If Punk Rock was about outsiders, The Damned were the outsiders’ outsiders. From the start they didn’t toe the party line and nor were they cowed by any management – often the reverse in fact. In such serious times they were packed full of fun and wit, though always lurking under the surface was the feeling that something was about to go off. At its best this was in their music and that was another thing that set them apart from Punk Rock ordinaire. Despite the early Stiff promotion and its sarcastic one-liners – something that The Damned were no strangers to themselves – they did know quite a lot of chords.
After an incendiary opening salvo in “Damned x3” they made the flawed “Music For Pleasure” and promptly split up. It was when they re-formed that they really came into their own with Captain shifting to guitar and the subsequent flowering of a startling melodic sense combined with a wonderful ability to contrive intricate arrangements. Not only a great guitar player, but the #1 nude guitar player on many occasions, with more revered well-dressed pickers heard paying due respect. They didn’t fully abandon their Punk Rock roots and that manic edge was still there in most everything they did. They always were more than a front man with some blokes backing, even though in Dave Vanian they had the best-dressed man in town, and with the dark charisma of a matinee idol a consummate front man. Then on lead drums was the (at times thankfully) inimitable Rat Scabies and, though channelling the ghost of Keith Moon whilst the latter was still alive, he very much had his own signature style and attracted a lot of respect from his peers for his ability to push things to the limit with only the occasional teeter over the edge.
With the line-up change, they were briefly called the Doomed in lieu of law suits form the “rightful” owner of the name, but soon reverted to the Damned and announced themselves with the ‘Dodgy Demo’ version of what was to become the first of their Chiswick singles, “Love Song”. Top Of The Pops came and went and then again as the new line-up entered the world of Smash Hits. Of course ‘Smash It Up’ had to be banned by the Beeb for being too subversive – streuth! They were reprieved for ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’ and proceeded to go on the rampage on Old Grey Whistle Test, which at least lent it some Punk Rock credentials. Woops, ‘White Rabbit’ nearly came out and then the epic ‘History Of The World Pt 1’ did. It was produced over and over again by Hans Zimmer who later put the experience to good use by scoring just about every major movie of the last 30 years. Their Chiswick Records 45 career finished with ‘There Ain’t No Sanity Clause’, a raucous two fingers to Old St Nick that didn’t quite capture the prevailing mood of fluffy toys and tinsel.
So the As and Bs of these singles are gathered here today to give an account of two turbulent years spent in and out of favour for the finest musicians to ever play Punk Rock and beyond.
And another thing … in case you think it ended there. We have the School Bullies doing ‘Teenage Dream’, an otherwise unissued Damned song; the other side of what was to be the Motordamned single, where two bands collide in a studio and no one was seriously injured; and ‘Antipope’, a track from the “Machine Gun Ettiquette” LP, only with a fine bit of violin art weirdness from Aleksander Kolkowski in the middle. Rounding the whole thing off is the exceptionally good ‘Friday The 13th’ EP cut just before the band finally left Chiswick and went on eventually via The Young Ones TV show to greater chart success and much bigger hair with MCA records.
By Roger Armstrong