A DVD compilation is only as good as the material the compilers can get their hands on. In a perfect world, one free of logistical constraints imposed by the availability of archival footage and clearance fees, God Save the Queen: A Punk Rock Anthology would’ve been a vital document and the perfect video companion piece to Rhino’s four-CD No Thanks! The ‘70s Punk Rebellion collection. Alas, those constraints do exist, and while this DVD manages to unearth a few gems, while watching the videos and interviews, one can’t help but wonder what might have been.
First and foremost, the disc suffers from a lack of thematic unity. To these ears, the phrase “God save the Queen” implies ‘70s UK punk, and to the disc’s credit, most of the 20 videos collected here are exactly that. Still, the set is frontloaded with American acts—Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders, the Germs, the Stooges—that seem to be at odds with (or at least be oblivious to) the working-class punk ethos of the British acts. And while none of the performances are dated (as in, it’s not known what year they were recorded; maybe it’s just my advance copy, but these videos are basically a context-free free-for-all) it’s clear the Thunders (“Born to Lose”) and Stooges (“I Wanna Be Your Dog”) videos hail from the early ‘90s—a lame copout, and one that disrupts the DVD’s flow further. I’m guessing the US bands’ inclusion is a sop to stateside punk fans, but it’s nearly impossible to be a punk fan on either side of the Atlantic without being a Britpunk fan, and these American acts prove to be a distraction. (Too, if you want to get nitpicky: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” isn’t even ‘70s punk, having appeared on the Stooges’ self-titled 1969 album, and is more proto-punk than anything else.)
Sprinkled throughout the set are a handful of interviews, ranging from insightful (X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene discusses the mixed response to “Oh Bondage Up Yours”) to platitudinous (Generation X are friends with their fans!) to, uh, heartbreaking (Johnny Thunders, claiming to be off drugs, yet looking like death warmed over, chats with a British journo about how NYC was not “good for his health.” Moreover, this buzzkill of an interview is the third track on this disc. This disc should celebrate punk, not mourn its casualties.) and finally to the inane, as the interviews bottom out with an interview with Mark Bell (aka Marky Ramone), where he describes how the founding members of the Ramones (of which he was not one) joined forces—and there’s no Ramones concert footage! What, was Richie Ramone not available to talk? Hellalame. And let’s not even discuss how the Ramones have very little connection to the Britpunk scene.
Fortunately, the disc’s back half sets things mostly right, with great performance footage from both well-known acts like the Buzzcocks (“Boredom”), Generation X (“Your Generation”) and X-Ray Spex (“Identity”) and lesser-known bands on the scene: Toy Dolls (the Devo-goes-Oi! “Nellie the Elephant”), 999 (“Homicide”) and, in the best clip, the one that summarizes the late ‘70s Britpunk scene best, Chelsea’s “Right to Work”, where frontman Gene October shares a mic and crowded stage with a room full of angry young punks, and everyone takes a turn shouting the song’s title. It’s exhilarating. Still, licensing and footage availability aside, it would’ve been nice to see the likes of the Clash, the Adverts, the Jam, the Rezillos and Stiff Little Fingers on the disc. C’est la vie. (And again, if you want to get nitpicky about the set’s b-side, post-millenial Britpunk revivalists Goldblade really don’t belong here. Their “Black Sheep Radical” is off their 2005 album. That’s cheating, if you ask me.)
Culled mostly from label promotional videos and live performances, the clips found on God Save the Queen are practically held together with safety pins, and part of the fun of this compilation is seeing what passed for editing techniques in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. It’s easy to laugh at the overreliance on the fisheye lens on the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer”, the fact that the lyrics to “Your Generation” never once match Billy Idol’s lips, or the grainy footage and cheesy sets for the few proper videos (“Nellie the Elephant”, “Identity”), but it’s a perfect fit for the era’s DIY aesthetic. Yes, many of the bands captured here were middle class guys ‘n’ gals posing as working class sods, but the message, repeated over and over, is “Hey! You can do this too! We’re all in this together!” In today’s era of slick videos and pre-packaged stars, it’s refreshing to visit a less cynical time in music presentation.
Outside forces and odd editorial choices may have left God Save the Queen lacking in a few departments, but this set uncovers enough lost gems, and boasts enough of a novelty factor (sure you have the songs, but do you have the videos?), for serious Britpunk fans to check this set out.