Of the three great first-wave British punk bands, Buzzcocks were the one that seemed to exist out of time. The Sex Pistols wanted to piss on tradition and take your money. The Clash challenged institutions of power. Buzzcocks wrote love songs from the vantage of someone being thwarted at every turn—“This pathetic clown’ll keep hanging around, that’s if you don’t mind,” Pete Shelley sings in “I Don’t Mind.”
Singles Going Steady, in its original vinyl edition, collects the A-sides and B-sides of eight singles Buzzcocks (no The in the name, as their Twitter bio proudly reminds people) released during a remarkably fertile 21-month period, from November 1977 to July 1979. (Oh, and they also produced two albums in that fevered time span.) This four-piece band from Manchester quickly developed a sound—economical, punchy, unflagging—that comprised the most melodic side of punk, but they also wandered curiously into experimental moods, as on “Something’s Gone Wrong Again.” Singles Going Steady combines both their punchiest, catchiest songs (the A-sides) and their weirdest and most daring (the B-sides).
Shelley’s lyrics could be hilarious and crude (“Orgasm Addict”), nearly existential in their bewilderment (“Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”), or both (“Why Can’t I Touch It?”), and he sings, in a pinched voice, usually at the unbalanced top of his range. He and co-guitarist Steve Diggle play jagged, staccato chords or needling hooks, and in bassist Steve Garvey and drummer John Maher, Buzzcocks had a versatile, shifty rhythm section that not only stomped, but could swing as well.
Thanks to Shelley’s melodicism and intelligence, and the band’s tight playing, Buzzcocks have been widely influential. Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s called them “probably the one band we all loved.” Mission of Burma and Hüsker Dü, two of the most important American punk bands of the ’80s, covered Buzzcocks songs. Even Outkast’s André 3000 was a fan—he wrote “Hey Ya!,” he said, under the influence of Buzzcocks. Because Singles Going Steady was the band’s first American release, this is where their influence comes ashore.
The band never locked in better than on “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” which has become their most famous song, partly because Fine Young Cannibals and Pete Yorn later covered it. The entire track is a barrage: The guitars enter like they’re crashing a party, Maher creates an anxious mood by moving into and out of a displaced drum pattern, and Shelley, who wrote the lyric he later said was about a man he was in love with, depicts a familiar topic—unrequited love—in its most universal form.
Orgasm Addict (2001 Remastered Version)
What Do I Get? (2001 Remastered Version)
I Don't Mind (2001 Remastered Version)
Love You More (2001 Remastered Version)
Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone You Shouldn't've)