Ineligible, I'm afraid, Master. Wrong period, and not nearly punk enough
With World War 3 just around the corner, with an Islamic invasion of Europe underway, and with a potential recession looming that will make the Great Depression look like getting short-changed in a bakery, responsible amateur bloggers like myself turn to more important affairs.
What exactly were the top 20 greatest British punk and new wave album covers produced in the late 1970s and very early 1980s?
20. Well, we get going in reverse order, with XTC’s debut White Music. Imagine calling an album that now. Straight to prison for you, boys. XTC went on to become a respected cult British band, best known, I suppose, for Making Plans for Nigel. Standout track: Their version of All Along the Watchtower.
In at number 19 is the cover to Damned Damned Damned, thricely eponymous – sounds like a Dickens character – debut from The Damned. When Brian James left the band, and Captain Sensible moved to guitar, they got a new bass player, Dave Gray. He was seen roaming Croydon in a very bad mood for quite a while in 1978, looking for the present writer. The reason? I fucked his girlfriend, Michelle. Happy days. Standout track: New Rose.
18. One thing punk did which I think graphic designers would do well to learn – although they surely have subconsciously – is how stark punk left the album cover. And no better example than the debut album by Buzzcocks. They were never called The Buzzcocks, by the way. Only BBC wankers who live in Hampstead think they were. How innovative this cover was. Look at the text on Another Music in a Different Kitchen. And the band in black shirts, unsmilingly looking mildly threatening. Standout track: Autonomy.
17. Anyone who was in or around London in the 1970s will get a kick out of this cover. You saw a lot of Dury-types, part-pikey, part-punk, and a lot of shops like that one. Look at the shop name 'Woolworth' reflected in the window pane. Great title too, New Boots and Panties. The kid apparently just wandered up, or did I invent that to try to look knowledgeable? We may never know. The Blockheads were a fantastic band, and Dury the kind of English bard now vanishingly rare. Standout track: Plaistow Patricia.
16. Wire’s Pink Flag is one of the most punk albums ever. The cover is stark and absolutely brilliant, like the music. Note that the name of the album - Pink Flag - is not on the cover. Just a pink flag. I think they are still going, and 154 is another excellent album. Art rock at its very best. Standout track: Lowdown.
15. Alternative TV were one of the best bands of that era and, if it is a pissing competition, one of the most punk. The Image has Cracked is chaotic and quite incredible. Mark Perry started Sniffin’ Glue magazine. With an immortal and crudely drawn page featuring three well-known chords on the guitar, the message – or command – underneath read; Now form a band. Standout track; Nasty Little Lonely.
14. This, I suppose, has to be in the list. The Sex Pistols are probably the most familiar punk band in the world. Again, it shows the dominance of text over image during this period of album design. I suppose the title may well be the only one ever to contain a swear word, apart from rap nonsense, and the title apparently came from an offhand comment by guitarist Steve Jones. The cut-up text is a direct representation of the manner in which kidnappers would get in touch with the families of victims before printers were invented. Standout track; Bodies.
13. Magazine was the band formed by ex-Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto. I saw them at the Croydon Greyhound in 1978. While talking to Siouxsie Sioux at the bar, I trod on Billy Idol’s foot by mistake. He actually was wearing blue suede shoes. He is very short. This album cover was, I think, painted by Linder Ludus. The album is called Real Life, and the band went on to be known for great cover art, and were my introduction to the great lithographer Odilon Redon. Standout track: Motorcade.
12. I am not breaking my own rule that no band could have more than one album cover in this list. Joy Division, of which more later, metamorphosed into New Order after Ian Curtis’s tragic suicide, and they are technically different bands. More text here, on debut Movement, squared off and organised. I think Peter Saville did their designs. Standout track; I’m fucking going to cheat here. The original album is bleak and flat, almost elegiac. But the re-release features Everything’s Gone Green, both a dry run for Blue Monday, and the only song I am still prepared to dance to. And that is therefore the standout track.
11. Killing Joke played one of the best gigs I have ever seen, at my university, Sussex, in about 1982. The band walked onstage through the audience, led by the demonic Jaz Coleman, carrying burning torches. Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker got me well pissed once. This album cover is bleak taken out to the edge of the park when it is getting a bit dark. I love it. The Joke are not like other bands. Jimmy Page said about Coleman, he’s either playing with magic, or magic’s playing with him. Standout track on this eponymous album; On the original pressing, The Wait. If you have the remaster, Change. Without question. Without question.
10. The most atmospheric of my choices. Look at bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel. Evil incarnate. Like a doll you have a dream about when you have done bad narcotics. Great title too. Rattus Norvegicus. I saw them, and it changed everything for me. No more flares and long hair for this writer. Spikey blue hair and PVC snakeskin-print trousers became the order of the day. Again, it was at the Greyhound in Croydon. They were the only band I ever saw that you could also smell. Standout track; Hanging Around.
9. A lot of punk and its offshoots was bleak music, black and white, and many of the album covers reflect that. The Fall is a band I have so much affection for because there never was, and never will be, a band anything like them. Dragnet I bought from the famous Rough Trade shop itself in the week of its release. Standout track; Dice Man.
8. The Banshees went through a strange birth. After this album, the second was sound, and then half the band left. They just fucked off. My friend at the time, Robert Smith of The Cure, filled in on guitar, and the great Budgie became, I think, a life-long Banshee. A pattern is forming here. A lot of punks had an art-school background, and it shows in the graphics. This is a great cover, with an artistic reference in the title, The Scream, that few Guardian readers would get today. Standout track: Overground.
7. The Smiths were huge for a few years in the UK, which is often forgotten. Their album covers were an odd mixture of camp and provocation. The Queen is Dead is widely held to be their best album, and I would agree. Morrissey once asked me, at the top of The Strand, where he could best pick up a taxi. A charming man. I should have got one with him. I might have ended up in a song. Standout track: I Know it’s Over.
6. I was never really sure about Bauhaus. They were supposed to be a scary band to see, but I never saw them. So I wouldn’t know, would I. But this entry - dark entry, if you will – is not about music. It’s about graphics. I always loved this cover. The music was never decisive for me, and it seemed to lean on glam just a bit too much. Note the band’s straight-laced covers of Ziggy Stardust and Telegram Sam. They were always, for the present scribe, a bit like the Joy Division it was okay for benders to like. But fair play to a great cover. Standout track, I guess, is Stigmata Martyr.
5. I wish I could remember the name of the music journalist who wrote something along the lines of Dr. Feelgood looking like a band ‘who had met in a disreputable corner of an army barracks. They just like quintessential English nutters, unpredictable and full of amphetamine sulphate, which they mostly were, by all accounts. Just watch a video, and watch Lee Brilleaux – a very erudite man – and the manic guitar style of Wilko Johnson, a sort of Flamenco with Parkinson’s Disease. Standout track on Down by the Jetty: She Does it Right.
4. It is iconic, and the font is famously ripped off from the cover of the first Elvis album. I think it is a Pennie Smith photo, but it is known the world over. Pennie Smith also took the photo for the cover of today’s winner, so I think she is the photographic champ. I liked Caroline Coon’s comment about The Clash, though. Going on tour with them, she said, was like a commando raid performed by The Bash Street Kids. Only English readers will get that. Standout track: Clampdown.
3. Before Adam & The Antz went all Prince Charming, they produced one of the genuinely great albums of that punk era, the bizarrely named Dirk Wears White Sox. I met Stuart Goddard – aka Adam Ant - once. I served him coffee in a restaurant. Nice bloke, before he went mental. Actually, I might have that on my tombstone. This album is genuinely worth a listen, and the cover is that kind of great pretentious blasphemy that I have always adored. Standout track, incidentally, is Table Talk.
2. It would be what we used to call at school a complete div who would not include Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures in a list of great covers of any fucking period, let alone the one on which I am concentrating. It hits so hard as an image. This band had a massive influence on my whole life, let alone my musical taste, and my meetings with the late Ian Curtis have been chronicled elsewhere. Standout track; Shadowplay.
1. There could only be one winner. It says everything that feminism said before it went all spastic. Big, tough, primitive, and covered in mud. Just how I like my women. And Viv Albertine smack bang in the middle. The very best punk music always sounded as though it was on the verge of collapse, and this album was no exception, but Cut still sounds like it was recorded yesterday. RIP Ari Up. Standout track; Spend, Spend, Spend.