Until checking out Singles Going Steady from the EPFL, I'd never knowingly heard The Buzzcocks. Now, punk isn't really my thing, but still... I'm pretty embarrassed by this omission. It's like saying I've never heard Janis Joplin or LL Cool J or Soundgarden. You rock snobs out there know what I'm talking about; our smug personae are built upon the arrogant belief that we know more about rock than, well, anyone. Facing the fact that I've never heard one of the fundamental building blocks of punk rock forces me to accept that all of my self-righteous rants about music are nothing more than compensation for a very, very small record collection. It's so small, I probably couldn't even get a girl from the record store in the Towson Town Center to go out with me. We're talking tiny.
Anyway. This isn't about me, this is about The Buzzcocks.
On first listen, I was simultaneously blown away and disappointed. Let's deal with the disappointment first. This is simple pop-punk, before such a thing as pop-punk existed. It's snotty and fun and a little pissed off, kind of like The Ramones were. That's fine, but so what? How much snotty punk music does the world really need? Yeah, you're white and middle class and smart and gosh durnit, it's just not fair. Blah blah blah, whine whine whine, whatever. You're not the first person to discover sex or think your parents are kind of lame, so just shut up already and do something with all that money and intelligence and pearly skin with which you were cursed.
But I kept listening, because I wasn't only disappointed, I was also blown away. These songs are phenomenal. Pete Shelley either learned about music composition somewhere in his pre-Buzzcocks days, or he's got an innate talent and a gifted ear. When you skim away the snotty punk attitude and the unrefined surface, these songs are compositionally closer to The Beatles or The Beach Boys than they are to The Ramones. No, there's nothing like "Tomorrow Never Knows" or "Good Vibrations" on Singles Going Steady, but every single song has an enormous pop sensibility. Really, there's not a bad track on the album, and the best songs are as good as (or better than) any punk song ever written.
As much as I love ripping apart sub-par rock albums that are considered to be great, Singles Going Steady lives up to its reputation. Every track is good, if not great, and everything here stands up against anything that's come out in the subsequent three decades of punk. What's kind of neat about this album is that it wasn't recorded as an album; it's a collection of singles released between 1977 and 1979. Songs 1-8 are the A-sides, and 9-16 are the respective B-sides.
Don't even bother looking at it, because there's nothing worthwhile other than the track listing and the dates the original singles were released.
Listen if you like: Any punk band that's recorded an album in the past 30 years. But also listen if you like well-written songs with a fair share of attitude, because if you get past the angst, the music is on par with some of the greatest pop/rock ever written.
If it were food, it'd be: Fresh lemonade. Sour, sweet, delicious, and refreshing... all at the same time.