The Damned made ‘Damned Damned Damned’ because they were determined to do their own thing. They didn’t label themselves as punk, but true to the punk ideal they did what they wanted to in their own way and mostly on their own. No help, no gimmicks, no fancy publicity stunts, no media coverage. That’s why it’s the only true punk album. Disagree? Then send your complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org