The 10 best punk rock singles, by The Undertones' Michael Bradley
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It’s one of those clichés, but punk rock absolutely changed my life. I’m one of those people who was lucky enough to have been born at exactly the right time, because I turned 18 in 1977 as all these incredible records were being released. Obviously everyone thinks that their music taste is amazing at that age, but really, what a time to be a music fan.
The Undertones existed, in theory, from 1974, when we had a couple of acoustic guitars and a set of bongos and the desire to learn old R&B songs, but we didn’t properly play until March 1976, when our set list contained a couple of Dr. Feelgood songs, a couple of Rolling Stones song, a Fleetwood Mac song and Badge by Cream. We were rough and ready, but we started getting regular shows by February 1977, by which time we had heard [legendary garage rock compilation] Nuggets, Anarchy in the UK and the first Ramones album, and our little world had been turned upside down.
So here’s the 10 ten best punk rock singles released around that time. And no, I’m not going to put The Undertones in it…
10. THE ADVERTS – Gary Gilmore’s Eyes (1977)
The Adverts must have turned this record around incredibly quickly, because it didn’t seem like any time at all between the news that Gary Gilmore, the Texas murderer, was going to be executed and this single coming out and then The Adverts appearing on Top Of The Pops. I can’t pretend I was a huge fan of The Adverts, but they had three or four absolutely brilliant records, and this was one of them. I present a radio show and I still play this: it’s got a great thrash to it. And Gaye Advert was a fantastic bass player, really underrated.
9. THE SAINTS – (I’m) Stranded (1976)
What a great record. This came out before everything else [it was released in September 1976, one month earlier than the first UK punk single, The Damned’s New Rose] and it was like the Ramones, but tougher. I remember The Undertones trying to learn this, but we never played it that well. We were just trying to keep up. It’s an absolute stormer.
8. RAMONES – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (1977)
This is the first of two entries by the Ramones. I remember listening to the chart rundown one Tuesday afternoon in the summer of 1977 – in those days Tuesday was when you first heard what was in the charts – and I remember Sheena Is A Punk Rocker came on daytime radio and it was absolutely great. We knew about the Ramones, we’d heard the first LP, and we loved it: The Undertones based a career around the Ramones’ first LP I would say! ‘The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…’ what a great record, the summer song to end all summer songs. I love it.
7. THE STRANGLERS – Go Buddy Go (1977)
The Stranglers still scare me: even when I was watching them on TV I used to think ‘I wouldn’t like to tangle with these guys.’ Go Buddy Go was a double A-side single with Peaches, and Peaches is good but there’s a kind of unsavoury underbelly to that song that I don’t like, but Go Buddy Go is great: it’s old traditional rock ‘n’ roll but the bass playing of Jean Jacques Brunel really brings it to another level. At the start when he shouts out ‘Boogie! Woogie!’ it’s such a corny line and it shouldn’t work but it does, and it’s absolutely great. But a scary bunch! I saw them up close when we supported them in Portrush in Northern Ireland in 1978 and they were really good, and actually really charming, they made sure that we got a soundcheck, and bands wouldn’t normally do that. They played brilliantly, but I remember that there was a lot of spitting from the crowd and halfway through the show Jean Jacques Brunel just took off his bass and dived into the crowd, grabbed some guy who was particularly annoying him, dealt with him and got back on stage and carried on playing. Classic Stranglers.
6. THE DAMNED – New Rose (1976)
A lot of people might put New Rose at number 1 because it’s the first UK punk rock single, and it’s just brilliant. A lot of punk bands looked back to the great pop records from the ‘60s, and the first time I heard this, with that brilliant ‘Is she really going out with him?’ line, I didn’t recognise it, it was only afterwards that someone said ‘That’s the first line of a classic Shangri-Las song’ and then I thought it was really smart. I think because The Damned were funny and had such a strong image, sometimes that acted against them, and people didn’t recognise and realise how great their records were. As well as being the first, New Rose is definitely one of the very best singles from this era – or any other era to be honest.
5. THE JAM – In The City (1977)
In those days, I used to buy the NME every week and I remember there was about six or seven editions in a row where there was a new punk band on the front cover each week, and The Jam were on it just as In The City was coming out. I’d never heard The Jam, but when I saw their photos – with their black and white bowling shoes and their suits – there was something I really liked about them. My friend Vinnie O’Neil bought this single – without hearing it first – and the first time I heard it was when Vinnie put it on the record player back at the house and I just loved it. Looking back on it now, compared to some of The Jam stuff it sounds slightly simplistic – and I’m in The Undertones, we can hardly call out anything as simplistic! – but it has an energy and a real pure spirit. ‘In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you…’ what a great line. I still love this record after all these years, and what they went on to do with All Mod Cons and Setting Sons was just brilliant.
4. BUZZCOCKS – Love You More (1978)
I could pick 10 Buzzcocks singles, but my favourite is Love You More: it came out in 1978 and it must be one of the shortest records ever made. There’s about three or four seconds of guitar before Pete Shelley comes in with ‘I’m in love again’, which is just a great start. I sometimes try to memorise the words of this, but I can’t, because even in the space of 100 seconds it goes all over the place and comes back to that great chorus. I think the best part about it is the way it stops: it stops almost as if a piano fell out of the sky and landed on top of them. The first time you hear it you think ‘What happened there?’ and you have to go back to hear it again. It’s a beautiful piece of art, a brilliant record.
3. RAMONES – Blitzkrieg Bop (1976)
I got the first Ramones LP for Christmas in 1976 – I’d actually heard it before that, because a friend of ours had it and I remember borrowing it – but the first time I heard it I had that classic reaction of thinking all the songs sounded the same. And they do all sound the same, but compared to all the records that came before it’s really difficult to convey how big a difference it was. It was like rock n’ roll closed down and then re-opened with the Ramones, the first Ramones record just reinvented the whole thing and it’s absolutely brilliant. Blitzkrieg Bop was the single and it’s just one of the best records every made. ‘Hey Ho, let’s go…’ It’s said to have been influenced by the Bay City Rollers’ Saturday Night, with that chant thing: I know the guy who co-wrote Saturday Night, Phil Coulter, who’s from Derry, and I remember telling him that the Ramones were really influenced by the Bay City Rollers and he loved it.
2. THE DAMNED – Neat Neat Neat (1977)
The bass line on this is just fantastic, even now in Undertones’ soundchecks I still play this bass line… badly. I’ve no idea what this is about, but what a great title. [Guitarist] Brian James never gets the credit he deserves for the early Damned songs, but this is just a brilliant single.
1. SEX PISTOLS – God Save The Queen (1977)
Obviously I could have picked Anarchy… or Pretty Vacant, but if I had to have just one Pistols single, it would be this. This was such a great record, and it’s still a great record. It genuinely scared the establishment when it came out, the timing of it was just perfect. I remember reading the NME around the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 and they basically devoted every page of that issue to this single. Much like George Martin with The Beatles, Chris Thomas made the Sex Pistols sound amazing, really clean and clear but really powerful. You could hardly hear this on the radio, as it was effectively banned, but I remember a friend of ours bought it and we all went back to his house to hear it and it just hit you like someone hitting you around the head with a spade. That line ‘There is no future in England’s dreaming…’ my God, I’m 56 and every single time I hear this record I’m back to being 18 years old again.
Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone by Michael Bradley is out now on Omnibus Press. He was speaking to Paul Brannigan.