Take a listen to Toby Mott's punk playlist on Spotify
Oh So Pretty Punk In Print author and graphic archivist talks us through 15 songs that embody the punk spirit
While UK punk rock was first and foremost a music phenomenon, it reflected a DIY spirit and instantly recognizable aesthetic as raw and strident and irrepressible as the music itself. As disposable as the printed ephemera associated with punk seemed to anyone who was there at the time, it tells a story about music, history, class, and art, and documents a seismic shift in society and visual culture. We asked Toby Mott, the author and compiler of our new book Oh So Pretty - Punk In Print 1976-80 to make us a playlist of the punk songs that rocked his world back then. We've put the playlist on Spotify - click on this link or scroll to the bottom of the page to play it. While you listen take a read of what Toby says about each song. And be sure to check out Oh So Pretty - Punk In Print 1976-80 in the store.
Anarchy In The UK - Sex Pistols I don’t really have to say much about this! I don’t know if it kick-started the whole thing but it’s pretty important. The first punk single was New Rose by The Damned but the first one to really gather steam and enter the charts and sort of create the punk movement would be Anarchy. And for that they were dropped by the record company! This one was on EMI then they went to A&M and then they went to Virgin.
Complete Control - The Clash This, I think, has a kind of dub undertone to it. The Clash were from west London and were influenced by Jamaican music and reggae. There weren’t that many punk records in the beginning so the music they played inbetween sets at punk clubs was usually reggae - often played by Don Letts and other deejays. The Clash were one of the first bands, along with Mark Perry of ATV, to have a dub feel to some of their tracks.
Oh Bondage Up Yours! – X-Ray Spex I remember getting all my money together to buy the 12-inch of this song, written by the great Polly Styrene. Punk was a great gateway for girls - they didn’t have to be a stereotypical sex object, neither were the girls in the audience, so it was kind of liberating in a way. This has a saxophone, which at the time lots of bands had for some weird reason. Then that went into the ska thing which got more interesting.
In the City - The Jam I always loved The Jam. People sneer at them because they dressed like mods but they were actually a punk band. It was only later that Paul Weller started taking all that dress code seriously. They came out of Woking, which is a kind of a new town so they were real working class kids who met at school and created a very tight and very musical band influenced by The Small Faces. Great track!
Bombers - Tubeway Army This is another band that was obviously influenced by Kraftwerk but also by punk. You can hear I guess the future of what music was to become with bands like Joy Division with Gary Numan and Tubeway Army although they were just called Tubeway Army at this point (It was before hits like Cars). Apparently they were called Tubeway Army because they spent a lot of time on the tube as they all lived in Walthamstow.
Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols This has the best opening of any record ever. Weirdly for somebody who loves music so much I don’t really understand or can’t read music. But I’ve always thought I want to learn guitar just so that I would be able to play the opening of Pretty Vacant. Then I think I would just play it over and over and over forever and ever because it is just amazing. The lyrics too were, of course, great and reflect the creative nihilism of punk.
Chelsea 77 - The Maniacs A great rousing song produced by Dave Goodman who worked with the Sex Pistols. It’s not that well known but it’s the best record they made - real classic UK punk.
White Riot - The Clash Its lyrics I guess could be misconceived and adopted by the right but actually it was The Clash politicising themselves and tying in with the riots following the Notting Hill Carnival. It was about the disaffected youth. A great rousing classic.
__Kick - Adam And The Ants __ At their punk highpoint they didn’t actually release any records. But this is a recording made from that period and it’s classic Ants. They were a London punk band, followed by Londoners, and then they morphed into the sort of 80s Adam And The Ants pop star pirate thing. You can really hear the early brooding hypnotic sexuality of Adam Ant in this song though.
Borstal Breakout - Sham 69 This is termed street punk and Sham 69 were adopted and followed by the skinhead revival around 1978. Their songs have a kind of football chant feel to them. Another great track.
Teenage Kicks – The Undertones They came out of Northern Ireland but rather than reflect on the troubles and the violence this is all about sex – teenage kicks all through the night. And most of the Northern Ireland punk bands didn’t actually dwell on the troubles. This is also famously the late John Peel’s favourite record of all time.
First Time - The Boys I love this song this is maybe what you’d call power pop but to me it sounds like a classic pop song. It was defined as punk but when you hear it now it’s hard to see why why anyone would have thought that it was anything but great pop music. It’s another record I put on to get out of bed. It’s really fast and rousing catchy pop punk.
Identity – X Ray Spex I guess her lyrics had some aspect of social politics. Here Polly’s singing a very catchy tune about identity and punk. Punks wanted to be different and look different so identity was an important issue to them. But here she is talking about sexual identity. She managed to convey these messages with great music.
New Age - Blitz Here’s a late punk record - I don’t think any of the other choices are from the 80s. Blitz were from Manchester and Salford, the place Joy Division were from. They were two skinheads and two punks. It’s a great record that manages to merge punk and electro simultaneously.
Runnin’ Riot - Cock Sparrer This is oddly enough my favourite record of all time – ever! I often think it will be played at my funeral. Cock Sparrer were even more aligned with skinheads than Sham 69 but they were a punk band from east London who came out of the pub rock scene. This is just a brilliant song and no matter how low your energy is, if you put this on you’re gonna get going! Just a great song from a great London punk band.