Wednesday, February 13, 2013


They weren't the most famous (that would be the Sex Pistols), or the best (you have to give that to The Clash), but they were the first.  The Damned were the first punk band to release a single in Year Zero, 1976, with New Rose, five weeks before the Pistols debut.  They then bashed out the first punk album, Damned Damned Damned.  And they were certainly.. well, they were the first.  That's a given.

Were they any good?  Depends on your punk preferences I guess.  They were good musicians, and were brimming with ideas and songs, as was shown later with a pretty fine string of albums and live shows.  But this raw album, while perfectly proper for the time, and a very accurate document of their sound, is not exactly something you want to throw on daily.  It has its highlights, New Rose and Neat Neat Neat the best known numbers, but its pretty basic buzzsaw guitar and pounding drums.  It was quite shocking for the time, as I recall.  Now, you know they and others did better.

So, what do we have here?  It's a four-disc set celebrating the debut album, which is of historical significance, but as a listening experience appeals to only a select group.  It's propped up by a variety of your typical box set add-ons, of varying quality.  That's typical of the recent spate of boxes devoted to one disc, the latest big one Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.  What I can tell you is this is the best package I've seen, a true gem, what you hope every one of these extravaganzas will deliver.  First, the extra audio:  Disc one is just the original album, fair enough.  The second set is a very generous collection of b-sides, Peel sessions (BBC radio), and a live broadcast in fine quality from '77, after they had broken through on the charts.  The third platter is quite the find in some ways.  It's the very first gig, in 1976, by the original band, in an opening slot for the Sex Pistols.  Amazingly, it comes from a portable cassette recorder, with just an internal mic., smuggled into the show in a gym bag, where it remained, and recorded on a notoriously thin C-120 tape, and then played hundreds of times before being dubbed over and saved.  No wonder it sounds like crap!  But you can still hear everything pretty clearly, even in this less-than bootleg quality.  That's the kind of inclusion I think is brave and wonderful.

At first I thought the fourth disc would be a complete dud, the dreaded audio documentary.  It includes three different radio specials on the band, the longest being a BBC documentary to celebrate the birth and recording of the famous New Rose single.  As it turns out, it's a fascinating listen, filled with grand facts and first-hand witnesses.  I sure didn't know that the group nearly included future Pretender Chrissie Hynde, then a punk scene maker, looking to form a band.  And that the others chose a lead singer by picking two proper-looking prospects out of a Pistols audience.  The future Dave Vanian showed up for the audition, while the soon-to-be Sid Vicious did not.  Captain Sensible reminds us that being in a punk band was a great career for him, even with the spitting, as he'd previously been a toilet cleaner.

Then there's the other contents of the box.  There are two long books, one of them hard cover, with the full history to read, and a treasure-trove of vintage articles, photos and promo materials.  A large poster has a Pete Frame Family Tree of the band, detailing every connection and line-up in the group's long history.  Those trees are great, if you're not familiar.  And there's even a collection of three old-school punk buttons for the band, the kind we used to proudly stick on our jean jackets.  Punk bands have always appreciated their loyal fans, and this is a set that pays back for that loyalty.  I may not think that much of the original disc, but I sure gained a lot of respect and knowledge for the band.

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