photo & text by nacrowe
once i ventured outside of listening to the original seminal PUNK bands THE SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE RAMONES in early high school, i ended up discovering THE DAMNED and the first record i came across was their third album MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE (CHISWICK, 1979). and its interesting because given THE SEX PISTOLS ABRASIVENESS, THE RAMONES regimented sonic MILITANCY and THE CLASH's inclusive ECLECTICISM, i wasnt really sure what to expect. and i think that is something people forget about the first wave of PUNK ROCK in the late 1970s, the sheer diversity of it.
anyway, i was a bit caught off-guard when first hearing tracks like "ANTI-POPE," "LOVE SONG," "MELODY LEE" and especially "SMASH IT UP" because of their ACCESSIBLE pop hooks and TRADITIONAL song structures. maybe it was because of the fact that at the time i had also been made aware by my classmates of HARDCORE bands from the 1980s like BLACK FLAG and DEAD KENNEDYS, but my initial reaction to THE DAMNED was BEFUDDLEMENT. the accessibility of THE DAMNED seemed more in keeping with later melodic HARDCORE bands like BAD RELIGION and DESCENDENTS than their peer bands listed before. i guess with a great band named like THE DAMNED i was expecting something more like MOTORHEAD or at the very least something politically radical like CRASS.
looking back it is that odd mixture of disparate elements that marks the band with members like vocalist DAVE VANIAN, guitarist CAPTAIN SENSIBLE and drummer RAT SCABIES. each looks like a member of a different band, VANIAN an iconic proto-GOTH figure, CAPTAIN SENSIBLE looks like a saturday morning children's cartoon character and RAT SCABBIES a DEGENERATE a la SID VICIOUS. in a scene that had such a massive influence on the sound and philosophy of multiple generations of musicians to come, THE DAMNED and this album specifically provides a template for how to create a COHESIVE message from DISPARATE viewpoints. i dont really understand them and decades later im still attempting to figure them out.
and maybe that is what their legacy is for me. an interesting ART project wrapped around BRILLIANT pop music constructed during a unique period where rules were seemingly being rewritten. or in their case, reinterpreted. not my favorite original PUNK band, but THE DAMNED are well worth investigation and MACHINE GUN ETIQUETTE is a decent enough starting point as any.