By DAN MACINTOSH
The Damned was the first punk band from the United Kingdom to release a single (“New Rose”), so why is this London-birthed act not always immediately mentioned whenever discussing pioneering punk, the same way The Clash and The Sex Pistols consistently are?
It’s a mystery wrapped in ignorance, especially since the group is still actively touring, whereas its aforementioned contemporaries are but historical references now. Black Is The Night – The Definitive Anthology is an extensive overview of the band’s career and makes a good case for not forgetting a Damned thing.
While looking back, one notices right off how un-punky much of this music sounds to modern ears. Early punk rock, such as that created by The Damned, actually sounded more like classic rock – albeit, with an especially defiant attitude – than the sound and style that would come after.
One called “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” whines and complains just a tad, along with organ accompaniment. A punk band with an organ in it? Yep. This was before the genre was so codified, that only guitar, bass and drums need apply. The pioneering single, “New Rose,” however, explodes with nervous energy. The drums pound aggressively, while the guitars rage against the machines at the time.
The Damned is nothing if not survivors, and you don’t last for over 30 years without also evolving. The act even went through a bit of a Gothic phase in the 1980s, exemplified here by “Grimly Fiendish.” At the time, vocalist Dave Vanian took on a distinctly vampire-ish look.
The Damned also deserves kudos for reviving music of the band Love with its “Alone Again Or” cover. Even though this track isn’t especially distinctive from the original recording, it’s just such a beautiful melody and arrangement, and The Damned nailed it. The band’s song “Anti-Pope” would fit right into today’s secular age, as it calls out churchgoers as weak and ignorant.
The Damned may not ever get the respect it deserves. Rock history is filled with such inequities. Just troll internet arguments over acts left out of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, if you don’t believe me. However, The Damned was (and is) too good to ignore.
The documentary, The Damned – Don’t You Wish That They Were Dead, may provide clues as to why this group has been so un-gloriously shunned; this act was nearly as dysfunctional as Spinal Tap, all the way from the start. However, the music remains a testament to the band’s strengths, and this extensive overview provides plenty of supporting evidence for the act’s continuing significance.