I’ve seen the Buzzcocks a couple of times in recent years. Yep, they’re still doing it, still tearing through their catalogue of sharp, smart songs – punk anthems. Great pop tunes too.
The Buzzcocks formed in 1976 and swiftly became an important British punk band, influential too as part of the post-punk scene, an almost powerpop combo, proudly independent also.
I saw the 2009 version of the band play and it was great. What struck me about that gig, and I have to say I did expect this going in, was the great run of singles. Hit after hit. Top songs. And they smashed them out, no mucking about – just on with the job. But it was amazing. Mesmerising.
And that is why you go to see this band. I quite liked the 2006 album, Flat-Pack Philosophy but I went to the gigs that followed that album – to hear Orgasm Addict and Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) and the other songs of that calibre, truth be told, if I wasn’t a music-reviewer I’d probably have never heard Flat-Pack Philosophy.
You can make a case for debut album, Another Music In A Different Kitchen (Fast Cars was also very good live) and the follow up, Love Bites – good albums, sure, but I don’t hear Buzzcocks as an albums-band. I hear them as a singles-band. A great singles group. A group that pumped out a bunch of top-notch singles – and their live show, to this day is chock-full of the hits. Still. Those great singles. A nod to whatever new album is out, sure. That’s standard. But just a not. The beauty is there in that run of great singles.
My introduction to the band was the compilation Singles Going Steady – one of the great singles compilations. Right?
When I saw them a half decade ago or so I wrote:
The Buzzcocks razored and slashed through anthemic hits like Fast Cars and the near-ubiquitous Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) keeping the fat trimmed and to the side, presenting lean, mean pop songs dressed in punk attire.
And then I went back for a second serving. And got it. They hadn’t dipped, quality-wise. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle were in great form, still kicking it.
I’ve revisited Flat-Pack Philosophy (it’s okay, not in any way essential, but not embarrassing as so many “comeback” albums often are). But mostly I remember the discovery of Singles Going Steady. I’ve listened to it again, sure. I always will. But even before I put it on I think back to when I found it. I was working in a music store. I knew Ever Fall In Love – because who doesn’t, right? I just knew that song from movies, from cover versions, from compilations, from growing up with it. Hearing it everywhere. It and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart were sister songs for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one to hear them in that way. They’re just songs I’ve always known. And in both senses they were the business card for the band responsible; they were my introduction. The foot in the door.
So one day I spy Singles Going Steady and the shop isn’t due to open for an hour. I’m doing the banking, and I’m in early. I used to smoke back then. Filthy habit. But hey, we all do dumb things sometimes. So the routine was always to cash up, get ready, sneak a smoke before opening. Grab a coffee. And the soundtrack to this, each day, was a new album – one I’d never heard before. It was a good way to get through a lot of music, to find new things (always) and of course to be able to play anything, rather than during opening-hours when it was about picking music to actively sell, to promote happy shopping experiences, to not offend the range of customers.
Singles Going Steady was my best early-morning discovery. Not only did I know more of the songs than I at first recognised from my quick scan of the back cover, I was in such a great mood after hearing it. For the whole day. A rarity in my days in the retail trade. That’s the power of short, sharp blasts of perfect songwriting though; a run of great singles from a great singles band. That’s the joy that comes from the right music at the right time too, a spring-in-the-step start to the day from making the right choice. I still remember it. The first sale of the day was me purchasing that copy of Singles Going Steady.
There are other great singles bands of course. But I always think of Buzzcocks as one of the great singles bands and as that compilation shows they saved many of their best songs for singles, keeping them off the albums.
I always thought The Cars were up there. Because even though I’ve collected their early albums it’s that Greatest Hits compilation (the first one) I go to – and always go back to. Just the other week we were listening to that; friends in town. Everyone knocked off early for the week. A great way to kick off a Friday drink, out on the deck, out where we used to be when we all smoked. Now there’s just the memory of that filthy habit.
Some of the bands that released great singles also released great albums. I’m not saying that The Buzzcocks, The Smiths and The Cars didn’t have decent albums – but I hear them for their singles. I hear them as great singles bands. The Beatles had so many great singles, obviously. They’re the greatest pop band the world will ever see. But they were an albums band. They all but invented the album as a full-length pop concept; one that flows. And you go to your shelf now, take any Beatles album from that roll-top bread-bin you all should have. And, pretty much, you can pick any single Beatles album – any of them – and it’ll play out like a Greatest Hits album. There aren’t many bands that can do that. Really there’s only one. And they were called The Beatles.
But take your copy of Singles Going Steady. Check its tracklisting. Play it. Is there a dud on that compilation? No way. Great singles band, Buzzcocks. One of the best.