Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I have a nice closetful of early 80s new wave skeletons that I like to revisit from time to time; despite some winning junior high & high school discoveries of THE CRAMPS, VELVET UNDERGROUND and a few hardcore punk bands I still listen to, my 1980-84 teen music obsession was also heavily pocked by some feverish SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, BAUHAUS, THE JAM and SIMPLE MINDS collecting. I mean feverish, serious, serious collecting -- entire discographies of said bands' 45s and 12" singles once resided in the house in which my parents still live, all of which washed upon the shores of Los Angeles used record stores a few years later when I hit college. Incidentally, I feel far less shame about the aforementioned than I once did, and own a few resurrected star tracks here and there by all of them (you can't tell me that Bauhaus' "Dark Entries" or any of Siousxie's early singles aren't worthy of at least a couple minutes of your listening time every five years). And I never owned a Kajagoogoo record, for what it's worth.

I hit up a few record swaps when I was 16-17 with my fast-food earnings, and one of the items I proudly walked away with for a mere 8 bucks was this 45 by JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS -- or, as they were known months later, SIMPLE MINDS. I'd never heard it prior to purchase, but totally dug it from note one -- and still think it's one of the best UK punk singles of its day. "Saints and Sinners" is built around a brisk hot rod guitar riff and mega-amped production, and it's just a stellar example of the below-the-radar, totally unrecognized British (or in this case Scottish) punk of the day. I bring this label up way too often, but if this 45 had been on RAW RECORDS it would've made complete sense, as "Saints and Sinners" is just the sort of full-on, buzzsaw, snot-filled punk that label made its stock in trade. "Dead Vandals" takes the tempo down a notch but is nearly as fantastic, with somewhat nonsensical lyrics and the squeaky-voiced vocals of a young Scottish punk who's a bit wet behind the ears. You have to wonder how guitarist Charlie Burchill, who hinted hard and had his chance to be one of the best firebreathing punk rock guitarists, felt once his contributions were hosed down behind washes of synthesizer and lush blurring effects (come to think of it I can't even hear a guitar in most Simple Minds songs; quite the contrary on this one). The British music press used to have a field day guffawing over photos & stories of UK pop stars' punk rock pasts, but somehow this 45 and the short-lived Johnny and the Self-Abusers barely got the airtime they richly deserve.