No Bootsale Report, because I honestly can’t muster enough enthusiasm, instead have an article on a punk band.
Ladies and Gentlemen – how do.
Welcome to the fourth instalment of Ten Other Great Songs By… where I gush about the songs you’ve never heard of by bands you don’t know the name of but would recognise if you heard them, eschewing the one or two hits the act has to tell you about 10 other great songs they recorded. We also ignore what I’ve taken to calling a band’s Teenage Kicks – songs that weren’t successful (or even singles sometimes) but are now as well known, if not more well known, than those top selling singles - just like The Undertones’ song Teenage Kicks, which far more people know than their highest charting single My Perfect Cousin. Because I just watched their excellent documentary Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, today it’s time for The Damned.
God just explaining the Damned’s line-up changes is going to take a paragraph. Ok the Damned were one of the first wave of British Punk bands who formed out of the atrociously named rehearsal group the London SS (along with The Clash, Generation X and The Pretenders). They eschewed the more socio-political focus The Clash and the Sex Pistols had to sing songs about, well, just about anything they felt like and were formed by Brian James (Guitar) and Rat Scabies (Drums). The band have a habit of breaking up and reforming with the same regularity that most people change cars, even their most iconic member Captain Sensible (Guitar) was out of the band for a few years in the 1980s after his solo success as a novelty act made it genuinely difficult to sell the band (no, really). The only member of the group who’s been in every line-up is front man Dave Vanian (vocals) as such, no matter what Scabies and James say, I consider wherever Vanian is to be the Damned (except when he was performing with the Phantom Chords obviously, they’re not The Dammed, they have their own name). The bass player was originally Sensible but after he switched it’s been a revolving door of various people that are sometimes people who got cancer, sometimes Dave Vanian’s wife and sometimes Lemmy; Paul Gray and Algy Ward are probably the two most noteworthy. Vanian and Sensible have both had bitter fallings out with Scabies so Scabies hasn’t been with the band since their last reformation, however Pinch (Drums) and the utterly wonderful Monty Oxymoron (Keyboard) have. Got all that? Right, the band were the first British punk group to have a single (New Rose), album (Damned Damned Damned) and American tour (all courtesy of Stiff Records because they’re the best record label ever) and have actually had a few hits – Love Song, Smash it Up and Eloise, so we’ll be ignoring them and their two punk anthems New Rose and Neat Neat Neat which is fine by me as I’ve never really liked Neat Neat Neat as much as I think I’m supposed to.
On a personal note I’m a pretty intense Damned fan, for me they form a kind of unholy trinity of British Punk with The Jam and The Clash and I’ve seen them more times live than any other act bar Alice Cooper, even more than Billy Bragg – who I would happily take a bullet for. I’m happy to see them finally getting the same sort of recognition as The Clash, the Buzzcocks and even the Sex Pistols because while The Clash just beat ‘em for me they’re as good as all three. So are you sitting comfortably? Then mine’s a large one landlord
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (The Black Album, 1980)
So at one of the many Damned concerts I’ve attended they began playing his song and a group of largered up toss-pots began heckling and chanting for ‘punk rock’ and not ‘this goth shit’ – it’s one of the few times I’ve moved away from the front of the crowd during a headlining act (the other was during a Pogues performance of Body of American, I’m enthusiastic not suicidal), I didn’t want to be associated with that shit. “What a posse of wankers” thought I “how can you fail to appreciate that there is a man up there doing a duet with himself about The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – that is the perfect execution of the concept ‘Jekyll & Hyde sing a song’ – just because the music’s slower and creepier? Fuck off to an Exploited gig =- anyway it’s The Damned what did you fucking expect?”
Fan Club (Damned Damned Damned, 1977)
As you will no doubt see in this post, I generally prefer the Damned’s creepier songs to their wackier numbers; this is my attempt at compromise. It’s not the creepiest track on the Damned’s debut (that’s Feel the Pain) and is a hard punk number from the mind of Brian James who plays for lack of better terminology ‘proper guitar music for headbanging bastards’ but there’s a slower, creepier, black and white horror vibe going on with the arrangement (especially in the instrumental breaks following ‘for my fan club’), I have an idea the Misfits really like this song, and Vanian’s vocals have that similar b-movie vibe going on (are they treated? Or is it just Dave’s natural talent at sounding a bit odd?). The song’s about the self-loathing that comes with being in a band and a star, the lack of real emotional connections you make, the peculiarities of fans, the booze, all that shit, but The Damned make it sound like its being performed by The Crawling Eye.
I Need A Life (I’m Alright Jack & The Beanstalk, 19951)
Right, this, I like this album but you won’t hear it played live by the Damned and won’t even see it mentioned very often, it’s the cause2 of the rift between Vanian and Scabies and I do feel a little like I’m being a bit…traitorous including tracks from the album but it is an official Damned album, does feature Dave Vanian (and Rat Scabies) and if anything is suited for this sort of post then it’s I’m Alright Jack & The Beanstalk, an album many don’t know even exist. And it’s not creepy! What it is a straight up rockin’ love song about knowing full well you care about the other person way more than they care about you, not very deep or original but bloody fun and a good rockin’ sing-a-long and more so it’s chorus has that ditty quality to it that makes it perfect to sing when you’re doing something that means you clearly need a life, like say cleaning unidentifiable powder off the backside of a Spider-Man toy or sorting your porn out or whatever.
Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead) (Grave Disorder, 2001)
It’s time for one from the Captain! Of course Vanian’s still on vocals because I want his babies and his baritone makes me swoon but Sensible wrote the song and if you ever wanted to know what the Damned would sound like if they were The Monkees then this is the track you need to hear, of course it still has gothic and psychedelic sounds going on, it’s by the Damned, but there is a very Monkees jangle going on in places too that both disturbs and delights me (I like the Monkees alright? Sue me) and of course it turns into a technical guitar wank off at the end because the guitarist wrote it. Anyway the song is based around a sentiment (that I happen to share) – that being dead has a nasty habit of making people think a lot more of people than their actual talent and achievements support, I’m particularly bitter about this because a lot of dead people I like somehow haven’t benefitted from the ‘dead rule’ – amongst them Ian Dury, Wendy O’ Williams, Joe Meek, Vampira, Malcolm Owens and Thuy Trang – but Jade Goody is now somehow a saint, and I make no excuses or apologies for this, it bugs me. So you should like this song because I agree with, because it sounds a little bit like The Monkees and because it gives Dave Vanian a lot of chances to draw out words in a deep voice, am I doing this ‘recommending shit’ thing right?
Obligatory Cover Version: Help! (B-Side w/ New Rose, 1976)
I tried, I tried to make it White Rabbit or Alone Again Or and they’re so good but I can’t do it, I can’t not recommend a punk band jamming The Beatles’ Help into 1 minute 44 seconds like some mad, yelping B-movie version of The Ramones. It helps that the song is genuinely a good little expression of what it’s like to suffer from depression and to ask for help (for me it’s the first John Lennon song that lives up to his reputation, would you be so hot if you weren’t dead john? Oh wait, yeah you would, you were in the Beatles, shit). As this is probably the only chance I’ll get and because this section is so short: Brian James was a bloody good guitarist, from crunching to roaring all with this little bit of fuzz, the man turns a light, fairly minimal Beatles arrangement into a ripping, full-bodied punk tune and does it at breakneck speed, talented bloke the Brian.
Grimley Fiendish (Phantasmagoria, 1985)
Back to creepy. A nicely gothic piano led affair (or is it an organ? Or Is It A Dream? Ha, see what I did there? Is It A Dream is a song on the same album as this song and…moving on) about… my favourite character in British comic books: Grimly Feendish - The Rottenest Crook in the World. The song puts Grimly on trial, as the judge and lawyers boom down at him, painting him as a corruptor of youth or a child that never grew up and the jury taunt him with ‘bad lad, bad boy, bad lad, bad boy’ Grimly gets to snap and shout about how he never got the breaks Dennis the Menace or Roger the Dodger got to be sympathetic3 and basically, there’s no one to blame for him but his publisher IPC for not treating him right. It’s pretty much the exact thing I’d expect Grimley to say if he really was on trial. But what if you’re not a fan of Grimley Feendish? Well then it’s still a creepy trial of someone who needs to be put ‘where the children can’t be found’ with a nice ‘dom dom dom’ piano figure, in fact I grew to like it before I knew who I was about (my dad once told me it was about the Child Catcher from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, which it totally could be) and it’s still really catchy.
But you SHOULD become a fan of Grimly Feendish because he was great - imagine Gru from Despicable Me (who looks suspiciously like Mr Feendish) but very British and more absurd. He once used once used giant Gummy Bears as minions for fuckssake. He appeared in Wham! (as the villain of the strip Eagle Eye – Junior Spy) and in his own strip in Smash! and Shiver & Shake, do yourself a favour and Google yourself some strips of his.
Generals (Strawberries, 1982)
While we’re on the subject of piano-led numbers meet Generals, the only reason this isn’t my favourite Damned song is because my next choice exists. The Damned made a big fuss about how they didn’t want to write songs about politics, current affairs or sociological issues like The Clash or The Sex Pistols (their two contemporaries early on in the Punk scene) and it made them seem shallow, the zenith of this was ‘Politics’ on 2nd album Music For Pleasure which made them sound like ignorant wankers, the band had come a long way in 5 years and Strawberries, an album with a song aimed directly at President Ronald Regan (it’s called Bad Time For Bonzo and is great) and Generals. Generals takes on those higher up in the chain command, the men who talk of valour and honour and sacrifice and greatship, the men who lead and let everyone know they lead, the men who have historically done this far from harm in nice comfortable lodgings.
The reason the song is so good is that it’s just fanatically well explained, so much so that I’m just going to recite the chorus for the rest of this paragraph: only the wounded remain / the generals have all left the game / with no will to fight / they fade with the light / there’s nobody left they can blame.
This from the band that once had a song that pretty much came down to ‘politics are stupid, you’re stupid, you shouldn’t talk because you have managers (even though we do too), politics are stinky’, it’s amazing what a change in lyricist and a couple of years of Thatcher will do.
These Hands (Machine Gun Etiquette, 1979)
It’s about a killer circus clown, from the point of view of a killer circus clown, set to goth-punk calliope music, as he kills someone. I think that’s all I need to say for this one, next!
Plan 9 Channel 7 (Machine Gun Etiquette, 1979)
So you may have gathered by now that I think Dave Vanian is god. I don’t think this, I know it. Vanain has composed a few epics during his time with the Damned, his masterpiece is generally considered to be Curtain Call on The Black Album – but it’s bloody long and it’s not about Vampira so I prefer this one, in fact this is my favourite Damned song and one my favourite songs period. It’s a roaring good arrangement with a gothic undertone to it, it has Dave Vanian doing his best style of vocals (‘booming’ pretty much covers it), it’s completely evocative of its subject (black and white Hollywood and black and white horror) and that subject is something I’m a big fan of: the original horror hostess Vampira. It deals with her…odd relationship with James Dean, Hollywood’s embracing and rejection of her and it’s general clucking, tongue wagging ‘ooh she’s a bit odd she is’ bullshit and basically how Vampira was just different and that she is wonderful and hypnotic and worthy of your love and a five minute song and you will bow to the queen and codifier and trend setter of horror hosts, bow you unworthy fuckers, bow!…it got away from me there a bit. If I must do ‘that thing’ imagine Nirvana’s Frances Farmer Will Have her Revenge on Seattle but sung by a vampire and played by an undead punk rock group and you should be there. Incidentally Frances Farmer’ is my favourite Nirvana song. Channel 7 was the channel that Vampira’s ‘Dig Me Later, Vampira’ show used to be broadcast on by the way.
Nasty (B-side w/ Thanks for the Night, 1984)
It’s the song they performed on The Young Ones, it has to be included. A straight up rocker about the Video Nasty scandal and the movies that inspired it, I’m never quite sure if it’s for or against the films: lines like ‘crash the horror taxi’ would imply to me that it’s against, that the Video Nasties are the ruination of the genre and given Dave Vanian’s love of the moodier black and white era of horror films I can see him thinking just that about these gory, exploitative, violent pictures like I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left; but at the same time it sound so joyous and celebratory and I can’t imagine the Damned having an issue with something that got up the arses of the establishment, the censors and that old cow Mary Whitehouse in such a delicious fashion so I dunno, maybe it’s just the way Vanian sings everything, he always sounds like he’s into it. Of course it could just be about the whole thing, whatever. Regardless it amounts to a rock song about watching a horror film and if it IS against the Video Nasties it’s sadly ironic as it pretty much has the exact same appeal – joyfully violent thrills.
And with that I ha ha don’t have any more to ha ha say for this article. I’m not ha ha ha putting YouTube links up for these articles because a ha ha ha those sort of videos tend to get taken down and ha ha ha ha I hate finding a blog post with broken links so a ha ha ha ha ha A ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho a ha ha ha ha ha A ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho a ha ha ha ha ha A ha ha ha ha ha ho ho h -- STOP LAUGHING!
1 called Not of This Earth in some territories including its original Japanese release but apparently I’m Alright Jack & The Beanstalk, which was used in the UK, was the intended name for the album (but was considered too much of a mouthful for the Japanese, what with their native language being Japanese an’ all) so it’s the name I’m using.
2 my VERY basic understanding of the problem is that when Vanian was called in do vocals for the album’s worth of material (Scabies and a previously non-Damned guitarist Alan Lee Shaw wrote all but Prokofiev on their own) he was under the impression that it would be released only in Japan (under a different band name – I think) and would only be used to fund the next Damned album (presumably with more previous Damned members?) but Scabies then released it under The Damned named and in all territories and Vanian thought he’d been used
3 this is my interpretation of the line ‘you never made me good’ with ‘good’ meaning ‘heroic’ because Grimely Feendish WAS a good strip, it was popular and well received at the time and retains critical praise to this day.