Every generation tends to believe the music they loved when growing up belonged to some sort of long lost and never-to-be-repeated ‘Golden Age’. The Baby Boomers talk of the ‘Summer of Love’, the Stones and the Beatles. Others might pinpoint the disco boom of the late 70s, or the grunge era of the early 90s as their particular ‘Golden Age’.
It’s sometimes difficult to know if the music we hold special is special because of its actual value as music, or its ability to remind us of our younger, happier days. I certainly remember the period when I first started listening to music seriously – the late 70s/early 80s – as a period of excitement and discovery. It seemed that every couple of weeks an exciting new band or album was surfacing – The Associates, ‘Seventeen Seconds’, Scritti Politti, ‘Heaven Up Here’, Orange Juice, The Go-Betweens, Gang Of Four, ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, The Birthday Party, Joy Division, ‘The Correct Use Of Soap’ and so on…
This period is now known as the post-punk era and, according to rock historians, it was unequivocally an ‘age of riches’. The last few years have seen an enormous amount of interest in the music and musicians of the years 1978 – 1984. There have been several books, a couple of movies/documentaries, scores of reissues, and (for better or worse) even a number of post-punk band reformations. Meanwhile, the current generation of pop kids are plundering the era for sounds and styles.
Simon Reynolds’ book ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’ has emerged as the definitive account of the post-punk era and, somewhat belatedly, a companion cd has been just been released. It says something of the wealth of the era that the album is as strong as it is without tracks from some of post-punk’s most important bands – Public Image Ltd, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Orange Juice, Wire and Magazine.
We do get some prime examples of other post-punk staples – The Fall’s ‘Fiery Jack’, Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ For Jesus’ and Devo’s ‘Praying Hands’ each sum up the respective acts better than a few pages of text might do. There’s also The Slits, The Raincoats and the wonderful Young Marble Giants. Elsewhere the choices are a little odd. We get some middle-period Siouxsie – strings rather than shrieks – and a rather slick contribution from the B52s (the song itself is fine, but a selection from their less polished debut might have slotted in a little more comfortably).
There are representatives of the various sub-genres of post-punk – Thomas Leer, Heaven 17 and a very early Human League (minus Phil Oakey) for the electronic bands; Josef K and the Associates for the ‘Sound of Young Scotland’; The Specials for the ska revival, and John Cooper-Clarke for the…er… John Cooper-Clarke movement.
Reynolds has also slipped a couple of obscurities onto the album. I don’t know anything about Pulsallama or Fatal Microbes, and could find very little about them on the internet. The Pulsallama song included here – ‘The Devil Lives In My Husband’s Body’ – might have been the only thing they recorded. But it’s funny and clever, and fits in quite nicely alongside Cabaret Voltaire and Devo.
All in all, the album is a fabulous post-punk ‘sampler’, and a fine companion to the ‘Rip It Up’ book, despite the omission of several key acts. In fact, given the wealth of material to draw from, a double-disc set might have been in order.
One of the good things about this post-punk resurgence is that I’ve suddenly been dragging out albums I never thought I’d play again, and listening to them with renewed interest. I knew I’d been hanging onto all those A Certain Ratio and Modern English lps for some reason…