By the time that The Damned arrived at Chiswick in 1979 they had released four singles on Stiff and given one away, two LPs had been issued, one of which they weren’t keen on at the time and the other was already regarded as seminal. There had been a couple of line-up changes, Stiff had relieved themselves of their services; they had all formed different bands and then reformed as the Doomed due to legal matters over the name. Next, manager Rick Rogers and their publisher Rock Music recorded two new songs, ‘Love Song’ and ‘Burglar’ and wacked them out as the legendary ‘Dodgy Demo’ which was mostly given away at gigs. At a packed gig in London Chiswick Records were persuaded to sign them up, despite rumours of raucous behaviour on their part.
The A-side of the ‘Dodgy Demo’ was picked as the first single and Eddie (of Hot Rods fame) Hollis elected as producer. Eventually, after new vocals were recorded and remixes were made, the single finally was issued on 27 April 1979, distributed through EMI. In a shameless attempt to exploit the fan market, the single was issued in four separate picture bags, each featuring a different band member taken at a photo session by Alan Ballard. The shameless marketing worked and the single charted, eventually peaking at 20 in May, helped by two wildly over the Top of the Pops appearances. So far so good.
Over the summer an album was started and eventually from that came the second single, edited from the album: ‘Smash It Up’. Everyone thought that this was to be the break-through record as it had everything that a hit record needed. However Auntie BBC did not like the title, despite the humorous and obviously tongue in cheek nature of the lyrics. It still made it to #35 and over the years became the great Damned anthem, capable of turning a ballroom into a seething mass of colliding bodies.
So, within six weeks of ‘Smash It Up’, single 3, ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ was released. In the wake of the ‘Smash It Up’ ban there was some nervousness about the middle 8 lyric and a new one was recorded for the promo version in the hope that it would not suffer the same fate. ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ was given some play and there was a Top of the Pops appearance that helped the record to sneak into the charts.
Into a new decade and there was some thrashing about of the ‘what to do next’ kind. The 60s provided one answer in the shape of a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’. Truth to tell, the flip ‘Rabid Over You’ was the better A-side, but given the past history of banning, why bother even trying with a title like that? (These were more innocent days, children.) A dispute ensued and the record was withdrawn in the UK, only getting to test pressing stage. Ho Hum.
It was 1980, synths were becoming all the rage and there was a young programmer/musician called Hans Zimmer who had worked with Buggles on their 1979 hit ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. He was in the studio with another Chiswick band, the Radiators, when the Damned co-opted him for their epically titled ‘The History of the World, Part 1’. But that did take some time and money to make, and eventually it came out in September of that year credited as “Over-Produced by Hans Zimmer”. An epic work that cost epic amounts of money but slightly lacking the sales to match. But then art is often hard to contain and Hans Zimmer did make good use of the training exercise and went on to score such films as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and various Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so at least he made a bob or two out of it all. It’s still a great record – and definitely epic.
The single was featured on the next album, but no other single A-sides were pulled from it at the time. Instead the festive season got the better of everyone and, with a tip of the hat to the Marks Brothers, ‘There Ain’t No Sanity Clause’ became the final Damned single on Chiswick, some 19 months after the release of the first. What a short strange trip it was.
By Roger Armstrong