It’s all there in the opening line: I am angry, I am ill, and I’m as ugly as sin. Welcome to Magazine, a band that is definitely not working the same boring fantasies as your Van Halens, Bostons, Foreigners or any of the other popular outfits of the day. Nah, this was a Dostoyevskian truth, bitter and beautiful. And what a hot band! All the bile and eviscerating energy of punk, but not afraid to be a little sophisticated. Hell, you could even dance to it, annoy the people downstairs, under the floorboards.
“Labelling Yello synth-pop is missing the point. True they had synths and even a few hot pop songs, but listen to their first album, the aptly named Solid Pleasure, and a different picture quickly gets painted. Sambas, ambience, outright strangeness, and yeah, in the case of the lead-off track, Bimbo, a nifty bit of synth pop, albeit with Swiss tongues deeply in cheek. Dedicated to a guy I used to know (friend of a friend, I forget his name now) who told me his idea of perfection was to stay at home, get drunk, put Solid Pleasure on and bash away to it on his drum kit. Over and over again. Last I saw him, he wasn’t drumming anymore, just passed out on a couch.” (Philip Random)
“I first discovered Bankrobber via Black Market Clash, a compilation of various singles, b-sides, versions etc that came our way toward the end of 1980, perhaps driving home the point that no other outfit in the world mattered more. I mean, consider the evidence. In 1979 and 1980, The Clash release London Calling (two record set), Sandinista (three record set) and Black Market Clash which, as a subsequent CD reissue would prove, was itself just a tip of the iceberg in terms of unreleased stuff. And these non-album ‘rejects’ were often straight up brilliant as Bankrobber’s pumped up dub grooving rather forcibly argues. Hell, I know one guy who seriously considered going into a life of crime based on its simple logic of stealing form the filthy rich but not hurting anybody in the process. Then he sobered up.” (Philip Random)
“This is UB40 before they lightened up, became banal and sold gazillions of records. This is UB40 when they were still serious contenders, working the dark and delicious dub regions of the late 1970s, early 1980s, unafraid of what lurked there. In the case of Madame Medusa, that meant twelve plus minutes of serious groove that would continue to rock dance floors well into the 1990s – at least it did whenever I was given access to the turntables. What a band! What a loss!” (Philip Random)
“I had heard of Joy Division before the big deal suicide – I just hadn’t heard any of the music (sound traveling much slower before the internet). And meanwhile, I was dealing with a close personal suicide of my own, ex-friend James. So I was abundantly clear on one thing: suicide wasn’t cool, wasn’t romantic, wasn’t meaningful, wasn’t anything but a dire, miserable fact. So when word came down that the lead singer of this cool new band had offed himself, I just wasn’t interested, particularly as a sort of cult grew around him. ‘Badfinger had two suicides, so they’re twice as cool,’ I was guilty of saying. And guilt’s the word, because I was wrong. Not about the romanticizing of suicide, but about shrugging off the fierce grace of Joy Division‘s music. Nothing could negate that. Ever.” (Philip Random)
There’s no shortage of rage in the Johnny Rotten (aka Lydon) discography, but nowhere else does so much sorrow show itself than in Public Image Ltd’s Death Disco (aka Swan Lake because it cops a bit of the Tchaikovsky melody), a recorded recorded immediately after the death of his mother (she requested some disco for her funeral). It actually hurts to listen to it, but in a good way (not that the whole album doesn’t lean that way) — the punk is revealed as all too human, just in case there was any doubt.
“Call me agnostic on The Jam. Don’t hate them, just never really joined the fan club. Which is not to say they didn’t nail it every now and then. Like with That’s Entertainment, hitting like a scene from a movie that never got made, the one where the mod punk sort of new wave guy puts down his electric guitar, grabs his acoustic and gets to hard strumming, spitting out his disgust at all the ugliness getting passed off as beauty, all the villains getting sold as heroes, all the nightmares with laugh tracks. Just smile, folks, call it entertainment, and don’t mind the rotating knives.” (Philip Random)
Before their absurdly huge pop success, Human League had two albums of just being a cool outfit mucking around with synthesizers, drum machines, other weird gear, exploring all the mysterious regions that the new technology was opening up. Dreams of Leaving, found on their second album Travelogue, gets downright epic before it’s done, something to do with closed borders, grudges, maybe just paranoia. It was 1980. There was a lot to worry about.