Safety Pins and Leather Jackets – A Punk Rock Mix-Tape

Here’s a mix of fun loving punk rock, mostly from the UK in the late 70s (my favourite punk period). Fact: one of these songs was the first song my daughter ever moved to, to wit: “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols. I am one proud dad!



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1. Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster
2. The Jam – Art School
3. Joy Division – Warsaw
4. The Clash – Career Opportunities
5. Buzzcocks – Orgasm Addict
6. Rezillos – Top of the Pops
7. Ramones – Rockaway Beach
8. The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin
9. The Slits – Shoplifting
10. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the U.K.

Joe Strummer & the Mescalaros perform “Johnny Appleseed”

Global_a_Go-Go_coverHere’s a clip of ex-Clash man and punk rock hero Joe Strummer performing with his latter-day compadrés the Mescalaros. The song: “Johnny Appleseed” taken from 2001’s Global a Go-Go.

To me, “Johnny Appleseed” is as epic as anything he’d ever done with the Clash. Strummer’s voice is still beautifully ragged around the edges, which is his trademark. And it showed that he’d got on the writing train again, just before his sudden and surprising death the following year at the tender age of 50. The posthumously released Streetcore, more the rock record than Global a Go Go, showed that he was just hitting his stride with the Mescalaros as a band, which is a bittersweet truth in an age where musical heroes are not just wanted, they’re needed.

Never prolific, Joe Strummer made up for a relatively sparse body of work by making it eclectic. The reviews of this 2001 record with the Mescalaros removed the need to have a “don’t expect the Clash” label on every copy sold. Even so, I think this record was hurt by those kinds of expectations. Still, the single “Johnny Appleseed” was certainly one that got my attention, being as it was imprinted the voice of a man who’s music I’d grown up hearing, although in a different (yet welcome) musical idiom which is a sort of folky-internationalist fusion. I love the acoustic feel that seems to be almost country-sounding yet still retaining the energy of rock.

It’s not as if Strummer hadn’t dabbled in cross-pollinating musical genres before. Strummer had given up strictly defined punk rock for years. I’d argue that even London Calling isn’t a punk record. For one thing, it betrays a love for the folk musics of the world too, although perhaps its reggae flourishes were camouflaged due to it being in the middle of 1979 when a lot of bands were embracing reggae and ska. So, I don’t think Strummer’s efforts here are much further afield.

On my long list of movies to see is the recent The Future is Unwritten, a documentary about Joe Strummer by one time Sex Pistols collaborator Julian Temple. Besides being in the Clash, Strummer himself was an interesting figure of contradictions apart from his role as co-frontman – he was a middle-class former hippie and son of a diplomat named John Mellors who transformed himself into punk rock year-zero flag-waver Joe Strummer, proceeding to play the part as if no one was looking. He would go onto inspire other bands of course and have a varied career as a solo artist, record producer, film score composer, and sometime actor.

I was lucky enough to see Joe Strummer play the Glastonbury Festival in 1999 with the then-newly assembled Mescalaros. I remember feeling that everything was right in the world, watching him as he was, virtually unchanged by the passage of time, cranking out the same fiery balls of musical fire as I’d heard sitting around a cheapo cassette player with friends in the eighth grade, listening to the magically alien sounds of the Clash. Strummer was a rock star in the best sense. He made you realize that it was possible to see to your own transformation, that worlds could be crossed by strumming a tune.


John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten Appears on Judge Judy

Recently, I was exposed to some very odd television; gobby frontman for The Sex Pistols and ex-Public Image Ltd. John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten on Judge Judy thanks to a disgruntled sideman on one of his solo tours. Here’s the clip.

John Lydon AKA Johnny RottenHilarious, and strange. A former drummer takes Lydon to small claims court due to what he considers to be wrongful dismisal, and even more oddly – assault. Maybe the most entertaining aspect of this is watching Lydon attempt to control his mouth – something he’s not been very good at, historically.

Luckily, he shows more restraint with Judge Judy (and her hard-as-nails schtick…) then in the more infamous Sex Pistols TV appearance on the Bill Grundy hosted Today Show in December 1976, when “rude words” were used on live TV by Lydon and Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, goaded by Grundy (who also hit on a disgusted Siouxsie Sioux who was also present, live on camera). Grundy was fired, and the Sex Pistols rose in stature as a group who was capable of anything at any moment.

In this TV appearance from 1997, Lydon is the picture of restraint, although also the picture of barely contained ire and contempt for his would-be legal assailant. And we get the appropriately rendered and trademarked baleful stare from Lydon, who knows the value of showbiz even on daytime TV. And his vindication speech at the end is priceless.

For more Lydon TV appearances , check out the John Lydon official website.

And keep your ear to the ground for the rumours of a new Sex Pistols album, kids!


UK Punk Pioneers Buzzcocks Perform “What Do I Get?”

Here’s a link to a song by the stars of UK punk’s first graduating class, Manchester’s Buzzcocks – “What Do I Get?” from 1978.

Buzzcocks Singles Going SteadyThere are a lot of misconceptions about punk. One is that punks didn’t care about melody or songwriting. Another is that they were uninterested in making pop music. Where a lot of bands may follow this approach, it can’t be said of the whole genre. It certainly can’t be said of early punk champions, Buzzcocks. This group put across just as much of both as they did the signature buzzsaw-guitar sound. If one thing can be said of early punk rock, it was that there was an importance placed on the basics. And this doesn’t mean that they were not competent musicians, which is another annoying misconception.

It does mean that the directness found in the singles of 60s girl groups and early beat group sides, and the equally direct communication to teenaged record buyers, was an important aspect of the punk modus operandi. Take a look at this song, “What Do I Get?” – full of energy, with a rhythm section that races to the next bar as if its tail is on fire, and a guitar which sounds like a drill through a wall. Add to that lead singer Pete Shelley’s almost feminine delivery. This is the voice of the frustrated would be lover that speaks for all frustrated would-be lovers everywhere. This band created a tune which is a shining example of what a pop single should be – direct, energetic, and speaking to an audience by being empathetic in its subject matter.

The group put out an impressive body of work which captured the spirit of the times, and did so independently starting with their landmark 1976 EP, Spiral Scratch. And most of what are now the clichés of punk are nowhere to be seen. These are not songs about anarchy and bodily fluids. OK. Maybe the band’s first single “Orgasm Addict” might be a bit of an exception to the rule. But, the point is that all of the songs from the band’s early period, collected on the excellent and essential Singles Going Steady compilation from 1979, were relevant to their teen fans. Love gone wrong, feelings of awkwardness, and the joys of infatuation all play into the mix in Buzzcocks’ songwriting output. In this, they weren’t really embarking on a revolutionary path that had never before been explored. This is not punk-year-zero stuff here (another misconception, in my opinion, that punks at the time tried to sell, and did sell to many a naïve fan…). This is classic pop writing in new packaging. For all of the bluster many bands at the time portrayed about punk being a new beginning, it was more like an old beginning.

Of course I mean this in the best sense. This is the reason I love punk; not because punk saved the world from Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin (yet another misconception…), but because it sticks to what rock music does best – it speaks to an audience in terms that the audience understands best. And Buzzcocks singles are a prime example of how viscerally explosive music hasn’t really changed in terms of approach since pop records were first made to speak directly to teenagers. The influence this band has had over current pop-punk is immeasurable, proving that the basics are still the basics.



Buzzcocks have broken up and re-grouped a few times, but the guys are currently active and touring. Check out the official Buzzcocks website for more news about dates and record releases.

Also, it might be worth your while to visit the Buzzcocks MySpace page to hear streamed music if you want to find out where Green Day cultivated its musical mojo.

Ash Perform Their Song ‘Shining Light’

Ash Free All AngelsJust for St. Patrick’s day, here’s a clip of Irish Indie-rock outfit Ash doing their tune ‘Shining Light’ from their 2001 album Free All Angels.

This tune was a favourite of mine at the time, kind of like a modern gospel-cum-love song, with lots of religious imagery over a ferocious guitar-bass-drums back-up. Indie music is often associated with the miserablist emo genre, with a lot of depressing lyrics about what a drag life can be. But, this tune is pure joy – a shining light, if you will.

Ash are a preponent of a particular model of rock and roll – the band put together for kicks turned professional.

Another great tune from the same album is the single ‘Burn Baby Burn’ which is along the same lines as as ‘Shining Light’ in that the ferocity of the music is offset by how fun it is, how joyful.