For some reason best known to my subconscious, I pulled down from the rack of my singles, I Can’t Stand My Baby by the Scottish band The Rezillos, released in the Punk Autumn of 1977, and it took me back, as being somewhat emblematic of that brief period when it seemed possible that music would return to some degree of ‘authenticity’ (inverted commas are deliberately sarcastic). This was a gaudy package from an independent label (Sensible Records) by an unknown band of very basic musical ability, but with a ‘twist’ or an’angle’ which made it stand out from the very crowded field of hopefuls at that particular time. In fact, they were a bunch of no-hopers, who happened to just catch the crest of the punk wave of that summer, through a clever use of signifiers and a catchy, if hardly inspirational, song. Somehow it’s snotty negativity was in tune with the brief, mannered nihilism of that time, and they (in a later iteration, the Revillos) managed to eke out a’ career in music’ for some years after.
Older readers will no doubt find other examples of ‘pop punk’ in 1977 - The Vibrators’ ‘Baby, Baby’ also springs to mind. But this Rezillos product (and it was a product) remains particularly redolent for me. For instance, it had a lime green cover, which was fine by the time of The Cramps a couple of years later, but which was striking in its ‘bad taste’ in 1977. It was a fashionably ‘anti-love’ song, but was clearly humorous in intent, using the negating ‘No’ as a modish highlight (as opposed to ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’). (And a rather self-conscious use of the regional word ‘radge’, which most of us softie southerners had never heard of!) Not forgetting the utterly disingenuous “This Is Uncool!!” The ruthless cut-off at the end reminds me curiously (and rather fancifully) of the use of such studio devices in the early free improv ‘second generation’ album Teatime (1975). This was as opposed to the ‘fade out’ schema, favoured by more ‘impressionistic’ producers.
My wife (born 1961) often reminds me that ‘punk music’ was started in London by ‘Art School types’ (as was, in its turn, ‘Hippie Music’?) A 1970 album by the poet Pete Brown and his short-lived band Piblokto! (much more commercial than his Battered Ornaments project) was called Things May Come and Things My Go, But the Art School Dance Goes On Forever, a title that certainly applies to the early punk scene. I could go on about this forever, but bands like The Monochrome Set and The Television Personalities (never mind The Not Sensibles) were in many ways ‘arty clever-dicks’. And that’s before considering the ‘born before 1955′ crew, acts like Elvis Costello. The Stranglers and The Only Ones, who made their names as ‘punks’ (meta-punks, even?), but who were, in fact anything but.
The B-side of our Rezillos track was Lennon/McCartney’s I Wanna Be Your Man (immortalised by The Rolling Stones), so there was a ‘knowing’ aspect to these Art Schoolers (like the Pistol’s covering Small Faces and Who numbers).. The wonderful sleeves of the 45s of this time of 1977 were often a backwards reference to 50s and 60s singles and albums (Costello’s 1980 Get Happy!!! being only the most obvious). ‘Punk’ was never a ‘pure’ creature: the ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ stance was always constantly being diluted by the very artists who were supposed to be celebrating this ‘movement’. (Even as early as February 1977, Television’s Marquee Moon was seen as ‘betraying’ Punk, with it’s guitar solos and whatnot.) Punk’s ‘Year Zero’ was clearly a load of contradictory nonsense right from the get-go. By Magazine’s 1978 sophomore record, Secondhand Daylight, Pink Floyd were a genuine reference point.
Thankfully. ‘Post Punk’ gave us some genuinely challenging music, from Pere Ubu and Public Image onwards, after a year or so of mostly the opposite. I can’t stand my baby is a brief reminder of what we hoped Punk could be, short, sharp and just a little bit shocking.