Hooklines And Thinkers

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)…

BuzzcocksWhat 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.

BuzzcocksNoise 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

(C) Kevin Cummins


Never Mind The Buzzcocks

Telephone Operator by Pete Shelley gallops along like a post-punk, electro mash up of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses and Take Me I’m Yours by Squeeze. Shelley is in full-on sneering-camp mode and as the record plays, you can just picture him looking side-on to an imaginary camera, left eyebrow slightly raised, arch and knowing.

It’s post punk and therefore post Buzzcocks, but it’s lost none of the key ingredients forever associated with his part in the punk Beatles – a nagging riff (played on synth rather than guitar), a melody with more hooks than a metre of Velcro and a sensational production courtesy of Mancunian marvel Martin Rushent. The track practically bursts out of the speakers with its room-filling throb. I think you’d like it.

Pete ShelleyTelephone Operator

pete shelley telephone 7

There’s also a Dub Version that can be found in the darkest corners of the ‘net. I’m not certain in what capacity it was released as it doesn’t appear on the b-side of the 7″ I have. It’s hardly essential – lots of echoey guitar riffs, some bloops and bleeps and sweeping synths, but sadly, none of the magic that makes the original version such a brilliant record.

Pete ShelleyTelephone Operator (Dub Version)

Telephone Operator is taken from Shelley’s second solo LP, XL-1, a loose-concept album that originally came with a programme that allowed you to play it via your ZX Spectrum (the iPad of 1983, kids), where lyrics and graphics would appear on-screen in time to the music. Ahead of the game, then, although the record buying public failed to engage with it. Four weeks after release, XL-1 had dropped out the charts, never to be seen again. Telephone Operator was the ‘big’ single from it, crashing in at a lowly 66 before vanishing likewise.

Despite this, Shelley’s post-Buzzcocks output is quite interesting and definitely worth investigating. He knows his way around a pop melody and has a sound that is defiantly his. The Buzzcocks may be the act that keeps him in new shoes, but there’s plenty other interesting stuff with his name attached to it.

*Bonus Track!

Here‘s long-gone nobodies Big Dipper with their take on Homosapien, Shelley’s first solo single and a song that suffered from a BBC ban at the time due to some fruity lyrics and allusions to same-sex sex (‘Homo Superior, In My Interior‘).

Big DipperHomosapien

pete shelley bw