If you’re anything like me, first of all, I pity you, and second, you tracked down and devoured every piece of music that Simon Reynolds described in his remarkable history of the post-punk era, Rip It Up and Start Again (and if you haven’t read his book yet, please make it a top priority). But as exhaustive, and entertaining, as Reynolds’ book is, there are still countless bands from 1977-1982, whose stories, however small, are still part of the era, and have yet to be told. To that end, the good folks over at Crippled Dick Hot Wax have compiled a bakers’ dozen of long-lost post-punk and new wave singles recorded during those heady years. And while the majority of the bands captured here have been all-but-lost to the annals of history, others featured people who went on to bigger and better things, (The Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Young Marble Giants’ Allison Statton pop up here on two separate tracks), yet all the songs boast a spirit of musical discovery and adventure that is often missing from today’s music.
First, though, about the album’s full subtitle, “Ultra Rare Post-Punk Power Pop Classics”. “Ultra Rare Post-Punk”— yes; “Classics”—debatable; “Power Pop”—barely. If you’re looking for tunes along the lines of Yellow Pills, Teenline or Poptopia!, you’re in the wrong place. Only one track here even approximates power pop—the Moondogs’ “Imposter”—and even then, it sounds mostly like an old Undertones’ single. Not a bad thing, but not really power pop, either.
What IS here is a lot of fun. There’s the more by-the-numbers post-punk: Glaxo Babies (featuring the aforementioned Smith), with its angular guitar and detached vocals; the cold, early synth-pop of Thomas Leer’s “Private Plane”, etc. But really, what sells this set is the weird stuff, and there’s plenty of it. The Contact’s “Constant Beat” starts with an industrial vibe, melts into a Nuggets-y chorus and is tied together by talky, Fall-like vocals. I Jog and the Tracksuits’ contribute “Red Box”, an Ian Drury-esque number about waiting for a bus. The liner notes say that nothing else is known about I Jog. How cool is it that a weird, 30-year-old song pops up on an obscure compilation with no further information known about the band? It’s not the best song here, but it illustrates one of the central points of the comp, and the musical era at-large: a bunch of people could get together, sing a song about a bus, commit it to vinyl and call it a day.
Meanwhile, Gerry and the Holograms turn in the post-punk answer to “Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees” with “Gerry and the Holograms”; Gerry multiplies himself via vocoder and notes, “There are now 16 of me!”. It’s meta-post-punk and if that doesn’t make your head explode, then you’ll probably be able to handle They Might Be Russians’ “Don’t Try To Cure Yourself”, a guide to gonorrhea, syphilis and crabs, broken up by spazzy guitars. The band reads facts out of a textbook about VD; it’s like an R-rated take on Nada Surf’s “Popular”. Again, it’s the bizarre tracks that make this comp so cool.
Throughout 7” Up, one gets the sense that the bands captured here were having tons of fun making up (or ignoring) the rules for post-punk while they were going along. (And yes, that’s one of the same points as Rip It Up and Start Again, but reading about large acts like Devo and Throbbing Gristle and listening to actual, small-potatoes, ground-zero British post-punk acts are two different experiences). Post-punk is a collectors’ genre, but even the most hardcore post-punk aficionado is going to already own these tunes, let alone know of their existence. Here’s hoping there plenty more wax in the vaults.