1977- Spirit of Punk
Ah, just what we needed. Another punk compilation. But wait! There’s a real point to this one, what with it being the thirtieth anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks; what’s more, it throws up a couple of interesting tracks that you’d be hard pressed to find on your common or garden retrospective. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the fact that a fair bit of punk was terrible, there’s a generous proportion of post-punk here as well. You get your Clashes and your Damneds, but you also get Talking Heads, Devo and, best of all, John Cooper Clarke.
While post-punk may have been more innovative and inventive, though, it was never as thrillingly vital as the three tracks that kick things off- The Clash’s 1977, Anarchy in the UK and New Rose by The Damned; in fact, nothing since has had anything near the same impact. It’s a bit hit and miss after that, but if this compilation teaches us anything (and given the amount that has already been written and spoken about punk, that’s no mean feat) it’s that punk, far from being the sole preserve of snotty kids with less musical ability than a sea anemone, was actually pretty diverse, even before post-punk came along and replaced bondage trousers with trench coats. On the one hand, there’s the artier, avant garde stuff- thank-you X-Ray Spex- while on the other there’s the laddish singalongs of Sham 69 and Chelsea. The Sex Pistols and The Clash dominate the middle ground. Unlike subsequent trends in music (baggy, Britpop etc.), punk endures because it spoke to everyone, not just one section of the music-buying public.
What is also notable is that several of the best songs here display a quality of sound that seems quite alien to the stereotypical concept of punk, but which is probably the reason for their enduring success; Anarchy in the UK being the most obvious example, a song where the wall of sound guitars manage admirably to drown out John Lydon’s camp sneer. It’s like being crushed by a fleet of juggernauts. It’s not just an empty, aggressive pop song, though; the production compliments the message. By contrast, the two Generation X songs included here get the first part of the equation right, but the second part hopelessly wrong. And they’re rubbish.
Disc One of the compilation is more conventionally punk, with two tracks each from The Saints, The Stranglers (two too many) and Buzzcocks. Disc Two is more adventurous, although it does manage to find a place for Teenage Kicks, which, by law, has to appear on every single compilation CD ever released (track 14 on The World’s Greatest Trance). The likes of Bow Wow Wow and Devo also crop up, which will probably not please hardened Sham 69 fans, but gets bonus points from this reviewer.
While the world probably doesn’t need another punk retrospective, 1977- Spirit of Punk is by no means an unwelcome release. The classics are all present and correct, pleasing more casual listeners, but there’s also plenty left-of-field stuff for the discerning listener. An excellent celebration in every respect.