Top Ten Scottish Punk Singles
ineteen seventy-six is drawing to a close. The Sex Pistols’ stream of billingsgate on Bill Grundy’s Today program is still ringing in ears; the newsprint from those philippic-like tabloid pieces still staining readers’ fingertips. Punk, in all its grotesque glory, has England by the cobblers.
Further north, the atmosphere is far different. Local music scenes atrophied by years of complacency, as well as cities stricken by full-blown conservatism (see Glasgow) has Scotland struggling to play catch-up.
But when it finally does, during the feral summer of 1977, a new, exhilarating species of punk emerges, one mutated by the desire to quickly fashion a scene out of nothing, the desire to equal—maybe eclipse—the exploding scene in England, the desire to give punk a tartan flair.
This animal is certainly distinctive from its English counterpart. Scottish punk bands, for example, are less likely to gob in the eye of established order, instead traveling more subtle, oftentimes ribald paths. Scottish punk bands are also more apt to insist they’re not a Scottish punk band.
The Rezillos swore up and down they were new wave. The Jolt and The Valves were often regarded as accelerated R&B acts (with The Jolt later tossing their hats in with the mod revivalists). Others, like The Exile, had pub rock leanings.
But like Brian Hogg said in his terrific tome on Scottish rock and pop, All That Ever Mattered, “Punk reflects a prevailing mood rather than binding manifesto.” And there’s no doubt the aforementioned Scottish bands, as well as the others below, were infused with punk’s unchecked energy.
10. The Rezillos – “I Can't Stand My Baby”/“I Wanna Be Your Man”
Inspired by the unbridled vigor of bands like Buzzcocks and infused with a Ramones-like playfulness, The Rezillos were Edinburgh’s first punk band. Formed from the ashes of The Knutsford Dominators in early 1976, the group released “I Can’t Stand My Baby” as its first single in early August of ’77.
Brash and blistering with a smidge of bitterness (listen to those lyrics, as well as Faye Fife’s aloof vocals), the single was a smash, selling 7,000 copies over the first few weeks, and helped propel the group to national renown. Life as a Rezillo then became a tad chaotic, to say the least: a deal with major label Sire, an excursion to America to record their debut album, a spot on the singles charts and a subsequent berth on Top of the Pops (ironically, the song that landed them there was a satirical take on the long-running BBC program).
09. The Exile – “The Real People”/“Tomorrow Today”/“Disaster Movie”
In many ways, The Exile are the godfathers of Scottish punk. Not exactly sonically inventive, but innovative nonetheless.
The Exile helped usher the D.I.Y. ethic into Scotland thanks to its self-produced EP Don’t Tax Me, released on the band’s own Boring Records in August of 1977. Proceeds from that EP went then towards funding Gigi’s disco, Scotland’s first club primarily for punk bands. The Glasgow outfit also took on those who were trying to squash the movement, notably local radio personality Tom Ferrie, who was immortalized in the song “Facist DJ.”
The Exile’s second release, “Real People,” was issued in February of 1978 on Charly Records. Here, the group sounds tighter, more refined, more polished than on their debut six months earlier. One imagines they must have shelved their admitted three-hour approach to making music (one hour to rehearse, one hour to record, and one hour to mix) and fully dedicated themselves to their craft.
08. PVC2 – “Pain”/“Put You In The Picture”/“Deranged, Demented And Free”
Midge Ure: Organizer of the Live 8 and Live Aid benefit concerts, co-author of the smash hit “Do They Know It's Christmas?,” vocalist for New Romantic innovators Ultravox, part-time punk.
From Ure’s bubblegum pop outfit Slik, a group poised to conquer the tin-eared, teeny-bopper world for a few months in 1976, came the punk group PVC2. And yes, that's how painfully ubiquitous the punk movement was at the time—even acts of the sunshine-and-lollipops variety were brought into the fold (and quite often, with regrettable results).
PVC2 was the second band to be signed by Zoom (following The Rezillos); in August of 1977, the label released what turned out to be their only single. “Pain” is thundering and thrashy, and heavily inspired by contemporary acts such as The Clash. Ure’s vocals on the chorus feature all the gusto of a medieval torturer, and are a far cry from the saccharine tunes he was doing just 18 months earlier.
07. The Valves – “Robot Love”/“For Adolfs’ Only”
Punk’s fascination with Nazism has been well documented. It was always more stylistic than ideological a way of producing the sharp shock needed to get a reaction from dull reflexes, as Jon Savage once wrote.
Malcolm McLaren was said to be in awe of fascist symbolism and oftentimes stocked Nazi memorabilia at his Kings Road boutique, SEX. Punk luminaries such as Siouxsie Sioux and Captain Sensible frequently wore clothing with Nazi symbols. Even Alan Horne, founder of Scotland’s influential Postcard Records, was known to wear a swastika pin during his pre-label days.
Edinburgh’s The Valves appeared to be mining the same territory on “For Adolfs’ Only,” which serves up couplets like, “Well I got my uniform, I’m okay/I can do the goosestep any day,” and “Pick up my guitar, throw in my gun/I’m a 1977 rock ‘n’ roll Hun” over a blitzkrieg of rapid-fire guitars and machine-gun drum fills.
But The Valves were too daft to be in the business of shocking listeners; singer/songwriter Dee Robot (nee Dave Roberston) penned “For Adolfs’ Only” tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The single, issued in late August of ’77, was the first released on Bruce Findlay’s Zoom Records (based in Edinburgh) and sold over 15,000 copies. This release, coupled with The Rezillos’ roughly one month earlier on Sensible, serves as a clarion call to those fledgling Scottish bands (punk or otherwise) yearning for a record deal: heading to London is no longer your only option.
06. The Jolt – “You’re Cold”/“All I Can Do”
The Jolt are the answer to a trivial trivia question: Which area punk band was the first to play in Glasgow, a city then known as a no-fly-zone for such acts? (They are said to have beaten Johnny & The Self Abusers to this distinction by just two nights.)
The trio didn’t stick around long, however. Dispirited by their advancement (or lack thereof) in Scotland, The Jolt uprooted and headed to London in early 1977 to join an already bloated music scene in the capital. There, the trio gigged at the big punk circuits of the day, did a stint opening for The Jam and X-Ray Spex, and was snapped up by Polydor in August of ‘77. But these early triumphs came with a price, as many fans and scribes back home derided them for turning their back on their roots and—gasp—selling out.
The Jolt’s first single “You’re Cold,” released in September of 1977, can best be described as a major label release with a small label sound. According to guitarist/songwriter Robbie Collins, the song’s producer was shooting for an amateurish vibe: rough, slapdash, and cheap—therefore, credible! The energetic, brisk ditty also features one of the more memorable Scottish punk choruses: “You're cold, you’re life is a farce/You’re cold, you’re a pain in the ass!”
05. Johnny & The Self Abusers – “Saints And Sinners”/“Dead Vandals”
No Scottish punk act has ever achieved the same mythical status as Johnny & The Self Abusers.
A lead singer who went by the pseudonym Pripton Weird, band members decked out in Lou Reed-like mascara, a pint-glass-smashing and furniture-breaking gig (only their second) which became one of the seminal, early moments in Scottish punk—in early 1977, the band took conservative, punk-leery Glasgow by storm. However, as music journalist Billy Sloan declared, “The group’s legend far outweighed their musical ability.”
The six-piece outfit, which relied on a tiny clutch of cover songs during its short existence (including tunes by Doctors Of Madness and Brian Eno), cut just one single: the hyperinfectious “Saints and Sinners,” which was released in November of ‘77 on Chiswick Records.
In true punk fashion, the band called it quits the day of the single’s issue. One half of the defunct act formed the short-lived Cuban Heels, while the other half went on to achieve international success as… Simple Minds.
04. The Subs – “Gimme Your Heart”/“Party Clothes”
Offered a chance to release a single on The Exile’s Boring Records, The Subs politely declined. Instead, the group cast their lost with the fledgling Stiff Records and its subsidiary, One-Off (how ironic; see below). The Subs had come to the attention of Stiff—which had made a splash in the punk scene in 1977 with singles from The Damned and The Adverts—thanks to one of the label’s numerous Stiff/Chiswick challenges, which were designed to highlight the U.K.’s top, unsigned acts.
“Living around here makes me want to throw up,” go the opening lines to “Gimme Your Heart,” released in March of 1978. “Cuz people around here say we gotta grow up.” Yes, it's your standard, teenage-angst-filled ditty, but it’s fun nonetheless. Particularly the way the chorus comes across as a chant one might hear emanating from the kop at a football stadium.
One month after the release of their debut, The Subs called it quits. No shock, really; while “Gimme Your Heart” was a delight, the popular complaint among punters during their performances was, “It’s a good song, but it’s their only fucking song!”
03. The Skids – “Charles”/“Test Tube Babies”/“Reasons”
The Skids were one of only two Scottish punk acts (The Rezillos being the other) to achieve any sort of success on a national level.
The foursome came together in Dunfermline, tracing its roots to a David Bowie cover band known as Tattoo. The Skids were built around ostentatious lead singer Ricky Jobson, who wowed gig-goers during the group’s early days with his skunked out, black-and-white dye job, and guitarist Stuart Adamson, a purveyor of thick, sluggish, un-punk-like riffs (a style he would later take to international stars Big Country).
The Skids released the EP Charles in March of 1978 on their own No Bad label. Much like Adamson’s guitar work, Jobson’s lyrics became one of the act’s trademarks: simple, yet worldly verses; clever and witty turn-of-phrases with vitriol always bubbling beneath the surface.
On the single “Charles,” the monotonous, timecard-punching existence of a factory worker is detailed—work with machines long enough and you become a machine—yet the tedium is detailed so matter-of-factly. The Skids weren’t here to change your life, merely document it.
02. The Scars – “Adult/ery”/“Horror Show”
Everything The Scars did following their debut, “Adult/ery,” paled in comparison, which isn't necessarily an indictment of the band’s subsequent material, but more a testament to just how vivacious, catchy, and self-assured The Scars sounded on their debut.
“Adult/ery” grooves, and just when you think it could maybe, possibly, almost work as a dance number, the guitars take a stab at you. This isn’t a track to boogie to; it’s an anthem for an insurrection.
Surprisingly, the brilliant March of 1979 single was just a minor indie success and brought the peach-fuzzed Edinburgh foursome (average age of its members: 19) very little acclaim. Those headlines in the weekly music papers would come in June, when the band drew an angry response at the Anti-Nazi League Carnival in Craigmillar.
“Sounds reported that the crowd reaction was a disgrace but we all realized that we had provoked a reaction at a major event, and we were happy with that—despite the fear,” guitarist Paul Research later wrote.
Ah, the halcyon days of U.K. punk, when an act knew it had achieved some perverted level of success after eliciting a violent reaction at a major gig.
01. The Fun Four – “Singing In The Showers”/“By Products”/“Elevator Crash”
Now we’re getting obscure. And macabre.
Little is known about Glasgow’s The Fun 4: The band consisted of members of Rev Volting And The Backstabbers (Rev Volting, Jimmy Loser, and Colin Alkars), as well as Steven Daly, who later played in indie pop stalwarts Orange Juice. The act’s lone release came on NMC Records in 1979 (no month is given).
As for the subject matter of “Singing In The Showers?” Well, we know its setting is a communal one (showers not shower) and that those looking for a nice wash are in for a shock (“There's a lovely surprise in the showers,” go the words).
Based on punk’s fervent desire to shock listeners and break taboos, one can assume The Fun 4 were detailing the Nazis’ practice of informing death camp arrivals they were in need of delousing—only to gas them in the showers. Fortunately, much of the lyrical narrative is lost in what’s a murky, piercing, guitar-heavy mix.