May 092011

Please explain The Damned—not their music, so much, because that’s easy enough to digest. I’ve got some of their records and like them well enough. They’re often a little too RAWK for my tastes, but at their best they deliver like a poor man’s New York Dolls or, on their surprisingly ’60s-rooted album Strawberries, a melodically challenged version of The Undertones or some other poppy punk band more up my alley. What I really want to understand is how singer Dave Vanian fits into everything. Did fans of the band’s typically rockin’ music need to make allowances for that guy? Were his bandmates initially accepting of his Count Rockula Look? Was he a “gateway drug” to goth? Their music never sounds that goth despite being sung by a lead singer in a cape and dyed-black hair.

Then there’s the issue of the band’s Clown Prince, Captain Sensible, whose schtick I better understand but whose schtick I also find distracting. Is the fact that The Damned was formed so early in the history of punk rock the reason for their lack of stylistic cohesion? Is their lack of stylistic cohesion key to their Collective Rock Super Powers?

Rock historians frequently bring The Stranglers up on charges of lack of stylistic cohesion and bandwagon jumping in the punk era, but The Damned are portrayed as “cool.” What gives, beyond the usual tie-ins to a pre-fame Chrissie Hynde and the legendary London SS, a band that seemed to exist for 3 days while containing, for at least an hour or two, a dozen members of eventual real bands?

What makes The Damned tick? I don’t recall ever focusing on an interview with any of the band members. What makes fans of The Damned tick? Do you pick and choose the songs and band members that appeal to you, or is there a significant run of albums under which Damned fans can rally?


  21 Responses to “Please Explain: The Damned”

  1. BigSteve

    Over-rated. I got those three 80s albums on the Big Takeover’s recommendation, and they’re good, but they’re not that good. I’ll take the Stranglers anyday.

    The Damned’s Look issues are seriously problematical. If it stopped there, it would be one thing, but Vanian’s doomy vocal stylings bring the Look into the music. Bad idea.

  2. shawnkilroy

    you can play a Damned album in the background at a party and people will ask Who IS this? this party is pretty PUNK!

  3. bostonhistorian

    I can’t say that I’ve ever met a Damned fan, by which I mean someone who loves the Damned so much they would put the in the top rank of the early punk explosion or who would sit through anything beyond the early singles. I have the double LP set of Damned Damned Damned/Music For Pleasure that Stiff put out in the early 80s, but I can’t even remember the last time I actually played it.

  4. I remember reviewing a “comeback” album of The Damned’s last decade and found it OK, but nothing worth remembering. I do recall, though, the PR rep or whomever wrote me back to “correct” some ideas or opinions I had about certain songs.

  5. By “last decade” I mean…our last decade, not the band’s…though they should have had theirs a while ago.

  6. I’m a lifelong Damned fan – have been since buying Love Song in 79. Essentially it’s the music – from the amphetamine whizz of the first album – which shaped the sound and speed of US punk (The Dead Kennedys, The Dickies and others, play at Damned tempo, not Pistols, and in turn band like Black Flag and Metallica) to the early psych wig-outs on MGE, The Black Album and Strawberries – through to the newer albums Grave Disorder and So who’s Paranoid (two of their best)

    In their earliest phase the band were probably more typical of London street punk rather than the Pistols (who I love as much The Damned, but wouldn’t have happened in the same way without McLaren) or The Clash (same as Pistols but read Bernie Rhodes)

    The seperate characters of the band work in the same way as The Beatles, The Stones, The Pistols, The Who. A collection of real but larger than life caricatures, that together make for an explosive combo. Vanian’s draws on the Alice Cooper, Rocky Horror influences on punk (see also Gaye Advert) – reworking it and pre-dating Goth by several years. Sensible is the joker in the pack, The Moon, Ozzy or Tommy Lee of the band. If anything this is a disservice to his talent as guitarist. Check out the solo on Under The Floor Again – it’s like a punk Gilmour.

    Luckily through the power of blogging I’ve managed to bag interviews with Brian James, Sensible and Rat Scabies. All have been gems and gents – and talked a great talk. Vive Le Damned

  7. Excellent stuff, mondo. Thanks! I’ll have to look up your interviews – or feel free to share the links with all of us here.

  8. I’m in Mondo’s camp on this one. Plus, I just think they’re a lot of fun, esp. as a live act.

  9. 2000 Man

    I like The Damned. Not enough to fall on my sword for them, but enough that I think I at least “get it” with them. I’ve got that Light at the End of the Tunnel cd, and that’s really all I need. it’s got a ton of songs on it, and I’m pretty sure they’re all pretty terrific. I like Vanian’s schtick. He seemed like he was having fun, and Captain Sensible (as mondo mentioned above) was a pretty swell guitar player. They were the one Punk band I could get my blooze rock friends to agree that the guitar solos were generally tasty and well done.

  10. diskojoe

    My friend Bob was a big Damned fan back in the day (he gave my a copy of Strawberries as a college graduation prsent) & I agreee w/Mondo & 2000 Man. I have their 1977-87 anthology, which I do play. My favorite Damned song is “Lovely Money”, w/a Viv Stanshall cameo & which reminds me of the tourist scene here in the Witch City.

    Also, you know that the Good Captain Sensible & RTH fave rave Martin Newell are good friends (Martin wrote/co-wrote several songs for Sensible’s solo albums & had a song on the Damned’s last album, while Sensible was the lead guitarist for Martin’s 1994 tour of Japan).

  11. And the Captain plays that long solo on Martin’s Greatest Living Englishman album – I’m blanking on the song’s name!

  12. diskojoe

    “The Green Gold Girl of the Summer” perhaps ?:

  13. Yes, that’s the one!

  14. Hear you go all – and thanks for your comments. If you haven’t dipped into The Damned yet I’d start with Strawberries, Machine Gun Etiquette or Grave Disorder – in that order. They almost invented goth, shaped the sound of US punk, pre-dated the 80s psych revival, were booted of the Anarchy tour, inspired Ian Curtis {spotted at the first punk festival in Spain}…and for all this they always hung around stage front letting fans take pics and buying drinks for them – what’s not to like.

    Forget the slapstick, embrace the songs…I’ve seen them live countless times and they’re better know than ever…

    Anyhow some of my Damned bits.

    Sensible live in my home town last December

    Captain interviewed pre-gig

    Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

    Brian James on New Rose

  15. diskojoe

    Also, Martin’s live album from Japan w/both the Captain & Dave Gregory is avaiable as a download from his site:

  16. Good stuff, mondo. Sensible’s tastes make sense; same goes for Brian James’ roots playing MC5 and Stooges stuff. “New Rose” could have come off Raw Power.

  17. cliff sovinsanity

    Yes, Mondo summed it up good for me. My fave Damned moments are when they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Vanian was the least trying “something”. I often wonder if the Damned raided some movie studio wardrobe. It seems me a lot punk bands were always concerned about looks or having a uniform. YES, even the Ramones had uniforms. Perhaps, Vanian and Sensible thought this was cool.
    Also, the video clip provided doesn’t do the band a whole lot justice.
    Also, also, the BBC saw fit to use New Rose as the theme song for their Seven Ages of Rock documentary series.

  18. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m in the Damned thumbs-up camp. The first song of “theirs” I heard was the cover of “Alone Again Or” and I always enjoy it:

    And “New Rose” would probably go down on a list of my favorite singles.

    I admire a band that can go that distance, even if there are some hiccups along the way. To have a band member (Cap’n Sensible) do a cover of a song from South Pacifica takes guts, and “Happy Talk” was a bit hit in the UK.

    The band seems to have had a grand time taking the piss. As I’m checking my punk reference, “The Rough Guide to Punk,” the opening paragraph says, “Loved and loathed in roughly equal parts by the cognoscenti, The Damned will star today in the longest-running soap opera in punk-rock history. Cursed by some for their confidently camp take on punk, others are just as staunch in their defense of the lads as true believers in the ‘get it right or get it wrong, having a laugh is what we’er about” school of rock’n’roll.'”

  19. misterioso

    Two words of advice for you on The Damned, Mod: small doses. More than 3-4 songs at a time and you start thinking about all the things that are not quite right with them. Keep it short and sweet and I think they are pretty solid. Anyway, this has been my experience, but, then again, it is my experience with most “punk” bands. (Always, always excepting The Clash.)

  20. I agree, misterioso, but how do I handle Vanian’s Look? Must I close my eyes or think only of the few Dracula movies I like?

  21. misterioso

    I know. It’s a problem. It hurts me, too.

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