...for a brief spell in 1976, The Damned were world leaders.
Chris Jones 2007
Currently (unfairly) regarded as either cartoon punks or proto-Goths (due to their lead singer’s preference for dressing like Dracula), The Damned were, for a short while in 1976, well ahead of the game. Formed from the ashes of South London’s Masters Of The Backside, these weren’t just snotty teens with attitude, but taste-makers supreme.
Their appearance on the nascent Stiff label joined the dots between punk’s older brother: pub rock and the younger, hipper crowd. In fact, not only did they use ex-Brinsley Schwartz bass player Nick Lowe as house producer, but the label erroneously printed a picture of Eddie And The Hot Rods on the rear! Rarely straying over three minutes, each track featured the hammering toms of Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible’s bass-as-guitar propelling Brian James’ exhilarating machine gun axe into your living room. If Dave Vanian’s frequently flat delivery sounded distinctly laissez faire then it all added to the thrill of a band bent on acts of auto-destruction.
The key moment has to be Vanian’s sarcastic lampooning of the Shangri-Las in his ‘Is she really going out with him?’ intro to “New Rose”. This was a band who wanted to exercise generation terrorism despite the fact that they’d fused their love of early Stooges, MC5 and other garage rejects like the Godz and the Count Five into witty, brief bursts of anti-pop that belied their crass iconoclasm. Brian James’ songs somehow encapsulated the thrill and nihilism of youth (“I Feel Alright”, “Neat Neat Neat”, “I Fall”) while Rat Scabies’ one contribution injected a fine sense of nasty humour as well (“Stab Your Back”).
The album highlights a number of ‘firsts’. The first UK punk single (“New Rose”), the first punk band to land a major tour (supporting Marc Bolan who, as an early adopter also featured them on his TV show – another first!) and, of course, the first proper punk long player (easily a year before the Pistols). Following this Captain Sensible’s desire to have maverick Pink Floyd casualty, Syd Barrett, as their next producer (leading to, of all people, their drummer, Nick Mason, stepping in) led to irreconcilable rifts that saw James’ depart and momentum lost. But for a brief spell in 1976, The Damned were world leaders.