Longevity barely registered in punk’s original manifesto. Genre firebrands Sex Pistols notoriously declared “we’re not into music, we’re into chaos”, while Sideburns – one of a thousand punk fanzines mushrooming in the wake of Sniffin’ Glue – printed hastily Xeroxed chord shapes and proclaime:d “Here are 3 chords, now form a band!”
It’s ironic, then, that four decades later, seminal punk LPs including Never Mind The Bollocks… Here’s The Sex Pistols, The Clash’s eponymous debut and The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned rank among rock’s most timeless LPs. However, while the mainstream soon absorbed punk, its initial carpe diem attitude lives on in the myriad one-off singles released by countless short-lived outfits who briefly left their mark and promptly returned to obscurity. To celebrate this singular DIY spirit, we present 11 unsung punk classics which stick it to the man in style.
1: The Rings: ‘I Wanna Be Free’ (Chiswick, 1977)
Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll’s staunch independent imprint Chiswick issued landmark titles such as The Damned’s Machine Gun Etiquette and Motörhead’s self-titled debut LP, but also inspired one-off single releases such as this coruscating, Heartbreakers-esque 7” from London quartet The Rings. Built around vocalist (and ex-Pink Fairies drummer) John “Twink” Alder and guitarist Alan Lee Shaw, this volatile quartet was short-lived, though – minus Twink – they later morphed into Maniacs and recorded another lost punk classic, ‘Chelsea 77’, for United Artists.
2: Jet Bronx And The Forbidden: ‘Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’’ (Lightning, 1977)
The first 15,000 copies of Jet Bronx And The Forbidden’s lone official single, ‘Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’’, were available on red vinyl and the disc rocketed up to No.49 in the UK charts before dying a quick death. True to incandescent punk form? Absolutely, even if The Forbidden were actually a proto-punk supergroup of sorts, consisting of ex-Rolling Stone writer turned TV culinary star Loyd Grossman (aka Jet Bronx) ably supported by Hall & Oates bassist George Ford and future Cockney Rebel drummer Stuart Elliott.
3: Spitfire Boys: ‘British Refugee’ (RK, 1977)
Another punk supergroup of sorts, The Spitfire Boys were all regulars at Liverpool’s premier punk haunt, Eric’s. Their original line-up featured vocalist Paul Rutherford (later of Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and future Siouxsie & The Banshees/Slits drummer Budgie, while guitarist David Littler later co-wrote several songs such as ‘Mind Of A Toy’ with Visage star Steve Strange. Addressing the Northern Irish political situation of the day, the original band’s lone single, ‘British Refugee’, has retained an urgency which still convinces today.
4: Martin And The Brown Shirts: ‘Taxi Driver’ (Lightning, 1978)
All self-respecting punk bands needed a confrontational name, but this Chester-based quartet perhaps chose unwisely, as their Oswald Mosley-esque nom de guerre often attracted right-wing violence at their gigs. In reality, these Brown Shirts had no truck with fascism and wrote songs long on pastiche and irony. Arguably their best was their lone 45, the belting ‘Taxi Driver’, based on the dialogue from the cult Robert De Niro movie of the same name.
5: The Deadbeats: ‘Final Ride’ (from Kill The Hippies EP, Dangerhouse, 1978)
In the sleevenotes to Soul Jazz’s Punk 45: Chaos In The City Of Angels And Devils, David Brown’s Dangerhouse imprint is described as “the mini-Motown of LA punk”. It’s a fair appraisal of a label responsible for issuing landmark vinyl from first-wave LA punks such as X, The Bags and The Randoms. Dangerhouse also released The Deadbeats’ lone EP, the incendiary Kill The Hippies, featuring ‘Final Ride’: a warped but inspired Dead Kennedys-esque outing which cops its initial motif from Handel’s ‘Death March (From Saul)’.
6: The Nerves: ‘TV Adverts’ (Lightning, 1978)
Stafford-based trio The Nerves had a short but eventful career. Though briefly signed to the UB40-affiliated Graduate label, they eventually released their lone 7”, the crunchy, insistent ‘TV Adverts’, through roots reggae label Lightning. Produced by Climax Blues Band’s Richard Jones, the single topped the UK Alternative Charts. The Nerves later toured and built a following in France, but split with little fanfare in 1980.
7: The Hollywood Squares: ‘Hillside Strangler!’ (Square, 1978)
Los Angeles punks The Hollywood Squares weren’t to know, but there were actually two separate serial killers – Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr – stalking the Hollywood Hills across the winter of 1977. Between them, they killed ten people and were both given life sentences for their crimes. Mostly sold via Greg Shaw’s famous Bomp! Records store in North Hollywood, and now highly collectible, The Hollywood Squares’ only single, ‘The Hillside Strangler’, is one of punk’s darkest paeans. It perfectly captured the fear and paranoia rife in LA while these notorious killers were on the loose.
8: Filth ‘Don’t Hide Your Hate’ (Plurex, 1978)
The Netherlands was always hip to the coolest sounds emanating from the UK, so it’s no surprise punk trailblazers such as Sex Pistols and The Clash were welcome in the country, or that the nation soon nurtured a healthy punk scene of its own. Aside from Amsterdam-based Filth, Dutch punk’s first wave included bands such as Ivy Green, The Flying Spiders and The Tits, and the latter outfit’s Wally Middendorp formed the Plurex imprint to celebrate this growing scene. Arguably its best early release, Plurex’s third title was Filth’s lone 7” featuring three short, sharp, disciplined shocks to the system – of which ‘Don’t Hide Your Hate’ surely remains the most resonant.
9: The Normals: ‘Almost Ready’ (Lectric Eye, 1978)
In retrospect, it’s hard to comprehend why Louisiana punks The Normals never made the grade. This New Orleans quartet built up a sizeable local following, supported artists such as The Police, Ramones and Talking Heads, and released the confident ‘Almost Ready’ in 1978. The group did everything they could to progress, including relocating in New York during 1979, but they split after failing to land a record deal.
10: The Licks: ‘1970’s Have Been Made In Hong Kong’ (from 1970’s EP, Stortbeat, 1979)
Strongly influenced by Crass’ anarcho-punk manifesto, Bishops Stortford punks The Licks started life as The Epileptics until a complaint from the British Epilepsy Association forced them to record their furious three-track 1970’s EP for local Herts DIY label Stortbeat. They recorded nothing else as The Licks, but later regrouped as The Epileptics before morphing into anarcho-punks Flux Of Pink Indians. Bassist Derek Birkett later founded renowned independent imprint One Little Indian.
Scream And Dance: ‘In Rhythm’ (Recreational, 1981)
From The Pop Group through to Portishead and Massive Attack, Bristol has always known how to own the dancefloor. Consequently, it’s no surprise that this close-knit city’s post-punk era sired groove-friendly refuseniks such as Pigbag and Rip, Rig + Panic. Closer in spirit to Slits were Bristol duo Scream And Dance, featuring vocalists Amanda Stewart and Ruth George-Jones, alongside drummer and future Blue Aeroplanes frontman Gerard Langley. Scream And Dance also reportedly recorded some demos aside from their lone official single, ‘In Rhythm’, but split abruptly, gravitating to London. ‘In Rhythm’ eventually gained some posthumous attention when it was remixed by Amsterdam-based DJ Marcelle Van Hoof in 2008.
Follow the Pure Punk playlist, which features a barrage of rowdy classics from punk’s better-known heroes.