How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks


What if you’re looking for authenticity in music, what then?

What if you’re confused, lonely, feel ostracised, can’t even begin to understand the unspoken social protocols of boy-girl, boy-boy relationships and teenage love, and you’re looking for ways to interpret and understand your own day-to-day life?

What if you understand that while music may be a performance, it is a performance that cuts far deeper and goes far closer to the heart of its audience than any similar medium (film, television, written) because often it feels like there is no separation between the performance and the performer?

What if music feeds directly into your sense of identity, gives you a reason to carry on – and not just a reason, but it also inspires you, confuses you, lifts you higher than any drug, takes you to another universe?

What if you treat music like a spurned lover?

What if the main time you encounter music is in the bedroom you share with your three brothers; sat next to your tinny, tiny Dansette mono record-player, with the coloured vinyl and beautifully designed record sleeves sprawled out on the floor next to you, hidden away in your own secret world?

What if you are so tired after battling with people and school all day, so burdened by your lack of actual human contact, that your favourite sound to listen to when you get back home early evening is soulful sensitive acerbic cutting two-minute pop songs?

What if you grew up believing there is no difference between pop and punk because of one band, and one band alone?

What if the reason you like or dislike music is not because it is “manufactured’ (what’s that?) or ‘inauthentic’ (what’s that?) or has that special half-second echo on the kick drum or the size of the marketing budget but because of the BEAUTIFUL BRUISED FUCKING GLORIOUS POP MUSIC ITSELF?

What if music is your life?

What if you are seeking diversion and understanding of the sort of fragile relationships you have no hope of entering into?

What if you have long thought that Pete Shelley is way more courageous and imaginative and talented and PUNK ROCK than any of his more feted macho male colleagues?

What if you grow up believing that stars don’t exist, just people – but simultaneously you have Secret Best Friends, people you can ride with out to the heavens?

What if you figure it’s OK to escape to reality, long as you can avoid the nastiness and incessant bullying?

What if you understood that growing up is doing nothing of the sort?

This performance feels real to me, but so the fuck what. Maybe I just love the sight of folk having a good time.

This entry is supposed to be read in conjunction with the previous day’s blog entry.

Favourite male punk band? There was no other.

Related posts: Pete Shelley R.I.P.

Pete Shelley R.I.P.

Pete Shelley Buzzcocks

News is coming in that Pete Shelley, co-founder, singer and principal songwriter in Britain’s greatest ever male pop group Buzzocks, is dead of a suspected heart attack at the age of 63.

First band I ever saw.
The initial incarnation of Buzzcocks (and yes, I’d include ‘Spiral Scratch’ in that, and the three final singles) is about the most perfect incarnation of a pop group ever.
Greatest run of seven-inch singles in the history of pop music.
Greatest run of albums ever.

God damn. Pete, you were so special.

I’m reprinting this from Collapse Board, by way of a tribute.

Your three favourite Buzzcocks songs | a thoroughly scientific survey

I’ve never properly attempted to write about Buzzcocks. I don’t want to try. I believe their first three albums (+ the three bootlegs I bought at the time, on vinyl) are peerless. I believe their initial run of singles (+ the final three which never really bothered the charts) are exemplary, manifestos to stay alive by. I believe EVERYTHING in their initial incarnation was…. man. I just love it, ok. Every year since ’78, I’ve played them with alarming regularity, continually discovering new things. I can’t decide a favourite album, nor a favourite single, nor a favourite song. The first girl I ever snogged was wearing a homemade Buzzcocks T-shirt (I didn’t snog another for six more years). Their songs… no. I don’t want to discuss their music. It’s too precious.

Here are your votes, culled from Facebook after being given an almost impossible decision – choose your favourite three Buzzcocks songs. None of the ones I voted for are in the chart. I was swamped by the response.

1. What Do I Get?
The Buzzcocks are the perfect mesh of punk and pop, a cleaned up version of the grittier Sex Pistols, but still pretty bratty themselves. Pete Shelley’s voice has a melodic, high-register flair. He sounds downright desperate and pleading on songs like “What do I Get?” and “Ever Fallen in Love?,” but it’s OK because the chunky music that surrounds him is so easy on the ears.
( reader review)

2. Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
Sometime during November 1977, the band watched the musical Guys and Dolls in the TV lounge of a guesthouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the dialogue “Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have” from the film which inspired the song. The following day Shelley wrote the lyrics of the song, in a van outside a post office, with the music following soon after. The music and lyrics, as well as the singing, belong to Pete Shelley. The song uses the verse-chorus formal pattern and is in the key of E major. Both the verse and the chorus start with C# minor chords (sixth degree in E major), which “give [the song] a distinctly downbeat, edgy feel.” The minor chords and the D-major-to-B-major move in the chorus are unusual for a 1970s punk song, yet they contribute to its ear-catching nature, along with the vocal melody. The verses feature a guitar riff and a double stroke tom-tom drum pattern over the E chord. The vocal melody ranges from G#3 to baritone F#4 in the verses and chorus; in the ending, Shelley hits a tenor G4 and then a G#4. The lyrics consist of two verses (of which one is repeated) and a chorus. According to music critic Mark Deming, “the lyrics owe less to adolescent self-pity than the more adult realization of how much being in love can hurt – and how little one can really do about it”.

3. Boredom
EC: At 16, I liked punk rock. Especially the Buzzcocks. That’s when I started playing guitar, too. I remember the UK fanzine Sniffin’ Glue by Mark Perry. It showed you how to go out there.
GM: By 1979, Edwyn thought punk rock had all gone to shit. It was all idiots. By that point, there was an elitist element about punk, like it was only for those in the know. He was very, very, very strict. The Clash? No. The Stranglers? Absolutely not a chance. The Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks, yes. It was important to take a position.
(Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell)

4. I Don’t Mind
Reality’s a dream, a game in which I seem
To never find out just what I am
I don’t know if I’m an actor or ham, a shamen or sham
But if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I’m lost without a clue so how can I undo
The tangle of these webs I keep weaving
I don’t know if I should be believing, deceptive perceiving
But if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I used to bet that you didn’t care
But gambling never got me anywhere
Each time I used to feel so sure
Something about you made me doubt you more
How can you convince me, when everything I see
Just makes me feel you’re putting me down
And if it’s true, this pathetic clown’ll keep hanging around
That’s if you don’t mind and I don’t mind
I used to bet that you didn’t care
But gambling never got me anywhere
Each time I used to be so sure
Something about you made me doubt you more
I even think you hate me when you call me on the phone
And sometimes when we go out, then I wish, I’d stayed at home
And when I’m dreaming or just lying in my bed
I think you’ve got it in for me, is it all in my head? Is it in my head?
How can you convince me, when everything I see
Just makes me feel you’re putting me down
And if it’s true this pathetic clown’ll keep hanging around
That’s if you don’t mind and I don’t mind, I don’t mind

5. Orgasm Addict

6. Why Can’t I Touch It?
Buzzcocks were a genius art-punk band from Manchester who mixed lovelorn, spiteful lyrics with jagged guitar riffs and rampantly incestuous pop hooks as they stormed the British charts during the late 1970s. They split up following three, wonderful albums…
(Nirvana: The True Story)

7. Everybody’s Happy Nowadays
“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?”
“I don’t know what you mean, I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”
He laughed. “Yes. ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We begin giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.
(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)

8. You Say You Don’t Love Me
Buzzcocks is a punk band, but the songs on A Different Kind Of Tension embody that titular tension—the group’s desire since its inception to play simple, stupid songs that were neither simple nor stupid. That paradox is central to Buzzcocks, and it’s never as strongly as evident as on this album. The Ramones may have created the idea of bubblegum-plus-chainsaw pop-punk, but instead of feeding ’60s garage rock into a ’70s punk meat grinder, Buzzcocks used the chirpier, harmonically rich songcraft of The Beatles and The Zombies as raw material. The record’s most tuneful example of this is “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” a forlorn, bitterly witty love song on par with Singles Going Steady classics like “What Do I Get?” and “I Don’t Mind.”
(A.V. Club)

Everett, Moz once asked me why I thought ‘You Say Don’t Love Me’ wasn’t a hit (a tune he, later, did live.) I could’ve said it dates from the time when BCs were a dusty file at the back of some EMI filing cabinet in a room to which no-one could find the key. Sadly, that was a couple of years before I could’ve rejoindered: ‘Why wasn’t “Shakespeare’s Sister” a hit?’ Obvs, the former beats the latter. This has been a fun thread to observe, esp. as ‘Ever Fallen…’ is cited only occasionally, while obscured gems are being polished.
(Richard Boon, Facebook)

9. Fast Cars
Ralph Nader came to prominence in 1965 with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers in general, and most famously the Chevrolet Corvair. In 1999, a New York University panel of journalists ranked Unsafe at Any Speed 38th among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century. Nader is a five-time candidate for President of the United States, having run as a write-in candidate in the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary, as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, and as an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008.

10. Harmony In My Head
Buzzcocks were the first band I ever saw – Chelmsford Odeon ’78. I was so naive, I thought that the support band Subway Sect were the main band and couldn’t figure out a) why I didn’t recognise any of their songs (I explained that away to myself by surmising that bands live must sound different to bands recorded) and b) why everyone didn’t leave after they’d finished. I was in the front row, smoking a crafty fag: and yes, I did go out and buy a Subway Sect single the following day (‘Nobody’s Scared’). It wasn’t as tuneful as I wanted, but immediately I was loving the lyrics and thunderous drums. Plus, it was half-price.
(Song Of The Day – 336: Subway Sect)

11. I Believe
In these times of contention it’s not my intention to make things plain
I’m looking through mirrors to catch the reflection that can’t be mine
I’m losing control now I’ll just have to slow down a thought or two
I can’t feel the future and I’m not even certain that there is a past

I believe in the worker’s revolution
And I believe in the final solution
I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the shape of things to come
And I believe in I’m not the only one
Yes I believe in
I believe in

When I poison my system I take thoughts and twist them into shapes
I’m reaching my nadir and I haven’t an idea of what to do
I’m painting by numbers but can’t find the colours that fill you in
I’m not even knowing if I’m coming or going if to end or begin

I believe in the immaculate conception
And I believe in the resurrection
And I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the elixir of youth
And I believe in the absolute truth
Yes I believe in
I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I’ve fallen from favour while trying to savour experience
I’m seeing things clearly but it has quite nearly blown my mind
It’s the aim of existence to offer resistance to the flow of time
Everything is and that is why it is will be the line

I believe in perpetual motion
And I believe in perfect devotion
I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the things I’ve never had
I believe in my Mum and my Dad
And I believe in
I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I’m skippin’ the pages of a book that takes ages for the foreword to end
Triangular cover concealing another aspect from view
My relative motion is just an illusion from stopping too fast
The essence of being these feelings I’m feeling I just want them to last

I believe in original sin
And I believe what I believe in
Yes I believe in
I believe in
I believe in the web of fate
And I believe in I’m going to be late
So I’ll be leavin’
What I believe in

There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore
There is no love in this world anymore

I still believe the first three Buzzcocks albums to be the most perfect run of albums I have ever heard. Even now I can’t bring myself to start describing their music – a genius amalgam of Krautrock, sardonic punk attitude, lovelorn lyrics and unstoppable hooks – for fear of dispelling even a tiniest fraction of the magic. Every year, without fail, I listen to those three albums (and all the assorted add-ons) time and time again. And every year, without fail, I feel cleansed for doing so, invigorated, far more able to cope with the detritus and flotsam of life than I had been before.
(Buzzcocks live @ The Zoo, 19.11.09)

12. Moving Away From The Pulsebeat
The big secret is Shelley’s worship of Krautrock’s obsessive focus on repetition and rhythm, which transforms what would be “simply” basic punk songs into at-times monstrous epics. The ghost of Can particular hovers even on some of the shorter songs — unsurprising, given Shelley’s worship of that band’s guitarist Michael Karoli. “Moving Away From the Pulsebeat” is the best instance of this, with a rumbling Maher rhythm supporting some trancelike guitar lines.
(Ned Raggett, All Music)

Also mentioned:
Love You More, Autonomy, Promises

Breakdown, Noise Annoys, Friends Of Mine, Are Everything, Late For The Train

Lipstick, Sixteen Again, Something’s Gone Wrong Again, Hollow Inside

A Different Kind Of Tension, Fiction Romance, Love Battery, Nostalgia, Real World, Time’s Up, ESP

Drop In The Ocean, Just Lust, Mad Mad Judy, Sitting Round At Home, Walking Distance, What Do You Know, I Look Alone, Whatever Happened To, Why She’s The Girl From The Chainstore, You Tear Me Up, Strange Thing, Oh Shit, I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life, Airwaves Dream


I read a while ago that the major label Buzzcocks guitar sound was arrived at by layering chords which were all slightly out of tune with each other, resulting in a kind of woozy ‘chorus’. That was why they had such a unique sound. The guitars on the new stuff sound like meticulously in-tune indie rock thrashes, and therein lies the problem (the lyrics are too direct, too).
(David Callahan, Facebook)

Wish I Never Loved You

Totally From The Heart



2 Responses to Your three favourite Buzzcocks songs

April 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm Edit
Why is “Breakdown” not in the top 3? Has to be the catchiest/nastiest thing they ever coughed up.

November 5, 2018 at 10:52 pm Edit
Really enoyed this – thanks for posting. Made me think, everyone has their favourite Buzzcocks track but which one actually single sold the most copies? I’m sure I read or heard somewhere that even though ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ was their highest ever chart position, ‘Promises’ sold the most copies over time?


The most (im)perfect pop band. Ever.


Bonus tracks

Related posts: How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks