I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, on this website, then you probably noticed The Libertines triumphant return over the last year or so. And that’s all well and good, it being a thundering, first-born masterpiece of biblical – nay, Dickensian proportions and all. But let’s get some perspective here.
See, what with everyone slavering over the Libertines’ LPs, it’d be easy to forget the other stuff that made them great. Namely that Pete Doherty and one-time best mate Carl Barat cultivated quite the peculiar connection with their audience. They were at once totally down to earth and persistently poetic, always one daydream removed from reality and yet the most relatable band around.
It wasn’t just sharp tongues and tall tales that inspired, but the attitude. No, not in the dickish, punk rock sense. Instead they spread love via free gigs, free music, and free whatever-else-happened in those crack den-esque Albion Rooms. But mainly the music. Lurking at the back of the lads’ sharply-stocked wardrobe, overlooked and under-loved, was a treasure trove of vintage, unreleased rarities. Frequently they were unleashed, in an avalanche of munificence, of hastily burnt CDs handed to adoring fans; b-sides and bootlegs, demoes and discards, not to mention the odd Japanese import. It was inspired, effective, and fascinating. No one had done anything like it on this scale. Ever.
Problem is, given Pete’s unswerving determination to release ‘new’ albums containing as little genuinely new material as possible, a decent odds and ends Libertines collection looks a long way off. But hey, does that mean we can’t sift through the vaults and wet ourselves with joy while speculating over our dream rarities album?
PFFFT. Does it bollocks. And the world doesn’t NOT need another Libertines record, right? Right. So then, here are the tunes that’d make the cut. (N.B. Want full recordings? Go explore!)
Arguably the finest Libs song without a full release, the rousing romanticism of ‘Hooray for the 21st Century’ represented the eminent, bacchanalian jewel in the crown of charming early comp ‘Legs XI’. Originally recorded around September 2000, the song’s bridge was later lifted for ‘The Libertines’ album track ‘Narcissist’.
Best lyric: “What became of the love we knew?/We beat the swine black and blue/You and I!/Me and You!”
A 2 minute, distorted punk thrash. Although considered for inclusion on their self-titled record, ‘Bangkok’ initially offered appropriately riotous furore as a b-side to ‘Time for Heroes’. Packed with romantic escapism, violent love affairs with mentally vulnerable prostitutes and a reference to The Merchant of Venice, it almost makes more noise than sense. This is fine.
Best lyric: “Well I’ve gotta learn/To learn about your past/It’s a mean, unpleasant land”
A ten-minute improv-folk odyssey, ‘Do The Coral’ is far and away the weirdest cut from 2003’s 3-disc compendium, ‘Babyshambles Sessions’. Complete with banterous asides shot between the leading pair, it features covers of the Coral’s ‘Dreaming of You’ and ‘I Remember When’, while slipping in embryonic versions of future Babyshambles anthem ‘Killamangiro’ and the delicately unhinged ‘New Love Grows On Trees’, rescued from obscurity years later via ‘Grace/Wastelands’, Pete’s solo record.
Best lyric: “If you’re still alive, when you’re 25/I’ll have to kill you, like you asked me to” – ‘New Love Grows on Trees’
An overlooked nugget from 2002’s pre-‘Up the Bracket’ set, ‘Nomis Demos’. With lyrics that value “the silver in your smile” over, you know, actual money, ‘Skint and Minted’ reminds us that before all the flat burglaries and whatnot, these boys were quite the sweethearts. The song, presumably abandoned due to ripping off The Strokes, fizzles with a wide-eyed exuberance that eventually propelled it onto 2003’s ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ EP.
Best lyric: “You’re an evil swine, but I like your style/The wiggle in your walk, and the silver in your smile”
Best captured on the essential Libertines bootleg, ‘Piss Me Off’, the wild punk ire of ‘Cyclops’ zones in on reality TV and “lobotomised celebrities”. A studio version can be found on ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, but frankly, it just isn’t as good.
Best lyric: “Sick of themselves and sick of their slums/Give everybody a gun and put it on the television”
Recorded in France, early 2003, ‘The French Sessions’ featured the earliest takes of Libertines faves-to-be, ‘Narcissist’ and ‘The Ha Ha Wall’. ‘Half-Cocked Boy’ is a more innocuous number, softly-sung verses lurching into a gently explosive, puntastic chorus.
Best lyric: “I’ll knock you down/And pick you up/Drag you back inside and drink from the sweet FA cup”
Originally a ‘Babyshambles Sessions’ number, ‘I Love You (But You’re Green)’ is one of Pete’s elegantly naive ballads. It nails its colours to the mast with all the necessary vulnerability and ramshackle élan to stand it alongside their finest work. Later given a slapdash makeover on Babyshambles’ ‘The Blinding’ EP.
Best lyric: “I was a troubled teen/Untroubled only in my daydreams/To the annoyance of… someone or other”
The highlight of the highly iffy ’Odessa Demoes’, a wah pedal-infused set of premature ditties recorded prior to the turn of the millennium. The song itself, potentially an affectionate tribute to Barat, glorifies British institutions with gloopy sentimentality, while namedropping Judy Garland, Tony Hancock and the ‘Old Vic’.
Best lyric: “You’ll never fumigate the demons/No matter how much you smoke”
To be found on the ‘77 Demos’, a 2-track CD named after its original price in pounds, ‘Smashing’ is a lush, aquatic ballad that features the gratuitous giggles and authentically delicious Frenchness of velvet-voiced photographer Lula Camus.
Best lyric: “All the flowers in the teapot have died/Just like the child/Was that just in her mind?”
Within an oeuvre comprising first-takes, non-existent production and self-released outtakes, ‘Dilly Boys’ stands out as being particularly half-arsed. In a good way, natch. Sounding like the opening showtune to a sordid Broadway transvestite musical, this ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ b-side, a tale of corrupt moral guides and blurred gender roles, proved a resounding live favourite as the band began to disintegrate.
Best lyric: “I wish you’d sing me those other songs again/The songs that say life’s worth the worry and the pain/And the sun shines through the rain/Just because”
Another ‘Legs XI’ gem, ‘Sister Sister’ was the last (and only) Libertines song to be written and sung by bassist John Hassell. Business heads dictated that the Pete/Carl chemistry was the real money spinner, and let’s be honest: they were onto something.
It sounds like Tony Hancock covering Django Reinhardt while performing a shanty jig, ergo AMAZING. The recording was later tidied up and adorned with Carl’s suave pipes, as ‘7 Deadly Sins’ on the Japanese import of ‘Don’t Look Back Into the Sun’. But they never recaptured the hoedown euphoria of this take, which saw off the fine ‘Legs XI’ collection in triumphant style.
Best riff: 0:15
What are your favourite Libertines rarities? Go on, tell us what we missed.