The Enigmas are the great Vancouver band of the early-mid 1980s that most folks seem to have never heard of. They had the whole 60s garage-psyche thing more than just down – they actually transported you there, not so much back in time as into a whole other dimension that was tighter than punk and/or hardcore, and sexier, but every bit as hard and fast. If a proper recording existed of their umpteen minute live version of the Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction, it would be way up near the top of this list. As for the Windshield Wiper, it’s a dance. The record even came with a diagram.
In which first wave American punk band X (straight out of LA) rein in the intensity of their attack a touch and rather brilliantly nail down the zeitgeist circa 1983. Which was that, come year three of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, humanoid reptiles were in full ascendancy. Look no further than the radio dial. Where was any band that mattered? Nothing left to do but tell the truth.
“In which Queen unleash one minute fifty seconds of punk rock a good three years before they had a label for such stuff, Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll being found on their first album, the one titled simply Queen. And exhibit A when it came to proving that they could do anything any other so-called rock band could do, and better. At least, that was the argument in the Grade Nine ghetto down by the metal work room.” (Philip Random)
“I cannot tell a lie. The first time I heard the name Dead Kennedys, it kind of took my breath away. I didn’t say anything out loud or anything, but I liked the Kennedys, was old enough to remember the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. And now here was this punk band exploiting them. Not that I really even listened to the music really. It was just trash and exploitation, right? With a name like that! It took 1981’s In God We Trust EP to set me straight, particularly We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now (which I later discovered was a reworking of California Uber Alles from their first album). It was the lounge bit at the beginning that hooked me, the part about happy hour being enforced by law, and a jar of Hitler’s brain juice in the back, and Emperor Ronald Reagan born again with fascist cravings. Welcome to the future. Ready or not.” (Philip Random)
In which the Buzzcocks unleash a short, sharp fever of pure and beautiful pop with punk in its soul. Or is it the other way around? One thing is clear. They were one of (if not the first) bands to have it both ways, and we’ll forever love them for that. Just because you’re mad as hell doesn’t mean you can’t be pretty, too.
NoMeansNo finally got it right on Wrong: the ferocious musicality of their live thunder captured in the studio, pressed to vinyl, unleashed upon the world. The whole album tends to flow together as one prolonged eruption of ugly-beautiful wrongness, but The Tower gets it singled out because it f***ing towers.
Trio had a big deal international pop hit in 1981 with Da Da Da, and that whole first album is good, simple (some would say simplistic, others dadaesque) fun. Ja Ja Ja was the punk number.
“The Gun Club were punk badasses out of L.A. who did much of the dirty work of rescuing the blues way back when, releasing them back into the swamp where they belong, or as I remember someone shouting in my ear in the late ’70s sometime, ‘Punk killed the blues, and a good thing too.’ But good things never die, do they? They just mutate, reinvent, re-emerge, with 1981’s Fire Of Love all the evidence required: the full-on rush of punk and the muck of the bayou (that crossroad where the real stuff never dies), maybe put it at the service of some dangerous poetry about a girl so heavy, she’s like heroin – never misses the vein. Hell yeah.” (Philip Random)
Note the question mark in the title. This is XTC telling it like it was in early 1978 – everybody confused about the new wild sound that was tumbling out of the punk eruptions and eviscerations of the previous year. But what was it? New Wave, claimed the marketing types, but that didn’t mean anything. That was just a way of selling stuff that wasn’t disco or metal or prog or just boring old rock. What it was, was pop, bullshit free, for the moment and all time.