Want to know how detested punk was upon public display in 1976?
When Australian four-piece the Saints began gigging with their snarky, revved-up brand of garage rock in their native city of Brisbane, their reception from audiences and critics alike – who, decades later, still celebrate antipodean atrocities like Jet and The Vines – was so brutally negative that guitarist Ed Kuepper recalled avoiding bashings after shows.
“The response in Brisbane was generally negative and in some cases violently so – you know, if you don’t like the band, beat the sh*t out of the singer,” said Kuepper.
So Australia’s music scene must have been floored – not to mention a little sheepish – when the native outcasts were signed by EMI in the UK in August 1976. With the nascent punk scene rumbling, the major label considered the Saints to be the flavour of the impending day… and they were right. The band’s debut album I’m Stranded
became the first internationally acclaimed Ozzie album and one of the high points of punk rock.
After their unexpected chairlift from EMI, the Saints re-entered the Windows Studios in December to record the majority of their album. Producer Rod Coe worked with the unpretentious roots of his young players by keeping a studied rawness to their sound. The fuzzed-out, breakneck energy of ‘Erotic Neurotic’ and ‘One Way Street’ showed a band settling into their attitudinal groove with the tightly packed thwack of rhythm section Ivor Hay (drums) and soon-to-depart Kym Bradshaw (bass).
Although Coe was happy to apply the same sound to every song, the Saints hinted at the avenues upon which they would later develop their craft. The hundred-second long ‘Demolition Girl’ tips its hat to pioneers of punk and androgyny the New York Dolls while ‘No Time’ is the most frenetic cut with a hyper piano laid over the top sounding like a ramshackle Little Richard cover. The Missing Links received an unexpected posthumous burst when husky singer Chris Bailey pushed for the recording of their song ‘Wild About You’. Their other cover – Elvis’ deservedly long-forgotten ‘Kissin’ Cousins’ – is no one’s favourite Saints song and ditto for the awkward ballad 'Story of Love' but they are the lone duds on an otherwise excellent, consistent and important album.
Crucially, the Saints were too ahead of the game to be bound by the rules of punk. All six minutes of the ragged but beautiful ballad ‘Messin’ with the Kid’ defy the genre’s later accepted norms while remaining grounded in the album’s viewpoint of being young and hopped up in a sleepy city. The title track is a grunting yet catchy hit single that became the punk anthem it is clearly pretending not to be. “I’m riding on the midnight train/But everybody looks just the same/A subway light, its dirty reflection/I’m lost, I don’t have a direction,” barks Bailey, laying down the themes of suburban disillusionment and boredom that countless punk writers would follow.
The best is saved for last as the band takes the full-blown DIY aesthetic of punk to its ceiling and beyond on ‘Nights of Venice’. Retooling the riff of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’, the six-minute, speed-riddled, sweat-drenched epic is a barrelling cage match with Hay’s unforgettable fill and Bailey’s tribal roar signing the Saints’ name as heavyweights.
“If you listen to the album, it was just not what people thought of fondly in those days,” shrugged Bailey. I’m Stranded
was the biggest cornerstone in a short, sweet and belatedly lauded career.
‘Messin’ with the Kid’
‘Nights in Venice’