In the first wave of punk’s angry snarl, I can only imagine Buzzcocks were a breath of fresh air. Not for them the stare-down-the-lens-of-the-camera Lydon sneer or the guttural, phlegmy Strummer howl. Instead, Pete Shelley stuck to his Mancunian roots and inflected/infected his vocal with a camp twist, one eyebrow permanently arched while stealing side-long glances at the camera like a not-that-hard-to-get Saturday night tease down the Wheeltappers And Shunters.
If The Undertones were The Ramones on happy pills, Buzzcocks were the punk Beatles. Most punk acts played a ham-fisted, snot-encrusted take on Chuck Berry’s 12 bar blues. ‘This is a chord. This is another. Now form a band‘, to paraphrase the famous slogan. With a Buzzcocks’ record though, you’re never far away from a weird and wonky chord or an unusual time signature or a proggy sound effect. Buzzcocks mattered.
Overarchingly, Buzzcocks were all about the three minute thrill of the pop rush. I challenge you to pick a Buzzcocks’ track that’s not a few seconds away from a brilliant hookline, be it a singable guitar riff, a perfectly-placed drum fill or a wobbly backing vocal. Buzzcocks really knew the value of a melody. It might’ve been hidden behind a same-sex symphony and the happy clatter of twin guitars, but it was always there.
“These Promises (ah-ah)…”
“Reality’s a dream (ooh, ooh, ooh)…”
“I just want a lover like any other, What Do I Get? (clang clang)…”
Buzzcocks – What Do I Get?
The whole of What Do I Get is basically Punk Go The Beatles, from the fade in and giddy rush of the verses via the triple vocals in the chorus and middle 8 down to the “tricky guitar solo!” in the middle. By the breakdown at the end, the whole band have come in on flat backing vocals, Shelley’s off and ad-libbing his “at all at all at all at all” vocals and the whole 2 minutes and 57 seconds comes to a perfect end with a none-more-Beatles “you-ooo!” and major 7th chord. It don’t get much better than that, if y’ask me.
Buzzcocks – Noise Annoys
Buzzcocks ability to make melody matter (even on the baiting Noise Annoys) is why Singles Going Steady still sounds fantastic 40 years later. It’s basically The Beatles in flares and M&S v-necks.
In the serious world of discussing records, it’s not really the done thing to champion a Greatest Hits compilation, but drop the pretence for a minute. Singles Going Steady should be in every record collection. As, for that matter, should Complete Madness, Snap! By The Jam, Blondie’s Greatest Hits and maybe even The Best Of The Beatles (copyright Alan Partridge). But you knew that already, eh?
(C) Kevin Cummins