Legends, inevitably, are there to be levelled....
Legends, inevitably, are there to be levelled. The events of 1977 still hold a curious grip on modern music a full 22 years after the [a]Sex Pistols[/a]’ Steve Jones called Bill Grundy a “fucking rotter” live on national television.
With the passing of new wave into our post-punk era, where we remain, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for ‘the new punk’ to arrive, it has become fashionable to view the period between 1977-1979 as a lost golden age.
However, as this beautifully packaged slab of product demonstrates, that’s a load of old tosh. For here we have 100 seven-inches by 100 different acts spread across five titanic CDs which show that, much like any musical age, punk’s ratio of ingenuous geniuses to talentless hacks and one-chord wankers was reassuringly low.
With an incredible opening salvo of The Clash, [a]Sex Pistols[/a], The Damned and The Ramones, ‘1-2-3-4…’ ditches the heavy artillery before you’ve found yourself somewhere comfortable to sit. This is where the fun begins, though, because what follows is punk rock stripped of the gloss of nostalgia and much of it, in the cruel glare of 1999, sounds inept, naive and downright dreadful.
It’s not just the no-hopers – like The Drones, Suburban Studs – who sound cretinously poor. Half of the records popularly regarded as unimpeachable classics turn out to be monumentally lame, too. How anyone could mistake Richard Hell & The Voidoids‘ ludicrous, histrionic nihilism on ‘(I Belong To The) Blank Generation’ or the caterwauling of X-Ray Spex‘s ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ for the work of poets of their generation is mystifying.
Still, as the history books rightly state, punk rock’s three-chord thrash gave those excluded from pop’s magic circle for being incompetent, uncompromising or plain stupid, an opportunity to have their say. That many used this unexpected soapbox to make rubbish novelty records or shout a lot about nothing in particular surprisingly provides some of the best listening on ‘1-2-3-4…’.
Combining chronic idiocy with gleefully ill-informed political rhetoric to particular effect are the Not Sensibles‘ ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher’ and Menace‘s ‘GLC’, which imaginatively rhymes [I]”masturbate” [/I]with [I]”magistrate”[/I]. Genius, then, in its most retarded form.
That said, there’s unqualified brilliance here too from familiar tunes like The Undertones‘ ‘Teenage Kicks’ and Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers‘ ‘Roadrunner’ to more esoteric choices such as The Table‘s bizarre ‘Do The Standing Still’. That there are also opportunities to hear the immature work of future stars like Billy Bragg (Riff Raff‘s ‘Romford Girls’) and Kevin Rowland (The Killjoys‘ ‘Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven’) adds a little more colour to a big, blurred snapshot of a period of fitful creativity.
What is most important, though, is that with ‘1-2-3-4…’, we can lay punk to rest. Our musical parents, it seems, were as spotty, inarticulate and ungainly as we are, and their achievements were, by turns, as modest and majestic as our own. Sometimes punk was great then, but it’s reassuring to know you didn’t miss that much.