No.11 Alternative Chartbusters
The Boys (NEMS Records, 1978)
Sometime during the summer of 1977 John Peel (whose name crops up in virtually all of these reviews, such is the strength of his influence) played the A-side of a single by The Boys, a punk five-piece who had already issued a first 45 - I Don't Care and a rather ordinary debut album, The Boys. The song was First Time, and it blew my head clean off. Early the following year their second album, Alternative Chartbusters, was issued and subsequently given heavy airplay by the man Peel, as well as one of his sessions.
The songs were brilliant and I purchased the album just as soon as I could. It was then rarely off the turntable. Underrated and largely disliked by the critics, The Boys were saddled with a crappy record contract courtesy of a naff label which was in its dying throes when they signed on the dotted line. Add to this their gung-ho tendency to write about whores, VD, hooligans and under-age sex and you had a band that were never going to make it big. Which is a shame, because these songs are technicolour power-pop masterpieces, housed in a huge production and delivered with either joyous celebration or withering sarcasm.
Alternative Chartbusters begins with the same bass-drum-snare-drum intro as Phil Spector's Be My Baby, and Brickfield Nights, an instant classic, is under way. The inflammatory guitars of Honest John Plain and Matt Dangerfield usurp and crackle, as this fantastic teenage anthem unfolds. They are the things that we all do when we were kids: "Every night we meet at the same place, same time, late nights spent kicking on the football, we carved our initials on the school wall. Backing vocals a la 60's interject, and ace keyboard player Casino Steel provides authentic rock n roll piano flourishes. The pace is mid to fast but the atmosphere is palpably young, carefree and exciting, the sound of guitars and drums is absolutely COLOSSAL! "Then the girls came with their long hair, high heels and the make-up never quite right" sings Matt Dangerfield with a spot-on observation of Secondary Modern-nymphet detail. We're The Boys, is in fact the very opposite of what their name suggests, ie, dirty old men? Because they seemed to be very preoccupied indeed with the charms of extremely young females.
U.S.I. is the second song. The initials stand for Unlawful Sexual Intercourse - and First Time, that amazing single which had so impressed me, was all about deflowering a lovely young thing. "You should have told me!" squeals Kid Reid to the girl in U.S.I., after the band have finished chanting the initials in the finest Ramones tradition. "He's up before the Beak, you see, she stood there in her old school-frock, concealing everything she got, it didn't look like that when it happened, she looked at least 17, but that's not what the jury sees, how was I supposed to know? Paralysing guitars, big drums, irresistible melody, two minutes.
Taking On The World is a tightly-performed but otherwise perfunctory punk track with some fine drum work. Sway was a hit thousands of years ago for boozy, bland Dean Martin and recently a hit again for someone so tedious I can't be arsed to go look it up. The Boys version (one of two covers on Alternative Chartbusters) features a fast tempo, Latino-percussion, trumpet and silly but endearing back-up voices. It is all over too soon,but what enormous fun!
Strident, brutal rhythm guitar and incendiary drums auger in Do The Contract Hustle, a dance that all bands would avoid if they could. The Boys signed a shit deal with an appalling company without looking at the fine details - stupid, or what? This fantastic song is their bitter revenge, and takes its place alongside those other great record company broadsides, EMI by the Pistols, Mercury Poisoning by Graham Parker, Complete Control by The Clash. In fact, this song shares the same stop-start rhythm and chord sequence with Clash City Rockers which it probably ripped off. The interplay between guitars, drums and piano is startling, played with such venom. Put your working life on the dotted line indeed.
The sixth song is unrepresentative of the rest of the album, but it does indicate a diversity this seemingly inane punk band were capable of, which was never given the chance to develop. Heroine starts with gentle, sophisticated bar-room piano, and builds slowly into a melodramatic tear-jerker. Tight, controlled rolls on the snare-drum enter, followed by some fine block harmonies from the band. Lyrically it is somewhat clumsy and unconvincing. Another excellent tune and arrangement though, it must be said.
As if in apology for this mawkish departure, it is followed by a standard punk thrash, Not Ready (too young to go steady). Classified Susie is up next, another Boys classic. Wonderful guitars and drums crash in, a truly fabulous lead guitar hook is in place and Kid Reid insists on telling us all about "A pretty housewife, 21, interested in daytime fun, AC/DC, shes not choosy, contact Susie, yum yum!"
T.C.P is their tribute not only to the pimple lotion of the same name but also to their heroes The Ramones, stylistically and lyrically. So many terrific melodies, hooks and dynamic moments are crammed into this two minutes four seconds, that it puts to shame so many wealthy superstar assholes who wouldnt know a quality tune if it bought them a beer. And its hilarious as well!
Neighborhood Brats is another punk-thrash filler, of little consequence save for its excellent performance and humour. The second cover on the album is their jolly romp through The Hollies No.2 smash-hit from October 1966, Stop Stop Stop. An already anguished arrangement is made even more frantic by The Boys, who take its Russian polka at breakneck pace, embellishing it with jangly, crystalline guitars (recorded with treble going through the roof) and impersonating The Hollies vocal style with some very slick harmonies.
Backstage Pass, along with T.C.P., confirmed The Boys as punk rock's answer to, god help us. The Barron Knights. Like The Monochrome Set after them, The Boys were a perfect example of how a sense of humour can cheapen talent that could (and should) have achieved so much, poptastically speaking. With the New Wave at its apogee and gossip columns ablaze with crappy tittle-tattle concerning the celebs of the day (nothing changes really), The Boys take time out in Backstage Pass to settle some scores and indulge in some childish bitching, played out over a backdrop of charismatic guitar-riffs, heavily reverbed drums and oddly gentle, sensitive bass-playing. "You have been around with every boy in town, and all the Rats in Boomtown, you've had all The Jam even Paul's old man in their brand new Mercedes van." Envy, perhaps?
Talking is another album-filler, a thousand miles an hour, about nothing in particular, lasts one minute-twenty seconds. That was the beauty of punk records. If a track was shit, you didn't have to wait long before it was over. A Cast Of Thousands ends Alternative Chartbusters, its introduction one of those unforgettable moments. Roguishly assembled, beautifully played, it immediately roots us to the spot, breath bated. A solitary guitar, double-tracked, split-panned and played with the side of the wrist dampening down the strings to emphasis constrained power, leads to finger-clicks and a withdrawn gasp. Dubbed-on soccer-fans chanting their massed neanderthal gibberish now fades in slowly and quietly, as a thrilling Gary Glitter snare-floor-tom wash from Jack Black at the drums menacingly enters, thirty-one seconds into the track. OK, the subject matter is piss-poor (a football match, no less) and the thuggy ranting does become a bit much toward the end. But the music is so amazing that it doesn't matter. Trust me on this!
Alternative Chartbusters was recently released on CD. If you like your pop peppered with big guitars and catchy tunes, this will do the trick!
SJ Review No.12 Stu's Randomly chosen New Wave Classics
(no record label: imaginary compilation)