Throughout punk rock’s twenty-seven year history, there is always one band everyone mentions that is the greatest. Some say it’s the nihilistic Sex Pistols, the political-rage of the Clash, or the blistering rock of the Ramones. While all three made great contributions to the music, punk often has its bands and artists that always get overlooked whether it’s the Stranglers, X-Ray Spex, the Dead Boys, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, or Wire. While each of those bands made contributions to punk, they never did receive the credit they got in the late 1970s. Another band in the British punk scene not only became one of the greatest punk bands of all-time but also were one of the first bands to give the spotlight to the city of Manchester. That band was the Buzzcocks.
Formed in Manchester in the mid-1970s by singer/guitarist Pete Shelley and guitarist Howard Devoto, the Buzzcocks helped bringing in catchy pop hooks and melodies to punk that would later be the proto-type for the punk sub genre called punk-pop. Prior the age of punk in 1976, the city of Manchester had already brought stars like the Bee Gees and the Moody Blues but neither band have ever really acknowledge their hometown for world superstardom. In 1976 when Shelley and Devoto helped book a gig opening for the Sex Pistols in one of three played shows from their Anarchy tour. The Sex Pistols gig brought life to Manchester as Shelley, Devoto, and other important members in the Manchester music scene like the Smiths’ Steven Morrissey and Johnny Marr, Vini Reilly, Bernard Sumner & Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order with manager Rob Gretton, producer Martin Hannett, and Factory Records founders Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus watched the influential punk band rule the city.
After obtaining the services of bassist Steve Diggle, and drummer John Maher, the Buzzcocks were becoming a hit in Manchester, as the band was about to release their first EP “Spiral Scratch”. After the release of “Spiral Scratch”, Devoto quit the band to return to college and later form the band Magazine. Diggle took over on guitar and Garth Smith played on the band’s first single for “Orgasm Addict/What Ever Happened To?” before being replaced by Steve Garvey. After releasing three full-length albums from 1977-1979, the Buzzcocks won some acclaim with the British music press and punk fans but some purists felt that they were too pop to be a punk band. While the Buzzcocks did put out some excellent full-length albums, they couldn’t match themselves up with their British contemporaries, the Sex Pistols or the Clash. In September of 1979, the band released a compilation in the U.S. that would be one of the greatest punk albums of all-time titled “Singles Going Steady”.
“Singles Going Steady” is an album of the Buzzcocks’ eight number one singles (well in a punk rock universe) and B-sides filled with catchy hooks, melodies, punk rage, blasting guitars, loopy bass lines, hard-hitting drums, and Pete Shelley’s high-pitch wailing vocals. Spearheaded by Shelley’s songwriting, the Buzzcocks’ music is both loud and abrasive as well as being catchy. While some might detest the accessibility of punk-pop music, the Buzzcocks remain the most pure by not conforming to the damp sound of 70s pop. While today’s punk-pop acts like New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, and Avril Lavigne may claim that their punk with a pop appeal, they don’t carry the ferocious or the pop sensibilities the Buzzcocks have. Many of the songs on “Singles Going Steady” time at around three minutes or less while the band doesn’t waste time in putting out a few solos or hooks. With such great punk records like “London Calling”, “The Ramones”, and “Never Mind The Bullocks…Here’s the Sex Pistols”, “Singles Going Steady” is an essential punk rock masterpiece from the Buzzcocks.
The first track and single is the two-minute, Pete Shelley/Howard Devoto composition “Orgasm Addict”. Shelley sings with his high, wailing Mancunian vocals as with his and Steve Diggle’s crashing guitar, Garth Smith’s loopy bass lines and John Maher’s fast-paced drums. The crashing, intense punk guitars provide the power to the Buzzcocks’ sound as Shelley sings about a girl who is addicted to getting orgasms as he mimics a girl doing orgasms throughout the short, punchy song. Next is the classic “What Do I Get?” with its crashing guitars, pulsating, upbeat rhythms from Maher and bassist Steve Garvey. Shelley sings, “I just want a lover like any other/What do I get/I only want a friend who will stay to the end/What do I get” as it leads to the catchy chorus of “What do I get/Oh-oh, what do I get”. Diggle later brings in droning, dense guitar solo, as the song would pound intensely throughout its crashing guitars and upbeat rhythms of a song on love gone wrong.
“I Don’t Mind” starts off with a brief, bass-pulsating beat from Maher before it goes into a fast, crashing punk mode of guitars, bass, and drums as Shelley sings lyrics of teenage love in the lyrics of “I’m lost without a clue/So how can I undo/The tangle of these webs I keep weaving/I don’t know if I should be believing/Deceptive, perceiving” as it leads to the brief, screeching chorus of “But if you don’t miiiiiinnnndd/I don’t miiiiiinnnnd”. The hook in the chorus is part of the genius in the Buzzcocks’ sound as Shelley sings the bridge verse of “I used to bet that you didn’t care/But gambling never got me anywhere/Each time I used to be sure/Something about you made me doubt you more” as Diggle plays a solo in the background. “Love You More” is another upbeat song with a wailing, 3-chord guitar solo from Diggle as Shelley sings, “I’m in love again/Been like this before/I’m in love again/This time’s true, I’m sure”. With Maher pounding fast, snare and bass beats, the song still brings a punk edge and pop sensibility to a song that is timed at a minute and forty-seven second as Shelley sings, “Oh my love again/What I say is true/Though it may sound plain/I love you”.
The next A-side single is for the brilliant, “Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (You Shouldn’t’ve Fallen In Love With)?” with its raging, blasting guitars and upbeat rhythms, before Diggle brings in an intense guitar solo as Shelley sings, “You spurn my natural emotions/You make me feel like dirt and I’m hurt/And if I start a commotion/I run the risk of losing you, and that’s worse” as Diggle plays a solo with Maher’s bass-pounding beats. Then Shelley and Diggle go into the chorus of “Ever fallen in love with someone/Ever fallen in love/In love with someone/Ever fallen in love/You shouldn’t’ve fallen in love with”. The song’s raging guitars and catchy lyrics of heartbreak is proof of the brilliant songwriting of Pete Shelley who brings a smart, pop craftsmanship to punk. “Promises” is another A-side that blasts throughout the song with its wailing guitar solos from Diggle and crashing rhythms from Maher and Garvey as Shelley sings the chorus of “Oh…/How can you ever, let me down/(repeat line 2 more times)/These promises, oh, are made for us”. The blasting guitars and Shelley’s teen-angst lyrics set the tone for the song’s power as he sings, “Cos loving you’s not easy, you’re not on my side/We play a game with two sets of rules/We led the field with in a love affair/Ah, strictly meant for fools”.
The next A-side single is for the catchy, bouncy “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”. With Garvey’s bouncy bass lines, Maher’s incessant snare fill, and Diggle’s brief, sliding guitar solo before it is followed by the crashing riffs of Diggle and Shelley. Shelley sings, “I was so tired of being upset/Always wanting something I could never get/Life’s an illusion, love is a dream/But I don’t know what it is” as it leads to the catchy chorus line of “Every body’s happy nowadays”. The first verse returns as well as its raging chorus that is followed by a snare-pounding bridge of “Life’s an illusion, love is the dream/But I don’t know what it is/Everyone’s saying things to me/But I know it’s okay, okay” as it returns to the catchy chorus. The B-side to that song is the Diggle-composition of “Harmony In My Head”. The raging, intense guitars lead the track with the song’s fast, upbeat rhythms as Diggle sings this time as he sings about having a harmony in his head. Diggle’s vocals are more growling and low sounding than Shelley’s high-pitch style but it is very powerful as he too brings catchiness to his own song and his vocals while Maher and Garvey bring out a fast, bass-pounding rhythm in the song.
“What Ever Happened To?” is the B-side to “Orgasm Addict” that opens up with Garth Smith’s droning bass lines before Diggle and Shelley bring out fast, distorted guitar riffs with Maher’s drums. Shelley sings the song’s angst-ridden lyrics with his wailing vocals as Diggle follows him on the vocals as Shelley sings lyrics of nostalgia and things that happened that was gone in post-war Britain. Next is another B-side to “What Do I Get?” for the fast, intense “Oh Sh*t!”. Timed at only one-minute and thirty-four seconds, the fast, raging song with loud, intense guitars and bass-pounding rhythms from Maher and Garvey plays around as Shelley keeps singing the words “Oh sh*t” through each verse in the song’s punk-intense vibe as he ends the song saying “You’re sh*t” repeatedly in a song that is catchy but powerful in its delivery.
Next is another Diggle composition for the B-side song “Autonomy”. Led by the bass-pounding beats and pulsating hi-hat cymbal taps of John Maher, Steve Diggle and Pete Shelly blast their raging guitars with Steve Garvey’s melodic bass lines. Shelley sings Diggle’s intense, raging lyrics including the chorus of “I, I want you/Autonomy” as the band display their intense, punk sound in this brilliant B-side to “I Don’t Mind” that includes a droning guitar solo from Diggle. “Noise Annoys” is a smooth, mid-tempo song that opens with a blasting guitar solo from Diggle before it goes into its mid-tempo tone with fast beats from Maher and Garvey’s bass lines. Shelley sings, “Pretty girls, pretty boys/Have you ever heard your mommy say (shout, scream, in later verses)/Noises annoys” as Diggle plays a wailing, punk-textured guitar solo to Garvey’s loopy bass lines in the B-side to “Love You More”.
The B-side to “Ever Fallen In Love…?” is the catchy, upbeat “Just Lust” with its bouncy rhythm, blasting guitars, and loopy bass lines. Shelley sings the song that seems appropriate to the lyrics of the A-side as he belts out catchy melodies to the song’s vocals that are bouncy and catchy enough to remember. While it’s an excellent pop song, the band still brings in the punk sound while stretching the boundaries of punk and pop music as Diggle plays a lovely guitar solo in the middle. “Lipstick” is a B-side to “Promises” that is a lovely love song that is an ode to the lipstick as it is led by fast, bouncy rhythms with Garvey’s bass lines and Maher’s beats as Diggle and Shelley play blasting, punk guitars. Shelley sings, “When you kiss me, does the lipstick on your lip stick to my face/Will you miss me/In your dreams, does your lover have my face”. The song displays the rare innocence in punk and teenage love that is missed in today’s glossy pop world as Shelley sings the final verse that is identical in the first verse.
The final A-side single is the six-and-a-half minute “Why Can’t I Touch It?” that is written by the entire band as they stretch the boundaries of punk and pop music. Led by Garvey’s loopy bass lines and Maher’s smooth, drums and hi-hat cymbal taps, the song is then followed by the crashing, raging guitars of Diggle and Shelley. Shelley sings, “Well it seems so real, I can see it/And it seems so real, I can feel it/And it seems so real, I can taste it/And it seems so real, I can hear it/So why, I can’t touch it/So why, I can’t touch it”. Diggle belts out reverb, echoing guitar riffs to Shelley’s vocals as he sings the last line of the song as the verses keep going. Shelley alternates the lyrics of the song while making sure it doesn’t sound repetitive as the Buzzcocks reveal some musicianship in their punk-pop sound as Diggle plays soft, washy guitar riffs in the middle of the song while he jams with the entire band with their respective instruments. While it’s time at six-and-a-half minute, the song doesn’t sound like a six-and-a-half minute, more like a slow, three-minute song but again, that’s the genius behind the Buzzcocks.
The album closer and B-side to “Why Can’t I Touch It?” is the four-and-a-half minute “Something’s Gone Wrong Again”. The fast, striking song is a return to old-school punk with an added, one-key strike on the keyboard that is played throughout the song with Shelley and Diggle’s blasting guitars and the monstrous rhythms of Maher and Garvey. Shelley sings some mean-spewing lyrics as he sings, “Tried to fry an egg/Broke the yolk, no joke/Something’s gone wrong again/Look at my watch just to tell the time/But the hand’s come off mine/Something’s gone wrong again/(repeat line)/And again and again and again, again and/Something’s gone wrong again/(repeat line)”. Garvey belts out a melodic bass line while in the middle of each verse, Diggle plays a melodic track before he plays an intense, sprawling guitar solo that is chaotic and powerful in its delivery.
While “Singles Going Steady” was a hit in the punk scene in Britain, the album went nowhere in the U.S. just as tension was beginning to increase that led to the Buzzcocks breaking up in early 1981. The individual members went on to do solo projects before deciding to reunite in 1989 and toured the U.S. until drummer John Maher decided to leave the group in 1991 and was briefly replaced by former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. After releasing a new studio album in 1993 to some acclaim, the Buzzcocks that now featured Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, new bassist Tony Barber, and drummer Phil Barker as the Buzzcocks continue to release albums and tour throughout the mid and late 90s.
In 2002, Shelley reunited with his old friend and Buzzcocks co-founder Howard Devoto for a project called ShelleyDevoto for an album called “Buzzkunst” to excellent reviews as Devoto co-wrote a few songs for the Buzzcocks’ 2003 release that has garnered some excellent reviews. The Buzzcocks meanwhile, are now touring and have an opening slot for Pearl Jam’s North American tour while co-founder Howard Devoto is doing solo projects including photography and still evading questions whether or not he really shagged Tony Wilson’s first wife in 1977 in a bathroom, that was later glorified in the 2002 music film "24 Hour Party People” where Devoto made a cameo referring to that incident saying, “I definitely don’t remember this happening”.
While the Buzzcocks never attained the status their British punk peers like the Clash or the Sex Pistols did, they’re still one of the most vital punk bands of all-time. “Singles Going Steady” is a must-have album for any fan of punk rock music. You can hear the influence of the Buzzcocks in the music of Nirvana and Green Day and the single for “What Do I Get?” was recently used for a car commercial a few years ago. This punk is definitely not your little sibling’s punk rock. It’s old-school punk-pop done right. For anyone who likes catchy tunes with a punk virility, they must own “Singles Going Steady” by the Buzzcocks.