Thursday, May 6, 2021

Fast: Fast Cars

Buzzcocks: Fast Cars

Last week, “Fast Car,” this week, “Fast Cars.” Despite the similarity in the titles, the songs could not be more different—Tracy Chapman’s is a soulful folk song, while Buzzcocks’ is a hard chunk of punk. But both are great in their own ways. 

My introduction to Buzzcocks came, as so many of my musical discoveries did, in the basement studios of WPRB. I’m pretty sure that it was the singles compilation, Singles Going Steady, filled with perfect morsels of melodic punk and heartfelt lyrics about love and sex and heartbreak, that was my gateway. It came out in 1979, and I played it regularly. Their next album, A Different Kind of Tension, came out around the same time, and was also great, although it was a little more experimental. 

I don’t think that I spent a lot of time investigating the band’s two earlier albums, both released in 1978, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, and Love Bites, probably because there were so many great songs on the two albums that I already knew better. I’ve subsequently learned about the earlier music from some compilation albums I picked up over the years. 

Buzzcocks never got the same respect as their contemporaries The Sex Pistols or The Clash, and I’d argue that they were way, way better than the Pistols, and that their limited output approaches The Clash’s in quality during the same period. However, Buzzcocks' relatively short life as a band (pre-reunions) prevented them from showing the same growth as The Clash did in their masterpieces London Calling and Sandinista! (a flawed masterpiece, I’d say). And, remarkably, although they’ve been mentioned on this blog in passing (and in a cover), there has never been a post that featured this amazing, influential band. 

Founded in 1976 by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, they eventually added bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher and self-released an EP, Spiral Scratch. Devoto left the band (and soon formed Magazine), Shelley became the singer, Diggle moved to guitar and Garth Davies, who had been in an early version of the band, rejoined on bass, rejoined, only to be again replaced by Steve Garvey (not the baseball player). 

Signed by United Artists, their great first single, “Orgasm Addict,” was banned by the BBC, because, you know, sex, and they commenced to release the series of excellent singles that were later compiled on Singles Going Steady. Their first studio album, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, included the single, “I Don’t Mind,” which charted at number 55 in the UK Singles Chart, as well as “Fast Cars,” a song that was mostly written by Diggle in response to a car crash that he had endured. It is a typically fast and catchy song that criticizes the titular vehicles, and namechecks Ralph Nader. It seems that Mr. Diggle hates fast cars. 

The band broke up in 1981, after a dispute with their record company, reuniting in 1988, with varying lineups over the years. Shelley died of a suspected heart attack in 2018, but Buzzcocks have soldiered on with Diggle taking over vocals.