Why 2016 was chosen as The 40th Anniversary of Punk in the UK.
Above Photo: The Sex Pistols Play Live with Original Bass Player, Glen Matlock (© unknown).
Like it or not (and frankly I did), 2016 was earmarked as the 40th Anniversary of Punk, when the ‘Powers That Be’ in British cultural circles finally decided to commemorate one of the most powerful undercurrents in 20th Century British music.
Of course, for those who lived it and loved it, Punk has never gone away. 90% of the music I still listen to today is Punk and New Wave. For us, no official Media Imprimatur is needed.
Interest in Punk and New Wave seems to be increasing, and I have seen hits to this website quintuple year-on-year . This might be due to more people searching for Punk and New Wave-related topics on the internet.
In many ways, 2015 should have been the anniversary of Punk, because, as I point out in my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out! the earliest Punk bands in the UK began forming in 1975, including the Sex Pistols and Slaughter and the Dogs. (I exclude the Stranglers, formed in 1974, and known as the Guildford Stranglers, because they didn’t really go Punk until 1976).
That said, plenty more followed in 1976 – the Vibrators, the Adverts, the Damned, The Clash, Chelsea, Generation X, Siouxise and the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, Penetration, the Buzzcocks, Wire, to name just a few.
But the real reason 2016 was been picked as the 40th Anniversary of Punk was because that was the year the first Punk record appeared. It was The Damned’s New Rose, which was released in October 1976.
However, as musically transformative as New Rose was (and I still have the original single) it was definitely in a different class of lyrical content to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK single, which appeared a month later.
I have never done this before, but I recently compared the lyrics of the two singles, and these are my own interpretations. Feel free to add your own.
The Damned’s New Rose is basically a spurned-love song over a superb Punk thrashing musical backdrop. Its lyrics are below (I have put a You Tube link to the track at the end of this article).
The Damned: New Rose.
Is she really going out with him?
I gotta a feelin’ inside of me
It’s kinda strange like a stormy sea
I don’t know why, I don’t know why
I guess these things have gotta be
I gotta new rose, I got her good
Guess I knew that I always would
I can’t stop to mess around
Like a brand new rose in town
See the sun, see the sun it shines
Don’t get too close or it’ll burn your eyes
Don’t you run away that way
You can come back another day
I never thought this could happen to me
I feel so strange, so why should it be
I don’t deserve somebody this great
I’d better go or it’ll be too late, yeah
There’s not much message in those lyrics to take away and transform your life. They don’t really say anything relevant to anything other than internalised relationship jealousy and maybe rage.
Now compare them to the lyrics of The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK, released a month later in November 1976. This song is making a violent social and political statement, calculated to shock, which it absolutely did back then. It’s also a fantastic song, musically (thanks Glen Matlock).
These are the lyrics to Anarchy In The U.K. (I have put a You Tube Link to the song at the end of this article).
Anarchy in the UK.
ha ha ha ha ha…
I am an antichrist
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
I wanna destroy passerby
‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy
Anarchy for the UK
It’s coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop at traffic line
Your future dream is a sharpie’s scheme
‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy
In the city
How many ways to get what you want
I use the best
I use the rest
I use the N.M.E
I use Anarchy
‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy
It’s the only way to be
Is this the M.P.L.A or
Is this the U.D.A or
Is this the I.R.A
I thought it was the UK
Or just another country
Another council tenancy
I wanna be Anarchy
And I wanna be Anarchy
(Oh what a name)
And I wanna be anarchist
I get pissed, destroy!
Referencing three terrorist – or freedom-fighting – organisations (two in the UK), anarchism, the antichrist, council houses, getting drunk and destroying things, and openly advocating an anarchistic state in the UK – that’s some content for their first single, and it was treated with outrage and shock by the British Establishment when it was released.
The lyrical content of the two songs, the whole Attitude and anti-establishment tone of Anarchy in the UK and the demeanour, dress and behavior of the Sex Pistols themselves back in 1976 in my opinion explain why they and Anarchy in the UK were more important in fuelling the Punk Revolution, and not the Damned and New Rose, although New Rose is still a great track.
That’s also why the Pistols’ Anarchy single received a lot of attention from writers about Punk, in articles commemorating the 2016 anniversary of its appearance. But let’s not forget our debt to the Damned for New Rose – Punk’s first ever single.
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