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The Buzzcocks / Pop Punk

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The Buzzcocks / Pop Punk

Alongside Slaughter & the Dogs, Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds, and John Cooper Clarke, The Buzzcocks spearheaded a nascent Manchester punk scene that followed in the scorched paths of London trailblazers like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned.

Besides inventing pop punk, punk’s most enduring manifestation, and besides releasing the first independent punk record (with the Spiral Scratch E.P. on their New Hormones label), The Buzzcocks’ greatest legacy to the city of Manchester—and to the history of British rock—may be that they were responsible for bringing the Sex Pistols to first play in Manchester in June 1976. There, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, the Pistols performed to a mere 42 people; however, amongst them were TV presenter (and, later, Factory Records founder) Tony Wilson, producer Martin Hannett, and future members of Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Fall—essentially the central figures that would go on to establish Manchester as one of the world’s most influential and innovative rock cities.

Alongside Slaughter & the Dogs, Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds, and John Cooper Clarke, The Buzzcocks spearheaded a nascent Manchester punk scene that followed in the scorched paths of London trailblazers like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned. Unlike their compatriots to the South, though, The Buzzcocks were unbeholden to the trends, expectations, and attitudes that can often limit bands operating within big city scenes.

Whereas punk proper often sought to bludgeon all melody into submission with instrumental assaults and screaming vocals, and to eschew the conventions of “love” lyrics by replacing the personal with the political, clearly The Buzzcocks—detached 160 miles from London’s nerve-center—did not receive the punk manifesto memo.

Through a series of singles released between 1977 and 1980, The Buzzcocks brought new definitions to the meaning of punk, exploding its assumptions and opening up the genre to new possibilities. Yet, with their omnipresent “buzz”-saw rhythm guitars, minimalist songs structures, and sometimes cynical perspectives, the band still retained key primary traits that identified them within the broader punk tent.

However, though early titles like “Boredom” (1977) and “Orgasm Addict” (1977) suggested that The Buzzcocks were initially content to follow in the footsteps of their punk peers, subsequent songs like “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” (1978), “Love You More” (1978), and “Promises” (1978) saw the band break starkly from the then-established punk lyrical template. Furthermore, Pete Shelley’s high-pitched melodic singing, delivered with a quivering Mancunian camp inflection, was far from the “straight” macho belligerence of his punk peers, while the band’s distinguishing “oh-oh” plaintive backing wails and sing-along hooks brought a distinct pop sensibility inside of punk’s sanctuary of pop negations.

As the first punk wave subsided at the end of the ‘70s—and with it The Buzzcocks themselves—their pop-driven approach to punk not only continued but developed in unforeseen directions and places. A brief survey of California punk since the early eighties reveals The Buzzcocks’ pop punk style to be alive and thriving; indeed, the story of punk in the Green Day era is notably one that recognizes the sound and sensibility of The Buzzcocks as being just as—if not more – influential than that of their more heralded peers, the Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Stay tuned for Part Two, which will feature profiles of subsequent movers and shakers from the Manchester rock scene:  John Cooper Clarke / Punk Poetry; Joy Division / Post-Punk; The Smiths / Literate Indie Rock; Stone Roses / Madchester Sound; Oasis / Brit-Pop; Elbow / Post-Prog.

Born in Manchester and raised east of London, Iain Ellis spent his formative years playing, performing, and consuming a heavy diet of punk rock music and football. In 1986, the young man went west to find his dreams in Bowling Green, Ohio. Instead, he picked up a PhD in American Culture Studies, writing his dissertation on 1980s American Punk Culture. In 2000, he traveled further west, settling in Lawrence, Kansas, where he currently teaches English at the University of Kansas and performs in his band The Leotards. You may also enjoy his books, Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists and Brit Wits: A History of British Rock Humor.

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