Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

So, not only have I seen ¾ of the original Buzzcocks live, and not only did I meet Steve Shelley, but I also shared a cab with him. In Baltimore. And did I appreciate it at the time? I did not. I had only the slimmest understanding of the band then – the early ‘90s – and I was at the show (with my friend Meetul) because replacing the other ¼ of the band that night was Mike Joyce, former drummer of the Smiths. And as I would never get to see Joyce drum with the Smiths, I was damn well going to see him drum with Buzzcocks (there is no “the” in the name, which is admittedly weird). And then I was damn well going to meet him. So after the show we waited outside of Hammerjacks, for a while, and the first to emerge was Pete Shelley, who offered to share a cab with us back to the band’s hotel. We chatted about the band’s recent reunion on the ride. He left us in the lobby, and when Joyce showed up, he kindly spared a few minutes to talk – he shared how he hated U2 – and signed autographs. And this is the story of how much of a dork I am. Anyway, Buzzcocks are actually an amazing band. Pete Shelley died in 2018.

What I Think of This Album

This compilation is probably the only Buzzcocks you need (I at one time owned a couple of their studio albums), and you definitely need it. It collects the band’s eight singles from 1977 to 1979, with the first eight songs being the A sides and second batch (or Side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts) being the B sides. Buzzcocks took the sound and fury of punk and joined it with the melodies of pop and added candid but familiar lyrics about love, resulting in a loud and fast power-pop. These boys were as much romantics as they were punks, and the openly bisexual Shelley was both in spades.

“Orgasm Addict” verges on novelty, to be sure, but the band is definitely having fun with the joke and Shelley’s panting and grunting are still surprisingly direct. The band takes on unrequited love in “What Do I Get?,” where the catchiness is only outdone by the frustration of the lyrics; the dark, overdriven tone on the solo is fantastic and the call-and-response outro is brilliant. “I Don’t Mind” sounds like a ‘50’s rocker crossed with punk rock, the “ooh oohs” sitting comfortably amidst the chainsaw guitars; Shelley’s vocal is perfection, again. Similarly, “Love You More” is basically a punked up Beatles love song; bassist Steve Garvey does a nice job here. Classic “Ever Fallen In Love?” really demonstrates the brilliance of Buzzcocks and Shelley in particular, whose anguished, energetic vocal sold the song much more authentically than a smoother vocal could ever have. Also, drummer John Maher just obliterates his kit on this song.

“Promises” was co-written by Shelley and guitarist Steve Diggle, and is another fast and melodic love song propelled by an amazing opening circular guitar riff and another dynamo performance by Maher. Love was set aside for anxiety on the frenetic, spindly “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” with sort of faux-Beach Boys harmonies. Final single “Harmony In My Head” is a Diggle composition, and he sings it too, which you can tell because instead of Shelley’s high-pitched yowl, Diggle gruffly shouts his way through it (actually, Diggle claimed to have smoked 20 cigarettes in a row to achieve the desired vocal tone). He also pronounces “harmony” as “har-MOW-knee.”

The B sides predictably take more chances while also lacking the immediacy of the A sides. Early song “What Ever Happened To?” is sort of generically discontent, but it employs a fantastic gurgling bass line and Shelley’s vocal is to die for. “Oh Shit” is amusing, but not, you know, sophisticated; that said, the guitars sound great. Diggle provides the forward-looking “Autonomy,” which sounds a bit like Wire in the chorus and almost nothing like Buzzcocks anywhere, tense and mysterious, with an overwhelming, galloping rhythm. Very cool stuff. The band was not trying very hard on “Noise Annoys,” which is silly filler, but it still sounds okay. “Just Lust” and “Lipstick” are both love songs; nothing special but still a good listen, with “Lipstick” being much better.

Surprisingly funky and long “Why Can’t I Touch It?” (written by the entire band) isn’t about what you think, but it is about frustration and the inability to achieve goals that seem so reasonable and close but are forever out of reach; there is a short atmospheric guitar partway through that is wonderfully ghostly, and then two extended instrumentals where Shelley and Diggle trade riffs. Too long to have been an A side, this is nonetheless on par with their best material. I could do without essentially atonal “Something Gone Wrong Again,” though the band was trying a new sound.

The Best Thing About This Album

“What do I get? / No love / What do I get / No sleep at nights / What do I get? / Nothing that’s nice / What do I get? / Nothing at all at all at all at all at all at all at all / Because I don’t get you”

Release Date

September, 1979

The Cover Art

The colors are amazing! I like the image – all those cords – but I wish it was larger. I also like the black-on-black squares in each quadrant (which can only be discerned in person, probably).

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