Creem, October 1977

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Creem

US rock magazines

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Pretty vacant

Letter from Britain

Simon Frith

To tell you the truth, nothing at all happened this month. I didn't go to any gigs — none I can remember anyway — and I can't get worked up like the rest of the rock press, about the Summer of Hate — new wave groups and fans getting beat up, etc. All that's happening, that I can see, is that the papers are reporting little local difficulties rather than concentrating on the superstars like they usually do. And at the little local level rock 'n' roll has accompanied people being beat up for as long as I can remember. Part of the frisson of a rock show for a nice boy like me is the possibility of trouble as the drink and sweat pour into the maelstrom of macho obstinacy. Waiting at the stage door for the bands to come out to get done over (unless the roadies get you first) is part of the grand tradition of provincial dances, and to stride the streets as a punk in 1977 is no more risky than having long hair in 1964, short hair in 1969, green hair in 1973 or a black skin any time. The drunken Englishman is a pretty nasty fellow and always has been (though not as nasty as the drunken Scotsman). Enough said.

The sun hasn't shone much either and all there's been to do is listen to records and try to sort out What It All Means. What it all means, I'm glad to say, is that the new wave is here to stay — the best records of the year as well as the best news has come from various descriptions of punk. Here, then, are ten groups for the summer of '77.

(Aside: blaming it on EMI. As there's a hundred new bands I've never heard because they come tumbling out all sounding the same on obscure labels without press people and I don't know which ones to buy, this isn't a real good guide and as EMI, fresh from their triumphs with the Pistols, have just released Live at the Roxy — an instant anthology of all the best known London gigging punks — but not sent it to me [and if it's anything like Live at CBGB's or whatever that record was called, it'll only prove again the old hippie adage that the best bands get the best contracts and screw the rest] and as the man from Capitol [same record company, different phone] couldn't think of any reason why he should send me [in England] Mink DeVille, an American record [of which some people say good things and some people don't] to write about it in CREEM [an American magazine], I say screw it too and remember another old adage: if I haven't heard it, it isn't any good.)


1, 2 & 3: The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Chelsea.

In as far as there is a single British punk sound, it is the one made by the Pistols and the Clash. Its essential components are tone of voice and a chorus. Musically there's little more than a cacophony of aggressive noise, melodically there is nothing much to hum, and even by rock standards these boys can't sing. The buzz — and it's a big buzz — comes when the snarled anger, frustration and adrenalin of the vocals matches the snarled anger, frustration and adrenalin of the chorus. There's no doubt that this is a form that's made for tedium — unless the chorus is catchy there's nothing but noise, and it's a thin line between real and posed anger. Most punk records don't bear listening and the Pistols and the Clash are awesome just for their strike rate — they consistently manage the match of three minute form and content that has always been the essence of good rock 'n' roll and, even better, their best records are their most recent: The Clash's "Capitol Radio" (sorry about this — it's one of those obscure fans' singles you had to get by sending in a red sticker and a form from the NME) and the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant," with its precise lyric — "We're so pretty, oh so pretty — vacant!"

Of the second generation (already) new wave of new wavers that I've heard, only Chelsea, with singer Gene October's "Right To Work" have got the formula so good. And when was the last time Pete Townshend wrote a song about the unemployment line? These boys sound communal, whatever sort of jerks they may be in private.


4, 5 & 6: The Ramones, Blondie, The Dictators.

In as far as there's an American punk sound, I guess it's the one made by these New Yorkers and it's not so much a sound as a sensibility. I haven't seen the Dictators but the others are more convincing on record than on stage and all of them are addictive — their LPs get better as they play on (unlike the British bands, for whom three minutes at a time is quite enough). They are also all funny, clever and kinda fake — I mean, they all come on so nasty, and come out so nice. Fine pop groups, all three, and the opposite, dead opposite, in every respect, to the British punks. It's the difference between fun and fury and fun last longer but fury's more correct and what a good summer when we've got them both in such hot form.


7, 8 & 9: Dave Edmunds, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Elvis Costello.

It isn't fashionable to like Eddie and the Hot Rods anymore because really they just play that old rhythm and blues very fast. But then they always did and they still do it bloody well and the live EP, At the Sound of Speed, is as bouncily exhilarating as a July record should be. Ditto for Dave Edmunds. Get It is another sharp album of old rock 'n' roll and if Dave Edmunds isn't exactly new wave, he's still newer wave than old bands like Southside Johnny's and he's got Nick Lowe in his band on bass and Nick Lowe is the spider of this whole web, moving easily from Brinsley Schwarz and pub rock to Stiff records and punk rock, and at the same time producing an eccentric singer, Elvis Costello, who's no punk but one of those pop obsessives (like Jonathon Richman) around whom cults gather. I haven't a clue what "Less Than Zero," his first single, was about but it sounded like an important debut; and "Alison," his second single, is pretty neat too. Elvis is our summer charmer.


10. Bob Marley.

Punks still like reggae, I still like reggae, Bob Marley still likes reggae. Exodus is a good enough reason for all of us.

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Creem, October 1977


EC is mentioned in Simon Frith's Letter From Britain.

Images

1977-10-00 Creem page 42.jpg 1977-10-00 Creem page 71.jpg
Page scans.

1977-10-00 Creem cover.jpg
Cover.

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